From the Founders: Time to Gun for the NRA
photograph by Bob Capazzo
It was only last September, prompted by the mass slaughter in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, that we devoted this page to a piece entitled “Will Gun Mayhem Ever End?” The answer to our rhetorical question came all too soon. Before that issue went to press came the report of a hate-filled gunman shooting to death six Indian Sikhs at prayer in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Now, three months later, we find ourselves addressing this grisly subject once more on the heels of the most traumatic, heartrending tragedy of all right in our own backyard—the gunning down of twenty children in the first grade at Sandy Hook Elementary School and six members of the staff who tried to save them.
We need to remind ourselves of the frightening number of gun massacres in the past six years that preceded Newtown: Virginia Tech, thirty-two students dead; Samson, Alabama, ten dead; Binghamton, New York, thirteen dead; Fort Hood, Texas, thirteen dead; Tuscon, Arizona, six dead and Congresswoman Gifford shot in the head; then Aurora, Oak Creek and Newtown. Countless more were wounded. And while they may not make the front page, some 12,000 individuals are killed by gunfire every year. That’s at least thirty-four each day. We should be ashamed that our homicide rate by firearms is nineteen times greater than in any other well-developed country.
The effort of the NRA to downplay gun slaughter has been predictable, and their arguments opposing any form of regulation familiar: The problem is never the limitless accessibility of all types of firearms, including those designed solely to kill people with greater efficiency; nor is it due to the totally inadequate system of background checks. Instead, NRA officials insist, massacres are prompted by the extreme violence that pervades movies, TV and computer games. Trotting out their timeworn and deceivingly simplistic mantra, “guns don’t kill people, people do,” they direct our attention away from guns to curing the mentally ill. Why should law-abiding citizens be denied the right to bear arms, they say, when criminals and the mentally disturbed will find a way of getting guns anyway? Meanwhile, they stress the need to carry arms for self-defense, even for resisting a tyrannical government.
A grain of truth can be found in some of these arguments, at least enough to support the convictions of ardent gun control opponents. Certainly much more must be done to identify and cure once untreatable schizophrenia that is the root of many shooting rampages. But there is a world of difference between the Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle with a high-capacity ammunition clip and a double-barrel shotgun designed for bird hunting. The NRA has steadfastly refused to make any distinction and, instead, tries to instill fear among gun owners that the government will legislate mandatory registration of guns of all kinds, opining that it will be a step toward government confiscation.
The Bushmaster semiautomatic is actually a popular rifle with fairly wide distribution. Although the industry labels it as a “sporting gun,” most would consider that a stretch. What makes this and other semiautomatic rifles, as well as semiautomatic handguns, such efficient killers is the high-capacity clip. Peggy Noonan, speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, a victim himself you may recall, declared, “What civilian needs a pistol with a magazine that loads thirty-three rounds and allows you to kill that many people without stopping to reload? No one but people with bad intent!”
Connecticut is the home of the country’s most important gun manufacturers, yet has some of the country’s strongest gun laws. It is sadly ironic that all efforts to include a ban of high-capacity clips has been blocked by the industry and gun law opponents. It is more than likely that some Newtown children would be alive today had these clips been made illegal.
A ban on the sale of assault rifles and high- capacity clips would not eliminate those already in circulation, and with the threat of new laws that might restrict their sale, both have recently been flying off dealers’ shelves. Therefore, their ownership, not just their sale, must be restricted by federal law, just as the manufacture and possession of submachine guns is restricted, for there is very little difference in killing capacity between the weapons.
Of great concern is the pernicious influence that the NRA has had on Congress, leading to the adoption of a thicket of laws limiting the information the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives may obtain or make public. The NRA has blocked every effort to create a federal registry of gun transactions, for example, making it nearly impossible for law enforcement to trace ownership of weapons found at a crime scene. The NRA has also successfully lobbied Congress to pass laws enabling it to suppress information that could be used to support gun control.
Those who believe in the sanctity and strict application of the Second Amendment should consider the guns that existed when the amendment was written, which were muzzle-loading muskets with an effective range of less than seventy-five yards and required up to three minutes to load each shot. We believe that our forefathers would have been horrified to know that as a result of today’s weapons technology, their amendment would enable the mass murder of even our innocent children.