In light of the shooting tragedy in Aurora, Colorado this past Friday I felt it worthwhile to repost this article. From Columbine to the Red Lake shootings to Virginia Tech to Gabrielle Giffords to this most recent massacre, gun reform is repeatedly halted at the precipice of action. Gun rights activists, the National Rifle Association and many in the Republican Party hold up their hands saying, “Now isn’t the time for knee-jerk reactions”. Democrats stumble through the densely packed minefield of the topic, trepidatious of even whispering the words “gun control”. Mayor Bloomberg appears to be the only political voice encouraging responsible, gun safety policy in this area.
Many will continue to contend “guns don’t kill people, people do”. While a somewhat valid yet, overused, default position it is worth adding an addendum that says, “But certain guns kill more people, more effectively”. The suspect, James Holmes, brought with him and used an AK-47 assault rifle with a 100 round, high capacity magazine capable of firing 50 to 60 rounds per minute. The 24 year old shooter also purchased, in the weeks prior to the event, more than 6000 rounds of ammunition. All the weapons and ammunition he acquired were legal. The AK-47 and other semi-automatic rifles became available to the public after the expiration of the 10 year Assault Weapons Ban in 2004. The mass quantity of ammunition was also perfectly legal as were the chemicals the suspect purchased to booby trap his apartment.
Perhaps what is at issue here is that no red flags were raised due to these purchases. One may ask why would warnings be raised? All these were perfectly legal. True, but purchases of high quantities of fertilizer, another legal product, are monitored as are many other potentially hazardous materials, even more so in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. The Drug Enforcement Agency monitors prescription drug purchases for unusual activity. Why are high volume gun and ammunition sales not monitored for similar purposes?
Given this latest tragic event along side many other related instances of gun violence, it is worth revisiting this previous article whose questions and concerns remain pertinent and will continue to be as long as responsible, balanced approaches to gun safety are kept at arm’s length. As long as politicians are unwilling to take on the unpopular but necessary task of creating a more responsible and accountable environment for gun ownership in this country. It is doubtful the Founders envisioned assault rifles in the average person’s hands when they wrote the 2nd Amendment and it is improbable they would feel comfortable with that possibility if they had.
Gun Control: Where do our priorities lie?
This year’s Superbowl ads plucked at sensitive political tensions more so than previous championship seasons. From an anti-union ad to the auto industry’s America is Recovering,Clint Eastwood, perceived politically-motivated halftime ad, national politics took advantage of one of the election year’s most captive television audiences. Another highly emotional issue regained the spotlight as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino were featured in their own ad promoting gun control reforms.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the coalition of more than 600 mayors with Michael Bloomberg at its head, is pursuing a legislative approach to reduce gun violence aimed at addressing gaps in background check reporting through the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011. The legislation’s purpose is to ensure those who are prohibited from purchasing guns are included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) through improved reporting requirements for states and requiring all firearm sales be subjected to background checks.
Across the country states like Mississippi, Alaska, Wyoming and Arizona, have taken the Mutually Assured Destruction approach through loosening of multiple gun laws. The majority of these involved eliminating or reducing limitations for concealed weapon permits. The reasoning behind this shift is proponents see gun owners as “…the last line of defense against unexpected evil”. Born of recent mass shooting events on the campus of Virginia Tech, the Tucson attack on Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her supporters and the Fort Hood shootings, supporters of these loosened weapon laws feel more guns in the hands of average citizens will curtail violence through deterrence or through citizen action during an incident. The logic has its merits in that a person intent on causing harm may reconsider their actions if they believe someone nearby is armed. Additionally, in the event a shooting similar to the Gabrielle Giffords’ incident occurs then citizens can respond. But these incidents, despite their broad media coverage, are rare events. Most gun-related violence is attributed to gang activity, occur in the act of a felony or are related to an argument.
While proponents do make salient points, serious concerns do come to light when one considers the bigger picture. The Arizona law eliminating the need for concealed weapons also eliminates background checks for carriers as well as an 8 hour education and gun safety training course. According to retired Mesa, Arizona police officer Dan Furbee his biggest concern is the new law allows people with no training, education of state laws and no experience on shooting ranges to carry concealed guns. He states;
“If you are going to carry a concealed weapon, you should have some kind of training and show that you are at least competent to know how the gun works and be able to hit a target,” he said. “You owe the people around you a measure of responsibility.”
Mr. Furbee’s concerns are echoed by many in law enforcement. How will an untrained individual with no experience in a stressful situation, no experience assessing such a situation react if they choose to use their weapon? What will they do? With little shooting experience what is the risk to bystanders, especially in a highly stressful environment?
Beyond the concerns over inexperienced gun carriers, the issue of information gaps in the current federal background check system presents itself. A number of states, Arizona included, have no laws requiring them to report their criminal and mental health records to the NICS system. Currently, federally licensed gun sellers and pawn dealers, which includes the vast majority of retail sellers, are required to perform background checks prior to the sale of a gun. Guns sold privately or through gun shows are not required to access the instant background check system. The only caveat is these sellers are not to knowingly sell to someone who is prohibited from owning a weapon. This, however, does not always deter such sales as is evident from Mayors against Illegal Guns undercover investigations of gun shows across the country.
Gaps in the national background check system, inconsistent reporting to the national database, low state involvement in the system and loosened, state gun laws allow those prohibited from owning guns to acquire them. They provide opportunities for individuals with mental health issues similar to Jarod Laughner to purchase a handgun with high-capacity clips. They facilitate gun trafficking from states with lax gun laws to those with more stringent restrictions. They allow U.S purchased weapons to enter into Mexico’s current drug war. They allow private sellers over the internet to legally sell anything from handguns to AK-47 assault rifles to a .50 caliber sniper rifle capable of bringing down a helicopter. They also give opportunity to an ex-law enforcement officer with a history of domestic abuse to purchase a handgun. An ex-law enforcement officer who lost his job after he pistol whipped his wife, her brain left permanently scarred. An ex-law-enforcement officer who pressed his police-issued weapon to his battered wife’s head, threatened to pull the trigger and stopped only when his daughter bravely dialed 911.
What’s the next step? Which direction does the issue of gun control take from here? One side will undoubtedly present the stalwart argument that the right to bear arms is solidified in the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, there is no question, gun control of any kind is an attack on that right. Gun control advocates will cede to varying levels of regulation depending on their particular standpoint. In order to mitigate gun violence creation of a middle ground between the sides is necessary. Is the common-sense reform proposed by Mayor Bloomberg attainable? Those against such measures to increase the efficacy and range of background checks will argue it will place too much burden on private citizens or will cause unreasonable delay for law abiding Americans who wish to exercise their constitutional rights. Perhaps. But one who makes such arguments should also ask, is an additional burden or a slight delay worth that trivial inconvenience if it means preventing one innocent person’s injury, one family’s pain over a lost loved one? Is a slight infringement worth alleviating, even by some small measure, that daughter’s persistent fear tugging at her from the back of her mind that her father will one day, in an agitated desperate state, present himself at her mother’s door one final time? If the argument against gun control reform is merely to spare gun owners certain inconveniences it then becomes necessary to ask where do our actual priorities lie.
An OpenSalon.com Editor’s Pick
Updated 2/16/2012: Inaccuracies pertaining to the Mayors Against Illegal Guns support for the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban and high-capacity magazines have been removed. The Coalition does not take a position on this issue.