WASHINGTON, December 19, 2012 ― Saying that it must be done in order to prevent “the very worst violence,” President Obama today announced that Vice President Biden, members of the cabinet and outside interests will form an interagency task force that will come up with proposals to solve the problem of gun violence in America.
“Joe wrote the 1994 bill,” an effort in which Biden led the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act through the Senate. It was a six year effort that had the support of past presidents, including Ronald Reagan, the President says.
The majority of Americans support bans of high-power assault weapons and high-volume ammunition clips. They also favor stricter laws to make it more difficult to acquire high power assault weapons, said Obama, adding that “Like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees the rights of Americans to bear arms.”
The President pointed out that the vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible, whether they buy firearms for hunting or self defense, and that is a message that people entering this debate, both pro and con, need to remember.
Receiving a call from my middle school son yesterday afternoon, my heart stops as he breathlessly says “Mom, you have to come get me, there is a shooter.” Flying out my front door, I hear a nearby cacophony of sirens and see police barricading streets, a larger than life Command Unit, and people in ominous black swat gear.
The threat was not at the school, but in the neighborhood where the buses were to deliver children following the school day. As the buses could not get into the neighborhood, the kids were held for parents to pick up.
I picked up my son and a small group of other children, and headed for the pizza parlor instead of home. This was for safety reasons, but also because I did not want them to see the police response. It was a response that young people could see not as protective, but as the evil of Sandy Hook invading their security.
This is the same area where the DC snipers John Malvo and John Muhammad terrorized us in 2002 with a Bushmaster XM-15, a .223 semi-automatic rifle that Malvo had stolen and that they used to kill ten and injure three.
All of a sudden this debate has become much more personal.
Piers Morgan likes to jump on his CNN bully pulpit on this issue, and while I generally agree with him that access to “weapons of war” – automatic weapons and high volume clips – is not necessary and should be restricted, he, like many others who take up this issue, is intransigent, belligerent, and often just aggressive. Morgan, seeking that perfect sound bite, loves to put guests he knows he disagrees with on the hot seat and then drive his position home.
Unfortunately, Morgan is more interested in repeating his position than listening to what his guests have to say. This immediately destroys the whole “conversation” idea.
Mr. Morgan feels that his nation’s gun laws place Britain and its people on higher moral footing than the US and its citizens. He is wrong, of course, even as I agree with him that the gun culture in the US is too pervasive. Too many die every day.
But there are ways to do this short of dancing merrily on the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which the President has declared he holds in high regard.
We limit the size of soda cups in restaurants, we tax cigarettes and junk foods, we impose luxury taxes on the trappings of the rich.
Obamacare, the Supreme Court ruled, is yet another tax we have to pay.
So why not tax assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and tax them exorbitantly? Would high taxes stop a Malvo from stealing a gun? Probably not. But if store owners were responsible for a thousand-dollar tax upon receiving weapons from their wholesalers, you can bet that they would keep those weapons chained and locked, reducing the possibility of theft.
Would exorbitant gun taxes prevent a mother in Connecticut, which has some of the country’s strictest gun laws already, from owning the assault weapons her son used to kill twenty school children? No, but if the taxes were prohibitive, stores might not stock weapons like that, and Mrs. Lanza might have decided to stick with lower-taxed handguns – still lethal, but with much less capacity as a weapon of mass slaughter.
Would exorbitant taxes on assault weapons have prevented the shootings in Arizona, Oregon and Colorado? Perhaps. We’re playing a game of probabilities here, and if the incidents would have been impossible, they’d have been less likely.
If buying a firearm require that tax forms be completed and verified, and if those forms required fingerprints, picture ID, social security numbers and proof of citizenship, the barrier to purchase would be raised yet again, and it would help create a review process that could flag some people for no purchase.
None of this would preclude the hunter from purchasing a typical hunting rifle or result in an undue economic burden to the buyer. It wouldn’t stop people from having handguns for self-defense. But if someone breaks into my house, a .45-caliber handgun is as lethal and as easy to use as a Bushmaster assault rifle.
As the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma, which killed 168 including 19 children under the age of six, shows us, someone who is determined to kill, maim and terrorize will find a way; that bombing involed a bomb made with diesel fuel and fertilizer. No law and no tax in a free society can stop the cruel ingenuity and and cold determination of a terrorist.
But we can make mass killing just a little harder. In order to keep our children absolutely secure, we must stop every last killer every time before the killing starts; in order for these people to terrorize us, they need only succeed once in a while. At least there are more opportunities to detect and stop a very large bomb than there are to detect and stop a man with an assault rifle.
President Obama said “If we can summon one iota of the courage of those teachers and principal … and if cooperation and common sense prevail we can make the United States of America a stronger and safer place for our children to grow.”
Cooperation and common sense, rather than politics and posturing, may be what America needs to fix many of our ills.
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