Wednesday, August 8, 2012

America is gun crazy!

The NRA's Wayne LaPierre

It is difficult for Canadians to understand America's deadly obsession with guns.  South of the border, devotion to the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.runs so deep that it borders on the sacred.  When some Americans refer to the Second Amendment, they speak with a tone of reverence in their voices.  How dare anyone even question the holy writ of the right to bear arms?  How dare anyone inconvenience God-fearing Americans by placing any regulations on their gun purchases?

The Second Amendment is being used as an instrument to intimidate those who advocate sensible gun regulation.  America is justly proud of its Constitution and the gun lobby brazenly takes advantage of that pride in order to achieve its goals.  Constitutions, however, are not written in stone.  Times change and technology changes.  That is why the U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times to date.  It has been amended to abolish slavery, to give women the vote and to establish and revoke Prohibition.

The Second Amendment was ratified in 1791, only 15 years after the United States had won its independence from Britain.  It reads as follows:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

In 1791, the young American nation was faced with internal and external threats to its security, especially from England and France.  The right to bear arms was intended to give citizens the power to form militias in order to overthrow  those who would gain control of the United States government by force.  With a considerably smaller population, much of it rural-based, 18th century America bore very little resemblance to urban 21st century America.  In the 18th century, hunting was a necessity for many Americans if they were to have their daily subsistence.  They used shotguns, not semi-automatic weapons, and they had large families to feed.

The Second Amendment is outdated.  It reflects another time and another era.  In the wake of recent events, it's more urgent than ever for Americans to commit constitutional sacrilege.  The latest horror show occurred this past Sunday (August 5th) at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The gunman has been identified as a 40-year-old U.S. Army veteran named Wade Michael Page. Six people were shot dead and three were seriously wounded in the brutal attack.  Page, a neo-Nazi, was killed by police.  Authorities recovered a legally-owned 9 mm semi-automatic pistol at the scene.  Wisconsin, by the way, has some of the most lax gun laws in the U.S.  In 2011, the state passed a law permitting citizens to carry concealed weapons.

The tragedy in Milwaukee comes only two weeks after a shooting rampage at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado in which a crazed gunman opened fire at a screening of the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.  The accused gunman, James Holmes, 24,  had little difficulty in assembling a veritable military arsenal.  According to Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates, Holmes possessed  four guns and more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition, all obtained legally.  He had a 100-round drum magazine clipped into his Smith & Wesson semi-automatic.

James Holmes' mental instability was known prior to the theatre rampage.  According to an ABC News report, the psychiatrist who treated Holmes contacted a University of Colorado police officer to express concerns about his patient.  It is also known that Holmes was recently denied membership at a gun range in Byers, Colorado.  The ranges owner found Holmes' voicemail to be "incoherent, just bizarre, really bizarre - slurring words, but he didn't sound drunk, just strange . . ."  Yet this man was able to acquire weapons legally.

On September 13, 1994, the United States Congress passed a ten-year prohibition on the manufacture of certain semi-automatic firearms for civilian use.  This federal ban on assault weapons, however, expired back in 2004.  Although President Barack Obama promised to reinstate the ban during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, he has yet to deliver on his pledge.

It is also interesting to note that Obama's 2012 Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, signed a permanent assault weapon ban during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts.  When Romney signed the ban on July 1, 2004, he declared, "Deadly assault weapons have no place in Massachusetts.  These guns are not made for recreation or self-defence.  They are instruments of destruction with sole purpose of hunting down and killing people."  Romney, of course, doesn't make such statements now because it's not politically expedient.  He's campaigning to be President of the United States and he seeks the endorsement of the powerful National Rifle Association.

How many more tragedies must there be before sanity is restored?  I wish I could be more optimistic, but Americans can't seem to shake their gun frenzy.  Support for gun control in the U.S. has actually been decreasing.  A Gallop Poll, conducted in January of this year, found that 50 per cent of Americans are at least somewhat satisfied with gun control laws.  42 per cent are either very or somewhat dissatisfied.  In 2001, however, 57 per cent indicated that  they were dissatisfied.  Sadly, those are the kind of statistics that delight the National Rife Association, the largest and wealthiest gun rights advocacy group in the U.S.

According to its website, the NRA has 4.3 million members.  If that number is accurate, it translates into an enormous amount of money in membership fees.  Even if the number is lower, the NRA still wields a tremendous amount of power.  Its leader, 64-year-old Wayne LaPierre, receives $970,300 per year in salary.  LaPierre has served as vice president and chief executive officer of the NRA since 1991.

What do we know about this influential and powerful man?  We know that he's never met a gun he didn't like.  For the past 21 years, LaPierre has endeavoured to strong-arm elected officials into opposing any form of gun control.  His organization steadfastly defends the rights of Americans to carry concealed guns and it condones the selling of semi-automatic weapons..  The NRA also provides insurance to its members to pay for the legal costs of shooting someone in "self-defence."  Only three days after the Colorado shooting, it had the audacity to seek donations.

To put it bluntly, the NRA has blood on its hands.  Its actions have strongly aided and abetted gun violence throughout the United States.  It is a malicious organization that equates guns with freedom.  It present itself to Americans as a group of brave patriots, staunchly defending and protecting their constitutional right to bear arms.  Unfortunately, millions of Americans are deceived by the NRA's sophistry.

After the latest gun nightmares, it's high time that prominent American leaders stood up to this gun bully.  One would think Americans had already seen enough after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 and the shootings in Arizona that almost took the life of former Rep Gabrielle Giffords and left six others dead.  How free are American citizens if they cannot walk into a movie theatre without worrying that some madman with a semi-automatic weapon is going to gun them down?

It is heartening that Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has taken both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to task for their "deafening silence" on gun control after the horrors in Colorado and Wisconsin.  Bloomberg, a long-time advocate for stricter restrictions on firearms, challenged the two presidential candidates to outline their plans for curtailing gun violence.

Michael Bloomberg should be applauded for his leadership and courage in speaking out unequivocally in support of gun control.  On the day after the shootings at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, he stood on the steps of a Sikh community centre in Queens New York.  "Just two weeks after the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, we've seen another mass shooting," he stated.  "One in which it appears there were some warning signs in the shooter.  And still, the two presidential candidates have not given the American people a plan to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.  Every day, 34 Americans are murdered with guns.  The fact that criminals, terrorists and other mentally ill people have access to guns is a national crisis."

Although I have no interest in target shooting and hunting, I am well aware that many people do.  I also recognize that there are many responsible and law-abiding gun owners.  Those responsible owners should be willing to undergo a waiting period and strict regulations before being allowed to possess a gun.  No civilian, however, should be permitted to purchase a semi-automatic weapon.  No law-abiding civilian requires such lethal arms.  Their only purpose is to take human lives.

If someone is truly responsible and law-abiding, they should be willing to endure some inconvenience for the sake of the public good.  No one enjoys having to go through security checks at airports.  It is tolerated because it serves to protect the safety of air travellers.  For some perspective on the issue of inconveniencing hunting and sporting enthusiasts, here are the words of Sarah Brady, wife of James Brady, the White House  aide who was wounded and left disabled during a 1981 assassination attempt on then-President Ronald Reagan.

The gun lobby finds waiting periods inconvenient.  You have only to ask my husband how inconvenient he finds his wheelchair from time to time.

I am in favour of gun registries.  We in Canada had a long-gun registry until it was ended by our Conservative government which has been foolishly relaxing gun control in this country.  The fact remains that the easier it is to obtain guns, the easier it is for them to fall into the hands of criminals and mentally unbalanced people.  Another factor that can't be ignored is that some criminals obtain guns by robbing the homes of law-abiding gun owners.

America has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world.  According to FBI statistics, there were 12,996 murders in the U.S. in 2010.  Of those homicides, a whopping 8,775 were gun related.  When will this madness end?  James Madison, fourth President of the United States and the author of the Second Amendment, would be appalled by all this carnage.  In 1791, he could not have envisioned semi-automatic assault weapons or dazed gunmen such as James Holmes.

- Joanne

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