How many times after a tragic shooting have we heard politicians say, in the guise of respect for the victims. “this isn’t the time” to talk about gun control. White House spokesman Jay Carney used the same language on Friday. “There is, I’m sure, will be, rather, discussion of the usual Washington policy debates, but I don’t think that day is today.”
In the wake of the horrific slaying of 20 small children and seven adults in Newtown, Connecticut, I say, there is no better time than right now.
Don’t give me the standard gun owner’s response, guns don’t kill; people do. Don’t tell me that Adam Lanza was a nutcase, and the problem was his mental disorder not the weaponry. The day before the Connecticut slaughter, 22 children and one adult were attacked by a crazy man in China, Min Yingjun. It was a terrible incident, but he did it with a knife, and no one died. No one. We simply have to limit the availability of assault weapons, be they handguns or rifles, to people who would do grievous harm to others. Several bills have been filed but died. Yet this is a no-brainer.
In the wake of mass shootings, the United Kingdom, Scotland, Australia and Norway have all moved to ban private ownership of most handguns or severely regulate other guns. The reduction of mass murders has been measurable since the laws were passed.
There are now more than 300 million guns in circulation in the United States (an average of three per household), and for what? Surely, we can move in the direction of gun safety, limiting ownership to sportsmen and people with legitimate security needs. Banning private ownership of weapons of warfare. Better background checks, waiting periods. Dan Kennedy suggests starting small, barring paranoid schizophrenics from gun ownership. The Justice Department has shelved proposals for improving background checks. According to Nick Kristof, we regulate toy guns more than those with the actual power to kill.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said just before the Connecticut slaughter that “the time is right” to “consider” gun control. Consider? This statement was made on the very same day that the Michigan legislature passed a bill permitting, among other things, concealed weapons in schools! And I’m sure we’ll hear from the gun lobby that, if the teachers in Connecticut had guns, they could have stopped the killer from continuing his killing spree.
Gun control advocates talked about taking gun safety steps in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting. Nothing was done. More recently there was a mass shooting at an Oregon mall. Two other smaller scale killing events reported just last night.
American public opinion is generally not encouraging. A Pew research study showed support for guns about the same before and after the Aurora shooting. A Gallup poll tracking support for gun control over more than a decade has gone down from 60 percent to 20 percent. Gun sales are at an all-time high. But while the gun lobby can point to its success in achieving these dispiriting numbers, supporters of gun control (notwithstanding heroes like Boston’s own John Rosenthal and his Stop Handgun Violence campaign, outspoken mayors like Michael Bloomberg and Tom Menino) have been largely quiet. Cowering before such statistics, neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney took up the issue during the campaign.
Yet there is public support for gun safety measures. Some positive signs include public support for certain gun safety measures, related to background checks, registration, banning high-capacity clips and semi-automatics.
Today, President Obama goes to Newtown, just as he did after shootings at Ft. Hood, Tucson and Aurora. Where will he go from here? Shrines, vigils, prayer services and tears across the country. We’ve become very effective at mass grieving. We must become equally effective at changing our gun laws and better protecting public safety. As others have rightly observed, hugs are not enough.
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