Opinion

Did the guns win? | Bob Roegner

In the aftermath of Aurora, Time Magazine’s Joe Klein did a cover piece titled “How Guns Won.” It’s a startling revelation. According to Professor Fox at Northeastern University, since the 1970s, we have averaged about 20 mass shootings per year.

Since some reports suggest that about 20 percent of the public suffer from some form of mental illness, they probably shouldn’t be able to get guns.

But they do — legally. And they use them. Under the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, the gun used in Aurora would have been illegal. Should  the ban be renewed? According to Klein, there was only a marginal improvement while the ban was in effect. But what is saving one life worth?

A recent headline out of Colorado: “Gun sales surge after Colorado massacre.” A similar headline ran here.

The buyers are probably very nice people who are simply scared to death that if they go to a mall or a movie, they could be shot. But how many of these new gun owners have a mental illness? Gun owners would argue that if someone in attendance in Aurora had a gun, they could have shot the suspect and saved lives. What if 20 people in attendance were carrying guns that fateful night? How many would have actually hit the target?

In the gas canister-induced chaos, how many, even with training, would have  known who the target was? And how many innocent bystanders or other gun carriers would have been hit by 20 people suddenly opening fire? The well intentioned irony wouldn’t nearly compare to the grief.

One answer from gun advocates is that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” That trite repose forgets that  guns seldom fire themselves. People fire  guns.

Many gun owners want a handgun for household and self-protection, and also want a rifle for hunting season. Does anyone really need a semi-automatic, or automatic gun, or an assault rifle? Or any gun that shoots 50 to 100 bullets in seconds?

As one local congressional candidate recently said of gun owners, “they don’t need a tank.”

While mentioned with a tinge of sarcasm, it does  define a limit for debate. There is a line somewhere between the Second Amendment right “to bear arms” and tank ownership where we should consider limiting public access to weapons and ammunition.

Over the years, Congress has passed legislation to try and tighten up gun control. Not only does the killing continue, but it’s getting worse and more frequent. That suggests that previous attempts didn’t go far enough. And saying “if someone wants to get a gun they will find a way” ignores the problem.

Why hasn’t something significant been done to change the laws?

Two reasons. The National Rifle Association (NRA) may be the most powerful lobby in the country, and we keep electing people that are afraid of them. Or we elect people that simply don’t want gun laws tightened.  Some run on a platform of less government intrusion.

The founding fathers didn’t anticipate today’s world with the Second Amendment. They simply wanted a ready militia. They also supported gun control, although it was in part racially and politically motivated, and they wanted to keep the public peace.

Gun violence happens every day. It used to be in far away places like Chicago, Atlanta and Cleveland. Now it’s also Seattle and Lakewood.

Without change, could Federal Way be added to the list someday? How many shootings have there been in Federal Way in the past two years? Should any of these people have had guns?

Have we reached the point where it’s time to have a little of that government intrusion? Or have we reached the other end of the spectrum where we are so numb to violence that we think that is an acceptable price for individual rights?

Or, as the Time article questions, “are we in the name of individualism slowly lapsing into social anarchy?”

When you talk to candidates for public office about education, jobs and transportation, maybe you should add gun control along with more funding for mental illness. Both are now part of the public debate.

Even conservative columnist David Brooks, who isn’t in favor of gun control, says “The truly disturbed have always been with us, but their outbursts are now taking more malevolent forms.”

No individual knows what the correct answer is or where common ground might be found. Certainly the purchase of guns or ammunition over the Internet is a place for our congressional delegation to start the dialogue, along with renewal of the assault weapons ban and increased funding for care of the mentally ill.

There has to be a better answer than what we have now, and a candid adult discussion, above the extremism of both sides, needs to take place. But is that possible?

For Republicans, gun advocates are an essential part of their political base, but Democrats, who used to be the party advocating stronger control, seem to have abandoned the issue. Why? Certainly there is fear of the NRA. But we have changed as well. In the 1980s, Klein reports, a Gallup poll showed 78 percent of the public favored stricter control of guns. That has now dropped to 43 percent. The NRA has done a good job recruiting and with its message spin. And the decline in support for controls has further emboldened them. Politicians don’t feel a political pressure balance. They feel threatened by the NRA and no one pressures them from the other side, so they read those numbers and go with the loudest voice.

I respect the fact that most gun owners are rational, intelligent, law-abiding citizens. That is exactly what makes them among the most knowledgeable people to start the discussion and be “part of the solution.” The deadly actions of a few, combined with allowing the NRA to use political power to intimidate Congress, undermines responsible gun owners’ credibility — and eventually will strain public patience. Many responsible gun owners already recognize this.

If the dialogue is left to school yard gun bullies who categorize anyone wishing a discussion of sane gun limitations as a “Nordstrom shopper,” they will be relegated to “part of the problem” and their influence compromised, when the pendulum of public opinion swings back, as it always does.

We have an immediate way to open the discussion. Mayor Skip Priest and the Federal Way City Council can start the dialogue.

They can start by having a Town Hall style meeting that opens up an intellectual debate to gather citizen-inspired ideas from gun owners and non-gun owners, about what is acceptable in our community. Challenge the NRA to demonstrate a commitment to citizen safety like they did in the 1930s when too many criminals had guns. Thoughtful ideas, not political rhetoric.

The mayor and council could follow that by including recommendations to the state Legislature to allow cities to have more stringent gun control laws than the state currently allows. Shouldn’t cities be allowed to define their own standards?

The Old West was the visual depiction of an individuals right to carry a gun. But most cities, including Dodge City, had gun restrictions within the city limits.

Do our political leaders have the courage to lead? And if so, can they bring interested parties together to try and find a community solution? Don’t gun owners and non-owners want the same thing? To prevent mass murder? Can one community make a difference? And can we be that community?

Klein’s article suggests that the conversation is beyond both parties’ ability to discuss. Is it?

Pogo said “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

Did the guns win?


 

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