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Altering Gun Laws Isn’t An Absolute Answer, But It’s Change Within Our Control

What made a young couple walk into a health facility and start shooting people? It wasn’t our gun laws. It wasn’t the easy ability to purchase a weapon in this country.

If such things made people killers, all Americans would be killers. In that narrow way, gun advocates who bristle at any change after the San Bernardino killings are right.

No one makes you pull a trigger.

But if you stop the argument there, you’re being naive — as naive as saying no one makes you abuse drugs, no one forces you to drink and drive, no one tells you to give your money to phony investment advisors. Yet we have laws regarding all those things.

Laws, smartly written, address the dangers facing a society. The item in question should be less important than the threat.

But our biggest gun law was written 224 years ago, and it remains mostly about that — guns, and the ownership of them. It’s not about bad behavior, murderous thoughts or anything else that guns frequently exacerbate. We have been arguing over this law, the Second Amendment, for centuries.

But we don’t touch it. Because it’s part of our Constitution. Because it’s cherished by many. And because, supporters argue, it’s not the law that makes people put on vests, drop their baby at a relative’s house, then go on a mass murder spree and die.

That’s a sick mind.

And you can’t legislate against a sick mind.

Recently, the New York Times ran its first front page editorial in nearly 100 years. It called for the end of the “gun epidemic.” Before that, the New York Daily News, in criticizing lawmakers who offered prayers for victims but no new legislation, ran the headline “GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS.”

Naturally, both papers were buried in insults, dismissed as “typical liberals,” and argued against with an avalanche of selected facts and figures that make the case for doing nothing — or for arming more Americans, not fewer. President Obama, calling for tougher gun laws, was shouted down by a well-practiced chorus of critics, who cynically noted, “How’s it working for Paris?”

But being loud and being right are two different things. It’s always easier to scream against change than to create it. Especially since what change would be 100 percent effective? If we banned every gun in the country, some criminals would still get their hands on them, or use bombs instead, etc.

But is that a reason to watch the next whacked out fundamentalist go freely into a U.S. gun shop, legally purchase guns designed for quick, multiple killings, then use them on fellow citizens to go out in a blaze of infamy?

Because you know it will happen again.

I don’t have a fast answer for this. Nor do I have the energy or stomach to argue with hate-spewing people who are so mesmerized by gun possession they won’t budge an inch. It’s pointless.

But I do take issue with those who refuse to accept that mass killings with assault weapons fall under the same category as a hunter wanting to go after ducks. Yes, we have had guns in this country since its inception, but we have not had other things: a media that sensationalizes violence on a global scale, a population that feels alienated, video entertainment that numbs you to murder and a Internet that can connect all these elements with warped minds that see death as a badge of honor.

I’m pretty sure if America in 1791 had IEDs, jihads and YouTube, our Second Amendment wouldn’t read the way it does. But we cling to words written 224 years ago in a world that changes by the blink. This fact remains: people without a previous criminal history can make their first bad deed a doozy with legally purchased American guns, and killing them once they do only speeds up what many of them hope for: a sensationalized death. This is not limited to Islamic fundamentalists. Mass shootings in Colorado Springs (three dead), Oregon (nine dead) and Charleston, S.C. (nine dead) — all in the last six months — had nothing to do with Islam.

We can leave gun laws untouched, but something else will eventually give: maybe surveillance on every home and business; metal detectors on every door frame; random interrogations, sweeping immigration reform, airborne snipers, rounding up of particular religions. All things that will make America look a lot less like America than if its people were a little less armed.

Our choice. But sick, murderous minds are here to stay. How easy we make it for them is the only thing we can control.


Photo: Handguns are seen for sale in a display case at Metro Shooting Supplies in Bridgeton, Missouri, November 13, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young

Gun-Control Activists Stage Nationwide Rallies

Every few weeks this summer, there was another shooting in the news. There was the massacre in a Charleston, South Carolina church in June; in July, theatergoers watching an Amy Schumer comedy were assaulted by gunfire in Lafayette, Louisiana; and in August, two journalists were gunned down near Moneta, Virginia.

Under the banner of #WhateverItTakes, activists descended upon the Capitol for a rally on Thursday – scheduled to coincide with Congress’ recent return – to protest legislators’ inaction on gun reforms. The hashtag, which trended on Twitter, was part of a coordinated effort by Everytown for Gun Safety and the Everytown Survivor Network, a coalition of gun-control advocates, including Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, that formed last year. The nonprofit—originally backed by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who along with former Boston mayor Thomas Menino formed MAIG in 2006—was created specifically to combat the political force of the NRA.

One of the featured speakers at the Capitol rally was Andy Parker—the father of journalist Alison Parker, who was murdered two weeks ago in Virginia. Parker, who renounced his own run for office in order to devote himself to what he calls his “life’s work,” assailed certain Virginia politicians for failing to bring up gun legislation while in office.

“Too many members of Congress remain in the pocket of the gun lobby, and that has got to change,” Parker said. “If you won’t support background checks, we’ll find someone else who will.”

The rally at the Capitol was only one of about 50 coordinated rallies across the country, from Louisville, Kentucky to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Some of the rallies, like the two in North Carolina, took place at their respective senators’ home offices.

U.S. senator from Virginia Tim Kaine, Congressman Mike Quigley, and Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, who was the first politician to mention gun control after the August shooting in his state, were among the politicians in attendance.

Despite all the media coverage of continuous gun violence and statistics that show that the majority of Americans support increased background checks, among other reforms, national changes to gun policy have long been out of reach.

While none of the Republican candidates for president have spoken out in favor of reforms, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal criticized politicians for being opportunistic in the wake of the Lafayette shooting.

The only Democratic candidate for president who has repeatedly addressed the gun issue in any substantive way is Martin O’Malley. Hillary Clinton spoke out only after the shooting in Charleston, and Bernie Sanders has a mixed record; he has said that it is not a major issue for him.

O’Malley, who is running partly on his record of strict gun control and reducing crime as mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland, has a long history in dealing with both criminal justice reform – a cornerstone of his platform – and gun control.

O’Malley isn’t shy about his opinion on the matter, either.

After the Charleston shooting in June, O’Malley sent out an angry email to supporters, using the word “pissed” in both the subject line and four times in the body of the email. Calling the epidemic “a national crisis,” he pleaded with supporters that it was time to act.

He is calling for Congress to enact reforms similar to what he championed in Maryland, including banning assault weapons, instituting a strict licencing system that requires prospective gun buyers to undergo training and enter their fingerprints into a database, and tightening restrictions on who can be banned from purchasing a gun.

In an op-ed to the Boston Globe in July, O’Malley called for comprehensive gun safety laws, starting with the gun sales and gun shows so that only regulated licensed dealers can sell firearms.

“We should also impose greater restrictions on what, to whom, and where dealers can sell guns,” the email said. “That means banning the sale of assault weapons, increasing inspections, and establishing a national gun registry to help law enforcement track down dangerous criminals. It also means requiring gun owners to secure and safely store all firearms in their homes.”

President Obama has said that losing the battle on gun control legislation is among his biggest failures. He was visibly resigned, yet angry and as speechless as a president can be in the aftermath of the Charleston shootings, shaking his head in disbelief and calling on fellow lawmakers to stop the madness.

In a special broadcast by CNN where many Everytown activists – a broad coalition of survivors and family members of those affected by gun violence, among them, yet far from limited to, the parents of victims from the high-profile shootings at Isla Vista, California in May 2014; Sandy Hook, Connecticut in December 2012; Aurora, Colorado in July 2012; Tucson, Arizona in January 2011; and Virginia Tech in April 2007 – spoke to Brooke Baldwin on the eve of the Capitol march. Parker was one of 40 in attendance; most of those who spoke did so with tears streaming down their faces, hands clenched, in impassioned and angry tones.

“It is a world of difference now than it was on December 13,” said Colin Goddard, who was shot at the Virginia Tech shooting, referring to the massacre in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in which a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, before turning the gun on himself. Goddard, who has been involved in the movement for years, said that the coordinated efforts of Everytown has made a difference in political pressure.

“There has been no coordinated effort to bring people of similar experiences together …to tell each other ‘You’re not alone in this,’” he said.

“The NRA cannot defeat us on background checks, straight up. They have to associate with an extreme endpoint in order to muddy the waters and make people confused. Because when you do have a genuine background check conversation, the average American thinks ‘this makes sense, this ought to be done everywhere.’”

Photo: Andy Parker, the father of murdered journalist Alison Parker, speaks at the rally on Capitol Hill sponsored by Everytown for Gun Safety, a coalition of politicians, activists, and victims of gun violence. Everytown for Gun Safety/YouTube

Honor James Brady By Taking Real Action On Gun Violence

By Rekha Basu, Des Moines Register

Some of the most powerful lessons about what is good for a nation begin with one person’s tragedy. But too often, they’re not implemented until more people are martyred to the cause.

When he went to work as Ronald Reagan’s press secretary in 1981, James Brady could scarcely have imagined that gun control advocacy would become his life’s purpose. His boss had touted Second Amendment rights in his presidential campaign. Tea Party activists even made a poster of the former president saying, “You can’t get gun control by disarming law abiding citizens.” With his signature, Reagan made it easier to transport guns between states and ended federal records keeping on ammunition sales.

But the shooting two months into Reagan’s administration that injured him and left Brady paralyzed turned Brady and his wife, Sarah, into influential gun-reform activists.

Brady died Monday at 73, 22 years after becoming collateral damage to John Hinckley Jr.’s twisted fantasies about killing the president to win the affections of actress Jodie Foster. “There are few Americans in history who are as directly responsible for saving as many lives,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said in a statement.

Brady’s signature achievement is the law that bears his name. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act requires federal background checks on gun purchases. According to Gross, it has blocked 2 million gun sales to criminals, domestic abusers and other dangerous people. Though introduced in 1987, it didn’t become law until after Reagan had left office. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to the gun lobby, especially while courting Republican constituencies.

But Reagan did eventually come around. The former president who once wrote in Guns & Ammo magazine that gun control is pointless because murder can’t be prevented, wrote a 1991 New York Times opinion piece saying the 1981 shooting might not have happened if the Brady Bill had been law then. “This level of violence must be stopped,” he wrote, noting 9,200 people were murdered in a year by handguns. Reagan later joined former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in calling on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban, which still hasn’t happened.

Meanwhile, the number of gun fatalities has inched steadily upward. Congress has passed no significant gun control measures since 1993. It is now legal to carry a concealed weapon in all 50 states, according to the National Gun Victims Action Council, a nonprofit network of gun victims, survivors and the faith community. We’ve gotten used to seeing bodies — even tiny ones — carried out of schools, colleges, movie theaters and places of worship on the nightly news. Twenty-one states have recently taken it upon themselves to enact gun laws, but there is much more to be done. The Brady campaign rates every state.

NGVAC offers a common-sense set of proposals that could make us all safer without taking away gun owners’ rights. They include: That every gun owner be licensed and every gun be registered and insured; that criminals, mentally ill people and those legally prohibited from buying guns be barred from buying them at gun shows or over the Internet; that no one be allowed to carry guns into restaurants, bars, schools, and other gathering places; and that every gun have a smart trigger so it can only fire after recognizing the owner’s fingerprint.

Part of NGVAC’s approach is to lobby corporations to prohibit guns from their premises in much the same way the anti-smoking campaign did to get rid of second-hand cigarette smoke. Starbucks, Sonic Drive-In, Chipotle, Jack in the Box and Target already don’t allow people to carry guns in their stores, according to the organization.

It’s unfortunate that it has to take tragedies before politicians muster up the fortitude to say no to a lobby or a political stance. Ironically, years after Reagan came around to gun-control advocacy and was suffering from Alzheimer’s, his wife Nancy Reagan, broke ranks with another Republican president, George W. Bush, to plead for federal embryonic stem-cell research that might help people like her husband. Real life can intrude on hard-line stances.

But when it does, it can have an impact. “Jim and Sarah demonstrated that it was possible to turn a terrible tragedy into real change,” said the statement by the Brady Campaign president. Let’s not let Brady’s life pass without dedicating ourselves, as leaders, as parents and as individuals, to sensible gun-safety measures. We don’t need another human face to attach to the cause. We have enough legacies now, from Tucson, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Aurora, Newtown and beyond to have this lesson learned.

Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers may send her email at

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan

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Two Years After Aurora, Where’s The Gun Reform?

It’s been two years since the tragic Aurora, Colorado theater shooting, which killed 12 people and injured 70. But although many politicians, including President Obama, vowed that the nation would finally do something to strengthen gun regulations, Congress still hasn’t passed a single gun control law since. In fact, Congress hasn’t passed any major gun reform since 1994’s Assault Weapons Ban, which expired 10 years ago.

That doesn’t mean that nothing has changed, however. Months later, after the Newtown elementary school shooting in December 2012, the president set up a task force to address the issue. He promised to send Congress proposals for strengthening gun control, and he urged lawmakers to ban assault weapons, pass a universal background check law, and limit high-capacity ammunition clips.

He then signed 23 executive orders into law in January 2013. These included reducing barriers to background checks, researching the causes of gun violence, and improving mental health services. As Forbes explained at the time, “It does not appear that any of the executive orders would have any impact on the guns people currently own – or would like to purchase – and that all proposals regarding limiting the availability of assault weapons or large ammunition magazines will be proposed for congressional action.”

In other words, Congress still needed to act. In April 2013, the Senate voted to expand the background check system, a reform that 90 percent of Americans supported. But the amendment failed to to gain the 60 votes it needed to advance, due to pressure from the National Rifle Association and the lack of support from some red-state Democrats such as North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp.

President Obama called the vote “a shameful day in Washington.”

Obama took two more executive actions in August 2013. He banned military weapons that the United States had sold or given to allies from being imported back into the country. These weapons, however, are rarely used at crime scenes.

The president also attempted to close a loophole that allows felons and anyone else who can’t legally purchase a gun to register firearms to a corporation. The new rule requires anyone associated with that corporation to go through a background check. But that rule only applies to guns regulated under the National Firearms Act, which only regulates very deadly weapons such as machine guns.

Meanwhile, Congress still hasn’t passed any major gun legislation. The only step in the right direction was in May 2014, when the House passed an amendment that would increase funding for the country’s background check system.

In June, 163 House Democrats wrote an open letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), asking him to allow a vote on legislation to address gun violence. If he doesn’t allow a vote, it could resurface as a major issue in the midterms.

Even though there hasn’t been substantive national action to reduce gun violence, some states have taken gun control into their own hands.

Colorado’s state legislature passed laws that required universal background checks and limited gun magazines to 15 rounds of ammunition. Two Democratic state senators were recalled shortly thereafter, in an effort that was heavily supported by the NRA.

New York also passed new gun control and mental health laws. Other states have improved their background check systems, limited magazine capacity, and worked to prevent the mentally ill from accessing guns.

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 64 laws have strengthened state gun regulations since the Newtown shootings, and 70 laws have weakened them.

Photo: Rob Bixby via Flickr

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