Gun issues are too big not to talk about

February 19, 2013

Among the big issues this year is gun control or gun safety. The following are a few quick points about the discussion both here in Delaware and nationwide.

• One of the chief lines of attack against discussion of gun control is the issue of timing:  People say we shouldn’t talk about gun control so soon after a shooting or massacre, such as the one in Newtown, Conn. To do so, as one recent letter writer put it, is “disgusting.” Give parents of the children time to grieve.

The problem with this logic is that the parents of those children are themselves speaking out. Why should others wait? And doesn’t it make more sense to talk about an issue when it’s current?

Last week, the issue came up in Delaware. A lawyer on the scene was criticized for tweeting about the NRA because it was supposedly too soon after two women were shot to death in a Wilmington courthouse.

But that’s the nature of Twitter: immediate reactions. There is no magical time when it’s suddenly okay to discuss gun control.

If you don’t want to read instant opinions, don’t follow Twitter.

• A young Oklahoma mother described, at a congressional hearing, how she fought off two intruders using a shotgun. This would be powerful testimony if the point were to show why people should be allowed to own shotguns.

Instead, this statement was used to show why people should be allowed to own military-style rifles with high-capacity magazines. Obviously, the NRA was unable to come up with even a single incident in the United States where a person needed such a weapon.

The woman’s testimony, in effect, proved that such weapons aren’t necessary, and yet it was used to support the opposite conclusion.

No one is talking about taking away hunting weapons or the rights of hunters. We’d be better off with more hunters because we’d have more people interested in protecting the environment. You can’t have good hunting without protecting the habitats where wildlife thrives.

• One of the most common reactions to gun violence is that we need more guns. If everybody were armed, according to this reasoning, then bad guys such as the Colorado movie theater shooter would be stopped in their tracks.

First, following that logic, we would already have less gun violence than other nations because we already have more guns.

But a picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. Go online and take a look at the bullet-riddled newspaper delivery van shot up by Los Angeles police officers pursuing the former cop, now dead, accused of killing four people.

According to news accounts, at least seven police officers opened fire on the van, occupied by a mother and daughter, who were armed with nothing more dangerous than rolled-up copies of the Los Angeles Times. Fortunately, the women survived their injuries.

The point is that these were highly trained police officers in a situation that was tense but not actually dangerous. No one was shooting at them.

Incidents like that make me skeptical of the ability of untrained amateurs to handle themselves in a shootout. They’d be as likely to shoot innocent bystanders.

I also think “stand your ground” laws can have the effect of creating “amateur police officers,” such as George Zimmerman, who are accountable to no one. (Zimmerman is the Florida man who last year shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.)

• We don’t need to change laws, some say, we need to change the culture. But changing the law is often a first step toward changing the culture.

When citizens rose up to combat drunk driving, they didn’t rely on changing the culture. They demanded changes in the law. Those changes - and their enforcement - began changing the culture. Drunk driving became less acceptable.

There’s been a similar transformation with attitudes toward smoking. Again, it wasn’t a question of merely changing the culture, of trying to persuade people not to light up in public. New laws prohibited people from smoking in workplaces, public buildings and restaurants.

That, in turn, made smoking less acceptable. The laws themselves helped change the culture.

It’s easy to argue that drunk driving and public smoking are different than the gun issue. But change is possible. Earlier generations of Americans believed that slavery couldn’t be ended and that women would never vote.

We can’t end all gun violence any more than we can end all drunk driving, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to lessen the carnage.

Other countries have been successful doing so. Is America such a violent outlier that it can’t be done here?

  • Accomplished writers appear in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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