While half listening to the nightly news this week I heard reference to 11 people being killed and instantly tuned in to learn the details about where this had occurred in the United States. It turned out that the gunfire that had taken 11 lives was in Afghanistan, a declared war zone, not here in an undeclared war zone.
The shooting in Arizona last Saturday that claimed six lives and injured a score of others, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, has reopened a national debate on major issues including the rising incendiary political discourse that defines our politics; inadequate mental health services for people who clearly need them; and the burgeoning gun culture that defends the availability of semi-automatic weapons and legally concealed handguns.
Bloomberg reports that in the aftermath of the Arizona slaughter, the Glock 9MM pistol used by the gunman last Saturday was “flying out the doors” of gun shops. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-01-11/glock-pistol-sales-surge-in-aftermath-of-shooting-of-arizona-s-giffords.html.
“One-day sales of handguns in Arizona jumped 60 percent to 263 on Jan. 10 compared with 164 the corresponding Monday a year ago, the second-biggest increase of any state in the country, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data,” Bloomberg said, adding that handgun sales rose 65 percent to 395 in Ohio; 16 percent to 672 in California; 38 percent to 348 in Illinois; and 33 percent to 206 in New York, the FBI data show. Sales increased nationally about 5 percent, to 7,906 guns. And this, apparently, was no aberration, according to Bloomberg. Gun sales jumped following the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, in which 32 people were killed.
Another media report said that the ammunition magazine used by the killer was likewise flying off the shelves as gun enthusiasts expect that the rapid-fire magazine, which allowed the gunman to squeeze off 31 shots without reloading, will likely be banned because of the Arizona shooting.
I am not a hunter and not a fan of guns, and generally believe that gun advocates who point to the 2nd Amendment’s “Right to bear arms” probably have no idea of the historic context of that amendment in the late 1700s, and don’t particularly care. That amendment has been used successfully to defend the right of a mentally imbalanced person to walk into a gun store armed with a federal gun ID and buy a gun capable of not only executing innocent people but dozens of innocent people in a matter of seconds. And the reason this particularly deadly weapon is so popular, according to news reports, is that it is easily reloaded with another magazine so that the killing can resume.
The political discourse argument has likely run its course as political leaders, chief among them President Obama, said that this is not a time for finger pointing. The potential discourse on the need for additional mental health services to identify and help people who are suddenly capable of this mayhem will likely have a short run because our society tends to ignore mental health unless it is in their family or close to them. And the gun lobby, while sitting back for now, will be as vigilant as ever to any move to restrict access to guns of any kind.
So perhaps there is an opportunity to weave these issues together. Perhaps the National Rifle Association (NRA) could launch its own offensive and call for more funding for mental health and better screening on federal gun IDs. Perhaps the Congress, as deeply divided as it has ever been, could suspend hostilities and agree to a bipartisan approach to both funding mental health services and screening gun applicants more effectively to identify those who are likely to be our next headline.
The reason why Jared Loughner was able to secure the necessary federal gun permit was because he only had a “petty” criminal record – insufficient grounds to deny him that permit and gun. All states have varying gun laws and Arizona laws are among the most permissive. What we really need is one federal law that covers every state so that you can’t just pick your state of choice and circumvent your own state laws.
Opposition to any gun reform has already begun. Talk shows and blogs are lighting up with declarations that the answer here is not fewer guns but more guns, because if everyone had a gun then more people in that shopping center could have pulled their own guns and started firing away. It won’t be long before we see that old bumper sticker making a comeback: “If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.”
Hopefully, as President Obama so eloquently stated Wednesday night, the national debate that ensues will be worthy of the people who lost their lives Saturday and the others, including Congresswoman Giffords, who remain hospitalized. We should all refuse to get drawn into a debate that is beneath them and the price they paid with their lives.