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Come over from the dark side…

Sanity begins to dawn


VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – It’s truly exhilarating to see the groundswell movement among the vast silent majority of Americans, finally demanding that something be done about the proliferation of guns in the United States. Confronted with this grassroots demand in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, President Obama is, as I write this, announcing the specifics of his intention finally to take “meaningful action” to prevent future slaughters. He has just promised to use all the power of the office of the president to bring common sense to the nearly completely unfettered gun ownership that prevails in the country.

Today there will be another 34 people killed by firearms in the United States; that is, unless another maniac brings a perfectly legally acquired arsenal of semi-automatic weapons to a school or mall or movie theatre and skews that statistic upwards. Another 30 or more will die tomorrow, and again the day after that. Meanwhile The NRA remains eerily silent and declines to comment until “all the facts are in”. But the chat rooms and news comment forums resound with the anguish of everyday people who are bewildered and frightened by what’s happening on the streets and in their children’s schools. The feeling is one of helplessness in the face of a society for whom firearm ownership is a more fundamental right than their children’s right to live.

From my cold, dead hands! Batshit crazy.

And make no mistake about it; that sentiment, that gun ownership is sacred, is expressed in those words dozens of times each minute by others in the same online forums. There is a vocal and passionate segment of American society that sees any rule, any regulation, any control or limitation on the country’s vast civilian-held arsenal to be a dangerous infringement on their liberty. These are the members of a dangerous fringe that represent themselves as the majority. They speak as though they believe that, with exception of a few panty-waist commie fags, everyone in the country recognises that the population of the United States is under the heel of a dictatorial, authoritarian, and illegitimate government bent on stripping each American of every last freedom. In their shared delusion, these deeply disturbed gun rights advocates are freedom-fighters and defenders of liberty; they are unable to see that they really are nothing more than barely literate, ignorant, heavily armed paranoiacs.

In the last few days I have seen people seriously advocating requiring grade school teachers to carry concealed firearms. I have, in the immediate aftermath of the slaughter of 20 first-graders and six of their teachers, heard people seriously suggesting that what is needed is easier accessibility to handguns – so people can defend themselves should they find themselves in a similar situation. Today an eleven year-old was sent home for carrying a loaded Glock semi-automatic in his waistband; his father had insisted he bring it to school, “just in case”. Listen to the rhetoric:  If you disarm the criminals, only criminals will have guns. Hitler passed anti-gun laws to take over the country…Obama has an identical agenda. If the Sandy Hook principal had her own M16, she could have stopped the slaughter. You’ll get my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hand. The batshit crazies have had sane people treating them as though they were rational for far too long. The voices of sanity are starting to make themselves heard.

On the rational side of the ledger some proposed controls are being offered. What is striking about them is that they aren’t in place now; one can’t help but be astonished that they haven’t been stringently applied for years. It is hard to imagine, for example, that although everyone who drives needs a licence that ensures that the holder has a basic level of proficiency, none is needed to own and use a weapon of war. It seems unthinkable that every car must be licensed, insured, and registered, and must be reported if stolen, but a weapon that has only one purpose – to kill – carries no such requirements. Safety regulations are everywhere…construction sites, swimming pools, shopping malls, public buildings, vehicles, playgrounds… everywhere. But there are no laws that require firearms to be secured. While professionally trained firearms users – police officers, military personnel, etc. – make a habit of storing ammunition and weapons separately, even keeping the firing pins in a third secure storage area, and are advocates of trigger locks when transporting weapons, the great majority of amateurs keep their weapons in the house loaded and ready to kill.

Nevertheless the NRA and hard-line gun rights activists decry as an infringement on their second amendment rights any suggestion that these appalling circumstances ought to be examined. Of course, the argument that the right to bear arms is the only civil right in the USA that should have no control, no limitation, no parameters whatsoever, is nonsense; it is an obdurate negotiating position and it is reasonable to disregard that view and to consider exactly what safeguards are appropriate.

If one looks at the current situation in the United States dispassionately, there are a few steps that could be taken immediately and it would be only common sense to take them. Many of these proposals don’t, in fact, impinge on anyone’s second amendment rights, so no constitutional amendment would be required; some of these proposals could probably even be implemented administratively, not even requiring political bipartisan approval.

Among the first steps would be the creation of a national gun registry. It would be a big task, to be sure, given the number of firearms in the country, but not impossible, and one that would employ thousands of people. It would simply be a matter of a wide public campaign, giving every owner of a firearm in the country one year to bring any weapons to a local firearm registry office and have its serial number entered into a national database and test fired to take a ballistic fingerprint. This, combined with a requirement that all lost or stolen firearms be reported to the police, and zero tolerance for possession of an unregistered firearm, would result in an immediate increase in the apprehension of those who commit gun related crimes. It would give law enforcement agencies a place to start their investigation in virtually every instance of gun crime. It would also act as a deterrent, in many instances, to those who think about using a firearm that would otherwise be untraceable.

A universal background check on all those who want to buy firearms seems like an obvious safeguard. Surely the most adamant gun rights activist wouldn’t want people with dangerous mental illnesses, convicted armed robbers, or those on the terrorist watch list to be permitted to purchase firearms legally. As it is, any of those categories of people can go to a gun show and buy any weapon they see there with no questions asked; it is easier and there are fewer limitations to firearms purchases than to boarding an airline.

The Democrats are proposing an obvious bill: one that bans magazines that hold more than ten rounds. The ban on assault rifles that expired in 2004 is being rewritten and strengthened and reintroduced. Internet weapons sales are going to be looked into. Perhaps the political will actually exists, in the wake of the most recent in a long series of mass shootings, to make some reasonable laws controlling weapon access.

A comprehensive examination of the laws across the country is another obvious step in the direction of injecting some reason into the Wild West mentality that pervades the United States when it comes to guns. Federal statutes, consistently enforced across the country would go a long way to achieving some rudimentary sanity. The examination could address some truly bizarre anomalies such as the laws in Florida and Iowa which prevent a convicted felon from voting or owning a gun; the ban on voting is for life, but a felon is eligible to purchase a firearm after five years. Each state has its own gun laws, yet crossing a state line intending to break one of their laws is a federal offense. It’s a federal offense to transport a weapon across state lines for illegal purposes, yet it’s perfectly legal to order a weapon on the Internet or ship one by post or UPS. Given the ease of travel in the United States and the proliferation of weapons, it would make sense to enact a federal firearms statute that overrides any state laws; the infrastructure for enforcement already exists in the form of federal law enforcement agencies whose jobs would be greatly simplified with consistency in laws across the country.

Now is the time to move firmly in the direction of bringing rationality to the chaotic legal and enforcement structure that permeates the insidious gun culture that defines the USA. The political will exists, the public outrage still burns hot, but it won’t for long…the people of the US have a notoriously short memory when it comes to violent death, perhaps even the violent death of first grade students. Perhaps we should keep reminding ourselves that if the Sandy Hook massacre had been the act of a Muslim terrorist, nothing whatsoever would prevent even the institution of the most draconian measures to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.


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