Saturday February 9, 2013

Do we have a "gun problem" in America? Yes. Ask the people of Newtown. And Columbine, Simon’s Rock, Aurora, Tucson and Virginia Tech. Every year, about 30,000 Americans die by gun, including suicides, murders, and accidents. Our per capita killings are higher than France, Canada, Greece, Italy, the United Kingdom, Japan and more.

We also have an NRA problem. Which is really a big money problem. The NRA receives millions from American gun manufacturers. The NRA supports politicians who are "gun people" and spends millions to defeat politicians who are not. The Second Amendment is its holy sacrament. The NRA wants "freedom" for every American to have as many guns as they wish, without background checks or registration. It objects to gun control legislation, state and federal. It even got Congress to kill money in the National Institute of Health budget for gun death studies! The NRA encourages young children to learn about guns. The NRA wants young gun lovers -- future gun buyers.

We can support common sense groups like the Brady Campaign. As long as the NRA has the money and one-note leadership, we will have a gun problem -- and continue to wring our hands after every massacre.

The NRA supports civilian ownership of military assault weapons and large ammo clips. These are the weapon of choice in most massacres, most recently in Newtown. We had an assault weapon ban for 10 years, until it was allowed to expire in 2004.


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Since then, the number of gun victims per year has nearly tripled. Why should we be free to visit a gun show and buy any number of guns and ammo with no background check, no check of mental health history?

The NRA’s answer to every gun tragedy is more guns -- armed guards in our schools, malls, theaters and so on. It campaigns for "concealed carry" laws. Police across the country oppose these ideas! The NRA argues that gun control laws burden good gun owners and don’t keep guns out of criminal hands. Meanwhile, it works energetically to weaken or eliminate the few gun control laws we have. It preaches that the Second Amendment, unchanged in over 200 years, stands between gun owners and national surrender. If we have to amend the Second Amendment to put a lid on the NRA, then let’s do it.

Should we throw up our hands and let the NRA set the national agenda or work to weaken its stranglehold on it? We can have gun buyback programs -- they work. We do not need to threaten gun ownership by well-trained, law-abiding citizens, but all guns should be registered, like our cars. We need to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally unstable individuals. We should make private ownership of assault weapons illegal. Great Britain banned handguns and set 10-year penalties for breaking gun laws. Is that country about to collapse in revolt?

Polls say most Americans favor better gun controls. Congress, and the states, have to listen to our voices. We have rights too, rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Gun owners, like car owners, do not have unlimited, unlicensed rights. It is time for change. As Gabby Giffords said, "the time Is now."

PHIL KNOWLES

Lenox