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When will we act?Free Access

Dear Editor … and gentle reader,

The latest mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, has many of us shocked that we have such hateful, evil, cold-hearted killers in this country. No other country has the same level of mass shootings. I was interested in an article by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times called, “How to reduce shootings.” Kristof points out that guns are here to stay. By some estimates there are 400 million guns in the US, and 11 million AR Style assault rifles. There is clear 2nd Amendment protection for individual ownership of guns. Who could deny someone the right to defend themselves? But this right is not absolute. Antonin Scalia, Conservative Supreme Court Justice and proponent of an originalist interpretation of the Constitution stated that this right to bear arms can be abridged as long as it’s not arbitrary and capricious.

One way to control gun violence is to control who gets access to a gun. We have a model for this. Cars can kill people, but we don’t ban cars. We have seat belts, age limits, training, testing, and we regulate new driver behavior which has greatly reduced car deaths, especially in the young. Kristof makes the point that calling it gun control plays into the fears of the NRA and others, and only results in more gun sales. He suggests a better way to talk about this is “gun safety” or “reducing gun violence,” using auto safety as a model—constant efforts to make the products safer and to limit access by people who are most likely to misuse them.

The Pew Research Center surveyed Americans recently and found that there is striking consensus across all groups for some sensible gun safety measures. Rather than compare Democrat and Republican, they used a different comparison: between Gun Owning Households (GOH) and Non- Gun Owning Households (NGOH). The results below are the percentage who agree with these proposals.

Background checks for all gun purchases

GOH 93% NGOH 96%

Preventing the mentally ill from buying a gun

GOH 89% NGOH 89%

Nationwide ban on sale of guns to people convicted of violent crimes

GOH 88% NGOH 85%

Barring purchase of guns by people on no-fly lists or watch lists

GOH 82% NGOH 84%

Background checks for private sale and at gun shows

GOH 77% NGOH 89%

Federal mandated waiting period for all gun purchases

GOH 72% NGOH 89%

Ban on modifications that make a semi- automatic gun work like an automatic gun

GOH 67% NGOH 79%

Creating a federal database to track gun sales

GOH 54% NGOH 80%

A ban on the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines (10+ bullets)

GOH 52% NGOH 77%

Sources: Pew Research Center survey conducted in March and April (questions on mental illness, no-fly lists, background checks for private sales and federal database); Quinnipiac University National Poll conducted Oct. 5-10, 2021 for all other questions.

There are other proposals which were not covered in this survey such as barring individuals who are subject to domestic violence protection orders from obtaining a gun, “red flag laws”, banning those under 21 from owning assault rifles, safe storage laws, ending straw purchases, etc. And it must be noted that suicides and homicides result in vastly more deaths than these mass shooting events. But what is notable about the above list is that the top seven proposals are supported by over 2/3rd of all Americans. This then begs the question, why haven’t we moved on gun safety measures? Are we allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good?

The influence of a small but powerful organization, the NRA and its five million members is a major obstacle to changing laws around gun safety. The power they wield in Congress is enormous. The NRA contributes millions every year to the campaigns of mostly Republicans. They rate each congress member on their adherence to the code of the NRA, which says no change in gun rights, period. Any concession is seen as the start of a slippery slope where some Americans might be denied access to a gun, which then plays to their fears. But the NRA makes up only five million compared to the rest of America, 330 million plus. When do the voices of the rest of America drown out this minority? There is common ground here. Vast numbers of Americans agree that the need to protect our children and the public at large outweighs the “right” for some to obtain guns. Congress… the ball is in your court and we, the voters, are watching.

Bill Thibedeau
Gilpin County