Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Gun Control American Style

We ‘regulate’ escalating gun homicides with soundbites and mythology. We ignore the ‘well-regulated militia’ part of the Second Amendment to justify virtually unrestrained gun ownership in so many conservative states. We have completely overlooked the changes in the technology of guns from 1789 single-shot, front-loading muskets – the year the Second Amendment was enacted – to the modern large-magazine, semi-automatic weapons like the AR15 owned by so many private citizens. We’ve gone from awkward military guns to lean, mean, super-efficient, human being-decimating machines with little risk of missing the target. And anyone in this country can get one! ANYONE.
The National Rifle Association mantra – ‘the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun’ mantra – is wildly statistically invalid. Not only do we have little or no method of determining that moment when a “good guy” elects to become a “bad guy,” no serious method to restrict guns solely to the legitimate purchasers, but the ratio of “self-defense” gun homicides to criminal homicides is somewhere between 1 to 32 or 38, depending on whose numbers you use. For a more detailed presentation of the relevant numbers, please revisit my June 26th blog, Racism is Bad; Racism with Guns We Let Them Have… Unforgivable.
Then comes the myth that with over 300 million guns (more than one gun for every person over 12 in the entire United States), if we restrict gun ownership, only criminals will have guns. Look again at that that ratio of self-defense to criminal homicide above. And then look at another modern nation with that same “wild west” value system that seems to permeate the United States as well: Australia. After a 1996 mass shooting in Port Arthur, with 35 dead and 23 wounded from a man with an AR10 assault rifle (the precursor to the more efficient AR15), Australia passed legislation to rein in private gun ownership.
Australians reacted to the event with widespread shock and horror, and the political effects were significant and long-lasting. The federal government led state governments, some of which (notably Tasmania itself and Queensland) were opposed to new gun laws, to severely restrict the availability of firearms. While surveys showed up to 85% of Australians 'supported gun control', many people strongly opposed the new laws. Concern was raised within the Coalition Government that fringe groups such as the 'Ausi Freedom Scouts', the Australian League of Rights and the Citizen Initiated Referendum Party, were exploiting voter anger to gain support. After discovering that the Christian Coalition and US National Rifle Association were supporting the gun lobby, the government and media cited their support, along with the moral outrage of the community to discredit the gun lobby as extremists.
“Under federal government co-ordination, all states and territories of Australia banned and heavily restricted the legal ownership and use of self-loading rifles, self-loading and pump-action shotguns, and heavily tightened controls on their legal use. The government initiated a "buy-back" scheme with the owners paid according to a table of valuations. Some 643,000 firearms were handed in at a cost of $350 million which was funded by a temporary increase in the Medicare levy which raised $500 million. Media, activists, politicians and some family members of victims, notably Walter Mikac (who lost his wife and two children), spoke out in favour of the changes.” Wikipedia
Did these efforts work? A study by “Andrew Leigh of Australian National University and Christine Neill of Wilfrid Laurier University [found] that the firearm homicide rate fell by 59 percent, and the firearm suicide rate fell by 65 percent, in the decade after the law was introduced, without a parallel increase in non-firearm homicides and suicides. That provides strong circumstantial evidence for the law's effectiveness.” Washington Post, August 2, 2012.
Recently, we have the killings in Charleston, South Carolina and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Confederate flags have come down. Nothing has changed in gun control. Indeed, as the Aurora, Colorado trial resulted in a murder conviction for James Holmes, who killed 12 and wounded 70 others at a movie theater in July of 2012, a copycat killer – a mental case who had zero difficulty buying a gun at a pawn shop – pulled off another killing in a Lafayette, Louisiana movie theater. Two died there; nine others were wounded. “The gunman, John Russell Houser, became the latest figure in a gallery of angry men with weapons who walked into a movie theater, a church, a school or a workplace and shattered the lives of people there.
“Accounts from acquaintances, law enforcement officials and court records portrayed Mr. Houser, 59, of Phenix City, Ala., who also took his own life, as a man with a diffuse collection of troubles and grievances — personal, political and social — who had a particular anger for women, liberals, the government and a changing world.
“Because he had been accused of both domestic violence and soliciting arson, though never successfully prosecuted, he was denied a permit to carry a concealed pistol. His family repeatedly described him as violent and mentally ill; his mental health had been called into question going back decades, and he spent time in a hospital receiving psychiatric care. He vandalized the house he was evicted from last year, and tampered with the gas lines in a way that could have caused a fire or explosion…
“Mr. Houser legally bought the gun he used in the shooting from a pawnshop in Phenix City last year, law enforcement officials said. A purchase at a store requires a federal background check, and serious mental illness can be grounds for denial, but the database of prohibited buyers is imperfect.” New York Times, July 24th.
With a proliferation of guns here in the United States, the gun manufacturing lobby – the NRA – “needs” to encourage consumers to have variety in their weapons choices and to upgrade their killing efficiency with better guns with bigger magazines. The NRA, which began as an organization to encourage gun safety/responsibility and proper gun instruction, has gone rogue. With so much money from gun-makers and irresponsible membership dues, it has the ability to kill the electability of politicians trying to impose rationality to this malignancy in American gun ownership. Since the Lafayette shooting just a few days ago, there have been dozens and dozens of subsequent shootings and resulting homicides.
In an interview with the BBC just before the Lafayette murders, President Barack Obama spoke about his inability to implement any meaningful gun control during his tenure: “"That is an area where …I feel that I've been most frustrated and most stymied… It is the fact that the United States of America is the one advanced nation on earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense, gun-safety laws. Even in the face of repeated mass killings… If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it's less than 100. If you look at the number been killed by gun violence, it's in the tens of thousands. And for us not to be able to resolve that issue has been something that is distressing. But it is not something that I intend to stop working on in the remaining 18 months."
But gun control doesn’t seem to be a political issue that anyone facing the 2016 elections is willing to address: “Though most [presidential candidates] denounced the [Lafayette] shooting and called for prayers for the victims — as they did after recent shootings in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Charleston, S.C. — none of the presidential contenders offered policy solutions to address gun violence, a reflection of the fact that gun laws are politically radioactive…
“Strategists in both parties say that, regardless of who wins the White House next year, there is little chance for passing gun legislation because Republicans, who will almost certainly still control the House, will not bring any bills restricting gun access up for a vote. The only times in recent American history when significant gun control bills were signed into law — 1968, 1993 and 1994 — were when Democrats controlled the presidency and both chambers of Congress.
“Although President Obama said this week that the failure to persuade Congress to pass “common sense gun safety laws” was one of the great regrets of his presidency — just hours before the shooting in Louisiana — Congress is unlikely to close any of the loopholes in federal gun laws exposed by the recent shootings.” New York Times. Without a powerful grassroots groundswell of support for a change in our gun laws, guns will get more efficient, there will be more of them sold in the United States and more victims will die needlessly or be horrifically injured. It’s time. The numbers are getting worse and worse.

I’m Peter Dekom, and it’s time for Americans to follow the path set by Australia and discredit the NRA and other gun lobbyists as extremists who are way out of line with our real values

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