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Gun Violence in America: The Continuing Tragedy

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Saturday, yet another troubled young man, this time in Santa Monica California, went on a rampage with a semi-automatic .223 caliber rifle equipped with high-capacity magazines. During that rampage, he fired his weapon numerous times from a vehicle he hijacked to the library of Santa Monica College, where he himself was shot dead by police. Police found as many as 1,800 rounds of ammunition in his bag. 1,800 rounds. The death toll climbed to 5 yesterday.

Because apparently this tragic shooting did not involve enough victims, the news media gave it ho-hum coverage, I guess because this kind of mass murder is just so everyday, these days. We have become almost immune to the tragic violence that permeates our society and only really terrible tragedies break through the fog of willful ignorance and indifference. Yet, while we allow our leaders to slink into the proverbial corner and do nothing about gun violence, the families of the Newtown victims are trying to raise the consciousness of Americans through their own personal efforts and that of the Sandy Hook Promise, an effort to change the conversation about gun violence. If you'd like to hear what they say, check out their website or just watch the video below:

Even as the Sandy Hook families set aside their own personal grief to save other's lives by advocating for common sense gun policies, the gun lobby, lead by the NRA, continues to peddle the lie that there is nothing we can do about gun violence except add to it. NRA spokesman, Wayne LaPierre, continues to intone the nonsensical assertion that "the only way to stop and bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." He waxes eloquently during his speeches, recalling an earlier, more innocent time that never existed and then painting a dark landscape of current America that consists of nothing more than marauding bands of lawless (insert your ethnic smear here) criminals preying on innocent victims that can only be stopped with an AR-15 and a bag full of 30 round magazines stuffed with high-velocity ammunition.

The real shame of the NRA's false vision of America is that it really only resonates with two segments of American society...the gun manufacturers who rake in billions every time LaPierre spouts his nonsense about the government coming to confiscate guns, and their customers, who desperately want to believe this tripe, who are hyped up on anti-government, anti-people-who-look-different-from-me, and anti-Obama rhetoric coming from every corner of the gun culture. If you ever doubt the intensity of the hate and rhetoric about guns, just query "gun rights" or "Second Amendment" on the Google or on Facebook.

Gun advocates usually make two arguments to forward the narrative that more guns is All American and somehow equals more safety. First, they state that gun violence is way down from its peak in the 1970s. While this is actually true, they always leave out the second part of the sentence that, even while down substantially, the United States has 20 times more death by gun than the average of all other OECD countries. Twenty times. Let that sink in. If the gun lobby's theory were true, since we have around 300 million guns (one per person in the US), then we should be the safest country in the civilized world. It's just simply not the case.

The second thing they like to say is that the Constitution says that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed!! (bolding to represent the usual screaming in your ear of that statement), and that gun ownership or use can in no way be regulated or restricted. That's nonsense, too, just like their first assertion. There is over 200 years of case law that regulates and restricts individual rights that are enumerated in the constitution. For example, all citizens have a right to vote. That right, however, is restricted in many ways...you must be of a certain age, you must register, you must follow the voting laws. Another example is freedom of speech, but you can't yell "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. Similarly, the right to bear arms has been regulated and restricted in many ways over our history. The Supremes upheld in United States v Miller 307 U.S. 174 (1939) a provision in the National Firearms Act of 1934 that required that a saw-off shotgun be authorized, registered and a tax of $200 dollars paid each time it changes hands. The same provision applied to automatic (machine) guns. This essential ban on these weapons is still in effect today. This case is cited in many more recent cases, and even in 2008's District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), where, writing for the majority, judge Antonin Scalia, who muddied up that whole well-regulated militia thing, still held that the government can indeed regulate certain weapons citing earlier case law supporting bans against "dangerous or unusual weapons". In fact, in this very case the court only held that Heller could get a license to carry a handgun in his house and have it registered. "Right" clearly does not, and indeed, never was intended to mean "unregulated."

It's long past time for our elected leaders to do what we elect them to do...lead. Common sense gun policies, that in no way restrict actual Second Amendment rights, and certainly never included confiscation of Americans' guns, will clearly save lives. We have a long history of guns in American culture. We also have a long history of the regulation of those guns. As a gun owner myself, I simply refuse to allow the NRA to speak for me, nor accept its vision of life in America today as a running gun battle. It's also long past time for the gun lobby to turn down the heat of its rhetoric and to be honest with the American people about gun violence rather than whipping up false outrage over policies that are not being proposed. It's time for all Americans to hold their representatives accountable for this ongoing tragedy where over 30,000 people are killed by guns every year. That tragedy is the real violation of individual rights...the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.