AP Photo/The Connecticut Post, Lindsay Niegelberg
Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013 | 2 a.m.
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.