Timothy B. Ray: Demand appropriate gun control


Published: Monday, January 14, 2013 at 12:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 14, 2013 at 12:06 p.m.

American print media are awash nowadays with strident opinions, usually expressed without evidence, that privately owned guns in America are used to prevent crimes far more often than they are used to commit them. There are frequent attacks on the patriotism of those who advocate for better regulation of guns in our society, even though District of Columbia v. Heller, the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case widely known for its holding that the Second Amendment creates an individual right to keep and bear arms, also clearly states that regulation of gun ownership and use is constitutionally permissible. Dire warnings continue to appear that gun regulation will inevitably lead to totalitarianism, in spite of the reality that solidly democratic nations including Britain, Japan, and Australia have dramatically lowered their rates of gun violence within the last few decades by enacting and enforcing strict regulation of guns.

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In a highly documented research report, "The Case for Gun Policy Reforms in America," the Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health states that "Although there is little difference in the overall crime rates between the United States and other high-income countries, the homicide rate in the U.S. is seven times higher than the combined homicide rate of 22 other high-income countries. This is because the firearm homicide rate in the U.S. is twenty times greater than in these other high income countries. The higher prevalence of gun ownership and much less restrictive gun laws are important reasons why violent crime in the U.S. is so much more lethal than in countries of similar income levels." The Hopkins report also reveals that carefully analysis of studies purporting to prove that right to carry laws prevent violence reveals that such laws are actually accompanied by a 1 to 9 percent increase in aggravated assaults. Similarly, a survey by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found strong statistical support for the hypothesis that more people die from gun homicide in areas with high rates of gun ownership, and that this applies to nations as well as to U.S. regions and states, and that it holds true irrespective of poverty and urbanization.

An article by the online publication, Upworthy.com reports that "31.5 Americans are killed with guns every day" and "46,000 Americans will be killed with guns during President Obama's second term in office - unless Washington acts." It adds that "...a pproximately 40% of all U.S. guns are sold through private gun sellers who aren't required to conduct a federal background check." It is chilling to learn that, "in an undercover investigation of online gun sales, 62% of private gun sellers on the Internet agreed to sell a firearm to buyers who said they probably couldn't pass a background check," and also that a national survey of inmates found that "nearly 80% of those who had used a handgun in a crime acquired it from an unlicensed secondary-market seller." There have been 61 mass shootings in the U.S. since 1982, and the killer used a legally obtained weapon in 49 of them. It is no wonder that convicted criminals, and persons whose untreated serious and persistent mental disorders make them dangerous to self or others, are acquiring and using AR-15s and other large magazine rapid fire battlefield weapons, leaving dozens of dead and wounded children and adults in their wake.

The total emasculation of our federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, by acts of Congress passed in response to aggressive lobbying and massive campaign contributions by the National Rifle Association, is the greatest obstacle to the solution of our national gun violence epidemic. Since 2006, when Congress made Presidential appointment of the ATF director subject to Senate confirmation (which can be blocked by any one senator, who may be an NRA supporter), every ATF director nominated by the President has been on "acting" status, in effect giving the gun lobby power to block a director, thus undermining effectiveness. It is now illegal for ATF to inspect any gun store more than once a year, even in cases of evidence of questionable compliance with existing laws and regulations. ATF is now required to destroy gun sale data after 24 hours, cut back from the previous standard of 90 days, often necessary for tracking illegal purchases and taking custody of illegally sold weapons. To check its own files, ATF staff must look through boxes of paper records, as ATF is now forbidden by law to maintain a central computer database. These statutes make are now making it impossible for ATF (a bureau of the U.S. Department of Justice) to fulfill its mandate to effectively prevent crimes involving firearms.

The present moment provides an excellent opportunity for the American people to demand action by our federal and state governments to establish appropriate gun control measures. Our emotional and spiritual pain are very real from the harrowing reports we have endured of mass murders of innocent men, women, and children by killers using rapid fire large magazine assault weapons. We must use this opportunity to (a) demand that our federal and state legislators shake off the corrupting influence of the gun lobby and take courageous actions to outlaw rapid fire large magazine assault weapons and the magazines themselves, (2) fully empower the ATF to fulfill its critically important mission under a director appointed by authority of the president, and (3) provide our courts and our mental health services with the funding and the authority to require dangerously mentally ill persons to receive inpatient or outpatient treatment to avoid harming themselves or others and to enjoy optimum mental health. We must not allow our indignation at the degradation of gun safely in America to be mollified by weak, piecemeal or inadequate measures. Do not our loved ones have the same right to life as those living in other nations? In the words of John Kennedy, "If not us, who? If not now, when?"

Timothy B. Ray,

Gainesville

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