Wednesday January 16, 2013

WILLIAMSTOWN

We’ll soon learn whether the nation is willing to accept more Newtown, Connecticuts to keep gun manufacturers wealthy. Let’s hope not.

I cannot get the picture of 6-year-old Emilie Parker out of my mind. She was one of the 20 small children and seven heroic adults who died in a hail of lead from Adam Lanza’s Bushmaster assault rifle at the Sandy Hook Elementary School last Dec. 14.

The NRA’s response to that horror is entirely predictable: More guns will make us safe. Of course, if the stakes weren’t so high and the tragedies so terrible, that position would be as laughable as trickle-down economics. According to CNN, Americans, with 5 percent of the world’s population, already own half off all the guns on the planet. There are 89 guns for every 100 Americans. So, we should be the safest country on the planet, right? Wrong.

The rate of gun-related deaths per 100,000 individuals in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom is 0.1, 0.5, and 0.03, respectively. In the U.S. it’s 2.98, nearly 100 times that of the U.K. The Wall Street Journal reported that 30,759 Americans were shot in 2011, nearly a 50 percent increase over the 20,844 citizens killed and wounded by guns a decade earlier. Shooting deaths have declined over the years, largely because hospitals are getting better at treating shooting victims. But tell that to the families in Newtown.

Does any rational person think that if Americans held 75 percent of the world’s guns we’d be safer? How about 80 percent? And when the NRA trots out it’s tired mantra: "Guns don’t kill people, people kill people," point out what happened in China last December, when a madman, not unlike Adam Lanza, attacked 22 elementary school children in Henan Province -- with a knife. Traumatic as it was, all 22 survived.

So where do we go for the answer? We could return to "those thrilling days of yesteryear," and the "fight for law and order in the early West" for a bit of wisdom. As any schoolboy might tell you, when Wyatt Earp became marshal in Dodge City, he hired Bat Masterson as one of his deputies and then prohibited the wearing or carrying of firearms in the city. The ordinance was in effect around the clock, and anyone found with a gun was immediately jailed. So, 137 years ago, when the Second Amendment was fully 85 years old, one of the most iconic figures of the Wild West had an answer to gun violence.

Although no one is proposing confiscating guns from lawful owners, including an assault weapons buyback program in any new gun safety legislation might be a good idea. In 1996, just 12 days after a mass shooting in Australia, then-Prime Minister John Howard -- a conservative who had just been elected with the help of gun owners -- not only pushed through new gun safety laws but also an aggressive gun buyback program that led owners to hand in 650,000 automatic and semiautomatic rifles for destruction. By 2006, gun-related homicides had dropped by 59 percent, but more to the point: In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre there were 11 mass shootings in Australia; since the new law went into effect, not one.

Strong national gun laws do work, but will Americans accept them? A December ABC News/
Washington Post poll found that 54 percent of Americans favor stricter gun control laws in general, with 59 percent supporting a ban specifically on high-capacity ammunition clips. So yes, we have the votes.

Of course, the nation has to address mental health issues, too. But let’s start with sensible gun safety laws so that 10 years from now we won’t be staring at a picture of another Emilie Parker on the obituary page. Wyatt Earp knew what to do. Now, so do we.

Lee Harrison is a member of the Democratic State Committee and former chairman of the Berkshire Brigades.