Gun Control. The illusion of leadership.

Friday, January 18, 2013

I wasn’t going to write anything about guns. It’s not that I don’t think we need vastly more restrictive gun control legislation, it’s just that I’m still depressed about November’s election. Nothing new. I just can’t get over the fact that, with very few exceptions, we re-elected the same Congress and President that failed to resolve any of the major economic, financial or social crises we’ve been facing. The President is now focusing on his legacy, like any of us really care, and waiting for the economy to recover on its own so he can take credit for it. Bummer.

Okay, about guns. In the wake of Newtown, the President threw his best agent at the problem, Joe Biden. Mr. Biden talked to all sorts of people over a very short period of time. He did that to give us the impression that our input counts. It’s a trick. If Vice President Biden and the President were serious about gun control, they would have been working on the problem non-stop for the past four years. Now, the best they’ve been able to come up with are some recommendations about background checks, assault weapons and limiting high-capacity clips to 10 “rounds.” They call them rounds, because it sounds like we’re ordering more beer at our favorite roadhouse, but we know that what they’re really talking about is bullets. Rounds don’t kill people, bullets do.

So it took the murder of 20 little kids to get the President to pay attention? Like somehow the murder of 500 people, most of them shot to death, just last year in his hometown of Chicago didn’t count? Is that the going rate of exchange? Five hundred big city urban people, mostly minority adults, are less impressive than twenty little kids from small town Connecticut?

Well, first of all, gun control shouldn’t be about cute little kids. It’s about people, whatever their age or ethnicity, whose lives are cut short because we live in a society where, for way too many of us, legally sane or not, violence is a legitimate, even necessary option.

Second, most people who are shot in this country are shot with handguns, not assault weapons. Pulling assault weapons off the market is a no brainer, the low hanging fruit solution to a problem that requires considerably more courage to resolve.

Third, limiting clips to only 10 bullets is a joke. A bad, sick joke. True, no one needs a high capacity clip, and they should be outlawed. But bad guys can always carry extra clips that take only a few seconds to pull out and replace. No. The problem isn’t the clip per se, but the ability of the gun to fire rapidly from that clip. Other than military and police applications, why does any ordinary person need to own a semi- or fully-automatic weapon that can fire even 10 bullets in rapid succession?

And why 10? Is it okay for a madman (or women) to fire 10 bullets in rapid succession, but not 20? Of course not. It’s not okay for a madman to fire even one. So why approve 10 bullet clips? Answer: Because, plus or minus, that’s what standard clips in handguns hold and no one in Washington is going to suggest taking handguns away from people.

Fourth, the Second Amendment says the following, in its entirety: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Yes, we have the right to bear arms, but that right is no more unlimited than are the most fundamental of all rights, those protected by the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

We have the right to say pretty much whatever we want, but not without limitation. You cannot, for example, incite a riot. You cannot, for example, threaten the life of the President of the United States without suffering consequences. Likewise, you have the right to own a weapon, but not any weapon. This debate isn’t about the right of Americans to bear arms, but rather about the practical limits on the nature of the arms they can bear.

From my layman’s point of view, there are the following types of guns: Manual-loading on one hand and semi- or fully-automatic (self-loading) guns on the other. If I understand the terminology, semi-automatic guns require that the shooter keep pulling the trigger to fire. Fully-automatic guns will keep firing until you let go of the trigger.

Unequivocally, semi- and fully-automatic weapons, whatever their clip capacity, need to be illegal for anyone not on active military or policy duty. Period. These weapons have no real purpose other than to kill people, as many as possible, as quickly as possible. Any legislation short of outlawing these semi- and fully-automatic weapons technology is a mockery of everyone, every kid or adult, urban or small town, black, Hispanic or white person, who has ever been wounded or killed by one of them.

I want Congress to make it illegal for companies to manufacture and sell, and for ordinary people to own or use anything more than a manual-loading handgun or rifle. This restriction honors everyone’s Second Amendment right without making it unnecessarily easy for the unstable, violence-prone individuals among us to kill so easily on our streets, malls, movie theaters and schools. Just because we have a weapons technology doesn’t mean that everyone has an unfettered right to own it. Our Founding Fathers didn’t own semi- and fully-automatic weapons when they wrote the Constitution. Why should we?

Would I prefer that we do away with personal ownership of guns entirely? Absolutely, but that’s not going to happen soon, and maybe never, not without amending the Constitution. Until then, what I’m suggesting here is both the best and least we should do, right now.

As for all the emphasis on background checks and mental health? That’s all well and good. Certainly you don’t want weapons of any kind falling into the hands of mentally ill people. Unfortunately, I suspect that most people who have bought guns that, whether in their own hands or in the hands of others, ended up killing people would have passed whatever criteria new laws will impose, or managed to bypass them entirely. Needless to say, it has to be against the law for one person to sell a gun, any gun, to someone else, at a gun show, on-line or on the street.

These laws the President is proposing are all about preventing mass murders, aren’t they? That’s certainly something worth doing, but not while ignoring the 500 who died last year in Chicago, but only one at a time. The first, Newtown, is an horrendous anomaly in our society, headline making, but only an occasional occurrence, thank goodness, across a nation of over 300 million. The latter, the 500 homicides in Chicago last year, is in danger of become a routine statistic, lost in the background behind the noise of “breaking news.”

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