Taking the First Step toward Limiting Violence

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday January 12, 2011 - 11:18:00 AM

Nothing hard about this one: There’s absolutely no reason why private parties should have easy access to technology for firing multiple lethal shots in rapid succession from a pistol. Absolutely no reason. The U.S. Constitution has nothing to do with it, not even the transparently political decision the Supreme Court recently made about the limits of the Second Amendment.  

For that matter, politics hasn’t got all that much to do with it. Many good liberals point with indignation to the inflammatory language and imagery recently favored by jerks like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, and they have every right to deplore it, even though that other bothersome amendment, the First, guarantees Sarah and Glenn and their ilk their own right to mouth off at will. Some claim that this kind of violent language is inherent in far-right politics, but those of us who have been around for a while remember when similar rhetoric was being bandied about by the left: Weathermen, Panthers both Black and White, the Symbionese Liberation Army etc.ad nauseum. It goes with the territory. 

Talk, however, doesn’t kill people, people do, and people armed with guns fitted with high-capacity bullet magazines kill lots of people, fast. There’s no good reason why that kind of equipment should be part of the stream of commerce in the United States of America. 

Almost every week, sometimes oftener, someone whose judgment is impaired for whatever reason (drugs, mental illness, post-tramautic stress and others) kills a bunch of innocent people with a firearm equipped with some kind of rapid-repeat firing mechanism. This week the deranged killer happens to have read political tracts both left (Marx) and right (Hitler), but last week it was a high school student who’d been dissed by a principal, and next week it will be someone else with some other background, perhaps a good student with a pleasant personality that no one ever suspected…..  

Some think that the remedy is to prohibit people with obviously impaired judgment from buying guns. But the most recent shooter didn’t need to buy his lethal equipment legally—since illegal weapons of the same sort are widely available in Arizona, which has been identified as a major conduit supplying weapons for Mexico’s drug wars. Someone buys the weapons legally, then sells them illegally to whoever has money to pay for them : disturbed Americans… drug traffickers in Mexico…international terrorists…anyone who wants a gun can get one, 

All sorts of dangerous products are already regulated and many are banned: explosives, drugs, even automobiles, whose users must prove that they know how to use them safely before getting a license to drive. Why should there be a free pass for high capacity bullet magazines for concealable handguns? Yes, yes, of course it might be better to get rid of the handguns themselves, or to limit their use to people who are at least as well tested as drivers, but the most progress, the fastest, would be provided by simply reinstating Senator Dianne Feinstein’s 1994 ban on gun magazines holding more than 10 bullets, which expired in 2004. 

That said, the Arizona tragedy also spotlights a number of other things that are wrong in contemporary society. The assumed killer was obviously disturbed in some way, and his actions might have been prevented by two kinds of public services which have been cut dramatically in Arizona and elsewhere in recent years. Colleges used to have student health services which dealt with mentally disturbed students, but Jared Loughner’s school seems to have had no recourse when they noticed his problems but to expel him. Even non-students need to have adequate help, but Loughner never connected with any other source for diagnosis or treatment either. 

It’s hard not to think that the whole state of Arizona has an anger management problem. The laws recently enacted against undocumented people are unnecessarily vindictive. But the hostility manifested in the Tea Party candidate’s campaign this fall against Representative Gabrielle Giffords was no worse than campaigns elsewhere, quite similar to Sarah Palin’s national attacks on moderate candidates of all stripes. 

And “more civility in politics” is not the answer to anything. The old-time segregationists, Eastwood and Helms and the rest, were unfailingly polite as they expressed their vilely racist opinions. It’s easier to spot nastiness when it’s not couched in genteel language. 

What’s needed now is straightforward effective legal mechanisms for keeping tools of mass destruction away from those who want to use them, regardless of their motivation. That’s why it’s time, right now, to get behind the specific functional legal reforms proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York, who lost her husband to a deranged killer in 1993. McCarthy’s legislation is ready to go, and it’s time to push it through the Congress.