Thread: Chronicle viewpoint article
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Subject: [em] Chronicle Editorial wants to restrict gun rights of those under 25!
They claim they support the Second Amendment, and says Bloomberg was
targeting, catching and suing Virginia gun dealers ***for failing to comply with
federal gun laws***.
This commentary needs some letters to the Editor.
Our Viewpoint-Gun Deaths Versus Gun Rights in the Light of Virginia Tech
The Second Amendment to the Constitution states, "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." The entire gun control debate is
focused on those few words. They are the mantra of the politically powerful
National Rifle Association. The continuing legal question is whether specific
controls on gun sales and ownership violate this Amendment.
Advocates of gun control have always argued the amendment protected the
rights of militias rather than of individuals. In March, the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled by a 2 to 1 vote that the Second
Amendment protections "are not limited to militia service, nor is an individual's
enjoyment of the right contingent" on being in a militia. This ruling sent a
shock wave through the gun control community, and most likely the case will end
up in the Supreme Court. However, it should be noted that Judge Laurence
Silberman wrote in his majority opinion that the Second Amendment is still
"subject to the same sort of reasonable restrictions that have been recognized as
limiting, for instance, the First Amendment."
The real challenge is how to protect lives versus how to protect an
individual's right to gun ownership. This fight between supporters of gun control and
supporters of gun ownership brings to mind the paradox: What happens when an
irresistible force meets an immovable object? Gun control supporters are not
always rational or reasonable. And the total failure of the National Rifle
Association and other gun rights supporters to acknowledge the destructive
impact of unrestricted gun ownership continues to block compromise that could
lead to the establishment of reasonable controls that would protect both gun
owners' rights and individual lives.
Unfortunately there is little truth to the gun advocates' slogan, "Guns don't
kill people, people kill people." The gun death statics clearly show the
U.S. death rate from guns way exceeds all other leading industrial countries. In
2004, according to the Center for Disease Control, 29,569 Americans died
from firearm-related deaths, of which 11,624 were murders, 16,750 were suicides
and 649 were accidents. By contrast, the numbers of firearm-related deaths in
countries with strict gun controls were a small fraction of the U.S. toll.
For instance, there were 56 such murders in Austrialia, 184 in Canada, 73 in
England and Wales and 37 in Sweden.
Sadly, the worst death statistics for both murder and accidental deaths are
for juveniles. Cathy Lanier, the Chief of the District's Metropolitan Police
Department, cited in an Op-Ed column in the Washington Post an 86 percent drop
in the number of juveniles charged with homicides from 1995 to 2006,
following the Virginia and Maryland laws restricting gun sales to one gun per month.
She protests the Appeals Court's decision.
The figures from the Center for Disease Control (http://www.cdc.gov/) for the 15 to
24 age group lists traffic accidents (not surprisingly) as the leading cause
of death, with 10,757 in 2004. The second leading cause was homicide, with
5,085. Of these, 81.2 percent, or 4,127 deaths, were from firearms, followed by
"cut/pierce" (knives, etc.) at 484, or 9.5 percent. The third leading cause
for this 15 to 24-year-old group was suicide, with 4,316 deaths, of which
2,104 (48.7 percent) were from firearms, 1,516 (35.1 percent) were from
suffocation and 363 (8.4 percent) were from poisoning.
The correlation between high death rates from firearms and their
accessibility cannot be challenged. It is not surprising that the figures for young
people are the highest. This is the age group where you would expect immaturity,
emotional instability, lack of anger management skills, poor judgment and
poor decision-making ability to be at the highest level. ***Does it make any
sense for guns to be readily available to this age group?***
We often hear from gun supporters the cry that we don't need more gun control
laws, we just need to enforce the existing laws. Unfortunately, many in the
pro-gun movement actually don't mean that at all. The recent brouhaha between
New York and Virginia over New York City's targeting, catching and suing
Virginia gun dealers ***for failing to comply with federal gun laws***clearly
demonstrates that many gun rights advocates are actually opposed to any real
controls. Pathetically, Robert F. McDonnell, the attorney general of Virginia,
has concluded the bad guy is Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, not the
Virginia gun dealers who are flouting the law.
Seung-Hui Cho is not the first mentally disturbed killer to purchase a gun.
Nor will he be the last, unless major legislative changes are made. Russell
Weston in 1998 shot two Capitol police officers even though he had been
involuntarily committed in Montana. But, because of Montana's privacy laws, his
committal was not known in Illinois where he purchased the gun.
Access to guns by the mentally impaired really tests the system. Gov. Timothy
Kaine closed the loophole that allowed Seung-Hui Cho to buy the guns used to
kill 33 students and teachers at Virginia Tech. Since Cho's court-ordered
treatment was for outpatient care, even though it was involuntary and he posed
a risk to himself and others, Virginia did not send his name to the National
Criminal Background Check System. Gov. Kaine has now instructed the State
Police to include such information in the database. Unfortunately, only 22
states report any mental health records to the database.
However, that does not fix the problem. It is not entirely clear where gun
advocates stand on including the mentally ill in the federal database. Wayne
LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association, was quoted in the
New York Times as supporting inclusion of those records in the database.
Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, was reported to be
fighting against inclusion.
A potentially bigger problem is that many mental health advocates are
strongly opposed to having mentally ill individuals listed, believing it
stigmatizes them and, even more critically, might discourage essential treatment. In
addition, state privacy laws come into play in some cases, preventing release
of the necessary information. It is a disturbing defect in the law. It would
be good to see the National Rifle Association taking the lead in fixing the
problem. Certainly the care and treatment of the mentally ill should be
protected, but not at the cost of enabling another tragedy like the one that
occurred at Virginia Tech.
In reviewing Virginia's limited gun laws, it is clear there is no political
will to increase the controls. There is no ban or limitation on assault
weapons, no requirement for child-safety locks and no ban on Saturday [KM1]night
specials. In addition, local governments are not permitted any independent
regulation, even though in this diverse state, the needs of the more urban areas
and the rural areas of the state are very different.
However, the most serious deliberate defect in Virginia law is the gun show
loophole. At gun shows, private individuals or collectors can sell guns
without the background check required for a licensed gun dealer. Effectively
unlimited, uncontrolled gun sales at these shows are permitted, enabling juveniles
or criminals to make purchases. Had Seung-Hui Cho failed the background check
at a gun store, he could have easily gone to a gun show and made the same
purchase, no questions asked.
The fundamental right to own guns is not in question, but it must be
accompanied by reasonable controls that protect the public from a very dangerous
instrument. Blocking access to the mentally disturbed and requiring background
checks of all purchasers are minimal reasonable standards that should be
effectively enacted into Virginia law. The National Rifle Association and its
members and supporters need to recognize that these limited controls don't
threaten their rights, but protect them. They need to assist in getting such
legislation passed for the good of the community as a whole.