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Time to Enlist State Powers to Curb Deadliest Guns

Neal Peirce / Dec 27 2012

For Release Sunday, December 30, 2012
© 2012 Washington Post Writers Group

Neal PeirceWASHINGTON – Now, in the wake of the Newtown massacre, is the time to blow the whistle on the gun industry.

We have a proven formula. It’s the approach that curbed the tobacco industry and its life-imperiling products.

And action needn’t wait on the federal government. Any state, right now, can start the ball rolling, through public interest lawsuits filed by state attorneys general. Plus – or alternatively – it can impose high taxes on ultra-dangerous automatic weapons and the ammunition to fire them.

It’s worth remembering the salvo of state lawsuits filed against the tobacco industry, reaching a culmination in the 1990s. The end result was the “Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement” in which Philip Morris and its ilk agreed to curtail their tobacco marketing and pay annual payments to compensate states, at least in part, for the medical costs of caring for people with smoking-related illnesses.

Who can argue that guns are less of a public menace than cigarettes? About 25 Americans are murdered by guns every 24 hours. Many more are wounded: Hospital emergency rooms see more than 200 gunshot wound victims daily. The numbers of mass shootings, like Newtown, are on the rise. More than half the 10 deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the last five years – not just in schools but at nightclubs, hospitals, funeral homes, malls, movie theaters, even places of worship.

Combining the direct medical costs of treating gun injuries with the economic damage of lost lives, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the total exceeded $40 billion for 2005 (the most recent year available). That’s far more than the $31.8 billion a year the National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates the economic value (manufacturing, retailing, etc.) of the entire U.S. firearms industry. The United States leads affluent countries – by far – in gun-related civilian deaths and injuries.

But the gun industry funds a massive lobbying effort by the National Rifle Association and its ally – the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The net result is near paralysis of state-level research in, or legal restrictions on, gun use. The gun industry is left free to invent ever-more-deadly weapons, selling massive amounts of ammunition while pumping millions of dollars into the campaigns of federal and state candidates willing to espouse its cause.

Indeed, pro-firearm legislators have successfully induced states to pass a flood of pro-gun laws and rules. The result is insanity. A ProPublica survey found that five states now allow students to carry concealed guns on college campuses. Several states now make it legal to take guns into day care centers and churches. Several states permit loaded guns in bars. Nearly half have passed “Stand Your Ground” (or “shoot first”) laws (the type invoked in the Florida killing of teenager Trayvon Martin).

What’s more, state and local governments – and thus their taxpayers – have actually been subsidizing wealthy gun manufacturers and their sellers. The “Subsidy Tracker” website of the public advocacy group Good Jobs Firs lists $49 million in recent years’ grants, tax credits, rebates and worker-training subsidies to attract plants or stores of such outfits as Remington Arms, Smith & Wesson, Winchester, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Cabela’s.

But the biggest beneficiary is Wal-Mart, with a reported $90 million in government grants – money straight out of taxpayers’ pockets – for agreeing to situate its stores in supplicant states, counties or cities.

Gun sales are, to be sure, just one product Wal-Mart retails (and only at 1,800 of its 3,800 outlets). It offers dozens of varieties of firearms. One popular model: the Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle, the model of rapid-fire killing weapon Adam Lanza used in the Newtown massacre. It’s uncertain where the Lanza weapon was purchased, but Wal-Mart’s heavy retailing of weapons and ammunition is a significant part of its avowed sales expansion strategy, raking in state and local government subsidies – your money and mine – in the process.

Would state attorneys general dare prepare suits – on the cigarette model – to assert public safety concern, to curb powerful interests? Would state legislators be willing to place heavy special taxes on especially dangerous guns and ammunition – heavy enough to put a dent in their sales? Many states levy high taxes on alcohol: how about guns?

Conventional wisdom says “no” – that the NRA and its legions of supporters (real or claimed) will come “get” any legislator who tries, extinguishing his or her political career.

But even before the Newtown shooting, the NRA’s political armor was weakening. It fought hard to stop President Obama’s re-election and lost; it invested heavily in a range of U.S. Senate races and lost nine of 13.

This wolf’s teeth may not be so sharp after all. Public officials should listen. If the moment for a people’s counterinsurgency were ever ripe, it’s now.

Neal Peirce’s e-mail is

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  1. Marc Brenman
    Posted December 27, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    Here are some elements of a plan in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy and other similar mass murders committed with guns in the US. Each of these has some value, and together would have great value. Some elements are derived from others.

    • Ensure state compliance with requirements to post appropriate mental health records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System
    • Establish clear reporting guidelines for when and how mental health records are required to be posted in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System so that states can be held accountable for compliance
    • Require a full background check in all gun transactions, including private sales at gun shows and online purchases
    • Fully fund state technology efforts to comply with the federal background check system requirements
    • Require states to comply fully with the protocols of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System or threatening to take away their federal funding
    • Mandate federal compliance with a presidential executive order directing all agencies to submit records to this instant background check system
    • Prohibit the manufacture, sale and purchase of assault weapons and outlawing high-capacity bullet magazines, very large amounts of ammunition, and bullets which have the sole purpose of causing great bodily injury.

    Mandatory training on gun safety for gun owners and users.

    Mandatory trigger locks and gun safes for gun owners. Installation of gun cabinets may improve gun and ammunition storage practices. Financial assistance to gun owners, such as tax incentives, can be provided to gun owners for this purpose.

    Technological fixes so that only the registered owner can shoot the gun.

    Make gun trafficking a federal crime, with stiff penalties for those who arm criminals.

    Fully fund mental health services.

    The military, VHA, and wider medical community should create a trusted mechanism for safely removing and temporarily storing firearms on a patient’s behalf with his/her consent.

    The issue of guns should be linked to the issue of suicide prevention. Access to firearms is a risk factor for suicide. Firearms used in youth suicide usually belong to a parent.
    Reducing access to lethal means saves lives.

    Nurses and other emergency department personnel in hospital emergency rooms should provide “Lethal means counseling.” This means:
    assessing whether a person at risk for suicide has access to a firearm or other lethal means, and
    working with them and their family and support system to limit their access until they are no longer feeling suicidal. Psychiatrists should also provide such counseling in their practices. Among families of high risk youth, those who received the counseling were significantly more likely than those who had not to remove or secure the dangerous items. Others who come into contact with suicidal people should also provide such counseling.

    Improve the social safety net generally, so that fewer people fall through the cracks.

    Tighten rules for mandatory reporters, so that more people with violent potential come to the attention of law enforcement.

    Restore funding for the Community Oriented Policing (COPS) program, to put more police back in communities.

    Gun enthusiasts police other gun enthusiasts, and learn to notice and act on signs of potential violence. For example, firearm retailers and range owners, can help prevent suicide by

    Using guidelines with gun store/firing range owners about how to avoid selling or renting a firearm to a suicidal customer

    Encouraging gun stores and firing ranges to display and distribute suicide prevention materials tailored to their customers
    Strengthen product liability laws, so that gun manufacturers have at least some liability for the damage that their guns do. Congress enacted a law in 2005 that gives gun manufacturers and dealers broad immunity from being sued. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) shields the gun industry. This law should be rescinded. Before the PLCAA, lawsuits were starting to prod the gun industry to act more responsibly. In 2000, Smith & Wesson, the nation’s largest handgun manufacturer, agreed to a variety of safety conditions to end lawsuits that threatened to put it in bankruptcy. Among other things, Smith & Wesson agreed to put a second, hidden set of serial numbers on all of its new guns to make it harder for criminals to scratch away the identifying markings. But the PLCAA took away the pressure to work on safety.
    Gun holders should be required to purchase additional liability insurance to cover gun incidents that cause harm to themselves and other. Proof of insurance should be provided as a condition to purchase a gun. The analogy is to car insurance.
    Institutional investors should divest from gun manufacturers.
    In the absence of rules governing the design of firearms, regulating the way guns are advertised may be a useful public health intervention. Some gun advertisements include messages suggesting that bringing a handgun into the home is generally protective for the occupants of the home. The best available scientific information contradicts this message. Given this disjunction, regulating those advertisements may be an appropriate response. Under federal law, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has authority to prohibit advertisements that are “deceptive” or “unfair.” Under the FTC’s deception analysis, the focus is on whether consumers are misled by an advertisement. For a finding of unfairness, the FTC looks for advertisements that may cause substantial injury to consumers. Under either analysis, a strong argument can be made that firearm advertisements promising home protection are unlawful.
    Broaden the discussion beyond mental health to include evil people, and learn to recognize the signs of evil.

    Increase the understanding of school and college officials, so that they don’t hide behind the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in mistakenly thinking they can’t do anything about potentially violent students. Similarly, increase the understanding of HIPAA (the health care privacy act), so that practitioners understand that it doesn’t mean that potentially violent patients can be ignored or hidden.

    Establish a National Institute of Violence Prevention at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to research root causes and community solutions. We should fund the Centers for Disease Control to develop its infrastructure so it can track, assess and develop strategies to prevent gun violence, just as we do with tainted spinach and influenza. Currently NIH is prohibited by statute from covering gun violence as a public health problem.

    Overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, so that the influence of big donors will be decreased in politics. This will reduce the pernicious influence of the NRA and arms manufacturers, which are distorting the possibility of good legislation.

    Shift to more of a public health emphasis, and encourage passive safety elements, similarly to the way car safety has been approached. People still have lots and lots of cars, but each car is much safer.

    Use buy-back programs for guns.

    FBI documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) under the Freedom of Information Act show that from its inception, the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat even though the agency acknowledges in documents that organizers explicitly called for peaceful protest and did “not condone the use of violence” at occupy protests. Using similar criteria, gun enthusiasts could be similarly surveilled, monitored, and reported on. In fact, gun enthusiasts, because they possess guns, espouse a willingness to use them, and give as a reason protection from an oppressive government, provide even greater reasons for FBI action against them.

  2. Terry Flood
    Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Terrific column, Neal. Thank you. If a group or person is going to focus on 1 or 2 initiatives around the gun control issue. which ones would you suggest? thanks for the help. Terry

  3. Howard Wooldridge
    Posted December 28, 2012 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    A thundering silence comes from the 41 states that allow regular citizens to carry deadly force, either exposed or concealed. Where are the ‘OK Corral’ shootouts? In the 5 states that allow college students to carry concealed there is a thundering silence. No problems have emerged in those campuses.

    We do need to close the ‘gun show’ exception to background checks & certainly improve the mental health issues/procedures to deny sales to that group. I favor no sales of large capacity magazines. These are sensible reforms that i believe can make it thru Congress.

    Prohibition of firearms is not the answer. The NRA is not wrong saying, ‘the only thing that stops a bad guy w/ a gun, is a good guy with a gun.’ Armed police officers respond to shootings = good guys with guns. History has shown that millions of us are ‘good guys’ and when we carry concealed (like i do) we augment the security of those around us.

  4. Posted December 28, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Not to be overly pedantic, but they aren’t automatic weapons but semi-auto. Secondly, its the same ammo whether for a bolt action gun or a machine gun. Past attempts to define assault rifles has been done in a way that would make the Three Stooges proud. We need to carefully define the problem and carefully define changes in law so legislation will pass Constitutional muster. The gun problem is a little more nuanced than is being portrayed these days.

    Gun owners need to step up to the plate and offer some solutions beyond the NRA’s ludicrous suggestion that we should be turning grade schools, churches, malls, and theatres into armed camps with frontier justice meted out with innocents diving out of the crossfire. There are just so many schoolyard and fire first responder massacres the public will tolerate while letting our legislators be bought off by the gun industry. Sadly, the first response by gun owners has been to buy up every assault rifle and magazine they can lay their hands on in anticipation of a ban on these things.

    Having said that, we have a problem with a total lack of self-responsibility in this country and it ain’t just guns. According to the National Center for Bicycling and Walking’s Mark Plotz, for every gun homicide, we kill four people with misused motor vehicles. A society that thinks humans are expendable in the public drive to turn cars into rolling home entertainment and communication centers cannot help but to misuse guns as well. The hypocrisy, including anyone here telling me cars are more safe (sure, for the occupants, if not for the hapless pedestrian crossing a street) is a little hard to take for someone like me who rides a bike to work and is far more likely to be left dead by a distracted motorist than by a lunatic with an assault rifle. If we really want a safer country, we need to focus less on guns and more on our fatally flawed national culture of violence, including motor vehicle violence.

  5. Posted December 29, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    I see no need for a large magazine on any weapon. I see no need to carry a gun, I see no need to fear my neighbours nor the need to kill people I don’t like .. But then I don’t live in America, I like in a country where I can go anywhere without carrying my legally owned fire arm I live in a country where kids go to school with out fear of being killed, where no teacher would think of carrying a gun, I live in a country where you have to have a reason to own a gun, where it has to be registered and securely stored. I live in a country where I am free to vote out a government I don’t like rather than believe I need a gun to change a government.
    I live in freedom and peace Americans choose not to have.
    I am an Australian

  6. Neal Peirce
    Posted December 29, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Comment received from Australian Arnold Long:
    As an Australian who has visited America in four different years I am deeply saddened by the senseless murders on a daily basis in the US. But the 5 and 6 year olds murdered recently must shock even the most biased gun owner. The lunatics running the NRA suggest armed guards at every school and arming teachers are truly seeking to destroy freedom.
    I own a rifle I enjoy target shooting .. My brother and I hunted rabbits for food several. Decades ago, but truly I thank God I am an Australian and live in a free country most Americans could not conceive.
    No one needs to worry about getting shot in schools churches shops or theatres.
    When my then 15 year old son and I visited Alaska in 2006, we went target shooting twice. He really enjoyed in but his diary entry on getting home was ” back in Australia, and no guns in sight”
    The open availability and carriage of fire arms shocked him.
    I read recently 2 interesting comments about the US .. This year the total spend on mental health was the same as in 1850 (??) … And 47% of gun deaths are at the hands of people with some form of mental illness.
    Seems to me a direct correlation there.
    But more than that the whole American life style and society seems based on over use of power. I have read that since WWII the USA has dropped bombs on over 60 different countries. That means more than one quarter on the nations of the world. If that is the action of the government then shooting people on the streets shops and schools is just a manifestation of the whole of US society.
    A wise old friend once said the US will destroy itself from within long before anyone can do the same from outside. I fear he is correct. Paranoia has taken over the country as testified by the airport security staff when you first arrive, and just goes downhill from there. It is sad. It’s a very different country even to the one I first visited in 1977 and 1980.

  7. Posted December 29, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    “…If that(i.e., our international exporting of violence) is the action of the government then shooting people on the streets shops and schools is just a manifestation of the whole of US society….”

    Here in Los Alamos, we recently had a motorist cut off and hit a bicyclist, sending the cyclist to the hospital with serious injuries. Punch line? The cyclist was cited. When it went to court, even the prosecutor was embarrassed and asked that charges be dropped.

    Power is everything in the USA, including the appearance of a power differential between a cyclist and a motorist. Perhaps that is the root of the gun problem. A few citizens are still living in a strange old world where musket wielding farmers could overthrow King George. Its not likely that even an assault weapon wielding band of men could fend off the present United States government, armed as it is with not only machine guns but all manners of mechanized weaponry, but perhaps myth lives on stronger than present day reality. Like many Americans, I would prefer to settle important issues at the ballot box rather than the bullet box, but there is a growing minority in my nation that begins to doubt the wisdom of my view.

  8. Neal Peirce
    Posted December 30, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Comment received from Nancy Keaton of Chehalis, Washington:

    Your article comparing guns to tobacco is a false analogy. I’ve never smoked but I am a gun owner and obviously cigarettes have never been used to SAVE a life. You, along with many others, go on and on about the AR-15 but we know that’s not all it’s about. If it were, Feinstein’s bill ready to be introduced would only address the AR-15. Instead it addresses basically every gun exempt a revolver and bolt-action rifle. So while you all try to convince us any new gun law is not the Carmel’s nose under the fence, it’s right there in black and white in her bill.

    Here is one area though where it does relate to your tobacco analogy – the Carmel’s nose: first you couldn’t smoke at work, then not in a restaurant, then not bars, now not even outside in a park even if no one is around! Now, even though I hate the smell of cigarettes, I think that’s a stupid law simply created to controlling smokers. And taxing tobacco? Great idea until the state counts on that revenue and then whines about having to cut services because less people are smoking and they counted on the money. Taxing guns and ammo more would do the same thing and when less taxes were brought in, I guess the state would then get to tax the daylights out of the things you value and I bet you won’t think it’s such a great idea then.

    Oh, and don’t bother asking why anyone “needs” an AR – # 1, that’s just a scapegoat excuse for all gun control (again, look at Feinstein’s bill) and, and #2, do you like want me or anyone else deciding what you “need”? Why do you need so many shoes, suits, ties, TVs, etc., when you could be giving that money to charities? It’s nobody’s business what you “need” is it?

    Four years ago I didn’t have a gun and was terrified of them. Then I took classes and learned about them and one of the most valuable lessons was how poorly the media portrays them. I encourage you to take a couple of classes and actually handle a gun. Knowledge and experience are a lot more valuable than uneducated opinion.

    I am a grandmother and a Democrat and yes, you are absolutely right, I WILL vote against ANY politician who tries to make ANY new gun laws, including new taxes, because I see where it leads. I WILL NOT allow anyone to force me and my loved ones to be victims. If you want to choose to be vulnerable, you have every right to do that. But you don’t have the right to choose that for me. You may see Code Pink demonstrating against the NRA, but they don’t speak for all women. There are many of us that are seeing this gun control discussion as a deadly threat to our safety. The police took an HOUR to get to my house one day. Luckily it wasn’t serious, but what could have happened to me in that hour? I hope my daughters never have to find out.

  9. Neal Peirce
    Posted December 30, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Comment received from Ken Labudda (no address given) — This comment is interesting not just for suggesting a perceived need to have guns in private hands but also to defend (somehow, not stated) against an “out of control” federal administration –which the writer associates with President Obama. — NRP

    Read your article, don’t agree one bit, but the larger point is are we going to want the State to get involved every time we can’t get our way? My guess is that your a liberal, at least that is what I gather from your article. One other thing I can guess is that you have never been a victim of a crime. Well, I have. I am prepared this time to defend myself, against anything that might happen in the future. Never again will I allow someone else to decide whether I live or die, at least not without the fight of their life. Let’s face it, we live in a violent society. But guns are not just a way for us to defend our homes and families against an attacker, but also an out of control Government! So far, we have not had the need to defend ourselves from an out of control Administration, but then again, we have never had a socialist like Obama at the helm. I bought two guns this past year, and hope to get a bushmaster myself this year, despite the hoops I already have to jump through to get guns legally, one more thought, people who own guns legally are the most law abiding group I know of, we pay taxes, follow the laws, even ones that we hate.
    But we don’t want to go to the government and say take this right please to keep me safe? When has that ever worked, if you don’t want to own a gun, guess what? Don’t buy one. What people to pay more tax? Donate to the fed, set the example, with your pocket book! But keep your hands off my guns and out of my life thanks!

  10. Barbaara Griffith
    Posted December 30, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mr.Peirce
    First I think you made a mistake in your article when you stated that the BushMaster firearm was what was used in the carnage at the school in Newtown. The Bushmaster was found in the trunk of the shooters car it was not used in the killings. What was used was two hand guns. What I’m noticing is a number of columnists are using the assault rifle as a way to attack the right of legal gun owners to own firearms of any kind. Nothing is ever mentioned about the mental state of the shooter. You also seem to forget that it was the shooters mother that was the licensed owner of the guns not him. There was much more going on in this family that writers like you who want to jump on the band wagon make it a point to ignore.
    Please stick to the facts Mr. Peirce. I was watching the news when all of this was happening and I know what I heard and so do you.

  11. Posted December 31, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    In response to Ms. Griffith. From CNN: “…The primary weapon used in the (Newtown) attack was a “Bushmaster AR-15 assault-type weapon,” said Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance. The rifle is a Bushmaster version of a widely made AR-15, the civilian version of the M-16 rifle used by the U.S. military. …”

    Mr. Lanza used a pistol to kill himself.

    Likewise it was an M-16 knockoff used by William Spengler to kill two volunteer firemen and severely wound two others in Webster, N.Y. That story is in the NY Times. Mr. Spengler was an ex-con convicted of killing his grandmother with a hammer. The police have arrested a neighbor for making a proxy buy of a shotgun and a Bushmaster for Mr. Spengler. Sadly, if this is true, it is yet another example of why we should not circumvent laws meant to keep guns out of the hands of questionable people.

    The problem is, these sorts of weapons seem to be popular with the lunatic crowd; those who spray down people very effectively with these high capacity, fast shooting guns. Say what one might about them, but they have become a public health menace in the wrong hands. So at bare minimum, I would like to see a law passed that would require owners of these weapons to be required to buy a gun safe and store them securely unless they are in use. If you have a lunatic kid or neighbor, make sure that lunatic cannot access them.

    The other problem is that the left and the right keep inciting each other into polarizing positions. Some on the left would ban huge classes of guns or don’t seem to understand the nature of the weapons in question (for example, Mr. Pearce’s initial comments about automatic weapons and the ammo for them), make people go through herculean requirements to own broad classes of weapons, or try to ban ownership entirely such as has been tried in places like Washington, D.C. and Morton Grove, IL. This results in the right being justifiably worried about the intent of new laws being confiscation rather than a fair minded regulation.

    To me, these rapid firing, high capacity weapons are analogous in private hands to having a man barrelling down the highway in a Mack Truck instead of a car. We carefully regulate who can drive a Mack Truck. There is a public health risk in these weapons that cannot be justified by any reasonable need short of civil conflict. We do need to think about whether firearms should be designed to have a maximum capacity, such as five to seven rounds. Those who think they are going to take on the Feds with their own little army ought to think about what is going on in places like Afghanistan or Syria right now. We need to preserve our republic, and not by shooting at each other.

    On the other hand, here in New Mexico, we have Mexican drug cartels allegedly, according to the Rio Arriba County Sheriff, killing people in nearby Rio Arriba County. I am sure some will want to “load up for bear” expecting this drug and money infused violence to intensify. Then what?

    The mark of a civilized nation is not to have to fight gun battles on every streetcorner and in every school. Maybe we ought to keep that in mind.

  12. Posted December 31, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, that should have been “Mr. Peirce”. Sorry about that, Neal!

  13. Posted December 31, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Oh, a few additions:

    Wade Michael Page shot up a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, WI, using a Springfield XD(M) 9 mm handgun that can be fitted with a 19 round magazine. Included in the wounded was a police officer hit fifteen times.

    The Glock 19 used by the Virginia Tech shooter can be fitted with magazines of 19 rounds or higher (9 mm Parabellum). I think the magazines used by Cho at Virginia Tech were lower capacity, but he had a lot of them. A legal loophole in VA’s mental health law apparently let him buy the guns.

    In Aurora, CO, James Egan Holmes used a Remington tactical shotgun and a Smith and Wesson M&P15 (Smith and Wesson version of the AR-15 assault rifle) fitted with a 100 round drum magazine to shoot up the theatre. Fortunately, the rifle jammed so Holmes had to go to his backup weapon, a Glock. Of course, Warner Bros pulled the movies being watched since the audience didn’t know the difference between the movie violence and the real thing until people started dying.

    So maybe in addition to wondering why these high capacity, rapid fire weapons (“assault weapon” is not well defined, as we all know) keep popping up as domestic weapons of mass destruction, we ought to ask why the country as a whole worships violence in our movies, video games, why we revel in joystick assassination by drone missile, hate-driven political advertising, and, coupled with the lack of mental health care and de-institutionalization putting folks on the street with less than a full deck, whether we are stirring a potent pot of sickness, ignorance, and violence of which the active shooter is the symptom rather than the disease. Indeed, “guns don’t kill people, people with guns kill people” and we seem to be breeding a potent mix of crazy people with guns. The Second Amendment writers are probably turning over in their graves wondering what happened to their cherished republic founded when we were still, apparently, in the Age of Reason, rather than whatever age we are in now.

    Followup column, Mr. Peirce?

  14. Howard Wooldridge
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    as i stated before, the USA should in 2013 focus on what can be done politically…per studies the majority on NRA members support sensible reforms, (gun show loophole on background checks, better communications between mental health folks and gun checks & no large capacity mags). With all due respect to our Australian reader and others, if the govt in 2013 tried to confiscate the assault weapons legally now owned by citizens, it would be a blood bath. The feds would have to use APCs to attack every owner (numbering into the hundreds of thousands) who would not willingly give up their AR15… probably thousands would go pro-active and attack facilities and personnel of those APC = police and army..i believe a lot of police officers and army would refuse orders to kill fellow citizens who fail to turn in their guns.

    We can not put toothpaste back in the tube. That Aussies gave up their weapons w/o a shot is admirable. That would not happen here. It would be a civil war.

  15. Neal Peirce
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting in this column of responses!
    For the record, readers might be interested in this message (sent anonymously):
    dear mister pierce,
    intead of writing about curbing deadliest guns,maybe you should write about how guns save people?!im sure your self righteous bull seems like news to you but why not show both sides of the gun opinion?im sure you wont print this or you have the self worth to understand the importance so im going to try to explain some different ideas on the subject.for example,in abilene texas,a woman saved herself from a estranged ex boyfriend breaking into her home,with a san antonio,a armed suspect began shooting in a theater,and before more people were injured ,he was stopped and shot ,with a phoenix,a teen stopped a intruder,with a gun.his younger siblings were inside,and without that pistol who know whay mightve happened.quote from his father;as ugly as this is,and as much as this family is going through,we dont have injures children on our hands.unquote. a couple years ago,in november,three young men attempted to kick down my door,running from the cops,on ontario street,in lockport.i defended my home with,guess what?a gun.a assault rifle.the only guns that are deadly are the guns in deadly hands,you babblin idiot.i am a proud gun are a simplistic,sensationalizing writer that cant seem to write about both sides of things;that knows nothing of protecting anything..guns in the right hands protect people.thats a fact.print that you prick.

  16. Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Not exactly the scholarly response we are used to, Neil.

    I’ll offer one final thought sent as part of a discussion on the NY Times site.

    A commenter said that the 2nd Amendment did not anticipate such weapons as we find in private hands today and is therefore obsolete. I responded that when the 1st Amendment was conceived, there was no Internet. You could rant in the town square or laboriously print a screed, but not send out hate speech to the world at the touch of “send” in a microsecond as some present day hate organizations can do. One might be able to kill individuals with bullets, but one can endanger whole classes of people with hate speech. The KKK and its offshoots are not dangerous merely because they have guns. They are dangerous because their acts, driven by ideas, terrorize and kill.

    We protect even hate speech because we consider the alternative, censorship, to be worse. Those of us who defend the continued validity of the 2nd Amendment consider the alternative, a disarmed public, to be a worse alternative. Of course both of these rights come with huge responsibilities and when the power of technology increases our ability to abuse each other under the banner of these rights, that is a serious concern. Can we live up to our responsibilities?

    AFAIC, the 1st Amendment is as vulnerable as the 2nd. Internationally and in other nations, hate speech and group libel, along with other forms of speech deemed a public risk, are banned. Ask European countries that ban hate speech or where holocaust-denial can get you arrested. Some foreigners think our defense of bad speech is as indefensible as our right to bear arms.

    One path forward is an honest debate on the Bill of Rights in the 21st Century. We can, after all, amend the Constitution. I don’t recommend it, but its worth an honest and rational discussion, something lacking in the present debate, which is driven by public fears and resulting backlash.

  17. Posted January 25, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Forcing the issue of 2nd amendment rights, I shall quote it in the original form passed by Congress September 21, 1789 (and ratified 2 years later):

    “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”

    I cannot understand the Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia which is committed to defend the constitutional United States of America. If we voluntarily locked up tight American firearms, or perhaps only their required projectiles, in each state’s militia armories when not needed for live ammo training, legal hunting or for repelling armed attack, then how could any kid massacre anyone in the U.S.?

    And how shall we make any armament superfluous in defense of lives or property in our Republic? Ironically, by legalizing killing in our country… Try appending this sentence to the 2nd Amendment above:

    “It shall be lawful for any person to kill or injure any other person who is willfully in the act of bearing lethal weaponry contrary to the first sentence of this amendment, as Congress shall be empowered to define and make laws to implement this.”

    Goodbye criminal element, goodbye violent murders and accidents by which we now lose a Vietnam War-sized cohort of citizens every year, hello to massive public “we used to bear these ridiculous arms” sculptures on every streetcorner constructed of disabled, abandoned, formerly-lethal weapons until we tire of the reminders of our violent past and melt even the sculptures down to recycle them!

    I would imagine Congress enabling state militias to defend citizens against attack and to repel invasion, and providing for training of all appropriately aged adults who do not conscientiously object, with short terms of service for all. I would imagine police, security companies and yes, thugs getting by with non-lethal weaponry. I’d imagine Congress acting quickly to employ America’s terribly armed forces to compel the destruction and recycling of lethal weaponry worldwide, beginning with the worst and most threatening first: arms in unstable places and all weapons of mass destruction. I wonder how quickly the U.S. could disarm our world and ultimately ourselves as we commit to fight each other only naked with our bare fists to settle any future ape aggression? I wonder.

    I feel we must accomplish this general disarmament before the pressures that we all know are surely coming render the world a tinderbox of human disaster.