After another mass killing on December 2 in San Bernardino, California killed fourteen people, the Senate voted down two weapons proposals from Democrats. One would have expanded federal background checks of purchases on line or at gun shows; the other would have prevented people on the terrorism watch list from buying firearms. The pattern continues of mass murders followed by Congress refusing to pass measures approved by nine in ten Americans. It is time to follow the alternate route of gun laws passed by the states and cities.
Eighteen states, including California, require background checks for either all or hand gun sales. Certain cities and towns like Highland Park, Illinois have passed their own laws. After the massacre of school children in Newton, Connecticut ,Highland Park passed an ordinance in 2013 banning categories of guns, including the AR-15 and the AK-47. In many mass shootings, the weapons are semi-automatic assault rifles with high capacity magazines. The Highland Park ordinance was challenged in the courts and on December 7, 2015, The Supreme Court refused to hear the second amendment challenge, 7 to 2 with only Justices Scalia and Thomas dissenting. It was the 70th time since 2008 that the Supreme Court refused to consider a law suit challenging federal, state or local gun regulation.
There was a federal Assault Weapons Ban passed in 1994 when Bill Clinton was at the end of his first term in office , and Democrats controlled both the House and Senate. Of course, there was intense lobbying against the ban by the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.), but the bill was successfully passed and forwarded to Clinton who signed it the next day. Weapons banned included AK-47’s, Uzis and Tec 9’s. There was a sunset clause that the ban had to be renewed in ten years- 2004. By that time, George Bush, Republican, had completed his first term in office and a study by `Christopher Koper concluded that the 1994 law’s success in reducing crimes committed with banned guns was “mixed”. “The ban has been successful in reducing crimes with assault weapons….. However, the decline was “offset” in the late 1990’s by “the use of other guns equipped with large-capacity magazines.” With fierce lobbying by the N.R.A. of senators and representatives, Congress did not vote to extend the l994 ban on assault weapons.
On Saturday, December 5, 2015, The New York Times ran an editorial on the front page for the first time since 1920 –almost a century ago. “The Gun Epidemic” was the title of the statement by the publisher of The Times, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. He wrote that his purpose was “to deliver a strong and visible statement of frustration and anguish about our country’s inability to come to terms with the scourge of guns. It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that people can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill with brutal speed and efficiency. These are weapons of war barely modified and deliberately marketed as tools of macho vigilantism and even insurrection. America’s elected leaders offer prayers for gun victims and then, callously and without fear of consequence, reject the most basic restrictions of weapons of mass killing. “
President Obama spoke to the nation about the heinous massacre at San Bernardino and called once more for legislation against assault weapons. He noted how many times mass killings have happened in recent months in different parts of the country. It was a reminder that the United States has a gun culture that dates back centuries in contrast to many countries in Western Europe. Samuel Walker, professor emeritus at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska has said, “There’s a worship of guns in American culture. It’s like a religious object, an extension of your body. We can’t begin to make any progress controlling it.”
In Dunblane Scotland , a massacre in March 1996 killed sixteen children outside their primary school. A 43 -year old man tore through the gymnasium using four hand guns in a three minute massacre. Public outcry swept through Great Britain. The result was the government banning private ownership of automatic weapons and hand guns across the British Isles including Scotland and Wales. There was no Wild West history and gun culture there as in the United States. Police in England did not carry guns at that time. Most carried night sticks to maintain order. In Scotland, a nation of 5.3 million people, police report that the weapon of choice is a knife. Guns remain tools for farmers and hunters. Only 2 percent of Scotland’s police officers carry guns.
In Australia , after a shooter killed 35 people in 1996, the government enacted a mandatory gun buyback program of semiautomatic and automatic rifles and shotguns. As a result, the country bought back more than 650,000 weapons. Hillary Clinton said at a town hall in New Hampshire that a national gun buyback program is “worth considering”. She explained that “the Australian government offered a good price for buying thousands of guns. Then they basically clamped down, going forward in terms of having a background check approach and setting a different standard for gun purchases in the future.” That idea of course could be seen in the United States as a way for the “Feds to come for our guns” as many Pro Gun Rights activists threaten will happen. Clinton has pushed to repeal a law that allows gun manufacturers and dealers to have legal immunity from civil lawsuits. She has also called for a “national movement” to counteract the political power of the N.R.A.
Certain states and cities are passing gun control laws. In New Jersey, the legislature passed a gun control bill, but Governor Christie vetoed it. The Democratic Senate could not attract enough Republicans to over ride his veto. States can also expand gun rights as happened in Utah that permits guns in schools. Tennessee allows guns in bars and Georgia gave the okay to guns in airports. The latest gun control action took place on December 10, when Governor Malloy of Connecticut announced the state would ban gun sales to people on the Federal Terrorism List. Although Congress remains at a stalemate, the states and cities are taking action– some for gun rights and others for gun control. Mid-western and Southern states are more likely to favor gun rights, while Eastern and Northern states favor gun control.
“The Gun Epidemic” continues!