Gun Control: How to End Gun Violence
There are few criminal events as stunning and frightening as a mass shooting. Sudden, random and unpredictable episodes like the killing of six men by a gunman in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin; the early morning massacre at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theatre; and the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut. These horrific events have spawned a federal task force on gun control and kick-started a national conversation about gun violence and gun law. President Obama is even considering a “universal background check” for anyone wanting to own a gun
Lawmakers began a new session of Congress with the mass shooting at Newtown inspiring a new push to pass gun control laws that could prevent another tragedy. On Day One, lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced nearly a dozen bills related to gun violence. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-New York, a long-time gun control advocate, led on the Democratic side. She is sponsoring legislation that would require background checks for all gun sales — including at gun shows — and ban online sales of ammunition.
The President made an impassioned argument in his State of the Union message 2013 that gun control measures deserved a vote. He drew on the public horror at the death of Hadiya Pendleton, the Chicago teenager who was shot dead just a week after performing at his inaugural. Her father, Nathaniel Pendleton, supports using her death to help shape the debate over gun control. Only a handful of parents who testified at the emotionally charged state hearing in Hartford, Connecticut, did not call for stricter gun control. But bereaved father Mark Mattioli said there are more than enough gun laws on the books.
A Senate committee has approved legislation that would expand background checks covering all U.S. firearms sales. This cleared the way for the measure to be debated and put to a vote in the full Senate. Less clear is the fate of a proposed ban on military assault rifles proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat.
Meanwhile nearly three-fourths of the nation’s teachers say they would not bring a firearm to school if allowed, but most educators believe armed guards would improve campus safety, a new Pew survey shows. Many schools have in fact hastened to add safety measures in an effort to prevent similar violence. The most common step has been ensuring that all doors are locked.
Apart from stricter background checks, there will likely be no completely new Federal gun laws, after the recent mass shootings because most Americans do not want them, either on constitutional principle, or because they do not believe that new laws would work. Over the past 20 years, support for gun control has collapsed. In 1959, 60% of Americans wanted handguns banned outright for all but police officers. Now three-quarters of Americans want to keep the right to own handguns, weapons whose only function is to kill at close range. Responding to public opinion, states have loosened gun laws to allow citizens to carry weapons with them almost anywhere they go. In Georgia, Arizona, Tennessee and Virginia, it is legal to carry a gun into a bar.
The road to less gun violence is the long trek through cultural change. Voluntary self-restraint in the use of guns, like emancipation, women’s rights and the sustainable economy, will only become the norm after a long process.
Hymn writer Percy Dearmer speaks of the
‘’Power that rules by patient leading,
Not by force, the easier way;
So that man, in freedom heeding,
May the law of love obey.’’
If we want to see real gun control and less gun violence we have to do more work on the underlying causes like poor education, inadequate childcare, marital breakdown, drugs and dependency.
This blog will host a number of posts on gun control by Oxford-trained historian Michael H. Collins, author of The American Panorama (see amazon.com). Other subjects will include St George and the Dragon, Your Perfect Wedding Gift Guide and other e-books on Kindle and Smashwords.