Stan Voit: Sensible gun limits needed in the country

Dec. 24, 2012 @ 08:02 AM

 

In all the discussion about restricting the sale of certain guns, closing some loopholes and generally trying to make the country safer, I am drawn to one fact above the others, the one that convinces me we have to do better:

The United States is among the leaders in the world in number of gun deaths. The countries we rank behind — including the likes of El Salvador, Mexico, Colombia, Jamaica and Panama — shouldn’t make us feel any better. The United States has 10.2 firearm-related deaths per 100,000 people, good for 10th place. By comparison, Canada has 4.8 firearm-related deaths per 100,000 people. Spain has .63, United Kingdom .25 and Australia 1.05.

Look, I get the Second Amendment. I appreciate the right to bear arms. So do most Americans, including members of Congress and the president. But most reasonable people have concluded that we need a few more limits on the kinds of weapons people can buy and possess.

Even Dale Carr, second to no one here in his conservative Republican credentials, who takes his seat in the Tennessee House next month, favors a ban on assault weapons like the AK-47 and a limit on the size of magazine clips.

It shouldn’t be enough that people regard the Second Amendment as absolute. None of the Bill of Rights really are. Free speech has its limits. Freedom of religion does too. Even freedom of the press. So too does — or should — the Second Amendment. People can’t possess grenade launchers or Scud missiles. And they shouldn’t be able to buy AK-47s and other similar assault rifles.

People in the newspaper business get riled up whenever anyone in authority starts talking about restrictions to what we can do. Those who treasure the Second Amendment understandably get nervous and defensive when lawmakers begin discussions or ways to ban certain weapons.

However, when a disturbed 20-year-old can force his way into a school and kill 20 children and six teachers, aided by a military-style assault rifle with a large magazine clip, we have to restart the discussion.

This kind of debate must proceed now. Waiting dilutes momentum. Waiting allows the might of the National Rifle Association and its legions of supporters and politicians time to marshal forces and work on their base. Waiting risks meaningful change.

According to the website gunpolicy,.org, the estimated number of guns held by civilians in the United States is 270 million. That’s 88.2 firearms per 100 people.

Nobody is coming to take your guns. Any law that is passed likely won’t affect banned guns already in possession. You may defend your right to have an AK-47, but I’d question your need for one. We have to find a way to stop the senseless bloodshed.

Some want to expand gun rights, to make it legal for certain people in certain professions to be armed, such as teachers and those on college campuses. Is that the answer, to arm more people? That is a way of giving up, of saying we have so many guns in our society that the only way to combat possible violence is to allow more people to carry them. That’s illogical and frightening.

Sometimes it takes a tragedy and the resulting images to spark important societal changes. Brutal murders of black people in the South sparked Civil Rights legislation. The attack on Pearl Harbor galvanized the nation. The terror attacks of Sept. 11 united this country. Maybe, just maybe, the horror of Newton, Conn. will have the same lasting effect when it comes to sensible gun laws.

Hillel, the famous Jewish religious leader a century before Christ, famously asked, “If not now, when?” To that I add, if not us, who?

Merry Christmas.

— Stan Voit is editor of The Mountain Press. His column appears each Sunday. He can be reached at 428-0748, ext. 217, or e-mail to svoit@themountainpress.com.