News item from the Tillamook (Ore.) Headlight-Herald: A baby born last month at the local hospital is named Colt .45 Stratemeyer. His parents are from Toledo — presumably the one in Oregon.
Let’s hope young Colt .45 and his 3-year-old brother, Hunter, grow up happy and healthy. The 20 children who were massacred by gunfire a year ago yesterday at Sandy Hook Elementary School won’t have that opportunity.
Their community continues to grieve their deaths, and those of the six adults who were fatally shot trying to protect them from a 20-year-old madman with a semiautomatic rifle and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
That opportunity also is foreclosed to the (at least) 194 children 12 years old and younger who were shot and killed this year in the United States in homicides, suicides, and gun accidents, according to a tally by Mother Jones magazine. Eleven of them were in Ohio, seven in Michigan. Another fatal school shooting occurred last Friday in Colorado.
After the carnage in Newtown, Conn., last year, many Americans asked: If this horror doesn’t motivate Congress to enact some sort of common-sense firearms regulation, especially when polls make clear that’s what citizens want, what will?
The apparent answer: Nothing at all. In the past year, another 33,000 Americans — more than the population of Bowling Green — were killed with guns, the online magazine Slate calculates.
Yet Congress couldn’t even bring itself to close the notorious loophole in federal law that permits many gun sales online, and in private, unregulated commercial transactions involving unlicensed sellers, to occur without the background checks required of sales by licensed dealers.
As a result, killers and other offenders who are legally prohibited from having guns are still getting them. Lots of them.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the bipartisan group formed by outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to advocate prevention of gun violence, concludes in a new report that hundreds of big-volume private sellers transfer tens of thousands of guns over the Internet each year without conducting background checks. Overall, the organization estimates, 6.6 million guns were transferred last year through private sales without checks.
(Aside: When Toledo Mayor-elect D. Michael Collins — a longtime city police officer — announced his candidacy last May, he said he would not sign onto the Bloomberg coalition agenda if he got elected. He cited the old saw about the country having enough gun laws already, and we just need to enforce them, etc. Please reconsider, Mr. Collins, even though Mr. Bloomberg contributed to Mike Bell’s re-election campaign.)
But while Congress avoids firearms legislation as if it were a tax increase, state governments are all in. According to a census compiled by the New York Times, state lawmakers have introduced nearly 1,500 gun-related bills since the Newtown tragedy. Of them, 178 passed at least one legislative house, and 109 became law.
Eight states toughened their gun laws considerably in the past year. But nearly two-thirds of the new state laws loosen, rather than tighten, firearms restrictions. They expand, rather than contract, legal rights of gun use and ownership. Most of these laws were enacted by Republican-controlled state governments.
One of them, Ohio, is doing its best to keep up. The state House passed a bill that would recognize concealed-carry handgun licenses issued by other states, whatever their standards, while weakening the training requirements for getting a license here. Lawmakers looked for other ways to expand concealed-carry opportunities and potentially turn even more places into the OK Corral.
Last month, the House approved a “stand your ground” bill that would greatly expand the circumstances in which Ohioans who claim self-defense can shoot to kill instead of retreating. If it becomes law, we can anticipate the Buckeye equivalent of the Trayvon Martin killing sooner or later.
Not to be outdone, Michigan has a new law that enables people to buy guns and ammunition made in the state without a handgun permit. Other measures that have passed one house of the Legislature would lift a ban on short-barreled shotguns and rifles, and would create a process to restore the rights of some people to buy, sell, and possess ammunition.
In a report card released this month, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gives Ohio a D grade on its gun laws. Michigan gets a C.
With the anniversary of the Sandy Hook slaughter, we’re hearing again the familiar argument that gun regulation, or its absence, wasn’t an issue in the tragedy. It was all the fault of the mother of the shooter, who brought guns into her home and made them available to her severely mentally ill son. Or we should blame inadequate, poor-quality community mental-health services, or violent video games.
No one would argue credibly that we don’t need better ways to identify and treat severely mentally ill people before they can erupt into violence. Ohio and Michigan have increased mental-health spending, as has the federal government.
And if we want to conduct serious scientific research — not witch hunts — about the potential effects of Grand Theft Auto and similar games on the people who play them, then let’s do that too. But don’t use these issues merely as excuses to change the subject from the irrational proliferation of firearms in this country.
If you are a legal, responsible gun owner — and that puts you in the overwhelming majority — Big Bad Government is not coming to grab your guns, whatever the corporate gun lobby tells you in its fund-raising and political appeals. If you subscribe to paranoid conspiracy theories, maybe you shouldn’t have guns close at hand. Still, law-abiding ownership will continue to be your decision, and your right.
But the Second Amendment is not incompatible with the notion that we can, and should, make it harder for some people to get guns: dangerous criminals, terrorists, severely mentally ill individuals, perpetrators of domestic violence, substance abusers, and those who don’t handle firearms responsibly.
Is that suggestion truly a threat to the foundations of this Republic? Will we be better served by maintaining a dialogue of the deaf on gun control?
Please, Congress, do your job at last. And in the meantime, General Assembly, don’t make things worse.
David Kushma is editor of The Blade.
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