"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among those are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights Governments are instituted... laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." So says our Declaration of Independence.
And ever since then our government has increasingly put in place and enforced regulations across a wide range of industries, all designed to protect us, help keep us safe, if not happy.
With one glaring exception. The gun industry.
"The horror... the horror... ": Last words from Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, as portrayed by Marlon Brando, after being brutally attacked by a machete, as he lay stewing in his own poisonous juices. Kurtz's dying words were an accurate reflection of the insanely murderous horrors of the Vietnam War so effectively dramatized in the film.
One could reasonably make the same observation about the insanely murderous horrors inflicted on Americans by their gun-toting fellow Americans, year after year, without the kinds of meaningful limitations that could begin to provide some notion of the safety our Founding Fathers described. Or at the very least honor the intentions of our Founding Fathers.
We are stewing in our own insanity when it comes to the reckless sale and lack of regulation of firearms -- a madness whose essence is a weapon of mass destruction -- the assault rifle -- a weapon that was created in the Vietnam War era, for combat purposes, and rightly so, but has no business in America's homes today.
Consider the following:
The Consumer Product Safety Commission can ban lawn darts and cork guns because they've judged them to represent safety hazards, but not guns because they were exempted from regulation through the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) -- the first and only industry to enjoy such broad protection. The same Act also puts severe limitations on civil liability suits brought against gun manufacturers, distributors and retailers -- a right denied the automobile and pharmaceutical industries, for example.
An intimidated group of U.S. Senators, in the minority, recently refused to require expanded background checks for all gun purchases. Perhaps encouraged by this latest refusal to take a single regulatory step toward curbing gun violence, Missouri's Republican-led Congress recently sent their governor a bill that declares all federal gun regulations unenforceable. This on the heels of repealing a state law requiring Missouri residents to obtain a permit before purchasing a gun (they already don't require firearms to be registered or gun owners to obtain a license). The results? Missouri's homicide rate rose 25 percent.
The gun industry's defense? Guns don't kill people. People kill people. Right.
U.S. deaths caused by automobiles dropped 22 percent between 2005 and 2010 and are at their lowest point since 1979, according to the Center for Disease Control. Why? Cars are safer now than they were decades ago. Seat belts are mandatory. Driving is tightly regulated. Drivers are required to have licenses. Our roads and highways have speed limits. All thanks to our government and the regulations it has put in place over the years. All with good reason.
But wait: cars don't kill people. People kill people. Right?
Did you ever hear the following argument in defense of our right to smoke? "Cigarettes don't kill people. People kill people." Hell no. With good reason.
Tobacco lobbyists were once all-powerful too, just like the NRA is today, until common sense, reality -- and our government -- finally curbed their influence significantly, and put in place a series of impactful regulations and controls over the manufacture, marketing and purchase of tobacco products. Regulations put in place to make us safer. Remember when you could smoke on an airplane?
Between the publishing of the Surgeon General's report in 1964 and today, smoking went from "may be hazardous to your health" to "Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema" (all of which can kill you) "And May Complicate Pregnancy," as it says today on every pack of cigarettes sold. Our government has put in place a range of regulations that strictly limit the sale and consumption of tobacco.
Is there a fundamental difference between the dangers of tobacco and the dangers of unregulated guns and gun owners? Only by degree -- and with one exception: the NRA and their constituents continue to intimidate our Congress, despite wide spread support for various forms of gun regulation from voters.
Until the 1906 Pure Foods and Drugs Act established the foundation for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA, formalized in 1930) the pharmaceutical industry had a license to kill, and did, with various "tonics" and "elixirs" and practices that caused serious harm and even death, or were utterly ineffective. Like Stewart Lyman, BioPharma Consulting, Seattle, writes, "Why do I love drug regulation? Simple, it keeps us safe."
But wait: drugs don't kill people. People kill people.
A morbidly absurd argument ... for drugs, for automobiles, for tobacco. And for guns.
Here are some of the other things our government has chosen to impose regulations on in order to protect and help ensure the safety of the user and/or those around them: baby cribs, magnets, cigarette lighters, mattresses, adhesives, batteries, bicycles, felt tip marking devices, furniture polish, ink cartridges, matchbooks, pacifiers, paint, sponges and children's toys. And bunk beds. And lawn darts and cork guns.
Shooting deaths are on the rise again, after a low point in 2000, and are projected to exceed automobile deaths by 2015. Why? Because our same government refuses to take any meaningful action toward any kind of gun controls that would easily fall within our constitutional framework. Of the relatively few regulations enacted that apply to firearms -- and our safety -- none are fully enforced. None of them. There might as well not be any.