Shootings, Guns and the SAFE Act

The shooting at a community college in Oregon saddens me and leads me to these observations about guns.

One of my students has convinced me that the guns used in most of the recent mass shootings do not fit the description of assault or military style weapons. And they don’t fit the categories banned or regulated by the so-called New York Safe Act. In fact some of the damage was done by pistols, by handguns. So I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the New York statute is a piece of high profile posturing, sound and fury signifying nothing. Who knew? Perhaps the problem is a bunch of people writing legislation about something they know little about. I won’t speculate.

Certainly there are weapons that no people ought to have their hands on unless they are in the military – not even police need bombs.

But more than that, gun ownership should be licensed. All of us have licenses. I have a driver’s license and a law license. It’s a reasonable protection for all of us. If I can’t see well enough I won’t be able to get behind the wheel. That’s a good thing – regardless of how I might feel about it when and if that happens to me. And when I was a practicing attorney, people who came to me could expect that I could help them. That too is a good thing – although lawyers, professors and students have all sorts of quibbles about what is actually on the bar exam. Plus the bar examiners want to know if we have good character, and they collect affidavits from everyone we have ever worked for, to make sure.

Licensing makes sense, to make sure that people with guns have no record of crime or insanity as well as the knowledge to handle and store guns carefully. Licensing will not stop everyone from getting guns who shouldn’t have them. I lost a client years ago, the dedicated leader of a community organization, to a disgruntled job-seeker. But licensing would help. And tracing technology would deter some shooters. Nothing in the decisions of the Supreme Court denies the ability of states and cities to do record checks, licensing or require identifying technology.

The resistance of the NRA to licensing and tracing methodology is so irrational and so perplexing that it makes one wonder about their loyalty as well as their good sense. Indeed I think the NRA has been catering to the extremists in its membership, and some reflect the same animus. An NRA president recently referred to “The War of Northern Aggression”, his description of the secession of the Confederate States and South Carolina firing on Fort Sumter, the federal fort protecting the Charleston harbor. Some gun toting members of private militia style organizations clearly are aiming their rhetoric at public servants, at government, and at the people they call “Fourteenth Amendment citizens.” That’s right, they object to the fact that our Black brothers and sisters are free, equal, citizens who can and do vote. In other words they are still fighting the Civil War.

Hate groups are proliferating in this country. They are the most determined gun owners. All it takes is one of their number splitting off and firing into a crowd. Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City was nursed in those groups.

Do you really want to put gun policy in their hands? Or, for that matter, people who posture about gun control without taking the time to study the problem?

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, October 6, 2015.


3 Responses to Shootings, Guns and the SAFE Act

  1. Kellan Potts says:

    This blog is what I like to call common sense. To begin with, let me state that I am a gun owner from the woods of Tennessee and proud of that. I have shot guns since I was a child, and owned them for over 20 years. And while I am an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment, I cannot deny the role firearms play in countless tragedies our country has faced throughout its history. The recent shooting in Oregon just brings this fact to the front once again. But how do we solve the problem that while firearms are protected by our Constitution, they are also deadly instruments that can cause untold tragedy within seconds.
    I think that licensing is the right idea. As stated in the above blog, we are all required to be licensed to operate a vehicle. Vehicles kill over 30,000 people a year, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. But we do license everyone to allow them to drive. And we require that everyone of those people pass a knowledge, practice, and eye test in order to do that. And yet, to play devil’s advocate, the right to drive a car is not enumerated in our Bill of Rights, as the right to own firearms is.
    There needs to be a tightening of background checks for purchase of firearms. People who have a history of mental illness, a history domestic violence, and the like, should not be able to purchase guns legally.
    Opponents of gun control will state that this will not stop people from getting guns, as criminals do not follow the law. I see this fact stated frequently on my social media accounts, but the fact ignored by these posters is that most of the shootings that have occurred in the last few years were facilitated by entirely legal firearm purchases by the shooters. The Oregon shooter purchased all of his firearms legally, as did the mother of the Newtown shooter, as did the South Carolina shooter, and so on down the list. The issue isn’t that criminals will go out and get firearms illegally and then use them in mass shootings. This rarely happens. Most of the mass shooters recently had no criminal record beforehand. The issue is mentally unstable people are getting firearms in great quantities completely legally. The law needs to be tightened in order to keep these people, the majority of recent mass shooters, from acquiring firearms so easily.
    States like California, New York, and Connecticut have all made headlines by passing restrictive gun laws that outlaw certain types of firearms and ammunition in order to combat a perceived increase in mass shootings. But when one looks at the weapons used in mass shootings, and the types of firearms being banned in certain states, there is almost no overlap.
    As expertly stated above, recent legislation like the NY SAFE Act is simply “sound and fury signifying nothing.” This type of legislation riles up gun owners, like me, by taking away firearms that should be protected by the Second Amendment, and in actuality, hurts gun reform by giving gun owners a very big and easy devil to point at when they claim the Second Amendment is being trampled. Anytime anyone brings up gun control, gun owners and their organizations like the NRA can simply point at legislation like the NY SAFE Act and use it as a shield to down out any rational discourse about gun control.
    Does banning certain firearms solve the problem of gun violence in this country? No, because the Supreme Court has said that firearms are a right to be enjoyed by all law-abiding citizens.
    But does that mean there is no solution? Of course not.
    Tighten registration and background checks.
    Try to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally unstable.
    If the next Oregon shooter can’t just walk into any gun store and buy a plethora of firearms, then maybe, just maybe, the next gun tragedy can be averted before it occurs.

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