, Gloucester, MA

January 25, 2013

Outdoors: Gun Control Debate

Dave Sartwell

---- — Memo to the NRA

Please...Stop...You are embarrassing yourself!

There are times in life when political rhetoric and plays to the base have to give way to reasoned discourse. The tragedy in Newtown, Conn., is only the most recent in a string of horrors where innocent children and young adults have been slaughtered by a deranged person. We gun owners have to be ready to accept that with the Second Amendment there comes an incredible responsibility.

Last Wednesday President Obama put forth many recommendations which he feels would help curb gun violence in America. Responsible gunners need to join with him to support many of those recommendations.

I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment. Regular readers will remember that several years ago I wrote a five-part series in this paper on the history of the Second Amendment. Those columns received more letters to the editor than almost any single issue we have ever raised.

I stated then and believe it even more so now that we as a nation need to attack the culture of gun violence. Gun owners like myself need to step forward and say that there needs to be more restrictions on who can own a gun, what guns and ammunition should be available to the general public, and to support a new approach to the treatment of mental illness.

In the Heller decision rendered in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that individuals have the right to keep handguns in their home for self defense.

In December of this past year, the Seventh Circuit Court held that the “bear” part of “to keep and bear” arms meant that the ruling had to be extended outside the home as well. I only bring this up to point out that the interpretation of what is permissible under the Second Amendment is far from settled.

Justice Scalia, one of the most conservative justices on the Supreme Court, wrote in the Heller ruling that the government does have wide latitude in governing who can posses arms, the kind of weapons and ammunition that can be sold and the settings in which they can be carried. Little of what the President has proposed is in conflict with that decision.

Let’s review some of the major points.

Background checks

At the present time when I want to purchase a firearm from a licensed gun dealer I have to fill out a form and go through a background check to make sure I am not a convicted felon, drug addict or have been judged mentally ill. This process has kept firearms out of the hands of some seriously defective folks.

Unfortunately there is a huge loophole in this process. Gun shows are exempt. You could be a person on the federal “no fly” list and go to a gun show and fill up the trunk of your car with weapons. It is estimated 40 percent of all gun sales are made without this review.

This has to change immediately. Everyone who buys a firearm needs to go through a background check. This has the support of the vast majority of gun owners, including those in the NRA. In a recent Time/CNN poll, 87 percent of those surveyed supported background checks at shows.

High Capacity Magazines

There is no need for anyone to own a high capacity magazine for their gun. If you are a good hunter you should be done with one. If you are not that good a shot, maybe two. Home defense proponents say it should be at least ten. The California law is 10 but it is 7 in New York. The data seems to indicate that criminals use high-capacity magazines more on pistols than rifles in the commission of their crimes. The pistol is easier to hide.

However, the federal restrictions passed in 1994 and current the state restrictions do nothing about the millions of high-capacity magazines that are already in circulation. To have an impact here you would have to develop and fund a buyback program and then make them illegal after a certain date.

Armor Piercing Bullets

There is absolutely no need for anyone other than the military to posses these bullets. Their sole purpose is to drive through police bulletproof vests. We need to protect those who risk their live protecting us.

Assault weapons

There is a huge problem with an assault rifle ban. No one seems to be able to accurately define the term. California was the first state to outlaw assault weapons in 1989. Their approach was to name specific weapons. The arms manufacturers simple renamed them and changed the model numbers.

That approach was changed to incorporate a list of features that turn a regular rifle into an assault rifle. Of the seven states that currently have assault weapon bans, each of them has a different definition. The law in Connecticut left the Bushmaster as legal while the same rifle is banned in California. Getting a handle on this question will be extremely difficult and there does not seem to be any political will in Congress to change it. That being said, there are measures we can all agree on that should be implemented. Grenade launchers, flash suppressors, pistol grips and other features could be eliminated without too much dissent from gun owners.

Mental Health

Years ago when we were going through a budget crunch we emptied out the mental hospitals and put people onto the street. Our jails soon became the place where many mentally ill people were warehoused. Very little treatment and almost no hope of recovery. We need to do a better job of identifying the mentally ill and providing them with humane care. We also need to help mental health professionals with guidelines on when to report those with behavior that could threaten us all.

The homicide rate in America has dropped quite considerably in the past 20 years. In 1993 there were 18,253 deaths ruled homicide. That had dropped to 11,101 by 2011. Unfortunately, suicide by gun has increased from 18,940 to 19,766 in the same time period.

Change in this gun debate will not be easy, there is just too much money involved. Let me give you a couple of facts. There were 5,459,240 guns manufactured in America in 2010. There were also 3,252,404 guns imported to America that same year. This is a big business with billions of dollars exchanging hands.

With this amount of money involved, there will be a lot spent on influence peddling. We should not be under the illusion that changing this huge part of the economy is going to be easy. And, before a politician is going to stick his neck out for change, he or she has to be ready for the onslaught of money that will be spent against him or her in the next election. Change will only happen if reasonable folks stand up.

We need to decide as a nation that we can not let the paranoid right or the screaming left detract us from what is reasonable and right. I dropped my membership from the NRA back sometime in the 1980s when they started to become an organization of the fringe. There was no room there for a socially liberal, fiscally conservative guy who believed in all of the amendments to the Constitution.

When people holler at me about their Second Amendment rights and how the government is out to get them, I remind them that these rights are not the only rights guaranteed in the Constitution. What about the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that was yanked from those 20 little 6-year olds. They will never experience their first kiss, go to the prom, get married, have children and go over to see their grandma on Thanksgiving. They are forever gone. We, as gun owners, have the absolute responsibility to stand up and say “Enough is Enough.”

What President Obama is proposing is comprehensive and I have not given it the space here it deserves. Concerned gun owners should go online and read the whole proposal to see what they can and cannot support. This is not about legitimate people owning guns and using them correctly. It’s about illegal weapons making their way to the streets and being used in crimes.

Of course these proposed measures will never offer absolute protection. No one can stop a really crazy person from doing evil. However, if any of these measures deter even one person from carrying out one of these horrors, it is worth the effort.

So I am challenging every gun owner to look into the eyes of their children and grandchildren and ask what it is you would give up to protect them as they head off to school. I think what is proposed, while not perfect, is at least worthy of reasoned consideration. Contact your congressional representatives and let them know how you feel.