The state of New York is the first of our fifty to throw down the anti-National Rifle Association gauntlet after the December Sandy Hook School tragedy for a long-necessary overhaul of American gun laws. On Monday January 14th the state Senate convened and passed tougher new statutes (the NY SAFE Act) governing assault weapon purchases, number of rounds allowed, and background check waiting periods, on a 43-18 vote. The action was obviously in anticipation of Tuesday's upcoming recommendations on the federal level by vice-president Joe Biden and his task force. This study group was convened by president Barack Obama after the elementary school massacre that resulted in the deaths of twenty first-graders and six adults.
Long Island Republican leader Dean Skelos said it best about the new Empire State laws after the vote : "It is well balanced, it protects the Second Amendment. This is going to go after those who bring illegal guns into the state. This is going to put people in jail and keep people in jail who shouldn't be out in the first place". And Republican senator Greg Ball said it worst : "We haven't saved any lives tonight except one...the political life of a governor (Andrew Cuomo) who wants to be president". A disgraceful sentiment, especially in the face of all the multi-victim tragedies our nation has seen over the past few years that any decent, rational person would WANT to pass laws to hinder, imperfect though they are and will always be.
Checking out what New York passed on Monday won't allay the NRA-generated fears of their most ardent gun worshippers across the nation. To some of these people, this event served as just another opportunity for the "liberals" to again attack their gun ownership rights. One of their many arguments against an assault weapons ban is the fact that there are a number of other guns like certain multiple-repeating shotguns that are just as dangerous as the AR15s and AK47s that get all the press. But the suggestion that those equally-deadly weapons should be outlawed as well usually makes the argument degenerate into how the proposed ban would in time let the government confiscate ALL weapons, including hunting rifles and revolvers. There's also the marginalized right-wing belief that gun ownership is even more important for Americans now with our current White House occupant (funny how so many conservatives have been quaking in their boots that we're all in danger of a governmental citizen takeover since Obama was elected? Wonder what underlying reason drives THAT canard?)
Repeating over and over again that hunters aren't in any danger of losing their rights and that properly-licensed adults will be able to own guns for their own protection has gotten very old. This is especially in the face of the willful NRA-propagated paranoia on their members about the "slippery slope", that background check rules and bans on murderous weapons with 100-round magazines that no hunter needs or uses will lead to a total ban on ALL guns. Hasn't happened in over 200 years.....it's not going to happen now.
But our Founding Fathers back in the mid-1700s never envisioned an American society of 315 million people that overwhelmingly leads the world's industrialized nations in per capita murder rate. There are currently 89 registered guns per 100 civilians across the US; our homicide rate is 3.2 murders per 100,000 people, a statistic which dwarfs the rest of the world (Italy ranks as number 2 per capita at 0.71 homicides, making America 4.5 times deadlier than the second deadliest nation). All other civilized countries similarly rank, like Italy, at less than 1 firearm murder per 100,000 people.
The main reason for this huge disparity is the ridiculously-relaxed gun ownership laws that the NRA has spent hundreds of millions of member's dues dollars eviscerating on a state-by-state basis over the decades. Remember the Brady Law, a common sense statute signed by president Bill Clinton back in 1993 after the 1981 shooting by John Hinckley that almost killed president Ronald Reagan and permanently disabled his press secretary Jim Brady? It instituted a background check for new gun buyers that covered licensed dealers, firearm manufacturers and gun importers. But after NRA-funded lawsuits in states like Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and Wyoming and the passage of numerous loopholes in the rules that cover gun shows and imported firearms, the bill is a shadow of what it was originally meant to be, allowing the people we DON'T want to possess deadly weapons the ability to do so in most states.
Reasonable people can go on and on debating the extent of limitations that a nation as violent as ours has to have on who can own deadly firearms, how deadly those owned firearms can be and where they can be utilized. But as NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre's noxious speech two weeks ago that even appalled many Republicans in Washington reminded us, there is no "reasonableness" within the NRA's governorship. The address posited just another self-serving NRA point, this time having armed police guarding every school in the nation (obviously swelling the coffers of the organization even more than they already are). He, as expected, offered no intelligent public policy statements, any call for an adult-level national conversation about school shooting causes and prevention, or even a display of any genuine sympathy for the tragic young victims, who LaPierre obviously wants all of us to forget ASAP, at least until the next nightmare scenario occurs.
The NRA exists to sell guns and recruit members, with their dues allowing the organization to keep gun safety laws and preventative measures neutered. And by doing this we'll simply sell MORE guns ad infinitum, as evidenced by the extreme uptick in legal gun sales across the nation since Sandy Hook. Despite the week-long silence by the organization before the LaPierre speech, why should we have expected anything less?
But there HAS to be a country-wide conversation about what the United States has become. Laws WILL have to be changed to address the circumstances that are only too clear to anyone who can read numbers, while at the same time protecting the Second Amendment rights of hunters and our home protection. And even though new measures won't magically make all the deadliest assault weapons already in our citizens' hands disappear, at least it'll make it illegal to possess and use them.
And all this has to be done NOW while the caring segment of American society still has the visions and pictures of all those children emblazoned on their brains, and parents are still ruminating on how lucky they are that THEIR kids weren't in that Sandy Hook classroom that ugly morning.
As president Obama tearfully told the mourners at the school the Sunday night after the slayings, "These tragedies must end. And to end them we must change".
And we must.