It has often been remarked that nothing ever gets done by legislators until everyone agrees that something has to be done and has agreed that something has to be done for so long that now it is time to do something else.
Let us hope that this will not be the case with the current reaction to the latest example of mass murder by a gunman armed with a high-powered semiautomatic assault weapon.
As has happened every time a similar act of insanity has occurred, the news was filled with speculation, flags were lowered to half-staff, politicians made statements of grief and public displays of hand-wringing, and calls for more stringent gun laws have become the focus of editorials and talk radio.
But to date, nothing has been done to forestall such carnage from occurring over and over again due to nothing short of cowardliness on the part of legislators and presidents on both sides of the political aisle who are afraid to stand up against the National Rifle Association and who place their political survival above the safety and survival of their constituents.
We have heard time and time again over the last few days that this time it will be different; that this time the horror of seeing 6-year-olds massacred by a madman will result in meaningful change. But we have heard all of this before. Blue-ribbon panels may be convened. State and federal legislation may be submitted to their respective legislative bodies. But nothing will actually happen to curb such violence unless every person who is appalled by the current state of affairs makes his voice heard by our representatives and raises such a hew and cry that every legislator comes to fear the wrath of his constituents far more than he fears the NRA.
Compared to other industrial countries, our gun laws are the laxest in the industrial world, and the results have been all too predictable. The rate of death due to firearms is almost 20 times higher in the United States than in the other 22 richest countries in the world, and the rate of death by firearms of children under the age of 15 is almost 12 times higher than that among 25 other industrial nations all combined together.
Perhaps we should look to our neighbors to the north for guidance. Although Canada has a long and proud tradition of hunting, its stringent gun control laws have made the mass murders we seem willing to endure over and over again, historically speaking, almost nonexistent.
While it is true that the Second Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, makes any thought of banning the ownership of firearms by Americans impossible, the right to bear arms is not without reasonable limits.
Just as one’s right to free speech is limited, barring one from shouting “Fire!” in a crowed theater or from slandering another by uttering injurious lies, the right to bear arms has been legally limited, barring one from owning automatic weapons. So let it be with semiautomatic weapons of all kinds, large cartridge clips and armor-piercing bullets. Does anyone worthy of the title “sportsman” really need an automatic assault weapon to kill Bambi? Such weapons and ammunition are intended for only one thing — the killing of other human beings. And while we are at it, why not consider outlawing the personal ownership of military-grade body armor? Such armor in the hands of the general public serves only to make it more difficult and more dangerous for those pledged to protect us to perform their already far too dangerous jobs.
The time may finally have come for an outraged populous to usher in long-needed changes in our gun control laws, but such legislation will occur only if each of us seizes the initiative and takes up the cause into our own hands. Ethically speaking, if we fail to act, the blood of future victims will be on our own hands.
Mark Lyon lives in Nevada City.
Does anyone worthy of the title “sportsman” really need an automatic assault weapon to kill Bambi?