Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
Bob Dylan, ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, 1962
When Bob Dylan wrote those lines, the US’s involvement, with our own troops, was just heating up in Vietnam, though we’d already been there in the form of ‘advisors’ since the mid 1950’s.
If he were questioned today, Dylan no doubt would shake his head in wonder, and disgust, because since the mass killing in a school in Sandy Hook CT in December, 2012, when 28 people, most of them children were killed, there have been, in this country, no fewer than 1000 (count ‘em, one thousand) more mass shootings, a bunch of them in schools.
‘How many deaths’, indeed!
Seven days after the Sandy Hook ‘incident’, Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA (National Rifle Association), which continues to profess it exists in the interests of marksmen, hunters and responsible gun owners, as Rolling Stone noted on January 13, 2013, said the following during an NRA press conference addressing that tragedy:
“Because of all the noise and anger directed at us [the NRA] over the past week, nobody has addressed the most important, pressing, and immediate question we face: How do we protect our children right now, starting today, in a way that we knows works?
“The only answer to that question is to face the truth. Politicians pass laws for gun free school zones; they issue press releases bragging about them. They post signs advertising them. And, in doing so, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.
“How have our nation’s priorities gotten so far out of order? Think about it. We care about our money, so we protect our banks with armed guards. American airports, office buildings, power plants, court houses, even sports stadiums are all protected by armed security.
“We care about our president, so we protect him with armed Secret Service agents. Members of Congress work in offices surrounded by Capital Police officers. Yet, when it comes to our most beloved, innocent, and vulnerable members of the American family, our children, we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless, and the monsters and the predators of the world know it, and exploit it.
“That must change now.”
Democratic candidates for president seemed to be leaning in the same direction at their first televised debate on October 13, The Guardian said. Noting that “Serious discussion of guns and gun control” took center stage at that Las Vegas event, the paper’s web site went on to quote Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, as saying, “This was unthinkable just four years ago. [It’s] evidence we have reached a tipping point in this movement.”
(Thirty years ago, Jim Brady was press secretary for President Ronald Reagan when an attempt was made on the president’s life. Brady was shot, and remains, to this day, partially paralyzed and unable to live a normal life.)
As Dr. Martin Luther King said in a totally different context – his ‘I’ve Got a Dream’ speech’ – “Thank God almighty!”
Finally, at long last, some ‘let’s fix this’ language may be supported by the organization that, truth be told, has for years done everything possible to thwart sensible gun-control laws – even to the point where gun-selling shops are enabled, under federal law pushed forward by the NRA, to maintain little or no control over their inventories, or keep reliable records of who they sell guns to.
A good start on explaining why there needs to be some controls over the activities of licensed gun dealers – those with shops and others, including pawn shops where gun sales are incidental to, but not the primary purpose of, the business – has been presented on the website smartgunlaws.org. It notes that 53,000 federal gun licenses have been issued to individuals (most acting as or representing companies) permitted to function as firearms dealers. Another 7,700 individuals have federal licenses permitting the sale of firearms in, as the operator of, a pawn shop. That’s a total of 61,200 licensed firearms dealers of one sort or another.
Smartguns.org also notes that demand for dealer licenses are in high demand because individuals holding such licenses “may purchase unlimited quantities of firearms through the mail, at wholesale prices.”
There’s certainly no reason – beyond the NRA’s opposition – that dealers should not be required to maintain close control of their inventory and records of individuals to whom guns are sold. That type of control could be invaluable – and hardly represents an infringement of any prospective gun owner’s supposed rights to possess a firearm. A graphic on Smartguns’ web site notes, one percent of licensed firearms dealers sell close to 60% of guns found at crime scenes and traced to a dealer.
Then there’s the issue of ‘military-grade’ firearms: An untold number of them are in the hands of private individuals in the U.S., and there is no rhyme or reason why even one should be.
Firearms designed for military use have one purpose and one purpose only: To injure and/or kill human beings. They are not playthings – to be used for, say, target-shooting.
No sensible interpretation of the Second Amendment could deem it acceptable for individuals to possess military-grade weapons based on an individual’s supposed right to bear arms.
The Library of Congress’s law library section devoted to Second Amendment issues notes that while there has been much discussion in and beyond courts on the meaning and limits of that Amendment, The Supreme Court has, via narrow, case-issue-specific decisions, ruled occasionally around single aspects of it. But that’s a tendency of The Supreme Court: To pick away bit by bit at issues while never really engaging them head-on.
It ruled on one occasion, in 2008’s District of Columbia v Heller case, that the Amendment provides a right of individuals to possess a firearm for self-defense. It ruled on another occasion, United States v. Cruikshank (1875) and again in Presser v. Illinois (1975) that the law does not prevent states from regulating firearms – presumably both their distribution and their uses.
That clearly suggests that while an individual has a Constitutional right to own some kind of firearm, individual states could certainly set limitations on the types of firearms they can legally possess.
Some states, where hunting isn’t a particularly popular pastime, might have a relatively easy time passing a law or two setting some such limitations. But others, such as Virginia, a largely rural southern state where hunting is a very popular pastime, would undoubtedly encounter a great deal of opposition – from hunters, individuals who imagine they need to be armed at all or most times for self-protection, and, on their behalf, the NRA.
The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles’ web site notes, under ‘media resources’, that of a total of 8,099,570 license plate sets issues in mid-June, 2014, a mere 34,223 of them bore the ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ special design favored by fervored gun owners. While the latter represents a miniscule share of the total plate-possessing population, it’s a very vocal share, a part of a growing trend toward rapidly increasing per-capita gun ownership in the Commonwealth.
And here’s a scary thought: The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, on its Virginia page, notes that possession of “machine guns, short barrel rifles, short barrel shotguns, or suppressors” are legal in the Commonwealth so long as all Federal and State [sic] laws are complied with. It adds, though, that if a machine gun is not registered within 24 hours of acquisition with the Department of State Police, “a presumption of possession of [such a gun] for an offensive or aggressive purpose is raised.” Raised, perhaps, but hardly ever acted upon, because as noted above, the state’s lack of record-keeping requirements ensures that too little effort is made to keep track of who is buying such weapons.
Fox News reported in August, 2013, that, “Amid calls nationwide for stricter gun control laws, Virginia [was] experiencing a unique trend: The state’s gun-related crime [was] decreasing, but firearms sales [were] increasing. Firearms sales rose 16% to a record 490,119 guns purchased from licensed gun dealers in 2012, according to sales estimates obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.”
However, the report continued, “During the same period, major crimes committed with firearms dropped 5% to 4,378.”
The University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service has noted that between 2010 and 2013, guns sales in Virginia rose from a rate of roughly 3,500 per 100,000 population to nearly 6,000.
Perhaps not coincidentally, over that same period of time, the percentage of Americans having faith
in the U.S. government and, to many’s way of thinking, that it can and/or will protect them.
How bad is that problem? A recent CNN poll found than less than 13% of Americans say government can be trusted.
Individuals imagining a need to defend themselves and their families undoubtedly will, in greater numbers, buy more and more guns, feeling uncomfortably certain that the government is not about to do anything to better protect them.
The rest of us need to ensure it does do so.
Oh, and note this: Not a single mass shooting in this country has been aborted or cut short by a gun-wielding private citizen.
So much for the self-defense argument.
Much about the issue of gun control is emotional, based not on hard fact, or even common sense – which, to most people, would strongly suggest there are too many of ‘em out there – but on sometimes misguided emotion.
Consider that, with a population of 314.1 million, the U.S. currently has a gun ‘population’ estimated, by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, of something like 270 million total guns. “That’s a average,” that organization says, “ 89 firearms for every 100 residents – far ahead of Yemen, which comes in second, with about 55 firearms for every 100 people, or Switzerland, which is third with 49 guns for every 100 people.”
Switzerland? Which doesn’t maintain an army, and has perpetually declared itself to be a neutral non-combatant since the home-coming of the cow sources of Swiss cheese? Maybe, quietly, that country is maintaining a militia, sans the regulation, of the one the U.S. Constitution envisioned!
But ultimately, here’s the thing: Switzerland’s death-by-gun rate is, at 2.91 per 100,000 people, less than a third the U.S.’s, at 10.64. Perhaps part of the reason for that difference is found here: The ‘stress rate’ in the U.S., of 74 compared countries, is 25.7, compared to Switzerland’s 9.2. (The two countries’ overall ‘stressed-out’ rankings were, respectively, 54 and 72, in this Bloomberg study.)
So, the NRA is partly right: It’s not guns that kill people; it’s stressed-out people bearing guns who do. Like Swiss watches, life ‘works’ well there. Too often, for too many people, it doesn’t in the U.S.
Perhaps addressing that would go some way to addressing the discontent causing so many of the U.S.’s young people to take up arms and kill quantities of their compatriots.