As a result of Roe v. Wade, welfare reform and contraceptive availability, the population of young criminals you and I shaped through the hopelessness of racism, joblessness and no education has been reduced, producing a peace dividend of street crime not seen since the ’40s and ’50s. NYC reached murder levels of over 2,000 per year in the’80s, now reduced to one-fourth of that total. The trend is national and under-appreciated.
Driving deaths are down as a result of MADD’s efforts, seat belts, DUI enforcement and other debate-produced precautions.
Smoking is way down. Advertisements are off our screens. A vigorous debate on restrictions did a trick many thought impossible. Who smokes these days?
But guns kill about 30,000 Americans yearly. Control of firearms, in any form is the third rail of Minnesota politics. Warren Spannaus was figuratively shot down over it, and my piddling efforts at state office plummeted as a result of my saying unregistered handguns should be confiscated.
The National Rifle Association has forgotten its middle name.
The issue is not rifles or hunting. Machine guns have been banned for over 70 years. Nobody has ever shot an assailant—notwithstanding the NRA’s efforts to arm children. Four-year-olds have shot their 2-year-old brothers. Grandfathers have shot grandchildren, and teens have had horrible accidents.
In the ’80s, as Chief of Police in Minneapolis, I would not grant a permit to have a handgun unless need and proficiency were first established. That is now history—gone the way of practically all restrictions on all firearms. All in the name of the Second Amendment, but any freedom has to be legally restricted. If you don’t believe that try inciting to riot or adopting ritual human sacrifice in your new religion.
The NRA loves to cite Norway and its tragedy, but the event is most notable for its rarity. No other first world country awakens to the shooting nightmares we do. Any disturbed maniac can literally execute his (and it’s invariably a he) sickest fantasies anytime he likes. And he targets—as in the movie house, Virginia college, Arizona political meeting or any mall—an unexpected group usually unconnected to a specific grievance. The constant is the need to transmit pain.
So, we get into a debate about mental health, but we’ve closed the institutions, medicated (or tried to) the sufferers and imprisoned the rest. That’s been our answer. And most of the mentally disturbed don’t shoot innocents.
The NRA is nasty.
They bully, buy and badger pusillanimous politicians to do their bidding. I once convinced Daryl Gates, LAPD’s Chief, to take out a full-page ad in the New York Times to ban assault weapons (paid for by Handgun Control, Inc., where I’d been president of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence). Daryl, a real friend of the NRA, thought the initiative pretty tepid and was shocked by the reactions. The NRA dubbed him one of America’s 10 foremost “gun-grabbers.” Catchy term.
Now, of course, there are basically no controls and any initiatives are attacked. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has led an utterly beleaguered existence. The BATF should be the national clearing house for gun information—as the FBI is for crime—but the NRA has neutered it.
What should be done?
The central question is concealable firearms such as handguns. They must be controlled—licensed, proficiency and need established.
The issue of long guns centers on semi-automatic status and huge magazines, and these must be addressed by legislators.
The notion of focusing on bullets and their control and registry is, I think, a diversion that weakens the argument against weapons meant only to kill or maim humans. The NRA loves to fight the peripheral issues, which leaves their core values untouched.
This strikes me as a now-or-never moment. The Newtown tragedy reflects the utter nuttiness of the nation’s surrender to the NRA— starkly revealed.
Now the U.S.A. faces itself. Shall those babies have died in vain? Will we bestir ourselves to undertake measures that will make these innocents safer? Or will we wait for the moment to pass, for the wound to scab over and for the NRA to resume its triumphant march?
From a single crime know a nation. —Virgil
A publisher’s afterthought
The supreme legal authority that guides the passing and enforcement of laws at all levels is the U.S. Constitution, and the guiding principles that inform all legislation and administration is the Bill of Rights. That is the basis for our understanding of our political system. You cannot operate without it, and you cannot talk about guns and the right to bear arms without talking about the Second Amendment: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
And you cannot understand this amendment without understanding the historic context and the rest of the Constitution. Everyone should understand that the reason there was a need for a “well regulated militia” was because the founding fathers (and probably their more enlightened mothers) believed there should be no standing army. Article. I. Section. 8. I.e. The U.S. Constitution clearly dictates that there will be no standing army in the U.S. other than when Congress declares war, which shall not be for more than two years: “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.”
“There shall be no standing army but in time of actual war.” —Thomas Jefferson: Draft Virginia Constitution, 1776. Papers 1:363
“The Greeks and Romans had no standing armies, yet they defended themselves. The Greeks by their laws, and the Romans by the spirit of their people, took care to put into the hands of their rulers no such engine of oppression as a standing army. Their system was to make every man a soldier and oblige him to repair to the standard of his country whenever that was reared. This made them invincible; and the same remedy will make us so.” —Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, 1814. ME 14:184
I would happily agree to an unrestricted interpretation of the Second Amendment, if the supporters of that amendment would support the rest of the Constitution and do away with a standing army. Withdraw all foreign military bases, eliminate the standing armies and rely entirely for our self-defense on a well-armed citizen’s militia. That would eliminate our deficit by cutting our federal budget almost in half.
And, if we do return to constitutional purity, and the mad proliferation of Glocks, Sauers and Bushmasters would then increase, then why should I not be allowed to build an atomic bomb?