Gun control: A time to act

What price commonsense about gun control in the USA? How many massacres? How many homicides? All the arguments against strict gun laws are spurious, yet complacency reigns in the face of some 10,000 deaths by firearms annually since at least 2005.

“How Guns Won” is the theme of TIME Magazine (August 6, 2012) with two articles about “Why even mass shootings won’t change Americans’ views on gun laws” and “Can we stop madmen before they strike?” Unfortunately, the underlying assumption in both – endorsed in the Editor’s Desk column – is that the fabled constitutional “right to keep and bear arms” is inviolable. Surely, the starting point for a commonsense debate is not the Constitution, but the a priori question: “Is this right relevant, acceptable or moral?”

Joe Klein’s article “How the Gun Won” points to the political abdication of responsibility in the face of mass shootings in the USA that from 1976 to 2010 have averaged nearly 20. Klein says that despite President Obama’s call for a “national conversation” after the near-fatal shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford in 2011, no such public debate took place. “It was striking, and disappointing, that both Obama and Mitt Romney – and most of jaded mass media – scurried away from any substantive discussion after alleged gunman James Holmes went on a murderous spree in a Colorado movie theater, shooting 70 and killing 12.”

Holmes, similar to others before him, had obtained weapons and amassed ammunition legally and easily, although he had taken steps to conceal what he was doing from colleagues and neighbours. There are two weasel words in the preceding sentence: “legally” (why can’t it be made illegal to buy handguns and semiautomatic assault weapons?) and “easily” (why can’t it be made as difficult as possible to come into the possession of such weapons?)

Klein notes that, “Democratic-leaning constituencies – especially minorities and the poor – remain the primary victims of gun violence. And yet the party has abandoned the gun-control debate, leaving the field to the ever more fanatic National Rifle Association (NRA).” Supporting the call for tighter laws controlling guns and ammunition, Klein cites a recent poll indicating that “gun owners favour stricter background checks – including a ban on the sale of guns to persons on the government’s terrorist watch list – and gun safety training, especially for those seeking permits to carry concealed weapons.” But no government is about to sell guns to terrorists (well, not unless they’re “our kind of terrorist!) and why should people need to carry concealed weapons?

The same issue of TIME carries John Cloud’s “Can we identify dangerous men before they kill?” The article relies on research published in the journal Behavioural Sciences & the Law in 2004, concluding that while there are commonalities it is impossible to identify a mass murderer in advance. Nothing new there. “Mass murderers are a vexing a diverse lot. For instance, the typical mass killer said nothing suspicious to friends or family members but signalled his intent to third parties – especially in the case of the kids who shot up their schools, classmates they liked.”

Cloud answers his question in the first paragraph. “It may well be that no gun ban or background check could prevent such a determined man [James Holmes] – one with no criminal record and with uncommon student achievement in neuroscience [don’t quite see the relevance] – from acquiring assault weapons.” Well, yes and no. For starters, let’s make it impossible to obtain such weapons legally or easily.No new nation today founded on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law would make a Constitutional provision for its citizens (in explicit contrast to its military or police forces) to bear arms. The US Constitution is more than 200 years old, venerable but not without fault. It can be amended, although in a lengthy process that demands political stubbornness and determined public support. Here’s a wording for an Amendment: “No firearm or handgun or longgun or shotgun or carbine or automatic weapon or the ammunition to arm them shall be sold or purchased by anyone within the United States except by Federal license subject to stringent public safety measures.”

According to 2012 data supplied by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the US has the highest gun ownership rate in the world – an average of 88 per 100 people. Put another way, with less than 5% of the world’s population, the United States is home to roughly 35 to 50% of the world’s civilian-owned guns. Why?

Time to act before the next mass shooting and public wringing of hands.

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3 comments on “Gun control: A time to act

  1. tillyv says:

    Spot on…

  2. F. Baker says:

    There are 3 times more deaths in this country by automobile than by guns. By your deduction, we should have more regulations on who can and can’t own cars, or ban cars all together. Of course, there is no constitutional amendment for us to have cars. Your logic is misguided.

    • Philip Lee says:

      Sorry, no: Cars are not intended to maim and kill. That they do so is unfortunate and might call for tighter controls over licensing people, or stricter enforcement of drink-drive laws, or more speed restrictions. But guns have one purpose: to maim or kill. My logic is impeccable.

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