Monday, December 17, 2012

Does Gun Control Have a Chance?

The president at Newtown: "We can't accept events like this as routine."

I'm a recovering optimist, by which I mean I'm a reluctant cynic. I want to look on the bright side but often end up disappointed, at least with public policy. That's the fate of many a progressive these days.

However, I watched Barack Obama in Newtown, Connecticut, tonight, giving yet another moving speech, this his fourth one as healer-in-chief. He's good at it and might have no equal when it comes to this sort of thing.

All of the speech was excellent, but one line caught me:
"Are we prepared that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"
How do staunch gun advocates -- those who think banning military-style assault rifles and hundred-round magazines is a "slippery slope" -- answer such a question? Is banning guns that allow a 20-year-old to kill twenty children -- all of them struck multiple times by a rifle that can shoot six rounds a second -- and six adults in a matter of a few minutes, is banning those guns a slippery slope? As the president said, is that the price of our freedom?

No. What's more, it's not freedom in any respect. What's worse, though, is that it's built on lies, an ecosystem of deception, a wasteland of prevarication.

To prove that point, let's look at what is right under our noses:
  • In Australia in 1996, after a mass murder of 35 tourists in Tasmania, the conservative government of John Howard made sweeping changes to gun laws. Reports Will Oremus in Slate:
At the heart of the push was a massive buyback of more than 600,000 semi-automatic shotguns and rifles, or about one-fifth of all firearms in circulation in Australia. The country’s new gun laws prohibited private sales, required that all weapons be individually registered to their owners, and required that gun buyers present a “genuine reason” for needing each weapon at the time of the purchase. (Self-defense did not count.) In the wake of the tragedy, polls showed public support for these measures at upwards of 90 percent.
What happened next has been the subject of several academic studies. Violent crime and gun-related deaths did not come to an end in Australia, of course. But as the Washington Post’s Wonkblog pointed out in August, homicides by firearm plunged 59 percent between 1995 and 2006, with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides. The drop in suicides by gun was even steeper: 65 percent. Studies found a close correlation between the sharp declines and the gun buybacks. Robberies involving a firearm also dropped significantly. Meanwhile, home invasions did not increase, contrary to fears that firearm ownership is needed to deter such crimes. But here’s the most stunning statistic. In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass shootings in the country. There hasn’t been a single one in Australia since.
That puts the lie to the notion that we can't do anything to stop gun violence because people will always be able to get their hands on weapons. Key to Australia's success was that the gun buy-back was mandatory. Yes, it might be harder in the U.S. to enforce such a move, but we could do it with due diligence.

Next lie to knock down: We're safer because we're armed for self-defense. Here's something I found in Talking Points Memo:
Most of us are aware of studies that show that having a firearm in the home increases rather than decreases your chance of violent injury or death — usually through accidents or suicide. I was not aware of this peer-reviewed 2009 study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine study which concluded that people in possession of a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot during an assault than those who didn’t have a firearm.
I might as well mention a classic defense of guns. It goes something like this: "Cars also kill thousands of people a year, and we don't ban cars!" It doesn't take a genius to spot the faulty logic. Cars are designed to get us around town and beyond. Sometimes accidents happen that cost lives. But guns are designed to kill people.

The Bushmaster .223: Killing fast and furiously is a feature, not a bug.

Reading this article this morning in the New York Times, I saw how using an assault weapon changed the nature of the attack in devastating ways:
The gunman in the Connecticut shooting blasted his way into the elementary school and then sprayed the children with bullets, first from a distance and then at close range, hitting some of them as many as 11 times, as he fired a semiautomatic rifle loaded with ammunition designed for maximum damage, officials said Saturday.
The state’s chief medical examiner, H. Wayne Carver II, said all of the 20 children and 6 adults gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., had been struck more than once in the fusillade.
Feinstein became SF mayor after the murders of Milk and Moscone.
The tone of the gun-control debate is beginning to change. Diane Feinstein announced today that with the new Congress she'll introduce a renewal of the assault-weapons ban that had been enacted under Clinton but allowed to lapse under Bush. Sure, there's going to be a lot of resistance by Republicans -- and some red-state Democrats -- but there's a new hope that this last act of mayhem and carnage in an elementary school might swing public opinion back to favoring common-sense actions like banning assault weapons, oversized clips and magazines, and, of course, setting up effective background checks and waiting periods for all gun sales.

Voices are gathering all over the country, from Barack Obama to Michael Bloomberg to Diane Feinstein and more. Let's hope we don't run our usual cycle, from outrage to caution to discussion to forgetfulness to, ah, the next tragedy.

If you have a minute or two, watch Obama's remarks at the Newtown vigil. Some are calling it his Gettysburg Address.

Update. Today, the 17th, sees Joe Manchin -- yes, the West Virginia senator who shot holes in cap-and-trade legislation with his rifle in a campaign ad -- coming out in favor of gun control:
“I just came with my family from deer hunting,” Manchin said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I’ve never had more than three shells in a clip. Sometimes you don’t get more than one shot anyway at a deer. It’s common sense. It’s time to move beyond rhetoric. We need to sit down and have a common sense discussion and move in a reasonable way.”
Whoah. Shit's getting real when a red-state Dem is ready to move on an assault-weapons ban including high-capacity clips and, hopefully, waiting periods and background checks. What's most important about Manchin's move is that it gives cover to other red-state Dems who might have joined with Republicans in shooting down gun legislation. Manchin is very much a canary in the coal mine: If he goes there for gun control and survives, he signals that it's now okay.

Maybe, as with DADT and gay marriage, we actually have crossed the Rubicon.

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