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Assault weapons must be regulated
To the editor:
Two weeks after 35 people were killed in a 1996 gun massacre in Tasmania, then Australia’s prime minister John Howard ushered in a semi-automatic weapon ban. That same year a massacre in a Scottish school in Dunblane claimed 16 children and one teacher. The following year the private ownership of most handguns was banned in Britain.
The day after the Sandy Hook massacre killed 26 in Newton, Conn., demand for assault weapons exploded. One gun owner reported that he sold more AR-15 and AK-47 rifles in one week than he would normally sell in a year. Our preoccupation with guns has reached insane proportions. We already own nine guns for every 10 citizens in this country. This totals 270 million or 30 percent of the entire world’s privately owned firearms.
We lose 31,000 family members to gun violence every year. That amounts to 85 deaths per day. By contrast, Great Britain registers 42 similar deaths per year. On a per capita basis, our death rate attributable to firearms is 9 per 100,000 population. Japan is at 0.07 and the U.K. at 0.22 One could legitimately argue that the reasons behind these morbid statistics, which distinguish us from all other developed countries, is accessibility, our Second Amendment, the National Rifle Association, and perhaps a residual frontier mentality.
The NRA has 4.2 million members who provide in excess of $100 million in membership fees. The organization likes to present itself as a membership organization. In fact, it really is a lobbying group with immense political leverage funded largely by the gun industry. It has managed to keep Congress from adopting effective gun control legislation. Even after Sandy Hook, its position has been that to combat similar massacres — we had 11 of them last year — we need more guns.
Its members object to restrictions on private ownership of any type of firearm, even including rocket launchers. They fiercely object to a national gun registry because it is felt that this would allow the government access to information that could be used to confiscate their weapons. They object to mandated background checks when guns are acquired from any other source than licensed gun dealers. This means 40 percent of all guns are sold without background checks. Their opposition always is couched in language involving the Second Amendment.
The second amendment to our constitution, adopted in 1791, was modeled on a condition found in the English Bill of Rights of 1689. In it, the king was prohibited from disarming his subjects. During our Revolutionary period, the fear of being disarmed was real, and the amendment was an understandable reaction to that fear. Since that time the confusing, convoluted language of the amendment has gone through a lot of debate featuring various interpretations of the Founders’ intent.
Although the Supreme Court has decided in favor of private gun ownership, there is no reason why this right can’t reasonably be regulated. The sheer magnitude of the numbers involved makes it unlikely that we can take all guns out of circulation. Besides, few would argue against ownership of guns for gaming purposes. However, military weapons belong with the military. Private clubs could be set up where enthusiasts could go to shoot assault weapons, and then leave without taking the guns home. All dealers could be mandated to have a license to sell. Gun owners could be required to have an operating license, just like all of us who drive motor vehicles are required to have a license. A national gun registry could be inaugurated over the objection of the gun lobby, making things much easier for law enforcement. Background checks could be more exhaustive, and need to be required of anyone attempting to make a purchase, be it at a gun show, online or at a store. Finally, some weapons and high-capacity ammunition feeding devices simply don’t belong in private hands. Senator Feinstein is re-introducing an assault weapons bill this session. I hope it is comprehensive, and that the Sandy Hook massacre will help change enough votes in Congress to get this adopted.
If this latest calamity does not prompt us to change our preoccupation with guns and force sensible controls, what will? How many more kids need to be slaughtered before we wake up and get angry enough to demand change? If not now, when? We all need to contact our elected representatives and instruct them to do their job.
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