Robert F. Jakubowicz: Gun issue brings out worst in US pols

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PITTSFIELD — Cowards! They are the members of Congress who know better, but enable the National Rifle Association (NRA) to impose what the Center for Public Integrity called that organization's greatest achievement, namely, "congressional silence on guns." There is no other national public issue that more than this one brings out the cowardice of elected officials who are supposed to represent their constituents, the majority of Americans who want that silence broken because of the frequent mass killings by guns like the one Wednesday at a Parkland, Fla. high school.

Until the 2006 Heller case, the NRA successfully peddled the story of the government making plans to have helicopters swoop down on gun owners to take away their guns. Then in that case, the Supreme Court decided that the Constitution's Second Amendment provided that law-abiding citizens had a constitutional right to possess guns for traditional uses such as hunting and target shooting. This ruling should have eliminated the concern of responsible, common sensical and informed gun owners that the government could arbitrarily take away their guns.

The court decision noted that this constitutional right was not absolute and was subject to reasonable regulation. Under this constitutional circumstance, law-abiding gun owners and organizations like the NRA should not have had a concern about gun ownership/ But most important they should have welcomed and supported government measures to better police or regulate guns.

However, the NRA, without having a justifiable fear for the rights of law-abiding gun owners, still clings to its pre-2006 story, and a cowardly Congress is still afraid to take any action. Meanwhile mass killings by guns increase.

Hearings are needed

Based on President Trump's strongly stated support for the NRA don't expect any proposals to deal with gun regulation by the president. Likewise, don't expect any meaningful action by the Republican-led Congress. Instead for this Congress, the likely response is some talk of matters like more effective gun ownership registration, a better system of background checks and the like. But as time passes, nothing will be done.

Under these circumstances, what this country needs is a special congressional hearing of the type held by the so-called Kefauver special committee in1950 and 1951. That committee chaired by Sen. Estes Kefauver, dealt with the issue of organized crime across state lines in this country. Millions of Americans watched these hearings that highlighted that threat to the country and the need to do something meaningful about it. The issue of gun violence now demands the same type of national government treatment.

I would not count on it while the Republicans are in control of Congress. But the upcoming mid-term election provides the public with the opportunity to change the leadership in either congressional branch and based on what congressional Democrats have been saying about the gun problem could result in such a committee being formed.

I am not surprised by the congressional political cowardice. When I served in the state legislature, I was greatly surprised by just how strongly this fear of alienating a group of voters like gun owners existed at the Statehouse. In my dealings with members of Congress, I found that they really feared such groups could vote them out of office.

Elections are critical

This will be played out by the current Republican Congress especially with the looming mid-term congressional elections. They have been conditioned to fear the loss of their seats by the NRA turning against them. Based on the horrific mass shootings, especially in schools, I think the law-abiding, responsible gun owner will now support congressional action to do something about it, and they will not base their vote on just the issue of how a candidate stands on gun control.

If the public wants, and I think a majority does, government action on this issue, the best political bet is to give the Democratic office seekers, especially those who campaign on the basis of gun regulation, a vote later this year. Gun regulation is a national issue and requires national measures. If voters want this change then their only option is to vote this year to change the party in control of Congress.

Robert F. Jakubowicz is a regular Eagle contributor.


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