Nel's New Day

March 21, 2013

Congress Loosens Gun Laws

Yesterday Colorado’s governor John Hickenlooper signed landmark gun laws that expanded background checks and limited magazine sizes. Just hours earlier, Tom Clements, the head of Colorado’s corrections department, was shot and killed when he answered the door to his home. The county sheriff where Clements lived had promised not to enforce the new state laws.

On the day that Clements was killed, Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) withdrew a ban on assault weapons and the provision to limit magazine sizes from the planned bill to increase penalties for people who purchase guns for others barred from having them.  Tonight, after extreme pressure, Reid said that he would return the ban on assault weapons to gun legislation.

Since December 14, 2012, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre has said that he’s waiting for the “Connecticut effect” to wear off. It appears that he is getting his way. After Republicans threatened to close down the United States, Congress sent the continuing resolution for government funding to the president for signing. The first gun legislation since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre actually loosens gun controls. When President Obama signs the bill, it makes four long-term gun provisions permanent:

(1) Justice Department cannot require inventories from firearms dealers to make sure weapons haven’t been stolen;

(2) the government cannot change the definition of antique guns which allows many of these weapons to be sent into the country;

(3) the Justice Department cannot deny a license to firearms dealers who report no business activity; and

(4) the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives must include language in firearms data stating that the information can’t be used to make conclusions about gun crimes.

Andy Borowitz, author of a humor column for the New Yorker, came too close to being accurate in his assessment of LaPierre’s comments when he satirized LaPierre’s position:

“I must admit, when the national conversation about guns started in those dark days of December, I thought it was a bad idea.People kept saying that things would be different this time, and that scared the bejesus out of me. I was concerned that the national conversation about guns would turn into something uglier, like congressional action. Fortunately, that danger seems to have passed.”

Borowitz continued, writing that LaPierre said that the NRA would remain vigilant in keeping the conversation from “veering off into concrete remedies that will actually change things.” And that’s exactly what the NRA CEO is doing. The people want a ban on assault rifles: 59 percent of voters support this. But the NRA lobby is powerful; even my own representative, Kurt Schrader (D-OR), gets enough money and persuasion from the NRA that he opposes any tighter gun legislation.

What the people who support tighter gun laws know is that the states with the best gun laws have the fewest gun deaths. Just using the volume of gun laws on the books shows that the states with the highest number of firearms measures have a 42-percent lower rate of gun deaths than those with the fewest number of gun laws. Massachusetts has 3.4 gun deaths per 100,000 people, only 19 percent of the 18 gun deaths per 100,000 people in Louisiana. Since the tragedy at Newtown (CT) on December 4, Kentucky has had four times the rate of gun deaths as New York.


Getting any research in gun deaths, however, is extremely difficult. In the early 1990s, Rep. Jay Dickey (R-AR), self-identified as “point person for the NRA,” succeeded in choking off the evidence.

LaPierre has changed his own views since the 1990s. In May 1999, he said, “We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America’s schools, period.” By Sandy Hook, he had moved from gun-free zones to calling for armed, NRA-trained vigilantes patrolling all the nation’s almost 100,000 public schools.

Past pillars of the GOP have supported gun control. After George Wallace, southern governor campaigning to be president, was shot in 1972, President Richard Nixon recommended getting rid of Saturday-night specials and considered banning all handguns. Nixon said, “I don’t know why any individual should have a right to have a revolver in his house. The kids usually kill themselves with it and so forth.” He asked why “can’t we go after handguns, period?”

Republican William Safire, wrote in 1999 about the Second Amendment “[A] right that sometimes isn’t, is no right at all. After a great job on the First Amendment, the amending Founders botched the Second… Here’s how to fix a flawed amendment that is the source of so much confusion: Repeal its ambiguous preamble. Let some member of Congress introduce an amendment to strike the words before the comma in the Second Amendment.”

The attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in March 1981 that seriously wounded his press secretary James Brady led to the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban. Reagan advocated for the law and said, “Every year, an average of 9,200 Americans are murdered by handguns, according to Department of Justice statistics. This does not include suicides or the tens of thousands of robberies, rapes and assaults committed with handguns. This level of violence must be stopped. If the passage of the Brady bill were to result in a reduction of only 10 or 15 percent of those numbers (and it could be a good deal greater), it would be well worth making it the law of the land.”

The year after terrorists took down the World Trade Center on 9/11, William F. Buckley, Jr. said:

“The assertion of a right at ridiculous lengths–the absolutization of it, in the manner of the American Civil Liberties Union–is a way of undermining it. If the Constitution says you can say anything you want under any circumstances, then you can shout “fire” in a crowded movie theater. If you have the right to remain silent in all circumstances, then you can decline to give testimony vital to another citizen’s freedom and rights. If you insist that a citizen has the right to own a machine gun, you discredit his right to own a pistol or a rifle.”

The gun industry has always lobbied for more gun sales and threatened to move their companies to more sympathetic states. Their latest tactic is to refuse to sell firearms or accessories to police and police agencies “that citizens can’t buy.” Thus if a state votes to limit magazine capacity to 7, New York for example, the boycotting manufacturers will not sell magazines with higher capacity to cops, federal agents or any other law enforcement magazines.

I reflect on the attitude that all gun owners responsible. Here are a few of these “responsible” people. In Crawfordville (FL), 61-year-old Mary Frances Alday threatened a Wal-Mart employee with a gun because her $1.00 Internet coupon was not accepted. In Orange City (FL), Jose Martinez pull off five shots in a Wal-Mart parking lot with the excuse that he was defending himself from a shoplifter who ran over and injured him. The police pointed out that Martinez was bumped by the car only because he chased it and tried to open the car’s door.

A 35-year-old Florida man, Gregory Dale Lanier, was shot by his dog as they traveled State Road 17 North. The dog kicked the 9mm lying on the floor of the truck. The gun went off, hitting Lanier in the leg. (Maybe it’s just Florida?)

In a classic example of irony, the gun industry is immune from liability suits, but bb gun manufacturers can be sued for negligence. The NRA lobbied GOP lawmakers in 2005 to obtain this shield. As Jon Lowy, director of the Brady Center Legal Action project, said on The Rachel Maddow Show on March 8:

 “There’s a basic principle of civil justice which governs everyone in society. That we all have to act reasonably. And if we don’t, we are deemed negligent. We can be deemed liable. The only people that that rule does not apply to are licensed gun dealers, manufacturers and distributors.”

He continued:

“We have cases where gun dealers supply criminals profit from those sales and then they come up with defenses such as, ‘I put a gun on the counter. I turned my back. What do you know, the criminal took the gun, left money on the counter for me and I didn’t know that he was going to do that.’ That, as implausible as it sounds, is a compelling defense under this federal law that can get them off the hook.”

A lawsuit, however, is trying to make gun owners responsible, using the example of a bar held responsible for a drunk driver who seriously injured a young couple and killed a fetus in a car crash. That decision was based on the Dram-Shop law holding bars and liquor stores in some states liable for damages caused by a person who is over-served or sold to. An Ohio lawsuit is claiming that gun owners who do not properly secure their weapons or family members responsible for people using guns for crimes are liable for the damages.

A year ago, 17-year-old boy T.J. Lane used his uncle’s .22 caliber pistol to shoot and kill three boys at Chardon High School in Painesville. He also wounded three other students. The families of the three people he killed are suing Lane, his natural parents, his grandparents–also his custodial guardians –-and his uncle John Bruening, claiming that they failed to prevent the shooting. Those who think that this is outrageous must consider that Nancy Lanza, the mother of the Sandy Hook shooter, bought the weapons, trained her son in shooting, and left the weapons accessible.


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