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.