Is the U.S. Finally Serious About Gun Control?

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in Crime, Culture, Healthcare, Opinion

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Published on December 23, 2012 with 6 Comments

School Shooting

By Ralph E. Stone

December 23, 2012

In his article, “America as a Gun Culture,” historian Richard Hofstadter popularized the phrase “gun culture” to describe America’s long-held affection for firearms, with many citizens embracing and celebrating the association of guns and America’s heritage. According to Hofstadter, the right to own a gun and defend oneself is considered by some, especially those in the South and the Southwest, as a central tenet of the American identity.

Today in America, a gun is status among too many.  That’s why they call it an equalizer.  And unfortunately what’s happening today is that everybody is getting more and more equal because everybody has one.

Given America’s gun culture, it is not surprising, but regrettable in my opinion, that the Supreme Court in District of Columbia vs. Heller held that Americans have a Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms.”  However, this does not mean that federal and state governments cannot pass and enforce gun control laws. In fact, most gun control laws have been found to be valid after the Supreme Court decision.

Unfortunately, the purchase and possession of guns in the U.S. is largely controlled by hundreds of state and local laws that collectively are inadequate to protect the populace.  And American legislators too long have been overly responsive to the National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby, in tandem with gunmakers and importers, military sympathizers, and far-right organizations.

In 2012, 151 people were physically wounded or killed in seven mass shootings.  This figure includes the victims of similar but less lethal rampages in a Portland shopping mall, a Milwaukee spa, and a Cleveland high school. A portrait of each of these victims can be found in Mother Jones.

Was mental illness a factor in these mass shootings?  Early reports are that the Sandy Hook killer Adam Lanza had Asparger’s syndrome, a form of autism, which is considered a developmental disorder, not a mental illness.  Asparger’s syndrome is not associated with violence.  There is no evidence that Lanza had a history of violence or treatment for mental illness or was denied access to treatment.  He did not buy the guns in question.  Rather, he took the weapons used in the massacre from his mother’s gun collection. But the larger question is not whether Lanza was mentally ill, but whether he had a history of violence and anger.

The bottom line is that most people who commit violent acts are not mentally ill, and the vast majority of people with a mental illness are no more violent than anyone else.  To suggest otherwise tends to stigmatize the mentally ill.

What’s outrageous in the wake of the Sandy Hook killings is that there is now a race to buy semi-automatic weapons in anticipation of a ban on such weapons.  According to Bloomberg,  for example, Walmart has reportedly sold out of semi-automatic rifles in five states, including Pennsylvania, Kansas and Alabama.

President Obama has tasked Vice President Joe Biden to lead an inter-agency task force to come up with concrete proposals to address gun violence by January.   The NRA  has called Biden the “most anti-gun vice president in American history,” and has an “F” rating from the pro-gun group for his voting record in the Senate.  I take the NRA comment as a good sign that Biden is the right choice to lead the task force.

Senator Dianne Feinstein said she would introduce an assault weapons ban — which expired in 2004 — on the first day of Congress.  As Senator Feinstein said on her campaign website: “Who needs these military-style assault weapons? Who needs an ammunition feeding device capable of holding 100 rounds? These weapons are not for hunting deer — they’re for hunting people.”

Hopefully, the U.S. is finally ready to get serious about meaningful gun control at the federal level.   Maybe, the murder of 20 children and 7 adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was the “tipping point.”

I recommend Tim Arnold’s excellent article, “America Faces Gun Culture Crossroads” on the types of gun control needed.

Ralph E. Stone

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

More Posts

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/George-Kafantaris/100000398466956 George Kafantaris

    Ideally, a good guy with a gun could stop a bad guy with a gun. But unlike the  mythical West, today’s bad guy is a psycho with the singular goal of killing as many people before he kills himself. The madmen has thus tossed self-preservation out the window, while the 9 to 5 security guard has not. By the time he runs to the other side of the building to see what’s going on, the madman is already aiming at his next victim. And since he is not worrying about dying, the madman aims better, and might even kill the nervous security guard who fires at random. Arming more people then is not the answer. It takes a crazy man to kill another human being, and most of us are not that crazy. But we should be smart enough to keep guns away from those that are — even if it means keeping them away from the rest of us. 

  • Mainstream gun owner

    I just left the AMC theaters at the Metreon in SF moments ago. I think this whole discussion about Guns and gun control has to start with a frank and honest discussion about how American society perceives violence. I sat through 5 “G” rated movie previews of Hollywood violence and mayhem before being presented the latest Tom Cruise shoot’em up block buster. Not a single scene in those “G” rated previews went without villains and hero’s either blowing something up, shooting something up, or cutting something up. Guns…guns…guns everywhere…

    The Hypocrisy is palatable.

    Now we have this growing liberal line up of Hollywood stars, politicians and NEWS media telling us we need to “put an end to the violence and put down our guns”. An onslaught of TV ads and liberal Media yammering to control guns in America. We have a liberal government in bed with Hollywood money and SF game money now telling us how we should live our lives all the while making millions off of films and games portraying mayhem and violence. It’s sick and dishonest. Guns …guns…guns. Killing people…..blowing people up…..glorifying mayhem on TV, computers and in the movies.

    Well friends…..

    As Kirk Doulgas once said …” you can have my gun once you pry it out of my cold dead hand”.

    Thanks but no thanks, I think we will keep our guns, our God and our bible as long as the liberals continue to make millions off the chorus of Hypocrisy. Once the Hypocrisy ends maybe we can begin an honest discussion on how to put a end to violence in America. A gun in that small town in Connecticut didn’t kill those 27 innocent people. A mentally ill person gunned those innocent people down.  

    Anyone see any light at the end of that tunnel?        

  • blueline

    Ms. Feinstein, what does hunting deer have to do with this?

  • R.E. Stone

    I highly recommend “Gun Laws Matter” (http://smartgunlaws.org/gun-laws-matter-2012-understanding-the-link-between-weak-laws-and-gun-violence) Many of the states with the strongest gun laws also have the lowest gun death rates nationwide. Conversely, many states with the weakest gun laws have the highest gun death rates. I also recommend “Celebrating the Prince of Peace in the Land of Guns” by Michael Moore (www.michaelmoore.com/words/mike-friends-blog/celebrating-prince-peace-land-guns)

  • voltairesmistress

    The national discussion about gun ownership would benefit from different and more specific terminology.  “Gun control” is off-putting to some.  We should talk about various portions of gun regulation separately.  Background checks, instructional requirements, licensing, storage, and weapons’ types — all are separate issues around which we could generate support for greater public oversight.  Otherwise, gun control doesn’t generate the support it could: one person might support 6 of 7 proposals within ‘gun control” but adamantly oppose the 7th, thus scuttling support for the whole thing.

    As a corollary, we don’t talk about “car control”, but rather have evolving regulations and laws about driver licenses that include different classes of drivers (motorcycle, commercial, truck), youth driving, drivers’ training & education, etc.  Owning and registering vehicles, carrying insurance, etc. — all are separate issues over which people have argued and eventually agreed to legislate and regulate.  Had we approached it all as “car control”, a lot of freedom loving people would have opposed common sense regulation of driving and car ownership.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/QSQGW5YOW7QODNLFFX4MZOIDFU rondd5

    …it’s not…they are not going to do….a damn thing.