Commentary: We should avoid loosening of gun laws

The Kansas City StarJanuary 15, 2013 


Lewis Diuguid is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.

MBR — MCT/Kansas City Star

Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday plans to submit his recommendations to President Barack Obama on new gun control proposals.

But don’t expect the National Rifle Association’s buy-in. Biden’s plan includes limits on high-capacity magazines, improved background checks on gun buyers and promotion of gun safety.

Obama asked Biden to head a task force on gun control, mental health services and violence in the media and video games. Biden took it on with the right sense of urgency.

It’s all in response to widespread public outrage over the mass shootings on Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

That school shooting included the deaths of 20 children and six adults. But Americans also are outraged over the recurring mass shootings, including at a shopping center during the holiday season in a suburb of Portland, Ore., and a movie theater in July in Aurora, Colo.

The country has been in this uncomfortable place before. At a diversity discussion group last week in Overland Park, a gun collector said 1968 was pivotal for the NRA.

The assassinations of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the slayings of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 and rioting during the civil rights era — including Kansas City — pushed the NRA into a corner, resulting in meaningful gun control legislation. A Violence Policy Center article said those historical events and the public outcry that followed broke the NRA’s ability to stop gun control legislation. It culminated in President Lyndon Johnson signing the Gun Control Act of 1968.

The law included a ban on the interstate traffic of firearms and ammunition, and it prohibited persons such as minors, felons, drug addicts, the mentally ill and fugitives from having guns. It banned imports of surplus military weapons as well as guns and ammunition not federally certified as sporting weapons or souvenirs. At that time, the law contained the most significant restrictions on firearms enacted by Congress in decades.

“As historian Richard Hofstadter noted in 1970, ‘there was an almost touching national revulsion against our own gun culture,’ ” the Violence Policy Center article said. We are close to that public outrage today.

Public demands for action against gun violence is what the NRA doesn’t want and instead is pushing for armed guards in all schools.

But armed guards are no guarantee. President Ronald Reagan on March 30,1981, was surrounded by the best armed guards in the country, yet John Hinckley Jr. shot the president; his press secretary James Brady; Timothy McCarthy, a Secret Service agent; and Thomas Delahanty, a District of Columbia policeman.

The long-maintained outrage over that shooting resulted in President Bill Clinton signing the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act into law 20 years ago. It required handgun buyers wait five business days for authorities to do a background check.

As always happens, meaningful gun control acts lead to increases in the membership and political strength of the NRA. But despite the Second Amendment right to own firearms, the greater issue should be individual safety: not fearing sending children to school, going shopping or enjoying a movie or restaurant. Yet here in the Kansas City area, many were shocked when a man reaching into his pocket during a night out at the Longbranch Steakhouse in Lenexa this month accidentally discharged a pistol. The bullet struck his wife in the leg above the knee. She was treated at a hospital and released.

The man had a valid permit to carry a concealed weapon, but accidents happen. Many fail to take that into account as they back concealed carry and open carry of firearms in cities such as Overland Park.

The Libertarian Party of Kansas has filed a lawsuit against Prairie Village, Leawood and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., in an effort to force those towns to liberalize gun laws. Thank goodness the cities are resisting.

In this week before the holiday honoring the birth of civil rights leader King, we need to be more committed to resisting liberal gun policies for the safety of everyone.

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