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October 20, 2014

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WHERE I STAND:

Gun debate’s slippery slope isn’t reality

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AP Photo/The Connecticut Post, Lindsay Niegelberg

Mourners exit St. Mary Of The Assumption Church in Katonah, N.Y. after the funeral for Anne Marie Murphy on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. Murphy was killed when Adam Lanza, walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14, and opened fire, killing 26, including 20 children, before killing himself.

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We need to take aim at the problem of gun violence in this country. Then we have to pull the trigger.

I’m using gun-related words to describe something that I believe most Americans will agree needs to occur: Whatever it takes to keep a tragedy like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School from happening again should happen.

The gun-related language also illustrates another point: Such words are used in the United States to describe so much of what we do in our everyday lives, hardly any of which has to do with actually shooting a weapon. Those words are part of our culture.

And that needs to be discussed. Perhaps it will be when Vice President Joe Biden presents his commission’s report this week regarding gun safety.

For as long as I can remember, I have heard gun regulation described as a slippery slope when it comes to the Second Amendment. That’s the one the National Rifle Association has emblazoned on its collective forehead to the apparent exclusion of all others. Government conspiracy theorists insist the nation will slide down an uncontrollable slippery slope — to our everlasting peril — should there be any type of regulation on guns.

Well, in the home I grew up in, there was another cherished amendment that almost always took precedence over all the others — the First Amendment, which gives life and meaning to our democracy.

You know which one that is. It’s the one that guarantees our right to worship as we please, speak as we please, go where we please — with whom and how we please — and gather together without fear that our government will interfere.

It is the reason the Sun and lasvegassun.com, and every other similar institution in America, exists and why our democracy continues, such as it does, to be based on facts and figures, usually delivered to the electorate via First Amendment-protected news organizations.

To put it bluntly, all types of elected bodies, officials and judicial officers have tried over the decades to push the First Amendment down any slope they can find, slippery or otherwise, just to stop the kind of scrutiny that the First Amendment was designed to encourage. Elected officials have been determined to curtail that type of watchfulness and the ability of the news industry to write embarrassing-yet-true stories about people in high places.

In other words, those who hold the reins of power in our country have a far greater incentive to push the media down a slippery slope than they would ever have to push our right to own firearms. And yet, to hear politicians talk about what to do about tragedies like Sandy Hook, you would be led to believe that there is no greater harm that can befall an American than to have his right to bear a firearm be subjected to some reasonable constraints.

And to that I say: Poppycock!

I don’t know what Biden’s report will sound like, but I’m confident there will be a number of recommendations that will cover gun show loopholes, mental health requirements for gun ownership, the size of ammunition clips, the need to own assault-style weapons for hunting and personal protection, and the potential for some type of trained professional on the school grounds across this country.

The solution, I would suggest, is a number of answers, and the purpose is not to slide down any slope but to stop the slaughter of children and other innocents by people crazy enough to indiscriminately mow down Americans.

One of the great dodges in this whole debate is the belief by the gun lobby that suggests the whole country would be safer if everyone was carrying a weapon. That way, good Samaritans would keep evildoers in check. To prove their point, many of them single out Israel as a country in which everyone carries a gun and the gun homicide rate is low.

It is true the gun homicide rate is low in Israel. It is a fraction of that of the United States. And many Israelis carry weapons. Because so many Israelis are on active duty or reserve status with the Israel Defense Forces, it is not uncommon to see young Israelis walking around with rifles on their shoulders.

It is also common to see the occasional armed guard in some Israeli schools. But there are no illusions why. Israel, unlike the United States, exists in a very bad neighborhood. In the few schools in which there is a guard, that person’s job is to stand between the terrorist and the children. Israel is small enough that the slightest delay in a terrorist’s mission will give the police forces the time they need to respond.

But it is not the armed forces that keeps the gun homicide rate low. It is the cultural and constitutional difference that says private gun ownership is a privilege and not a right. So what does Israel do about private gun ownership? Plenty.

First, you need to convince the authorities that you need a gun, and things like home protection are not high on the priority list. Second, you have to be trained and you have to show the authorities that you not only know gun safety but also that you have the capacity and willingness to practice it, starting with a secure place to keep it in the home. Next, you have to get a doctor’s clearance — physical and mental — before you can have that gun.

And, finally, you have to re-apply every few years and go through the entire process again, especially the mental checkup.

There is another difference between gun policy in Israel and in the United States. There are settlers in the West Bank who legitimately believe that one day the government might make them leave their homes if a peace settlement is reached. In that case, the government may forcefully move them from their homes. But they will be able to keep their guns.

In the United States, there is an element of our citizenry that believes the government will one day take away our freedoms. And for that reason alone, we must all be armed so we can fight the tyranny of our own government!

In Israel, there is a slight chance that the fringe fears could be realized, yet there is no hue and cry to keep assault weapons and hundred-round clips at the ready. In the United States, there is no chance that the people will ever vote for tyranny, and yet that fear forms the basis of American gun policy.

Meanwhile, more children and innocent Americans continue to die because politics trumps policy in a most deadly way.

If we need to kill something in America, let’s kill the status quo.

After the vice president’s commission reports its findings this week, let’s get something done. And let’s stop worrying about the slippery slopes that exist only in the minds of a few.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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  1. Good article Mr. Greenspun. But... the gun lobbyists spend hundreds of millions of dollars a month to make their message heard to their elected Congressional members. How much money do innocent victims of gun violence spend?

    CarmineD

  2. You don't combat gun violence with more gun laws. Doesn't work. Never has.

  3. "Well, in the home I grew up in, there was another cherished amendment that almost always took precedence over all the others -- the First Amendment, which gives life and meaning to our democracy."

    I doubt there would be much of a 1st amendment left if it was not backed by the 2nd...

  4. I've got an idea why don't we enforce the thousands of gun laws already on the books... No wait that makes to much sense and with little expense.

    WE must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the law breaker. It's time to restore the precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.... Ronald Reagan

  5. No matter what side of this argument you are on there is one thing you need to remember that is FACT.

    Criminals and Killers do not follow the laws no matter how many of them you make.

  6. Chunky says:

    Mr. Greenspun rightfully defends the "slippery slopes" of the First Amendment but he's willing to slide on the Second Amendment?

    If he's willing to limit the types of firearms and capacity of our magazines back to the days of muskets and black powder rifles is he willing to allow his journalistic techniques revert to the same period?

    No more "high capacity printing presses" except for use by the government?

    No more "mass online distribution" of his newspaper?

    Chunky agrees there should be background checks for guns that include mental health records.

    Should there be background checks for journalists that require mental health records as well? Look around the newsroom and ask yourself exactly who is that person sitting next to you and what if they had complete control of the printing press and what is in their medicine cabinet or mental history file.

    The pen can be mightier than the sword and while that may not result in instant mass tragedies like Sandy Hook, there are clearly irresponsible journalists who have caused irreparable damage and even deaths by use of a pen or keyboard and "presses of mass distribution".

    While Chunky rarely agrees with you Mr. Greenspun, he'll still use his Second Amendment rights to make sure you still have your First Amendment rights.

    If you allow the Second Amendment rights to slide away, how long will it be before you lose your First Amendment rights to publish and distribute your free speech?

    Would you not fight to the death to defend your right to free speech or is that for the lawyers to do for you now? Would you roll over without a fight if the government decided to only allow criticism of the government if you hand wrote each page and handed them out one page at a time? Yet you'd still be "free" to use your presses of mass distribution for news fluff and government propaganda?

    Your rights to free speech have always been challenged by the government, yet the media fights back with vigor and journalists have even been jailed in the process in lieu of caving to government pressure.

    Our Constitution is under attack from almost every angle and don't expect it to stop at the Second Amendment.

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  7. Yes, lets ban all guns. Then, when someone walks into a classroom with a knife, we can take away knives. Then, when they drive their car into the classroom, we can take away cars. Then, when they beat someone to death with a rock, we can take away the rocks. Then, when they strangle somebody to death, we can take away the people. Is this what you are driving for? You cannot protect man, from man. If a person wants to kill, then kill they shall.

    By the way, looks like spooky Harry Reid might be in for some troubling times. Taking some smelly money, eh Reid?

  8. "You don't combat gun violence with more gun laws. Doesn't work. Never has."

    FreedomRadio -- really? What would you use, harsh language? Check out what some folks have been forced to do about violence @ http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2013/jan...

    It's also a lesson on the grim reality of what underpins our Constitutionally-protected freedom to keep and bear arms.

    "Because there is no comparison whatsoever between an armed and a disarmed man; it is not reasonable to suppose that one who is armed will obey willingly one who is unarmed; or that any unarmed man will remain safe among armed servants." -- Niccolo Machiavelli "The Prince" Chapter IV (1513)

  9. Joan says you don't combat gun violence with gun laws. This has never worked! What a bunch of horse manure. Frontier towns had problems with gun violence. The enacted laws keeping guns out of the cities. Gun violence was reduced to almost nil. Maybe one or two shootings a year at the outskirts of town.

    When gangsters were blowing the hell out of everyone with selective fire weapons restrictions were placed on the sale of those weapons. In addition restrictions have been placed on silenced weapons,fully automatic weapons, short barreled weapons, and explosives.

    I don't think there's been anyone killed with a machine gun in this country for 40 years. Gun restrictions have been a part of this nation's history 150 years.

    In addition Europe had a massive gun proliferation problem as a result of World War I and World War II plus the revolutions that were taking place in places like Russia. They got rid of many of the guns and gun violence is been reduced to almost nil. A couple hundred in Germany and maybe a few in England a year. Switzerland still has a gun violence problem because everyone owns guns because of compulsory military service.

    After an assault rifle slaughter in Australia they enacted strict gun laws and they have reduced gun killings from 4 per 100,000 population to 1 per 100,000 population since 1979. A couple hundred a year.
    http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region...

  10. When the founding fathers were alive gun ownership meant a musket, some powder and some balls. If these guys were alive today they would be driving around in bulletproof limousines, have massive security and probably would be wearing bulletproof clothes.

    There have been in the neighborhood of 20 assassination attempts on our presidents alone. Most of these was guns.

    Military gun suicides are a huge problem. More soldiers are shooting themselves that are being killed by the enemy. They're trying to come up with policies to restrict private gun ownership among soldiers because they are becoming such a health risk.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/08/us/wit...

  11. "Well, in the home I grew up in, there was another cherished amendment that almost always took precedence over all the others -- the First Amendment, which gives life and meaning to our democracy."
    The first amendment is important but, so is the 2nd amendment. No where in our Constitution does it say that one amendment is more important than another. The 2nd amendment wasn't written so that just a bunch of farmers or hunters could have guns. It was written so that all citizens could. Now, back then there wasn't AR 15s but they knew more modern guns would be designed. Any laws that Congress and the President want to create need to keep the 2nd amendment in tact.

  12. Common sense restrictions have been placed on the First Amendment also. I can't come to your house at 3 AM and start screaming into a bullhorn. You can't yell fire in a crowded movie theater. You can't threaten the president's life. Racial hatred speech has been limited.

    You can have commonsense restrictions and still have plenty of freedoms.

    Placing restrictions on assault rifle's and high-capacity magazines is no different than the restrictions that have been placed on the weapons that I mentioned above. machine guns, selective fire weapons, explosive ammunition, armor piercing ammunition, etc.

    Even with the restrictions that have and put into place over the last hundred years we still have in the neighborhood of 300 million guns in the country. Given there are about as many guns as people in the country I would argue the Second Amendment is still intact.

    Approximately half the guns that exist in the entire world today are in the United States. How sweet it is.

  13. I like how Mr. Greenspun like most of the people advocating more gun laws have not addressed how we deal with the mentally ill who refuse treatment.

    I call this cowardice. They would rather talk about the easy subject rather than address the mentally ill. They bring up all kinds of ways to restrict one constitutional right while cowering in a corner when it comes to restricting another constitutional right. I can't take Greenspun or anyone else seriously when they talk about gun control when they refuse to address how to deal with the mentally ill who refuse treatment.

    How can you look at these mass killings and not address this issue? If it's not another mass killing will happen again and you'll still have families that could have gotten help for a loved one but were denied.

    Cowards always take the easy way out, Mr. Greenspun.

  14. The First and Second Amendments, as do all, impute absolute rights to individuals. These rights have direct and indirect powers. These powers are not unlimited and have to be regulated reasonably for the good of society.

    CarmineD

  15. Since Mr. Greenspun feels that the "slippery slope isn't reality" let's see him get behind a law banning the news media from plastering the name and face of these mass murderers all over the front page and every television channel....and therefore giving these deranged individuals the 15 minutes of fame and glory that they are looking for?

    If he is so sure that the "slipper slope" argument is "poppycock" then let him accept "reasonable restrictions" on the press to keep mentally ill individuals with a desire for fame and glory from becoming overnight celebrities just by picking up a weapon and killing a bunch of defenseless individuals.

    I say this tongue-in-cheek because we all know that Mr. Greenspun will never accept the government deciding what he can and can't print on the basis that it might contribute to the risk of a psychopath going on a killing spree.

    So ask him why he's a supporter of restricting other Constitutionally guaranteed rights for the same reason. Because if banning certain types of guns MIGHT reduce the risk of a psychopath going on a killing spree, then banning the press from making killers into celebrities will definitely reduce the risk even more.

  16. There are substantial numbers of gun crimes committed in this country every single day. Millions over time. Many of these crimes involve nothing more than financial gain. The drug wars, robberies are all over money. The mental illness issue is a tiny part of the overall equation. Even if you could effectively deal with the mentally ill that commit crimes you would still have a huge gun violence issue.

  17. @ Chucky

    Excellent comment and I suggest everyone read it.

  18. gerry says "Even if you could effectively deal with the mentally ill that commit crimes you would still have a huge gun violence issue."

    And history has proven that gun control laws have NOT resulted in a reduction in gun violence. So why repeat past failures?

  19. Mr. Sun,

    It's your paper and you can write whatever you want. As such, I am very curious why you chose to write your "where I stand" article without letting anyone know where you stand. Oh, wait a sec, you DID say something has to be done.

    That truly is some brave and magnificent stance there, Mr. Sun - "something has to be done."

    Inane electronic pablum.

    Purgatory

  20. wendor is wrong about everything around this issue but he will still live in fantasyland.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/17/opinio...

  21. Schaffer,

    Respectfully, using an outlier as some sort of proof for your cause/effect case is a bit disingenuous, don't you think? Truthfully, it is no more statistically relevant than ANY other single event surrounding 1996 Australia.

    On a snarky note, the former Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard seems just as narcissistic as the current Leader of the Free World.

    Puragtory

  22. Yesss Purgatory,
    Everyday is another outlier in Australia while here in the 'freedom loving' U.S. of A. our outlier are the dozens who lose ALL their freedoms by virtue of being slaughtered. I much prefer Australia's outlier to ours.

  23. oooohhh Mark, an OPINION piece in the New York Times by the politician who introduced the ban proclaiming that his actions were right...yep that definitely proves me wrong. No politician would ever lie about something to make himself look good.

    John Howard commissioned the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) to monitor the effects of his ban....so let's see what they (and the researchers they hired) have to say about it:

    1. While gun suicides fell, suicide by other methods (particularly hanging) rose at the same rate.
    http://www.biomedexperts.com/Abstract.bm...

    2. The lack of mass shootings since 1996 (which isn't even 100% true as there was one in 2002) can NOT be attributed to the gun ban. Before the ban Australia and New Zealand both experienced mass shootings and the rate did not differ significantly between countries. However since 1996/1997, neither country has experienced a mass shooting event despite the continued availability of semi-automatic longarms in New Zealand. The authors conclude that "the hypothesis that Australia's prohibition of certain types of firearms explains the absence of mass shootings in that country since 1996 does not appear to be supported" if civilian access to certain types of firearms explained the occurrence of mass shootings in Australia (and conversely, if prohibiting such firearms explains the absence of mass shootings), then New Zealand (a country that still allows the ownership of such firearms) would have continued to experience mass shooting events."
    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?a...

    3. The head of the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Don Weatherburn, said that there is no definitive evidence that a decade of restrictive firearms laws has done anything to reduce weapon-related crime.
    http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/gun-...

    So Mark, who should we believe? The politician making self serving comments, or the researchers he commissioned to study the effects of his law, who almost universally agree that the law had NO measurable benefit whatsoever.

  24. WE must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the law breaker. It's time to restore the precept that each individual is accountable for his actions....

  25. And it's too bad that Mark lacks the ability to understand actual scientific data collected, analyzed, and peer-review published by the experts specifically hired for that purpose.

    But hey, it's your right to believe a self-serving opinion piece written by a politician while ignoring the actual scientific evidence. I think it even earns you a free membership card to the Flat Earth Society.

  26. The reports Charles is touting are several years out of date and loaded with ambiguity. But feel free to become expert on Australian crime anytime in the future.

  27. Mark, please feel free to cite actual studies by any real experts on crime in Australia.

    If you feel these studies are out of date, please provide links to more recent ones.

    I have now provided several, all of which were commissioned and paid for by the Australian government specifically to see what effect their new gun laws were having.

    You, however, seem to limit your presentations to opinion pieces and political sound bites....without any actual data backing them.