December 23, 2012

Too many guns? Yes

Changing the gun culture will be complex, but banning assault weapons and regulating private sales are obvious first steps.

By TOM FRANKLIN and WILLIAM HARWOOD

Our hearts are broken, our cheeks are tear-stained, our confidence is shaken, but our resolve is hardened.

A mass shooting of first-graders must never happen again. The tragedy at Newtown must make a difference. We must change our gun laws and our gun culture.

What we must do is clear, doing it will require great effort and commitment.

Better gun laws cannot eliminate the risk of another tragedy, but they can certainly reduce that risk.

A fundamental improvement would be to simply enforce existing law. Federal law already prohibits the knowing sale of a gun to a felon or mentally ill person. Gun dealers must run a federal FBI background check for every sale to be sure the purchaser is neither a felon nor mentally ill; but private sellers are not required to do so.

Every year hundreds of potential gun buyers in Maine fail the background check by a gun dealer and the sale is stopped. However, there is nothing to prevent that buyer from then buying a gun from a private seller without a background check.

Uncle Henry's regularly lists assault weapons and dozens of handguns (exactly like the weapons used in Newtown) that anyone can buy with no questions asked.

Closing this loophole by requiring a background check for all gun sales is an important and obvious first step toward strengthening Maine gun laws.

Other needed improvements to our gun laws include banning the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines or clips.

More than 50 years ago we banned the sale of machine guns. Today's assault weapons are equally dangerous and also should be banned.

In Biddeford a few months ago a man was arrested for illegal operation of his motor vehicle that was found to contain multiple automatic weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Guns designed to kill 30 people without the need to reload belong on the battlefield, not in our neighborhoods.

These are two common sense and effective proposals for reducing gun violence. There are others that deserve consideration.

They include making sure that those mentally ill citizens who have been adjudicated to be a threat to themselves or others are included in the government's "background check" list of persons prohibited from purchasing a gun.

Gun rights advocates argue that background checks don't work, but 40 percent of all gun sales are private sales made without background checks. It's a little like arguing that door locks don't work if you lock only 60 percent of the doors.

No laws are 100 percent effective, yet our entire social structure is based on the view that laws do deter anti-social behavior. Murder is deterred by making it a crime, so are speeding and kidnapping.

Faced with the increasing horror of mass shootings of innocent persons, often including children, how cynical is it to argue that because laws are not 100 percent effective, we should do nothing?

But better gun laws alone will not be enough; we need to change our attitudes towards guns, we need a return to common sense.

Romanticizing defense of our homes as "castles," glorifying guns as icons of patriotism or symbols of masculinity must be challenged.

Most Maine gun owners and hunters have no interest in military-style assault weapons.

They also recognize that the right to own a gun carries a responsibility to keep it in safe hands. They would not sell their guns to strangers, no questions asked.

Most Maine gun owners share our concern for gun safety and we look forward to working with them to create a safer gun culture in Maine.

President Obama said "we can do better than this"; we concur. But we must act now. We should not delay while we study and analyze "the problem." The common-sense first steps are clear and should be enacted immediately.

We do not have all the answers and we look forward to working with gun owners, and law enforcement officials as we all seek to make Maine safer from gun violence, consistent with the constitutional right to own a gun.

This should not be a partisan or an ideological issue. This issue is different; people are getting killed -- lots of them. 

Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence was formed following the Columbine High School shooting in order to try to avoid a similar tragedy in Maine. Regrettably, that risk is no less today. Much of Maine is just like Newtown, Conn. and remains vulnerable to a tragic school shooting.

Tom Franklin and William Harwood write on behalf of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence. For more information please visit the group’s website at mcahv.org.

 

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