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GEORGE KENNEDY: We must work to limit damage of gun culture

Friday, January 18, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

You may have missed the announcement, so as a public service I’ll report that Saturday isn’t just a national Day of Service. It’s also the first National Gun Appreciation Day.

Sponsors include the Second Amendment Foundation, the Texas State Rifle Club, the Arlington Heights Tea Party and a number of other gun-loving, government-fearing organizations. Here’s how the sponsors want us to celebrate the big day:

"On 01.19.13 go to your local gun store, gun range or gun show with your Constitution, American flags and your 'Hands off my Guns' sign to send a loud and clear message to Congress and President Obama."

I won’t be joining the celebration, but I want its sponsors to understand that I do appreciate guns. I appreciate them for what they are – highly efficient tools designed for killing. They killed more than 31,000 Americans in 2010, the last year for which I find a figure. Terrorist attacks worldwide that year killed about 13,000 people.

I know; I know – guns don’t kill people. But people with guns do, sometimes horrifying numbers of strangers; more often themselves.

Newtown and Aurora capture our attention. Shootings such as the one in St. Louis this week, in which a mentally disturbed student shot his business school financial aid director and then himself, have become almost routine. Both the victim and the suspect survived.

Like many of you, I suspect, I’m skeptical that we can end this plague of gun violence. With guns in nearly half of American households and assault rifles flying off dealers’ shelves, our gun culture is deeply embedded. We can, however, and we must take the steps most likely to limit the damage. The proposals President Barack Obama announced Wednesday strike me as a good start.

By now, we’ve all learned the details: A renewed ban on military-style assault rifles and on high-capacity ammunition magazines; closing the huge loophole that now allows 40 percent of gun sales to proceed without background checks; improving the sharing of information among states and federal agencies; tightening enforcement and strengthening the laws on gun crime; strengthening school security; broadening the availability of mental health diagnosis and treatment, especially for the young.

Did you know that there is currently a federal law that actually discourages research into the causes and prevention of gun violence? I didn’t either until I read about it in the Washington Post a few days ago. The so-called Dickey Amendment was passed at the behest of the National Rifle Association in 1996. Since then, the federal government has spent about $240 million a year studying traffic safety and nothing on injuries from guns. Former Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Arkansas, says he has changed his mind. President Obama wants to change the policy.

Another federal law, also sponsored by an NRA acolyte, prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from sharing information it collects on firearms purchasers and requires background checks to be deleted within 24 hours. Those provisions bear the names of a Republican former representative from Kansas, Todd Tiahrt.

The NRA and its bought-and-paid-for representatives in Congress are, of course, dead set on preventing any effective action. They may prevail. After all, the NRA has invested $4.3 million in campaign contributions for members of Congress since 1990. Last year alone, the NRA gave $583,646 to 236 Republican candidates and $74,000 to 25 Democrats. The Washington Post, my source for these numbers, notes that our own Roy Blunt is the leading NRA beneficiary in the Senate.

What might, just might, counter the NRA’s influence is public opinion. The latest Washington Post-ABC poll, reported Monday, shows that 58 percent of us support the assault rifle ban versus 39 percent who oppose. Even in households that possess a gun, 86 percent support broader background checks and 55 percent support the ban on high-capacity magazines.

We could profit from the example of Australia.

In 1996, the year of the Dickey Amendment, a conservative-led government in Australia responded to a mass shooting by passing tighter gun restrictions than President Obama is proposing. The government also offered to buy back weapons from willing sellers. Since then, homicides by gun have fallen by half. Suicides by gun and armed robbery are also down sharply.

The math and the logic are pretty straightforward: Fewer guns mean fewer deaths.

Isn’t that the goal?

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.


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Comments

Skip Yates January 18, 2013 | 12:04 p.m.

What makes Sandy Hook so horrific is that young innocent children were murdered by a mad man. When it first came out in the news, I thought I was going to vomit. But, if you look at it another way, those 27 lives amounted to .000009 percent of the population. That number happens in Chicago every month. Now us evil NRA-gun loving-2nd amendment- crazies are being looked at with disdain. Why? If this is such a top-drawer, immediate priority, why didn't you anti-gun liberals do something about it a couple of years ago when you, and the President, had the power to pass anything you wanted? It it because, in Chicago, its just a way of life and black kids being killed? (Oh, I say "anti-gun liberals" because I know a few liberals that have semi-auto rifles with high capacity clips.)

(Report Comment)
frank christian January 18, 2013 | 2:44 p.m.

They just won't quit! Australia's crime, after gun ban, has been discussed at length in both our newspaper blogs, and yet we get from this writer: "In 1996, the year of the Dickey Amendment, a conservative-led government in Australia responded to a mass shooting by passing tighter gun restrictions than President Obama is proposing. The government also offered to buy back weapons from willing sellers. Since then, homicides by gun have fallen by half. Suicides by gun and armed robbery are also down sharply."

Has he not seen this, or does he believe it to be false? Or, does he care?

"Even Australia's Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research acknowledges that the gun ban had no significant impact on the amount of gun-involved crime:

In 2006, assault rose 49.2 percent and robbery 6.2 percent.
Sexual assault -- Australia's equivalent term for rape -- increased 29.9 percent.
Overall, Australia's violent crime rate rose 42.2 percent.

Moreover, Australia and the United States -- where no gun-ban exists -- both experienced similar decreases in murder rates:

Between 1995 and 2007, Australia saw a 31.9 percent decrease; without a gun ban, America's rate dropped 31.7 percent.
During the same time period, all other violent crime indices increased in Australia: assault rose 49.2 percent and robbery 6.2 percent.
Sexual assault -- Australia's equivalent term for rape -- increased 29.9 percent.
Overall, Australia's violent crime rate rose 42.2 percent.
At the same time, U.S. violent crime decreased 31.8 percent: rape dropped 19.2 percent; robbery decreased 33.2 percent; aggravated assault dropped 32.2 percent.
Australian women are now raped over three times as often as American women."

Result of gun bans have been the same in Canada and U.K.!

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates January 18, 2013 | 3:51 p.m.

What is that noise I hear? Is there a storm coming? No, its those scrambling to find a way to get a piece of the forty billion dollars promised to stop gun violence. Well, everyone knew the President was going to hit the TV network and have something to say. That he surrounded himself with kids made this just another political posture to his base voters (except maybe those in Chicago). And, much everything he had to say was soft and political posturing, in which his staff excels at. Not well thought out. I comment on just one segment. So, if a shrink/social worker doesn't report a person with a mental issue, is he/she guilty of a crime similar to the convicted driver in a robbery (I didn't know the dude was going to rob Break Time, I thought he was going to buy a six-pack). The shrinks diagnostic bible, latest revision,and significantly expanded, DSM-5 will come out in a couple of months. Does that need to go back to identify those mental findings to be reported to the federal government? Which agency? If so, who has the task to enforce anything enforceable? If one does report something, are they liable to be sued by the patient or his/her family? Far-thinking lawyers must be licking their chops by now. The potential for litigation is tremendous. And then, the President left off Hollywood...the violence in movies (and video games) is so unrealistic its laughable...except to a 15 year old or mentally disturbed adult. Nothing said about that was there? Again, if this is such an urgent issue, why didn't the President do something about it when he could do anything (we won) when he could? Pass the issue to the Republican congress who stands only to lose in an intelligent debate. In the meantime....sir, Mr. President, are you again not interested in a budget? The President said we need a civilian police force (read federal) as large , well equipped and funded as the military. I guess this is who will be tasked to enforce the latest, as soon as they are formed in the next few years. They could have a distinctive uniform ....I think brown shirts would be appropriate.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 18, 2013 | 4:11 p.m.

SkipY: "...its just a way of life and black kids being killed?"
_____________

The same thought crossed my mind, and I didn't like the implications one damned bit. Black kids all across this nation are killed by thugs over a year's period of time and there's not much liberal noise over it.

Then, many white kids get killed by another thug in one instant and we have a liberal gun-control hissy-fit.

I'm unsure what to make of it, although the "R" word did come to mind.

(Report Comment)
Tony Black January 18, 2013 | 4:51 p.m.

Really? I thought Obama was trying to take our guns away before his first election, according to Fox News, Sarah Palin, etc. You didn't hear the outcry about the black kids because you weren't listening. All you could here was the constant hum of muslim, socialist, Hitler and things like that from the Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck crowd.

And Frank, seriously? You are equating rape and such with gun violence? I guess rape and assault went up in Australia because all those women quit carrying guns? What is it with you regressives and sexual assault? Geez.

Let the liberal bashing begin!!!! Make sure to use innuendo and hint at my mental capacity or you will get removed!

(Report Comment)
Tony Black January 18, 2013 | 5:20 p.m.

OH NO! I used here instead of hear. That just proves how wrong I am.

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frank christian January 18, 2013 | 5:39 p.m.

T. Black - Tell us what R. Emanuel is doing about those black kids killed in his city! Oh, yeah! Raise taxes and require public retirements that he can control to divest gun manufacturer stocks from their portfolios. That'll show 'em!

"I guess rape and assault went up in Australia because all those women quit carrying guns?" Are you now a comic "straight man"? No, Curly, Rape and assault went up in Australia because all the rapists Knew that now, all those women could Not,legally, carry guns!

Your first paragraph supplies enough information needed for a grade on your mental capacity. I doubt more of your humor would help it.

(Report Comment)
Tony Black January 18, 2013 | 6:03 p.m.

Hey Moe!! What a hoot!!! So you do think my statement is correct. Since they could no longer carry guns, they are are easy targets. Just what I expect.

Michael, did you catch Franks punctuation and grammatical errors?

(Report Comment)
frank christian January 18, 2013 | 8:22 p.m.

"Since they could no longer carry guns, they are are easy targets. Just what I expect." No, curly, since no one but criminals were expected to carry guns, Everyone became an "easy target", just as it has happened in Canada, U,K. and the "gun free" zones of the U.S. Too deep for the simple minded liberal, not able to understand "human nature" and what one might do contrary to the "one size fits all" laws and regulations set down by your socialist leaders.

When you finish grammar with "Michael", come back and try to discuss gun control with me.

(Report Comment)

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