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The Rational Center | Commentary by John Zaring
| Tuesday, Dec 18, 2012

johnzaring2012“Our hearts are broken,” President Barack Obama said Friday after the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. With those four simple worlds, our president gave voice to what many parents across the country, if not the world, were feeling.

America’s latest gun tragedy was just another in a long string of gun tragedies, and while it happened more than 3,000 miles away in Newtown, it could have happened anywhere, including Newhall. Newhall IS Newtown. Hart High School IS Columbine High School. The theaters at the Valencia Town Center could easily BE Aurora, Colo. Real Life Church could be OUR Sikh Temple.

On Monday, two 6-year-olds named Jack and Noah were laid to rest in Newtown, the first of 20 children to be buried by their parents this week. Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin and Allison are the others. This was a slaughter of innocents as surely as the biblical story; these little kids were gunned down in their classrooms with the same brutality that we see happening in the war zones of Syria and Afghanistan.

Since the ban on assault weapons expired in 2004 – which Bill Clinton enacted at great political expense in 1994 – there has been little appetite to tackle gun control in America. That’s eight years of inaction in Washington, just one more example of how the political ineptitude gripping Congress affects us all.

The statistics are chilling, and telling.

There are more than 300 million weapons in America, essentially as many guns as people. According to Tom Fuentes, former assistant director of the FBI, more than 40 percent of weapons sold legally are purchased without a background check, either at gun shows or privately.

Most Americans don’t know that in many states, it is easier to purchase a weapon than it is to get a license to drive a car. There’s no safety test, written or otherwise, and while the qualifications vary from state to state, essentially there are few restrictions beyond one’s age.

Over the past 30 years, the National Rifle Association, which began after the Civil War to improve soldiers’ marksmanship, has mutated into a lobbying organization that spends millions through court action to overturn state and federal laws regulating the private ownership of guns. Just hours before the killing began in Newtown, the Michigan Legislature passed an NRA-backed law that allows concealed weapons to be carried onto school campuses.

Yes, you read that right: In Michigan, you can now take your gun to school.

Weapons are a big business in America. The NRA raised more than $200 million in 2011, with corporate donations from weapons manufacturers growing twice as fast as dues payments. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the U.S. firearms industry generated $31.8 billion in 2011, and Smith & Wesson’s stock jumped 126 percent on the New York Stock Exchange this year alone. Another major, publicly traded gun manufacturer, Ruger, rose 53 percent. Jobs in this industry are growing at a 30-percent clip – no pun intended – a level more than double that of the health care industry, which is widely considered the hottest sector in today’s labor market.

You will surely hear the NRA say the second amendment to the Constitution guarantees our right to bear arms, and that’s true. The exact clause, written before this country had an army or even police, says the following: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” This single sentence, which is the flag in which the pro-gun crowd wraps itself, was ratified by the states and authenticated Dec. 15, 1791, by then-Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.

1791. That’s 321 years ago, folks. There were only 13 states then.

Gun enthusiasts will say guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But while deranged people certainly do pull the trigger, they’re no longer carrying one-shot muskets like in Jefferson’s day. Today’s America has not only this historic attachment to arms, but also a culture of violence desensitized by the movies we see and games of war we play on X-Box and PlayStation.

Thanks to landmark decisions taken by the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 and 2010, today’s weapons bring military strength to the killing, and as a result, Americans are dying in staggering numbers. More than 100,000 of us are shot each year, and roughly 80 percent of the world’s non-war gun deaths happen in the United States.

Every year, 3.3 of every 100,000 American citizens are killed by guns. The next closest nation – Canada – has a rate of less than half of 1 percent. In Japan, where gun ownership is illegal, 8 people were killed in 2008 with a gun. By comparison, there were more than 12,000 gun deaths in America that same year. On the very same day as the Newtown massacre, a man burst into a school in China, where guns are also illegal. He was armed with a knife, and 22 people were wounded. But none died.

Is this the new normal? Or will the Sandy Hook massacre be the event that propels rational people to take rational action?

To be clear, I’m not suggesting we ban all guns. But semiautomatic weapons with high-capacity magazines are not built for hunting deer or rascally rabbits; they’re built for killing people – and lots of them. In my opinion, if you’re not standing on a battlefield in service of our nation, you simply don’t need one.

There is no easy solution, but I think we can all agree that children should not have to hide in a classroom closet for someone else’s “freedom.” The ban on semiautomatic weapons must be made permanent; high-capacity magazines with extended rounds of 10, 20 or even 30 or more bullets should be outlawed; and we need to do a better job of caring for and reporting mentally unstable people. In fact, a person seeking to purchase weapons of any kind should face the most difficult and strenuous application process ever, to ensure multiple opportunities for authorities to sort out the lunatics.

In Newtown, where a school became a battlefield, a homemade sign was hung outside a church, which read: “Our hearts are broken. Our spirits remain strong.”

What about our will?

We can no longer bury our heads in the sand of ignorance because silence is a tacit endorsement of gun violence, and if we do nothing, the blood spilled at the next school, or mall, or movie theater, or place of worship, will be on all of our hands. If even one child can somehow be saved, we must act.

Speak up, my friends. Shake off your blissful apathy and make your voices heard.

Massacres like Sandy Hook should never be accepted as an unstoppable fate. It is my hope that reasonable discussions between rational people will lead to an acceptable solution.

Pro-gun politicians who usually don’t talk about gun control – NRA members like Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia – are now calling for action, and that’s a good sign.

But apparently not every politician sees this as a national epidemic; our own Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, has yet to reverse his pro-assault weapons stance. Please call and ask McKeon to join California’s senior senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, in calling for the reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons. And then contact our new state assemblyman, Republican Scott Wilk, and beg him to help strengthen California’s gun laws.

Together, we must end this country’s fascination with guns.

 

John Zaring describes himself as a reformed Republican turned moderate Democrat who believes democracy works best when its government actually functions because its leaders are working together. He serves on the Castaic Area Town Council’s Land Use Committee, Castaic Middle School’s Site Council, the Hart District’s WiSH Education Foundation, and he is the West Ranch High School representative on the Hart District’s Advisory Council. A self-proclaimed “New Democrat” a la Bill Clinton, he lives in Castaic with his wife of 21 years and their daughters, Fiona, 16, and Kylie, 12. His commentary publishes Tuesdays.

 

 

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6 Comments

  1. Stephen Petzold says:

    Why wasn’t the president’s heart broken after the Fort Hood shootings ? The Obama administration was running guns to Mexico under operation Fast and Furious. Eric Holder our AG is in contempt of Congress. We must protect our selves against the criminal element in our society and a government shown to be too willing to abuse it’s power and ignore the law. It is not for Mr Zaring to decide how many bullets can be sold in a clip. The answer is to provide law abiding citizens to exercise their freedom and liberty under the Bill of Rights to protect their person and property.

  2. E says:

    Great commentary. We will no longer be quiet. The time for change has come. Good for you sir. Rational adults making rational choices for the future of our children. It’s time. Thank You Mr Zaring. And the actual facts are astounding. Pay attention people to the lame attempts to get off topic below. Gun control is inevitable.

  3. Reason says:

    Since 1950 where there have been 3 or more people killed in a shooting there is one common theme – every shooting took place in a gun free zone. The one exception is the AZ shooting involving Rep Gabby Giffords. Any gun ban is nonsense and will not solve the issue. The anti-gun crowd can bang their heads against the wall as long as they want to try and create a law that would prevent lunatics from doing their sick deeds but they will never succeed. The only way to prevent or minimize the scope of these tragedies is to have a gun in the hands of a law abiding citizens who are present when they take place. To be sure they are lunatics that do these sick deeds but they are smart enough to know where they can go to inflict the most damage with the least possible resistance. A ban on semi automatic weapons would just create a black market for them where any lunatic would still be able to obtain one and would just give the thugs south of our open border another market to operate in. Why don’t we ever see liberals scream about closing our border when an illegal kills a U.S. citizen. That occurs more often then these mass shooting yet we don’t hear that cry. Yet, even in the face of the fact that the frequency of these shootings are decreasing liberals have no issue using the act of one person to further attempt to deny constitutional rights of 300 million.

  4. Discernment says:

    Even though I personally do not own a gun, I agree with “Reason”. If you place a ban on anything, those that cannot obtain the banned product are those that typically are law-abiding citizens! Do we as a society need to have a discussion about how to stop the violence – absolutely! Where you and I differ is where that discussion should be focused.

    Sadly, our society is filled with violence – from video games to Ultimate Fighting to abortion. So Mr. Zaring, when you speak of burying our heads in the sand, you have propogated this for your entire existance. I am deeply saddened by the dispicable act fallen upon Sandy Hook Elementary, but just because you can dress them, send them off to school and tuck them in at night really makes them NO different then those our society kills before they even had a chance to attend school. Since Texas enacted a law in 2011 requiring pregnant women to have an ultrasound and hear the heartbeat before choosing to abort, the abortion rate has declined by almost 40-percent! When we recognize and value life for what it is and when it truly starts, then maybe we can reduce the numbness our society has developed toward killing. A discussion about violence in society needs to start, but how about at the very beginning!

  5. FactCheckPlease says:

    “More than 100,000 of us are shot each year, and roughly 80 percent of
    the world’s non-war gun deaths happen in the United States.
    Every year, 3.3 of every 100,000 American citizens are killed by guns.”

    These numbers are contradictory. With 311,000,000 people living in the US, that’s 3,110 “sets” of 100,000 people. If 3.3 people get killed per set of 100,000, that’s a total of 10,260 Americans shot per year, just one-tenth of the value you report (100,000 shot per year). Go to Wikipedia. You’ll see more total people are killed with guns every year in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, and other countries than the US, so it’s impossible 80% of gun deaths happen here.

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