Commentary

Gun, but not forgotten

Several months ago, the U.S. Congress voted down a bill that was reasonable, progressive, and easily reflected the wishes of at least 70 percent of the American population. This legislation also addressed a pressing need in our nation today. I refer, of course, to the need for universal background checks for all gun sales along with limitations on the sale of assault rifles and high capacity magazines that are intended primarily for our military in combat situations.

The way this bill was defeated is no real mystery. Powerful lobbyists and wealthy special interest groups bought off (literally) some who are sent to Washington, D.C., to be our representatives.

Paul Harrington

Rational measures could prevent the frequency of violent events.

Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, told multiple lies to anyone who would listen. He has repeatedly stated that “our government wants to take away our guns.” I heard him say it again recently in a speech given in Texas. But it is a bold-faced lie.

With about 90 guns for every 100 American citizens, according to Time magazine, it would be a virtual impossibility to take away all guns and no one is even suggesting such an idea. LaPierre has also stated publicly that panels or committees would oversee all guns and gun owners. But the bill that failed in Congress expressly forbade any such proposal. Again, deliberate lies provoke fear and confusion among many citizens of this great land.

Worse yet, these lies have been so effective that we now have well over 1,360 self-appointed militias made up of extremists and survivalists who feed on all sorts of misinformation. These are scary, shadowy organizations that keep the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms up late at night.

Shooters use guns to shoot

We had a massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. The profile of the shooter has become almost predictable. He is most often a male loner with limited social skills, often from a broken or otherwise dysfunctional home, who spends hours playing graphic and violent video games; has a fascination with all kinds of weapons; usually has little or no religious upbringing; sees life as having no future and no real value; and listens to nihilistic rock music that glorifies death, suicide, rape, and hatred of self and others. And, sadly, there are far too many young men in our nation today who fit this description to a “T.”

We can never predict or prevent all such acts of violence. But rational measures could greatly reduce the frequency of such events. The first step is to enforce effective background checks on all gun purchases.

Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, had been diagnosed as mentally ill and unstable. But his name was never fed into the national database used to screen gun buyers. Had it been, there is a good chance he would not have been able to acquire the weapons he used to kill 32 people.

Additionally, we know that the presence of a gun in a home characterized by domestic violence increases the probability that a woman will be murdered by 500 percent. (In states that now require a background check for every handgun sale, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by their partners.)

There are effective ways to keep guns out of the hands of those who would do harm to themselves and to others. We must also reinstate the ban on assault rifles which the G.W. Bush administration foolishly allowed to expire. There is no rational reason for any ordinary citizen to own or need such destructive weapons. They have no value for hunting or target shooting. And we especially need to rid ourselves of guns of all types that are so lethal they can fire 60 rounds a minute.

I can assure you that the founding fathers who wrote the Second Amendment never, ever envisioned a gun that could kill innocent citizens with such horrific efficiency as we witnessed in Newtown. Their notion of a firearm was a flintlock rifle that got off about one shot per minute and with little accuracy.

Americans own more guns per capita than any other nation on earth and still we witness this kind of needless bloodshed. Our guns do not make us safer. We cannot tolerate any more carnage on the scale that we witnessed in Newtown, not to mention about two dozen other “killing fields” in America in recent years. Sadly, some of the more radical gun enthusiasts seem to have no faith in our nation, its leaders, its laws, or its future. Their “faith” seems to be placed in themselves and their weapons alone.

We need change and we need it now. I urge you all to support any legislator who has the courage to vote for a safer America, free of the kind of diabolical and destructive weaponry we have seen far too often in recent years.

Paul Harrington recently retired as pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Apple Valley. He is also vice president of Metro Lutheran’s board.

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