Members of Congress cowed by the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) lobbying power, and its extensive war chest, which it uses unashamedly against legislators deemed ‘soft’ on gun control issues, continue to do the association’s bidding. The ‘Gang of Fear’ came together recently to defeat proposed legislation for enhanced background checks for gun purchasers. As it does with all legislation designed to bring rationality to the purchase and possession of firearms, the NRA’s knee-jerk reaction to the proposed law was that it was a ‘first step to confiscation of our firearms.’
This argument seems to presuppose that there is, somewhere in government, a group that sits in a room plotting to relieve ALL Americans of ALL of their guns. Shudder! A truly scary thought; except that it’s so far from the reality of how our chaotic, short-term focus bureaucratic and political systems work, it’s laughable. Anyone who thinks the U.S. Government does this kind of long term planning has only to look at our recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But, I digress. Let’s get back to background checks. The intent of the legislation, as I understand it, was to establish procedures that would go a long way to keep guns out of the hands of felons, the emotionally or mentally disabled, etc. News reports and surveys indicate that over 80% of the American public, including a significant number of NRA members, supported the proposed law. One has to wonder, then, why the leadership of NRA and the Gang of Fear so adamantly opposed it. But, I’ll leave that for others or for another time.
Right now, I’d like to put another issue on the table – one that I’ve not seen discussed – liability. Are those who block rules that would curb access to guns by people who clearly should not be allowed to have them liable for the harm such people cause? Now, I seriously doubt such an argument would stand up in a court of law. After all, efforts to hold gun manufacturers liable have gone nowhere, so a case like this is unlikely to ever be brought. But, it does raise an interesting ethical and moral issue. Are you morally and ethically responsible if your actions help create conditions that inflict harm on others?
Would it have been useful to have enhanced background checks that would have limited the ability of Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho, who had been previously diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder, from obtaining the weapons he used on April 16, 2007 to kill 32 people and wound 17 others on the school campus? Or Jared Loughner, a disturbed young man who bought ammunition on the same day he attempted to kill U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords during a constituent meeting in a supermarket parking lot in Casas Adobes, Arizona, near Tucson. The January 8, 2011 shooting claimed the lives of six people, including a nine-year-old girl.
Going back further in time, would stiffer backgrounds have made it more difficult for Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme, a member of the disciple of murderous cult leader Charles Manson, get her hands on the .45 caliber automatic which she waved at former president Gerald Ford in Sacramento in April 1975, or Sara Jane Moore, who shot at Ford 17 days later in San Francisco? We might never know, because those opposed to rational controls over gun ownership also try to block debate and discussion of the issue, hiding behind the Second Amendment.
These are but a few of the incidents of clearly disturbed individuals being able to acquire arms and ammunition under our current regime of lax and haphazardly applied controls.
It’s not a Second Amendment issue. In my humble opinion, it’s an issue of stepping up to the plate and assuming moral and ethical responsibility for the violence that has become endemic in our society. More than 80% of the American public gets it. When will the Gang of Fear?