After Connecticut: Excuses and lessons still not learned

Another shooting, life goes on.

We saw it before Newtown, Connecticut. Just a few months ago in the heat of the presidential race there was the shooting at the Aurora, Colorado movie. Before that the shootings in Columbine, or at Virginia Tech, or Fort Hood, or even that of Representative Giffords failed to shift the dialogue and create and opportunity for a serious rethinking of gun safety in America, the same will happen again.

Yet again the predictable lines of debate and posturing emerged, with the NRA and other pro-gun organizations retorting with the usual litany of arguments.

  • Gun control will only keep guns out of law-abiding citizens’s hands.
  • The shooting was an act of a crazy person.
  • Better enforcement of current gun laws would have prevent that tragedy.
  • Had everyone been armed that day then someone could have taken the shooter out.
  • Guns don’t kill people, only people kill people.

All truly terrific policy responses, but they don’t raise the dead.

Or now one hears in response in claims to make it more difficult to purchase guns: “Have you ever purchased a gun to see how difficult is?” An argument about as cogent as arguing that you need to attempt to rob a bank to realize how difficult it is. Terrific logic.

Even if true that it is difficult to buy a gun this response is besides the point that the guns in Newtown and many other cases were legitimately purchased yet still used for evil purposes. They were not stolen by criminals but fell in the hands of family members who used them against one another. This is typical of what happens with many guns–more likely to be used in domestic violence or against those we know than intruders or for self-defense.

Or there is even the blame the liberals argument. I wonder what the partisan affiliation and voting preferences are of the shooters and victims?

Of course, when all else fails, the response is “We pray for them or the victims and families are in our prayers.” Prayer is the least one can do when you do nothing else. Shootings in Newton also raise horrible theological questions about why God would allow innocent children to die. I should like to see the Catholic Church and pro-lifers express as much rage and take as much action to protect the sanctity of life once born as they do for fetuses in the womb. I see no major push from them to do anything substantial regarding gun violence.

Why can we not have a meaningful debate about guns in America? Yes, the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms means something, but it ought not to be an impediment against reasonable regulation of guns and weaponry.

It should not make it possible for Adam Lanza to secure the stockpile of guns from his mother and then use them against her and children. It should not have shielded the ability of James Holmes, the alleged Aurora shooter, to stockpile ammo, booby trap an apartment, and blow away 12 people with an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle. Some tradeoff between individuals rights and collective security needs has to be read into the Amendment, yet instead its meaning has been hijacked by an extremist reading by the gun lobby and industry which has been able to scare primarily Republicans and secondarily Democrats into cowardice.

Had Newtown been an act of terrorism there would have been calls for more security protections much like we saw after 9/11. Granted many post 9/11 actions were unwarranted or merely symbolic, if not unconstitutional. Yet why do we not call what happened in Connecticut an act of domestic terrorism? Surely the Second Amendment and the Constitution can accommodate reasonable gun safety measures.

No other constitutional amendment is read in such absolutist language. Not should the Second Amendment.

The NRA and the gun lobby are a potent force in American politics. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, they spend between $5 and $6 million per year lobbying Congress. Since 1990 they have contributed $27.7 million to Republican and Democrat candidates for federal office with 86% of it going to the former. They have turned Republicans, the part of law and order, into a tody of the gun industry, supporting legislation that law enforcement officials often oppose.

The gun lobby also expends at the state level. In Minnesota the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance has expended at least $160,000 in the last decade lobbying for gun rights, successfully advocating for conceal and carry legislation that would have forced schools and churches to allow guns were it not for amendments to the law and a state Supreme Court decision that overturned that. They take pride in preventing gun registration and the fact that now more than 100,000 Minnesotans carry guns. The gun industry has probably spent even more to influence legislation through hunting, outdoors, and other ideological groups, yet current state disclosure laws make it difficult to calculate.

What have the purchased with their investments? The have browbeaten the government and scholars and academics who wish to investigate gun issues. It is virtually impossible to study anything related to gun violence because government funding for that purpose has dried up. The NRA pummeled historian Michael Bellesiles’s Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture who argued that gun ownership was the exception and not the rule in colonial America. It successfully convinced a Supreme Court to adopt a theory that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms and not one tied to collective self-defense through the military.

But beyond that it has argued that bans on armor piercing bullets are excessive government regulation. That Americans should have a right to own automatic and semi-automatic weapons for the purpose of self-defense or hunting. Guns such as those used to kill JFK or wound Ronald Reagan are entitled to constitutional protection. In fact the logic of their arguments seems to be that each red-blooded American has a right to own a tank and an atomic bomb.

But that is not where the lunacy ends. They have defined a political agenda where even what once seemed absurd now is debated. One always had a right to defend one self with deadly force in your home, but in Minnesota and other states “stand your ground” legislation would give individuals the right to use deadly force at first instance (and not as a last resort) even out in public. Such a law in Florida may make it difficult to secure a conviction against George Zimmerman who is accused of killing Trayvon Martin. In Indiana a law lets citizens shoot at police officers if the later engage in an illegal act or raid.

The gun lobby will assert that arming this country has produced a kinder and gentler America. Arm us all they say and that will be a deterrent to crime. Yet there is no evidence that increased gun ownership has reduced crime in America. States with more lax gun laws do not reveal lower crime rates than those with more strict laws. Moreover, the idea of self-defense is largely a myth. In households with guns, those weapons are more likely to be used against a family member in domestic violence than they are to be used against an intruder or to prevent a crime. Maybe guns don’t kill people, but people with guns are more likely to kill people than those without guns. Go ask the people of North Minneapolis about this.

It is not just the crazy and insane who use guns. Law-abiding Americans in fits of passion misuse them, or they are stolen from them and wind up in the hand of others who misuse them.

The NRA has been brilliant in crying wolf. They decree that Barack Obama is public enemy number one to guns rights in America, describing first the 2008 and now the 2012 election as a major battle for liberty. Gun sales have shot through the roof with Obama as president on fear they he will disarm America. The fact is that the only thing Obama has done about guns is sign a law allowing for individuals to carry them in national parks. In the next few days gun sales will against soar as fears of regulation will mount.

But don’t count on it. Politicians are afraid to act. The public has grown numb to this violence. It is the price of a free society. Life goes on. So does death.

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David Schultz's picture
David Schultz

David Schultz is a professor in the School of Business at Hamline University.

Comments

Then let's have a real discussion about gun violence in America.

While we're at it, perhaps we can include the problem of the militarization of the police. The average World War II infantry regiment had less firepower than my current local police department. My county Sheriff actually has a gunboat (thanks to the foresight of Big Bob Fletcher) to deter the possibility of Jihadists swimming upstream to attack the Ordway Theatre. This year seems to have had more than the usual number of fatal police shootings in the metro area, some of which have involved a heartfelt "Oops!".

If we're going to have gun sanity, then let's have it. But no half-way measures, please.


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