In the wake of Vice President Joe Biden’s recommendations for stemming the tide of gun violence, it’s essential that the public consider the issue logically.
Ending background-check loopholes and banning both assault weapons and their high-capacity ammunition magazines are helpful actions but ultimately amount only to half-measures. Whether low- or high-capacity, whether handgun or rifle, every rapid-firing weapon with a quickly exchanged magazine is excessively lethal. And background checks are often futile when criminals and the mentally ill have no prior convictions — as with the Newtown, Conn., assailant — or have not yet manifested any behavior threatening themselves or others.
Thus one of the National Rifle Association’s “law-abiding citizens,” deserving of unlimited access to terrifying weapons, is only a momentary loss of temper, descent into depression, or decision to do evil away from using them to commit mass murder. In this regard, Maine Sen. Susan Collins’s lukewarm comment recently that “root causes of this violence are complex” fails to recognize the need to banish the means of inflicting such egregious harm, regardless of the pathology motivating it.
Immediately after the Newtown tragedy, it was depressing to see so many people stampeding to places like Walmart to purchase more assault rifles like the Bushmaster AR-15. It’s difficult to believe they considered beforehand the consequences: flooding our communities with even more guns that can be stolen in burglaries, escalate spousal arguments and be used to commit suicide. And then consider the contradictory statement by NRA leader Wayne Lapierre that we should place armed guards in schools, while he also supports virtually no limits on purchases that would place weapons in the hands of those attacking the schools.
These gun enthusiasts seem to have converted “exercising our constitutional rights” into an end in itself, choosing to stock up on quick-firing weapons that the real hunter would spurn in favor of the single-shot rifle (a weapon intrinsic to the founders’ conception of the Second Amendment) that he or she discharges for food, recreation and the rare home-security situation, while awaiting arrival of the police (who of course would still have those deadly guns in their well-trained hands should Congress ban them for citizens). So protecting hunters’ rights can go hand in hand with outlawing assault rifles and rapid-fire handguns, resulting in less loss of life.
Since the Newtown massacre, nearly 900 Americans, according to President Barack Obama, have died from gun-related assaults. We must recognize that we face a national crisis, one in which the cliched comments of many gun owners — thankfully not all — and their representative organizations that “people, not guns, kill people” and that “we should enforce the laws already on the books” ignore these main points: Rapid-firing guns increase the destructive potential of the perpetrator, and existing laws are inadequate to cope with the dangers we face.
To ask — as a gun owner once did of me — why he should “suffer” from restrictions on obtaining any kind of weapon he desired and to collect guns as a way to indulge fantasies of repelling some kind of “straw dogs” home invasion demean the true anguish of those victimized by gun violence.
So if we are genuinely concerned about public safety and the lives of our children and other vulnerable people, we must pressure our elected officials to pass laws eradicating the manufacture, distribution, sale and ownership of all rapid-fire, military-style weapons. To do less, as Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, recommend in their antisocial support of unrestricted Second Amendment rights, is unfortunately to guarantee more school shootings, more on-street mayhem and more domestic killings.
In this scenario, the NRA suggestion that we convert our public schools into armed fortresses might ironically be the only option to protect our students — and people in other public institutions — from assault. In that case, we must be ready to foot the bill for all that extra security, the ultimate consequence for at least some gun owners’ distorted view of their constitutional rights. Let us respond to the pleadings of the Newtown Promise group of parents who lost children and their supporters and rid our society of these instruments of human misery.
Dave Witham of Bangor is a substitute teacher in the Orono-Glenburn school department.