BETWEEN THE LINES: When I wrote my first column about gun violence in the wake of the fatal Columbine shootings years ago, I knew it wouldn’t be the last. Similar incidents happened before and were likely to happen again. I’ve written seven since then. Here’s number eight.
By now, I thought, Congress would at least have set stricter federal standards to reduce the chance of it recurring. Sensible, necessary laws are passed to ensure public safety with speed limits, penalties to reduce drug and alcohol abuse, in addition to requiring licenses, registrations and, in most states, insurance for motor vehicles. But when it comes to guns, the attitude is far too restrained.
In and around the annual commemorations to the victims of 9/11, the inevitable question is: “Do we feel safer?” That query relates to potential terrorist attacks. However, after last week’s slaughter of 20 first graders and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that question is also pertinent to our glut of guns. Americans own an estimated 300,000,000 of them.
Are we any safer? When people are massacred in small town schools and movie theaters, is there any safe haven from potential tragedy?
The US may be the freest country on earth, but, due to many citizens’ obsession with firearms, it also is the most violent. Gun deaths and gun-related violence in the US are at epidemic levels. An estimated 34 Americans are murdered with guns every day. The Centers for Disease Control reported that, in 2011, guns resulted in the deaths of 31,347 Americans. After 11 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, combat deaths for US troops are 6,653.
Newtown. Oak Creek. Aurora. Tucson. Fort Hood. Virginia Tech. Columbine. Those are not battlefields, but rather places of senseless carnage.
More people die in shootings than in drunk driving accidents. Tougher laws have reduced the latter number over the past 30 years, thanks to the grass roots commitment of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). Perhaps tougher laws and other restrictions will reduce gun deaths.
Many elected representatives are indebted to the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) campaign donations and veiled threats to unseat them if they oppose the gun lobby, so sensible restrictions are ignored and slaughter by guns happens again and again and again. The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, with each victim shot multiple times, may have changed that.
The influential gun lobby has spent years building a pool of pro-gun lawmakers, an extensive grassroots network and a political money arm that has made gun control legislation nearly untouchable. It’s time for the NRA to concede on tougher, stricter laws to help reduce the excess of violence that seems to exacerbate with each incident.
After 9/11, controversial laws limiting our civil liberties and increased travel security were enacted and accepted to enhance public safety. Yet, the NRA persistently opposes regulations that would likely boost public safety if there was a ban on weapons only meant to kill and maim.
In the aftermath of mass shootings, gun control is routinely debated and some politicians offer knee-jerk pleas for gun control. But, as the sadness and the echo of the gunfire fades, so does the call for action.
Maybe this time there’s hope.
The crucial part of President Obama’s speech Sunday night in Newtown was when he said, “These tragedies must end, and to end them, we must change… No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can’t be an excuse for inaction.”
The president was virtually silent on the gun debate after the Aurora, Colorado incident last summer. He skirted the issue in the midst of the presidential campaign, not wanting to alienate those who support that controversial issue.
To hell with the NRA! The time to stop another national debate on gun control is at hand. No speeches, no debate. We need an earnest, bipartisan Congressional effort to curb the madness. I used the word “curb” because, sadly, it will never stop, even with new laws. They can start with a categorical ban on semi-automatic weapons. We have to do our utmost to reduce the number of unnecessary deaths from these hand-held weapons of mass destruction.
Ban assault weapons. Ban high-capacity magazine clips. Limit the sale of bullets. Require thorough background checks for every gun transaction, especially at gun shows and for private sales. Mandate a 72-hour waiting period to complete all gun sales.
There is neither a single basis for gun murders nor a single solution. But, one of the most obvious is passage of the Fix Gun Checks Act, a bill languishing in Congress that is supported by police organizations and 700 mayors across the country, from urban centers to rural towns, like Newtown. It would ensure that the record of every person already prohibited from possessing a gun is in the background check database and that a background check is conducted on every gun sale.
The NRA, its members and supporters can no longer hide behind their self-serving interpretation of the Second Amendment. While it gives the right to bear arms to a “well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state,” even reading between the lines, it doesn’t vaguely suggest that citizens have the unfettered right to possess a weapon.
Due to our lax attitude toward guns, the 26 people massacred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School were deprived of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That alone should be enough to motivate Congress to act and endorse meaningful gun laws or, to put it in more politically correct terms, common sense gun safety legislation.
If not now, when? How many more have to die?
As long as these senseless tragedies continue to happen, I’ll continue to condemn our nation’s inability to do something about stricter weapons regulation — until they take my keyboard from my cold dead hands.
After the NRA Executive Vice President came down from his sniper’s nest, or wherever he calls home, to hold a press conference on December 21 and appearance on “Meet the Press” this past Sunday, I added the following remarks:
At the press conference a week after the Sandy Hook massacre, he refused to take questions from the press, but Wayne LaPierre gave new meaning to NRA: “NO RATIONAL ANSWERS!”
His response to the senseless slaughter in Newtown was more guns and armed guards in every school.
Brilliant. What’s next, bullet-proof vests for kids?
In noting that we protect our money, our airports, our communities etc., with armed personnel, he reinforced the Second Amendment’s reference to “well-regulated militia” — not the NRA’s interpretation for gun ownership for every citizen.
He also criticized and blamed the news media and entertainment industry for exposing children to an excess of violence, yet clearly overlooked the First Amendment right to free expression. However, his organization relentlessly cites the Second Amendment as justification for unrestricted gun ownership.
While there was a window of opportunity for the NRA to make a concession or two for some common sense solutions, such as supporting background checks at gun shows and a ban of semi-automatic assault weapons, instead, LaPierre stuck to his guns, then shot itself in the foot, when it called for armed guards in every school in America.
It’s time for conscientious gun owners, the group’s members and Congress to denounce LaPierre and the NRA as it blithely refuses to recognize that the nation’s gun culture has led to an unacceptable slaughter of innocents.
Two days after he spoke to the media, LaPierre had a touchy interview with David Gregory on “Meet the Press.” The two debated over LaPierre’s call for armed guards in every school and other gun control issues.
LaPierre stood by his passionate argument against new gun laws and his contentious recommendation to have armed guards America’s schools. He also added: “If it’s crazy to call for putting police in our schools… to protect our children, then call me crazy! …It’s the one thing that would keep people safe, and the NRA is going to try to do that.”
Meanwhile, on “Face the Nation,” NRA President David Keene told host Bob Schieffer that the NRA “will continue to oppose a ban on semiautomatic weapons.”
I only took a few psychology classes in college, but if Wayne LaPierre believes a school guard with a handgun has a chance in hell to take down a well-armed intruder before he kills or wounds others, then he is crazy or just another sicko obsessed with guns.
Best wishes for a healthy, happy New Year to the regular and occasional readers of this column, and thanks to Ned, Robert and the staff for allowing me the space to offer my two-cents worth on Sheepshead Bites for the last year.
Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.
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