After Charleston, voters must demand new gun laws
It’s another deadly deja vu.
Soon, we’ll hear another solemn presidential eulogy, this time for the innocents slaughtered at prayer in Charleston.
We’ve already seen the carefully worded statements from our various would-be presidents. What we haven’t seen is the concerted, courageous, long-term commitment necessary to remedy the basic failing that allows violence like this.
That is, our weak gun laws.
Despite the recurrent mass murders that have horrified Americans, Congress has fallen down on the job of passing reasonable gun control. And the reason for that failure? The gun lobby, in its National Rifle Association guise and other incarnations, is more zealous about its pro-gun goals than those who favor reasonable gun laws are about their cause.
As former US Representative Barney Frank notes, NRA members turn out at the polls — and most of them are single-issue voters.
That helps explain why, after the Sandy Hook massacre, the gun lobby was able to block a publicly popular measure to close the loophole that lets gun buyers sidestep federal background checks when purchasing from private dealers at gun shows, over the Internet, or in other easily arranged transactions. A majority of senators favored the measure, but not the 60 required to end a filibuster.
And there things ended.
With the GOP having consolidated control of Congress, short-term prospects for tougher federal guns laws are problematic. Still, this is a time to lay the groundwork for longer-term change. All the presidential candidates, certainly, should be queried about whether they support measures to keep guns out of the hands of the criminally or violently inclined and the mentally ill.
The fight should also continue on the state level, where some progress has been made since Sandy Hook. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, some 37 states have tightened their gun laws to some degree, with 10 making major overhauls. (There has also been movement in the opposite direction, of course.)
John Rosenthal, chairman of Stop Handgun Violence, notes that the state-by-state evidence is clear: States that require permits to buy and carry guns, and that give law enforcement discretion in their issuance, regularly record the lowest rates of gun deaths.
It’s also time to dissipate some of the disinformation pumped out by the gun lobby.
For example, the constant refrain that guns deter crime, or end it with less lethality than would otherwise be the case, doesn’t withstand statistical scrutiny. A careful new study by the Violence Policy Center, based on federal crime data, finds that guns are 32 times more likely to be used for criminal homicide than for justifiable homicide (that is, self-defense). Further, intended victims of violent crime only tried to ward off the criminal by using or threatening to use a firearm about one percent of the time, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Despite the assertion that pro-gun forces are winning the battle for public opinion, support for reasonable gun laws remains strong. According to a poll by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, 83 percent favored background checks for all gun sales, while 80 percent supported prohibiting anyone with a temporary domestic restraining order from buying a gun.
“It’s noteworthy that attitudes among gun owners were well over a majority for a whole range of different measures to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals,” said Johns Hopkins associate professor Colleen Barry.
This fight isn’t lost, then. Far from it.
It’s time to speak up and speak out.
To fight fog with facts.
And to be every bit as determined as the other side.