State gun laws good, but not good enough

Sunday April 7, 2013

In a rally in Boston Wednesday, the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts made an excellent case for the need for tougher national gun laws. Failing this -- and with the minority, obstructionist party determined to keep the nation safe for armed criminals, angry fired workers, bitter ex-husbands and other deviants -- Massachusetts and other states must step into the breach.

James Wallace, the executive director of the Gun Owners Action League, asserted Wednesday that the increase in gun-related homicides and gun-related emergency room visits since 1998 proves that the state’s tough gun control laws don’t work. However, since 2007, the numbers in those categories have decreased. Obviously, Mr. Wallace and the League went as far back in time as necessary to find a suitable starting point.

Massachusetts’ ban on assault weapons, restrictions on high-capacity magazines and requirement that police chiefs conduct background checks on residents seeking to purchase firearms have worked. This is why police groups and other law enforcement agencies -- representing those who, unlike Action League members, actually have to confront madmen with military-grade weapons -- want Massachusetts’ ban enacted in Washington. Should the Legislature pass Governor Deval Patrick’s proposal to further toughen gun laws, state residents and those in the line of fire will be that much safer.

The Gun Owners Action League members are right, however, that the state’s gun laws are not effective enough. The progress of the last eight years aside, there are still too many who are gunned down on the streets, especially children and teens. One reason it is so difficult to get a handle on weapons is the ease of travel and transport among the states. Another reason is the hodge-podge of laws. Gun laws are as weak as the weakest state law -- which probably exists somewhere in the South or upper Midwest -- and Massachusetts ends up at the mercy of feeble or nonexistent gun regulations.

This is why tough, uniform federal laws are needed, but even in the wake of the massacre of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, cowardly congressmen -- Democrats and Republicans -- can’t agree on the most cautious of reform measures, like background checks. This timidity opened the door for the National Rifle Association to offer a cynical proposal last week calling for the arming of school staffers that would constitute another step in transforming America into an armed camp, an apparent NRA goal. It would also increase gun sales, providing more money for manufacturers to feed into NRA coffers, and from there into the campaign funds of kept congressmen and state officials.

New York State has passed strict new gun regulations, Connecticut approved its own new measures last week and our Legislature should take up the governor’s proposals. All are important, but all are undermined by Washington’s inability to look to European nations that have proven that the answer to gun violence is fewer guns, not more, as the NRA continues to bray. The Second Amendment doesn’t prohibit regulations on guns any more than the First Amendment prohibits regulations against libel and slander. The course is clear -- but the NRA and its pols continue to muddy it.


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