Gun debate getting us nowhere

by Jim Longworth

The Second Amendment Foundation has been busy lately. Last month they persuaded the Supreme Court of the United States to strike down a gun ban in Chicago, and just last week, the foundation filed suit in Raleigh to challenge an outdated law that prohibits anyone from trans-porting a gun during a state of emergency.

Ironically these actions to preserve gun ownership come at a time when gun violence is on the rise.

We ended the last century with Columbine, and celebrated the new century with Virginia Tech and Fort Hood. Yet, somehow, rightwingers have managed to hijack the Second Amendment and turn it into a partisan battle cry. These are the same folks who didn’t mind that Dick Cheney shot his friend in the face, or that Sarah Palin shot wolves from her helicopter. And thanks to their political activism, it is now acceptable for us in some states to carry guns into bars (where so many fights have started) or national battlefield parks (where so many fights have been settled).

The recent Supreme Court decision took aim at a gun ordinance in Chicago’s Oak Park suburb, which had banned citizens from possessing firearms of any kind. Mayor Richard Daley had been a cheerleader for the ban, saying that guns in the home, “even for self defense, kill innocent people.” But the conservative court thought otherwise and ruled, in effect, that local gun bans could not supersede our Constitutional right to bear arms. This follows a decision by the high court back in 2008 which struck down Washington DC’s ban on handgun possession by law-abiding citizens. Now, not content just to challenge big-city bans, the SAF is expand ing their crusade to fighting obscure ordinances, such as the one here in North Carolina that makes it illegal to transport a firearm during a winter storm emergency.

In a way, this new movement is a backlash against, or a course correction from, liberal initiatives during the 1990s which sought ways to regulate the sale and distribution of handguns. Back then, the Clinton administration gave political cover to mayors and governors who sought to curb crime by restricting easy access to guns. Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder, for example, squared off against the NRA and successfully passed legislation that limited handgun purchases to one per month. Virginia had been the No. 1 source state for guns used in the commission of violent crimes along the Interstate 95 corridor, and criminals were buying scores of guns each day, then taking them to New York City where they were traded for illegal drugs. Wilder’s law, passed in 1993, effectively halted that trade. And yet, earlier this year, radical conservatives in the Virginia legislature attempted to repeal that law. They were unsuccessful, but only for now. That may change as the SAF continues to gain momentum. If so, it will be due in part to misinformation spread by gun proponents. For example, any time gun lobbies feel threatened by proposed handgun legislation, their rally cry is “The government is trying to take your guns away.” This tactic was used during the 1993 Virginia battle, and again later with the Brady Bill campaign. It was also true during the national debate over a ban on assault rifles.

But liberal politicians like Daly are also partly to blame for their recent defeats in court. That’s because they don’t focus on common-sense solutions which can be effective in preventing crime, while not seeming to trample on innocent people’s rights to protect themselves.

Let’s face it, gun bans don’t work. They haven’t stopped gun violence in DC or Chicago, nor have they been effective abroad. Brazil has more restrictive gun laws than we do, and 100 million fewer people, yet they experience more gun-related deaths than here in America. Back in 1996 following the Port Arthur massacre, Australia decided to ban guns, yet crime has risen since then. And as right-wing websites like point out, both Germany and Russia banned all weapons early on in the last century, making it easy for their repressive governments to control and exterminate millions of defenseless people. Strangely enough, the most heavily armed citizenry in the world resides in Switzerland, where universal conscription is practiced. There, able-bodied men are required to keep automatic weapons at home in case they are called to defend their country. The Swiss don’t get invaded, massacred or conquered, and gun violence there is almost non-existent.

And so the answer to our problems here at home lies not with handgun bans or right-wing posturing, but with stricter enforcement of sensible laws governing the purchase of those guns, including more comprehensive screening of applicants with a history of mental illness or violence. We liberals should also be more open to the idea of gun possession by responsible homeowners, pilots, professors and judges who may find themselves in positions to stop crimes in progress, and save lives in the process. And regardless of our political persuasions, we should be able to reason together toward reaching a common goal, unencumbered by incendiary rhetoric. Remember, “Guns don’t kill solutions, people kill solutions.”

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).