William A. Collins: Of Cowardice and Connecticut
Published on Dec 28, 2012 - 8:17:52 AM
Dec. 26, 2012 - After the biggest massacre at an elementary school since 1927, President Barack Obama at first assured those of us in Connecticut that America needed to reconsider its gun laws. It was just that now isn't quite the time. Wrong. Now is the time, as popular demand has since demonstrated.
If a morgue full of Sandy Hook's first-graders wasn't enough to get us busy, just what stimulus do we need? Newtown aside, already 30,000 Americans die from guns every year.
It's courage that's been missing. OK, at least 45 percent of Americans claim to have a gun at home, but that doesn't necessarily mean they all support assault rifles or concealed weapons on the street (or in college classrooms). The vast majority of gun owners are as responsible with their weapons as they are with their cars. They cringe at massacres just like you and I do.
Nor are average gun owners the enemy. The real enemies, brethren, are the manufacturers. They make a bundle on sales and invest heavily in the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). That pair (knowing which side their bread is buttered on) constantly seeks to fend off any kind of regulation of the gun industry.
Their overall campaign theme is to make Americans fear for their lives and consequently pursue that warm fuzzy feeling of safety that some get from owning a gun — even though you're more likely to be killed by your own gun than by someone else's.
Anyway, most owners are not likely to be much inconvenienced by the gun safety proposals now gaining momentum in America. No. 1: Require criminal and mental health background checks. No. 2: Ban large ammunition magazines. No. 3: Ban assault weapons. No 4: Require all owners to be licensed before they may operate a gun, as with cars. No. 5: Microstamp bullets so they can be traced after a crime is committed with them. No. 6: Close the gun show loophole responsible for making 40 percent of firearm sales exempt from otherwise requisite background checks.
Does it take courage for a politician to promote such a mild package? I suppose. Common sense is often a frail defense against the industry's emotional personal attacks. But this is the nature of all politics. Candidates have to deal with them every day. Historically, each issue eventually presents its own best moment for resolution, and who would argue that the time is not ripe for resolving our gun problem.
Photos of dead children may not have much impact on defenders of so-called "gun rights," but they do tend to outrage everyone else.
Further, little kids are only the most dramatic face of the problem. The vast bulk of those 30,000 annual victims are older, but that hardly makes their deaths less lamentable.
Unfortunately America's violent culture doesn't help matters. As president, Obama has set a remarkably unhealthy example by deploying drones to bump off suspected adversaries around the world — without benefit of trial. Similarly, our country operates military bases in scores of other nations to "keep the peace." The idea that you arm yourself to keep peace is pervasive.
So yes, in such a setting it does take political courage to tighten the screws on our Wild West culture. But that's part of being in elected office. Here in Connecticut, we've got this to say: Let's get on with it.
OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. OtherWords.org
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