Easy access to high-tech weaponry at heart of gun control

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that, sometime after the birth of Jesus, King Herod ordered the murder of all first-born children in Bethlehem. If Herod had the “spin machine” employed by today’s National Rifle Association, Matthew’s account might never have been written, and what happened would have been erased from the pages of history.

Following the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary “slaughter of innocents”, the NRA and it’s more dogmatic supporters (like so many “Pavlov dogs” that salivate at the sound of their master’s voice) have put out the word that “guns don’t kill people.” They blame what happened on everything but the high-tech weaponry used in so many mass shootings in recent years.

Some forget that the NRA is a well-funded lobbyist organization that works on behalf of the highly-profitable gun merchants. The more people live in fear, the more guns they buy. The more guns are sold, the more profits these folks make. Are profits more important than the lives of our children and grandchildren? I hope not!

As has become the habit of many on the right, some gun-enthusiasts selectively quote the nation’s founders to “prove” that these gentlemen would approve of every American’s “right” to own any kind of firearm they choose. They overlook the fact that, after the defeat of Britain in 1782, founders like Washington adopted a very different view of having a “well-regulated militia”. During the 1791 “Whiskey Rebellion”, President Washington took the field with troops to put down an armed rebellion of anti-tax insurgents in western Pennsylvania. Even Thomas Jefferson (whom today’s reactionaries like to cite for his views on “states’ rights”) took action against supporters of Aaron Burr in 1807 and ordered the confiscation of a cache of arms on Island … Today’s supporters of “gun-owner rights” seem interested in more than just hunting and home-protection. They say that exotic firearms are “necessary” in case they are “called upon” to fight against some (imaginary?) “dictator”. In his New Year’s Day column in The Times, Walter Williams issued the incredibly unfactual assertion that “the people who want gun control are the very people who want to dictate and control our lives.” Oh really? Folks like Williams who make such paranoid claims might be the very people who should never be allowed to own firearms. What was “sedition” in 1791 and 1807 is still “sedition” in 2013 … Such silly claims have nothing to do with the current problem of how to prevent mass-shootings in schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, and other public-places.

What is the solution? At the present time, a federal committee chaired by Vice President Biden has been working hard to come up with some answers. Some of these include expanding background checks to all gun-purchases, creating a universal database of criminals and mentally-ill persons (who are forbidden by existing laws from buying guns), closing the “gun-show loophole” (wherein 40 percent of illegal gun-purchases take place), and restricting the use of military-style weapons and high-capacity clips and magazines … Among these suggestions there has been no mention that all firearms should be “banned”. Yet, the NRA and their loyal stooges have rejected any idea of putting controls on the purchase, ownership, and use of firearms – despite the fact that recent surveys show that 74 percent of NRA members favor imposing some control over high-powered assault rifles, high-capacity (30 or 100 round) magazines and clips.

Yes, Americans have a “right to bear arms” for hunting, self-protection, and sport. This right was re-affirmed by the 2008 Supreme Court “Heller v. District of Columbia” ruling that struck down a draconian local D.C. law banning handguns. But that same ruling also states that “Like most rights, the rights contained in the Second Amendment are not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever, in any manner whatsoever, and for whatever purpose.” The Court went on to say that the ruling “does not cast doubt upon longstanding prohibitions on gun ownership by felons, the mentally-ill, or forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places like schools and government buildings.” The Court added that it “supports the historical tradition of forbidding the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”

In other words, all of the “rights” contained in the U.S. Constitution are checked by responsibilities. While gun-owners have a “right” to own firearms, other citizens – including schoolchildren and teachers – have a greater right to feel safe in public places …. Gun-advocates say that most gun-owners are “law-abiding” citizens, “trained” in gun-safety. That may be true, but there are exceptions to this that put the lives of others in jeopardy. One illustration of this might be the recent incident at a local gun-show where one of these so-called “experts” accidentally shot a friend in the ankle. Another might be the example of Nancy Lanza (the Newtown shooter’s mother) who legally owned a stockpile of weapons that her son used to kill her and 26 others. She was a “law-abiding” citizen, well trained in the use of firearms, yet she allowed these weapons to fall into the hands of her mentally unbalanced son.

The nation’s mental-health systems are in shambles. Mental-health institutions have been closed and (thanks to some perhaps overly-naive advocates of “progressive reform”) seriously disturbed individuals have been “mainstreamed”, improperly medicated, or left to depend for their recovery upon verbal abuse from Dr. Phil and/or hugs from Oprah … There is also the glorified and desensitizing violence contained in many movies and video games. All of these have been factors in these heart-wrenching tragedies, but the one essential ingredient is the prevalence and easy-access to deadly weapons-of-mass-destruction.

Some NRA co-dependents (i.e. W.Va. Senator Joe Manchin) are now suggesting that nothing can be done to control assault weapons like the Bushmaster AR-15 used by the psychopath at Newtown, Conn.. I disagree! If we forget what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, we are dismissing all those small victims and their grieving families – and perhaps insuring that even more horrible events will happen in the future … In order to allow our children to safely play in playgrounds, be educated in schools, and be secure in all public-places, we need to tell NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre and his more fanatic supporters to take their deadly “toys” and go play elsewhere – I might suggest Yemen or Syria!

Fred O’Neill lives in Marietta.