EDITORIAL: Restore assault weapons ban

THIS EDITORIAL ENDORSES GUN CONTROL. The topic certainly comes as no surprise to anyone who reads a newspaper. This adds little to what’s already been said or made painfully clear by the funerals in Newtown, Connecticut, this week. Nothing makes a more convincing case than the facts. But that’s no excuse for silence. We all need to speak of this no

It would be reassuring to believe the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary School could not happen here. Our schools go to great lengths to maintain security. The police, other responders and school communities regularly conduct emergency drills. These are reasonable measures, though costly, in preparing to meet the threat posed by gun violence. As with all public health preparations, they don’t always work.

In 2004 a 16-year-old named Jon Romano, a student expelled from nearby Columbia High School in East Greenbush entered the school with a weapon and opened fire. His first two shots missed students in a hallway. Before he fired again, he was tackled by John Sawchuk, an assistant principal at the time. In the struggle he fired another shot that struck teacher Michael Bennett, who was also trying to subdue the shooter. Mr. Bennett was wounded in the leg and recovered. No one was killed.

Jon Romano is in prison. He had used a pump-action shotgun, a potentially lethal weapon to be sure, but not one designed to kill a large number of people very quickly as was the semiautomatic Bushmaster AR-15 style rifle used by Adam Lanza last week as he murdered 20 children and 6 adults. If Mr. Romano had used a semiautomatic weapon, the outcome in East Greenbush could have been tragic. The point is, for whatever reasons, Mr. Romano didn’t have either a semiautomatic weapon or the type of high volume ammunition clip that makes it possible to shoot 20 or more rounds without reloading.

The United States had a ban on the manufacture and sale of what are loosely described as “assault weapons” between 1994 and 2004, when Congress allowed the law to expire. Arguments persist about its effectiveness, but no rational person believes the nation was plunged into tyranny while the ban was in force. Our rights under the Second Amendment didn’t disappear, as some gun rights advocates assured us they would.

It is now time to revive that ban and to take other practical steps so that people bent on mass murder, regardless of their motives, won’t continue to have easy access to the tools that allow them to commit mayhem.

Those other steps include:

A federal law requiring a background check on the buyer before any firearm is sold in the United States (currently, private sales of firearms, which comprise 40% of all sales, are exempt from background checks)

A ban on the manufacture and sale of high capacity ammunition clips and any other devices that allow many shots to be fired without reloading (this was part of the expired assault weapon ban).

These laws alone won’t end gun violence any more than they will prohibit people who desire guns from collecting personal arsenals. What they can do is make it more difficult for any individual to do what Adam Lanza did at the Sandy Hook School.

Some of these laws might inconvenience law abiding citizens who use guns for lawful purposes. Gun control advocates have an obligation to consider whether there are better, fairer, equally safe ways to achieve the desired result.

But the debate can no longer end when one side insists the Second Amendment trumps the very first paragraph of the Constitution. Assault weapons wielded by murderous psychotics have nothing to do with the “well regulated Militia” envisioned by the Founding Fathers in the amendment. The weapons abet depravity and chaos. Permitting easy access to these arms is un-American. It cedes power to the worst among us–those who are bent on depriving innocent citizens of their constitutional right to enjoy “the Blessings of Liberty” for ourselves and our posterity.

No one should underestimate how difficult it will be to restore some sanity to the balance between personal freedom and public safety. A multi-billion dollar industry feeds off gun ownership, misleading the public and undermining the common ground between people of good will on both sides of the issue. The industry would have us believe we can retain our freedom only by surrendering our humanity. Reject this false choice. Contact your elected leaders. Demand a ban on assault weapons.

 

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