Wednesday December 26, 2012

On Friday, Wayne LaPierre crawled out from behind the sofa or from wherever it was the National Rifle Association head had been hiding to address the Newtown, Connecticut gun massacre from a week earlier, and even though nothing the NRA’s executive vice president said could be regarded as surprising, his venom and arrogance nonetheless that day and over the weekend poured salt into an open wound that will long scar the nation.

As always, the NRA’s solution for America’s unique gun violence is more guns. Schools should have armed security guards to engage in shoot-outs with armed lunatics, said Mr. LaPierre. (It should be noted that a deputy sheriff at Colombine High School in 1999 fired at one of the two killers there early in their spree and missed four times.) Some congressional Republicans believe teachers and administrators should be armed. (It should also be noted that trained New York City police officers wounded nine bystanders this summer while shooting down a gunman outside the Empire State Building.)

But why stop at schools? America has experienced gun violence in malls and movie theaters so shouldn’t they bring in armed guards as well? Shouldn’t movie ticket-takers pack heat? Firefighters should be armed, given that two were shot dead in Webster, N.Y. on Monday when they responded to a fire, although it is hard to imagine firefighters holding hoses and exchanging gun fire with a madman.

If Mr. LaPierre got his way, all of America would resemble the U.S. embassy in Iraq -- surrounded by barbed wire and barricades and patrolled by machine gun-packing security teams. Democratic Senator-elect Chris Murphy of Connecticut called Mr. LaPierre’s response to Newtown "the most revolting, tone-deaf statement I’ve ever seen," which is how all of America should see it.

When 16 schoolchildren were shot to death in Dunblane, Scotland in 1996, Great Britain, adding to its already strict gun laws, banned ownership of handguns and penalized those who broke gun laws with sentences of as long as 10 years in jail. The UK averages about 40 gun deaths per year, compared to the average of 12,000 murdered by guns annually in the United States, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. There is no spinning those numbers -- if fewer people have guns, fewer people die.

That response is too much to expect of the United States, but the nation can pass common sense gun laws, and in its most recent ruling on gun control, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Second Amendment does not preclude gun regulations. It is impossible to believe that everyone in the NRA is as cold-hearted and doctrinaire as Wayne LaPierre, and responsible gun owners should join the nation’s mothers (editorial, Dec. 23) in demanding meaningful reform.

That means a ban on the manufacture and sale of the semiautomatic and automatic weapons unanticipated by our founding fathers, and the closing of the gun show loophole by requiring background checks of purchasers. The nation needs a national gun registry, no different or less constitutional than the registration of cars and trucks, and the purchase of the most dangerous forms of guns should be heavily taxed to finance the cost of repairing the damage they do.

Massachusetts has strong gun laws but it can do more. The Legislature should pass Governor Deval Patrick’s proposal limiting gun purchases to one a month, which will discourage the gun sellers who sow destruction in towns and cities. It has been stalled in committee for two years while the Gun Owners Action League fights it.

Mr. LaPierre and his ilk are smug in their certitude that lawmakers are too afraid and/or too dependent on gun lobby campaign contributions to pass desperately needed tough new gun laws. America can either wallow in its post-Newtown shame in 2013 or prove them wrong.