Guns Don’t Kill People, Bullets Kill People

Wednesday, January 19, 2011 - 01:32 PM

In the wake of the Arizona shooting, there is a whole lot of talk on Capitol Hill about stepped up background checks, no-gun zones around members of Congress, and banning the high-volume magazines that allowed the Tucson gunman to shoot so many bullets so fast.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), for one, is calling for “smart, rational gun-control laws that protect the right to bear arms but have reasonable limits.”

My friends on the left insist, hopefully, that the shock of the attack has fundamentally changed the political atmosphere, especially because one of the victims is a member of Congress.

I know they mean well, but experience suggests there is little chance the attack will produce significant new legislation, let alone change a national culture that has been accepting of guns since its inception—unless we try something new and different.

I say this having worked in the 1990s on the Brady Bill and the Assault Weapons Ban. Both measures enjoyed bipartisan support, but both encountered significant resistance from the gun lobby, and neither would have passed without significant compromise.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was passed in response to the assassination attempt on President Reagan. It was named for Press Secretary Jim Brady, who was shot in the head by John Hinkley, Jr., and left paralyzed. It merely institutes reasonable background checks for gun owners. Yet it took twelve years to get it through Congress, with the NRA opposing it tooth and nail, spending millions of dollars in the process.

The 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban was part of the larger Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. It outlawed nineteen models of firearms defined as "assault weapons," as well as large-capacity ammunition feeding devices. We had the support of law enforcement, but again the gun lobby opposed it and a sunset provision was required to secure its passage. In 2004, there was little enthusiasm for its renewal, so it expired.

My friends who live on the coasts fail to understand why this is, and why efforts to enact any gun control legislation since the Clinton years have failed. I know from my travels as a White House aide, however, and in my life spent traveling to nearly every state as a reporter, that once you leave the Northeast, the Bay Area and Hollywood, guns are part of daily life. My relatives in Texas would tell you that the right to carry is not just their Constitutional right, it is their “God-given right.”

Congress hasn’t passed any gun legislation in years because that institution, like the country it represents, celebrates gun ownership. Many members of Congress carry their weapons while riding around their districts, on their trucks or concealed behind their jackets. Representative Gabrielle Giffords herself has said that she owns a Glock—the same firearm used to attack her.

Sure, some Democrats may favor more restrictive gun laws, but even Democrats are hardly uniform in their support for gun control as a matter of policy. And as a matter of politics, even Democrats who may quietly support reasonable regulation have moved away from the issue since the Clinton years.

Fast forward to 2011: Democrats have lost seats in the Senate. Republicans control the House. The new majority offers "The Pledge to America," and gun control is certainly not a part of that.

“But,” my friends say, “the circumstances of the Tucson attack are different." The suspect obtained his weapon legally. One of his victims was a member of Congress, a Democrat. Another victim was a sitting judge, appointed by a Republican president. The shooter appears to have been suffering from some sort of mental disease or defect (whether legally insane or not).

    All true. But will those factors be enough help us see our way clear to Senator Charles Schumer’s vision of “rational gun-control laws?” 

    Only if we change our approach to draft legislation that recognizes, even accepts, gun culture in America.

    Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), who was elected in 1996 after her husband was gunned down in a rampage on the Long Island Railroad, has introduced a new bill with a single focus: to ban large-capacity ammunition clips. The language is carefully crafted to target the magazines, not the weapons. It is not a gun-control bill, per se.

    McCarthy was elected on a gun control-heavy platform, but she has learned a few things since then. She has come to terms with the need to compromise, to work within the context and culture of our country. With her proposed legislation, McCarthy recognizes the recent US Supreme Court decision that finds a constitutional right to bear arms, and in her rhetoric, she is careful to preach “gun safety,” not “gun control.” It just might work.

    If we are going to have any movement on this issue, we must embrace this simple fact: what happened in Arizona is unlikely to change the habits or mindset of Americans who carry guns. For every American who says it should be a sign that gun control is necessary, there is another who believes an armed civilian could have stopped the carnage in Tucson.

    Of course, no armed civilian did. Instead, three unarmed bystanders tackled Jared Loughner when he stopped to reload. A fourth, a 61-year-old woman, grabbed his fully loaded magazine before he could re-insert it and fire another shot. But of course, he’d already fired thirty-one times, killing six and wounding thirteen.

    That is precisely the point of McCarthy’s legislation: limit access to those kinds of high-capacity magazines, and you will limit the kill capacity of mass murderers like Loughner, even if they have access to guns.

    Law-abiding gun owners can make this small sacrifice to increase everyone’s safety, and gun control advocates should focus on this realistic goal.

    To honor and respect the memories of those massacred in Tucson, Congress and the country should come together on this one issue. Ban large-capacity ammunition clips. It is the least we can do.

    Jami Floyd is a broadcast journalist and legal analyst for cable and network news, and is a frequent contributor to WNYC Radio. She is former advisor in the Clinton administration and served as a surrogate for the Obama campaign on legal and domestic policy issues.


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    Comments [10]

    Winghunter from US of A

    Nothing stands in the way of an agenda driven by spineless fear, does it. Whether you suffer from the fear of an inanimate object, the clear distrust of your fellow man or the possibility you may have to fight the evil and/or insane to survive their attack makes no difference, the mental problem is yours to resolve not anyone elses.

    You re-cap recent history of pre-failed (and illegal) laws which each has proven beyond any sane doubt that only the law-abiding suffer from then, pronounce you want more of the same. Now, THAT is insane. - Here's your one-handed clapping applause you certainly deserve.

    If something could be found funny in this, it's the understanding that the criminally insane demonstrate they learn from example where the fear-mongers obviously refuse to. How do we know they learn?? Because they continuously choose to attack where everyone is fully expected to be unarmed. Just like a Democrat (hoplophobes) event without any law enforcement present. Yet, what is your psychotic plea as the same knee-jerk reaction to these henious crimes? Make the law-abiding defenseless - How ludicrous!

    The same week as the shooting in AZ, no less than SEVEN deadly shootings were committed in Wash. D.C. where the law-abiding are still fighting for the inalienable right to defend themselves. Therefore, by yesterdays as well as todays numerous examples we know that the bad guys will obtain or manufacture weapons whether or not there's a complete ban of firearms and what "reasonable" gun laws do is directly assist murderers commit their crimes.

    Here's your first thought on this subject: What does our law call people who assist criminals to commit their crimes? Do they prosecute them with the exact same penalties?? (Hint: You better believe they do!)

    Jan. 20 2011 02:32 AM

    Quick clarification: When I said a firearm owner could call a telephone number to disable a firearm in my message below, I meant a stolen firearm.

    Jan. 19 2011 09:14 PM

    I could consider supporting gun control laws but they must be proven through hard evidence to actually limit violence. Simple intuition that they ought to work isn't good enough.

    One possibility that might be considered is the manufacture and sale of smart guns. These guns would function electronically so that every firing would be recorded on a computer chip. A radio chip could broadcast to law enforcement the exact time the gun was fired. A GPS chip could help the owner and law enforcement track the position of the firearm at all times. Tiny video cameras pointing in the direction of fire and at the shooter could record exactly what happened at a shooting. A firearm owner could disable a firearm by dialing a phone number, rendering a firearm useless. Finally, bullets could be designed such that if they don't kill, they can be extracted quickly and easily by a surgeon.

    Jan. 19 2011 09:11 PM

    Every time a shooting takes place there is politician or "wanna be" politician sprang up from nowhere and start to use beaten up arguments about guns killing children and gun mass murders. Without any serious statistical analysis, experience or knowlegde with guns, or law enforcement, or history oversight, or understanding the implications and the long term effects of certain policy, without the ability to objectively weight pros with vs, these people throw the"humanitarian" lingo around. They don't care about reason, the reality, or the history. Shameless, self-serving politicking is the problem here.

    Jan. 19 2011 04:48 PM
    JasonH from Honolulu, HI

    In response to Ursula Olive from Florida

    "But we do hear all the time about a child or someone in the family or a friend being killed accidentally because there was a gun in the house."

    Actually Ursula, there are many of these incidents that happen, but rarely receive national attention. It is estimated that over 2 million times a year, firearms are used in defense. This is to include simply brandishing the weapon to make the perpetrator leave the victim alone.

    Remember, national news outlets (ABC, MSNBC, CNN) very seldomly publicize these acts.

    Look at the school board shooting. It was a person who had a concealed carry permit that was able to stop the shooter. Did those news outlets spotlight that action? No, they concentrated on the fact that the shooter was mentally deranged.

    Never mind that he was a convicted criminal, and should have never had the firearm in the first place. Never mind the fact that he was in a "gun free zone", and that in itself should have "stopped" him from having a firearm in the school. And never mind that it was an armed citizen, and not the SWAT team that stopped the shooter.

    The issue at hand for gun owners, is not about us buying firearms to "go kill people". It's about leveling the playing fields against other who would do us harm. It's about defending my life, and the life of my family, against someone who is NOT going to follow the law. If someone is already bent on commiting murder (which we all know is illegal), do you think he really will have a problem with breaking another law (using a firearm in commission of a crime)?

    Jan. 19 2011 03:54 PM

    If this attack had been carried out with a car instead of gun (think about that for a minute), would we be talking about what kind of car was used or how much gas was in it?

    Jan. 19 2011 03:45 PM
    Gene from New York

    The author admitted herself that except the area of Hollywood, Northeast and a couple of others small areas the entire country plus overwhelmingly US congress is pro-gun. It's not just right wing politicians, or NRA, or gun manufacturers, it's an entire US population that are pro-gun you are talking about here. You want to impose the ideas and desires (read unreasonable fears) of the few individuals on the entire country?! Looks like a highjacking to me. The Nazi, Stalin, Mao, the rest of the dictators did exactly the same, citing exactly the same arguments of public safety. The overwhelming majority of people of this country are smart, you can't fool them with your false arguments.

    Jan. 19 2011 03:44 PM

    If this attack had been carried out with a car instead of gun (think about that for a minute), would we be talking about what kind of car was used or how big the engine was? After all, you really don't need more than a few horespower to get around.

    Jan. 19 2011 02:53 PM
    Ursula Olive from Florida

    "Guns don't kill People, bullets kill people"
    That slogan has been used and overused by those who support guns. It is about as stupid a slogan as it can be.
    Of course, guns don't kill people, PEOPLE do. the easy-availability of guns is the issue.
    I hate to know how much money is being made by those that make guns and sell guns. Of course, they don't want gun control. As long as there is a big profit in making guns, "they" will fight to keep it the way it is, and the public is being snowballed to believe that they will loose their freedom.
    The issue is not about a hunting rifle, the issue is about weapons that are used in hurting or killing people.
    How many times do we hear in the news that a person saved his or his family's live because he had a gun in his or her possession? Give me a break.
    But we do hear all the time about a child or someone in the family or a friend being killed accidentally because there was a gun in the house.
    Let's get real. Let's get rid of all these destructive weapons that are unnecessary. We are not living in the West anymore where each family had to defend their own rights, and fight to stay alive. This Country has changed and we need to change the laws to stop this senseless killing

    Jan. 19 2011 02:30 PM

    Thank you for your rational cival argument for this. I happen to disagree, but can respect your opinion. The fact is, if Loughner had used a machette Representative Giffords would not have survived. Whether he would have been able to kill 6 and wound 13, would be pure speculation. If there is any lesson to be learned, it is that mentally deranged sociopaths that everyone knows are mentally deranged sociopaths, need to be dealt with before they do this. One other small detail that is omitted as to the right to bear arms, is the purpose of the right. Being necessary to the security of a free state. It is important that government and foreign foes have a healthy respect of its citizens, to ensure we the people do not become subjects to anyone. The gradual erosion of our right to bear military arms (arms of the militia) has already made us prone to conquest by foes domestic and abroad

    Jan. 19 2011 02:18 PM

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