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Will Gun Mayhem Ever End?



Photograph: Bob Capazzo

With the still vivid memory of the bloody and senseless massacre in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater that took twelve lives and left fifty-nine wounded, wouldn’t you think there would be a spontaneous response from lawmakers and our political leaders to create tougher gun laws to protect the public? Incredibly, neither presidential candidate has spoken in favor of greater gun control, nor has Congress moved any closer to adopting effective gun-control legislation.

Sadly, Colorado was not the latest mass murder. Only sixteen days later a hate-filled gunman in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, shot and killed six Indian Sikhs at worship in their temple. The record of gun massacres in the past six years is a grisly one, starting with Virginia Tech, the deadliest in U.S. history, where thirty-two students were killed and nineteen injured. This was followed by Samson, Alabama, where ten died; Binghampton, New York, where assault rifles took the lives of thirteen; Fort Hood, Texas, another thirteen; and most recently Tuscon, Arizona, with six dead and where United States representative Gabrielle Gifford was shot in the head. While miraculously recovering, this brave lady will probably never be the same.

Wouldn’t you think this would be a wake-up call?

These are the mass gun killings that have grabbed headlines and shocked the nation. Less visible, but much more devastating and disruptive to our civil society is the sheer number of those killed and wounded by almost daily attacks in nearly every state and major city by assailants armed with assault rifles and handguns. Any doubts about how pervasive and uncontrolled these assaults and murders have become will be dispelled by a look at the statistics of police and newspaper reports compiled by the Brady Campaign and available on its website. A brief summary of each incident over the past six years includes a description of the assailant and the victims, the number dead and injured, and motives if known. The AK47 and SKS assault rifles are the most common weapons mentioned, followed by pistols, in many cases fitted with large-capacity clips. Some murders are obviously gang and drug  related; others, especially drive-bys, are often revenge and anger motivated. A significant number of the most irrational and tragic are those committed by people who are mentally and emotionally disturbed.

A few facts bring home the seriousness of the problem we face across the country:

• Almost 100,000 people a year are shot in murders, assaults, suicides, accidents or police intervention.

• Of these, a third will die from gun violence, 18,000 by suicide, 12,000 by murder and 600 by accident.

• Two-thirds will survive gun injuries. Of these, 44,500 have been injured in an assault, 18,600 shot accidentally and 3,000 have survived a suicide attempt.

• Tragically, nearly 3,000 kids were killed and 14,000 injured.

No question, our problem is of our own making. Our homicide rates are seven times higher than other high-income and well-populated countries in the civilized world, and homicides by firearms are over nineteen times higher.

Fortunately, in spite of the importance of weapons manufacturing to the Connecticut economy, we live in a state that ranks fifth among all states in the strength of its gun- control laws. We have the fifth lowest percent of households owning guns, and the fifth lowest rate per thousand of gun deaths.

There is a direct correlation between strength of gun laws and deaths by guns. Colorado, for example, ranks 39th in gun law strength, and 19th in gun deaths—before the Aurora massacre, that is. A close correlation exists for other weak-gun-law states as well.

In Connecticut, permits and background checks are required for the purchase of handguns kept at home or in the office, and a special permit is required to carry them abroad. Assault rifles, including the popular AK47 and the ARS15, are banned, along with other brands designed or modified for automatic or semi-automatic fire.  However, when these laws were passed, large-capacity ammunition magazines were not included in the ban. These magazines can accommodate as many as thirty-three rounds and can be fitted to either pistols or assault rifles. » They are what make these guns such efficient killers of people. As Peggy Noonan, Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter, famously said, “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!”

Those who insist on a literal application of the Second Amendment should be reminded that when our founders introduced this amendment, the most advanced weapon was a muzzle-loading musket with a range of no more than 100 yards — and it took up to three minutes to reload each round.

Connecticut is the only one of seven states with strict gun laws that hasn’t banned high- capacity magazines. No one seems to know how this got left out, but continued efforts to pass legislation outlawing high-capacity magazines since then have been stalled in the state house. Spokesmen for the gun manufacturers association even referred to assault weapons as “modern sporting rifles”! What kind of sport requires rapid firing rifles with a clip of thirty-three rounds?  

Living in Connecticut does not guarantee safety from firearms. In most other states guns and ammunition are readily available from retailers, at gun shows and even online, often with little or no background checks—and they are easily transportable. The Colorado killer, for example, ordered and received 6,000 rounds of ammunition from a leading mail-order house that also contributes a portion of each sale to the NRA.

The only way effective controls and a degree of sanity will be brought to bear on the epidemic of deaths by gunfire is the enactment of universal Federal laws—not currently a political likelihood. It is a sad commentary on the degree of political cowardice, or at the very least self-interest among our elected officials, that so few will stand up against the NRA and advocate sensible and reasonable gun control laws. Will more mass murders make a difference? Will politicians ever have the courage to defy the NRA with its threats and intimidation? Or will everyday murders and assaults with guns simply be accepted as a social norm? We doubt that our nation’s founders intended, or ever dreamed, that the Second Amendment would be used as an instrument to promote murder and mayhem. The right to bear arms must be tempered by restrictions that will protect the lives and well-being of innocent citizens.

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