Thoughts on gun ownership in the U.S.

April 6, 2021

It was ironic that the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s recent hearing to deal with the tragic killings of seven persons in Georgia coincided with the even more tragic, but all too predictable, events in Boulder, Colo., where a likely deranged man opened fire on unsuspecting shoppers and vaccine seekers at a supermarket, killing 10 persons. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), tanned and rested from his recent trip to Cancun during Texas’ recent energy crisis, sought to out-Trump Trump while the “former guy” was on lockdown from Twitter.  At the hearing, Cruz, who enjoys an A+ rating from the now-bankrupt NRA, called the efforts of the Judiciary Committee to bring some kind of reasonable restraints on the out-of-control number of deaths due to gunfire, merely “theatre.” I agree that it is “theatre,” but it is “theatre of the absurd.” 

The GOP has already won the major battle regarding the “right to bear arms” as a result of the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision Heller v. District of Columbia, holding that the right to own arms - unrelated to membership in a militia - is protected by the Second Amendment. What was “absurd” about Cruz’s remarks was his false accusation that the Judiciary Committee’s intent was to take away the arms from “lawful citizens.” This was plainly untrue; as untrue as Cruz’s erroneous contention on Jan. 6 that President Biden did not legally win the 2020 election by over 7 million votes or that Biden’s election was obtained by massive fraud. 

 What Cruz and the rest of the GOP are doing is trying to read out of the Heller case Justice Scalia’s clear statement  that the right to own arms is not without reasonable limitations. As the Heller court stated: “[N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” {Emphasis added.} Instead, in the face of a veritable avalanche of gun violence, the GOP refuses to consider any limitation on ownership or sale of weapons, including, of course, the weapon of choice of the mass murderer, the military-grade AR-15.

 Let’s consider some of the relevant statistics and consider the GOP’s irrational stance against any regulation on the sale and ownership of firearms:

 A survey  conducted  by Pew Research Center in September 2019 found  that 60 percent of Americans say gun laws should be tougher, up from 57 percent the previous year and 52 percent in 2017. This support was divided largely down party lines, with 86 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents saying gun laws should be stricter than they are today, compared with 31 percent of  Republicans. A more recent Gallup Poll had the majority at 57 percent, but notably only 9 percent thought that the regulation was too strict. Finally, and more specifically, the website Politifact found that 90 percent  of the American public supported background checks on all guns!

In September 2020,  the Small Arms Survey determined that the U.S., with only 4 percent of the world’s population, owned 40 percent of the firearms, making the U.S. the highest per capita owner of firearms in the world. The survey estimated that there are 393 million firearms in the U.S. Last year, some 50 million firearms were sold and predictions are that that number will be exceeded this year!  It is well known that the NRA has had a direct influence on elections and largely for the benefit of the GOP, both by direct political contributions and through its Super-Pac.  In the recent Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Kennedy (R-La.) drew the false  analogy of  drunk driving injuries and death to those of deaths by firearm, contending that this didn’t mean that we should take all cars off the road. What he failed to take into consideration was the relative social benefit of automobiles to that of the ownership of AR-15s or the fact that, as opposed to firearms, drunk driving enforcement and penalties have increased exponentially in recent years, as opposed to the regulation of firearms. In 1983, while 58 percent  of the 42,589 people who died in a collision were killed in an alcohol-related collision, by 2018, less than 30 percent were related to alcohol:

The Washington Post has just reported that 2020 was the worst year recorded for death by gun violence with nearly 20,000 deaths, and an additional 24,000 deaths by suicide with a gun. Does anyone believe, with firearm sales expected to exceed 50 million this year, that the number of deaths by gun violence will go down without regulation? Moreover, consider the nightmare scenario of what would have happened had the armed insurrections been armed with AR-15s on Jan. 6 at the Capitol!

What if, per the modest proposals advance by the Senate, deaths by gun violence could be reduced by 28 percent as has happened with drunk driving deaths? Now that would be real theatre, not of the absurd, but a hit show!

Daniel E. Toomey, Esq.
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