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March 30, 2011

Column #1,545

Needed: Three Forms of Gun Control

By Mike McManus

            Exactly 30 years ago, John Hinkley Jr. nearly assassinated Ronald Reagan. 

He also gravely wounded Jim Brady, Reagan’s press secretary, who is now partly paralyzed, blind and has screaming nightmares every night.  Hinkley shot a Secret Service agent, who dived across the President and was hit in the stomach, plus a D.C. cop who suffered permanent nerve damage and was forced to retire.

Sarah Brady, wife of Jim, says, “It’s hard to believe how much our lives changed in those few seconds.” Jim still undergoes physical therapy several times a week, speaks with a slur and lives in a wheelchair.

Supposedly, Hinkley is a patient at St. Elizabeth’s, a facility for the criminally insane. Yet he gets 10-day unsupervised visits to his mother in Williamsburg. 

April 16 will be the fourth anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre of 32 people by a fellow student, Seung-Hui Cho.  On April 3, 2009 another mass shooting killed 13 people at a Binghamton, NY immigration center.  America leads the world in such mass murders.

In January, Jared Lee Loughner shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others, killing six of them.  In fact, more than 2,400 Americans have been shot dead since that horrific crime in Tucson, and 400,000 have died of gunshots since Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated in 1968. 

Can this horror of gun violence be reversed? 

First, it must be noted that of the 30,900 firearm deaths in 2006, the most recent year with complete data, there were 16,900 suicides, 55% of the total!  (A future column will explore how to reduce suicides.)

Here are three suggestions on how to reduce gun homicides dramatically.  Each will require laws that has been blocked for years by the National Rifle Association.  However, recent events give good reason why new federal laws could be passed.

The first should be easy to pass - ban “high capacity clips.”  Loughner would not have been able to fire 31 rounds in seconds if he had not been able to purchase a magazine with 32 shells that could be fired without reloading. 

One bill in Congress would limit an ammunition magazine to 10 or fewer bullets.  It has 114 sponsors in the House, most of whom signed on after a fellow Member of Congress was nearly killed by Loughner.  Even Dick Cheney, a hunter and NRA backer, now concedes, “Maybe it’s appropriate to reestablish” limits on “the size of the magazine that you can buy to go with semiautomatic weapons.”

Yet, as of this writing, President Obama has been strangely silent on the issue.

The limit on gun magazines was part of an Assault Weapons Ban passed by Congress in 1994 after years of lobbying by Sarah Brady and her Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

The bill should have been renewed in 2004, but President Bush did not have the courage to do so.  Why should any American be able to buy an AK-47, TEC-9s or .50-caliber sniper rifles?  These weapons have nothing to do with hunting.  They are for killing. 

My second reform would reinstate the whole Assault Weapons Ban.  Even the Brady Campaign thinks that is too ambitious.  It could not find enough sponsors.

Why not?  There is a fear conservatives will oppose it. 

Surely Scripture is clear: “Thou shalt not kill.” Conservatives respect Scripture.

Finally Congress should pass the “Fix Gunchecks Act.”  It would plug loopholes in the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act that requires background checks of gun buyers.  The law has prevented the sale of guns to two million  people who were considered too dangerous or irresponsible to possess firearms.

But the law does have serious loopholes. One allows guns to be sold at gun shows without any background checks – where about a third of guns are purchased. Another allows states to decide how many records are turned into the feds.  Millions are missing. Arizona should have sent in 122,000 names of felons, drug abusers and mentally incompetent people between 2008 and 2009 -- but submitted only 4,465, according to Newsweek.

Neither Loughner, a drug user nor Cho, with a history of mental illness, should have been able to purchase firearms.  If high capacity clips were unavailable, Loughner would not have been able to shoot so many people.

However, none of these three reforms will become law – unless President Obama champions them.  His reticence is puzzling.

Rep. Giffords, who is slowly recovering, will keep the issue visible.

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