Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How big of a gun do you really need?

Duke Albert Van Carter

This is for "self-defense" right?

In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary late last year, the debate over gun control has once again come to the forefront of the national political dialogue. On one side there are gun control activists, families of victims and others who feel it is unreasonable for an everyday citizen to possess an AR-15 with an extended magazine; and on the other side there is the NRA, gun rights activists, and unfortunately extremists who believe it is their right to build an arsenal in their basement that rivals that of their local SWAT team.

The voices of gun rights extremists often drown out the voices of reasonable gun rights advocates, see Alex Jones’ appearance on “Piers Morgan Tonight” if you don’t believe me, who recognize that limitations need to be placed on their right to bear arms, and that the Second Amendment was written during the time of muskets and hand loaded cannons, not hand held machine guns and shoulder mounted surface to air missiles.

The Constitution was written as a “breathing document”, one that is designed to evolve and reflect advances in society, and in this case technology. As a member of a family of gun owners, there needs to be reasonable, well thought out and enforceable restrictions on my right to bear arms. If you honestly believe you need an Uzi or M-16 to protect yourself, you should probably leave.

That being said, the recent legislation passed in New York, known as the “SAFE Act” (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act) was a legislative rush job which left a messy trail of oversights in its wake. That is not to say the bill does not have good parts to it. For example: the SAFE Act bans high-capacity magazines and military style assault weapons, requires a background check for all gun purchases, increases criminal penalties for gun related crimes, especially when the gun involved is illegal, and also includes a provision in response to the Christmas Eve ambush in Webster, NY which left two firefighters dead.

However, the speed at which this legislation was developed and subsequently passed has resulted in a critical oversights and poorly constructed regulations. Law enforcement officers were not exempted from the magazine capacity limit, meaning that under the law as it is written, police officers can only carry magazines with a capacity of seven rounds. Only after the passing of the legislation did the Governor’s office clarify that a preexisting exemption for law enforcement would carry over allowing law enforcement to carry their standard magazines, which usually hold fourteen or fifteen rounds. Despite the carry over exemption, the language in the SAFE Act still does not exempt law enforcement explicitly. That seems to be a pretty significant oversight.

Additionally, the SAFE Act bans the sale of magazines over seven rounds after April 15, 2013, however older magazines with capacities exceeding the limit will be grandfathered in, as long as the owner does not load more than seven rounds at a time. Which begs the question: how on Earth do you enforce that?

One of the most puzzling provisions included in the new legislation is that now each time you purchase ammunition you now must undergo a background check- every single time. What purpose does this serve? This type of regulation is ticky- tack and poorly thought out. Now instead of buying one or two boxes of ammunition at a time, gun owners will likely purchase cases of ammunition at a time to avoid duplicative background checks. Bullets are not like eggs, they take a long time to go bad.

I applaud Governor Cuomo for attempting to tackle gun control head on and move New York to the forefront of gun control legislative initiatives, however in this case he worked too fast for his own good and the good of the citizens of the State of New York. Moreover, the Governor is handcuffed by our system of government.

Regardless of what states do individually, meaningful gun control legislation must come from Congress, not from state legislatures. Very simply, if you live in Albany and wanted to purchase a fifteen round magazine for your weapon all you need to do is hop in the car, drive to a neighboring state where those magazines are legal, load up and drive home with them. While the magazines are illegal in New York, obtaining them elsewhere will not be difficult.  When legislative inconsistencies exist amongst neighboring states on issues such as gun control, it makes it extremely difficult for one state to make progressive reforms if their neighbors do not move with them.

Congress must take the lead on gun control. As scary as it sounds to have Congress take the lead on anything, the only meaningful reforms will be ones that apply to all states equally, creating legislative consistence across the nation and make it harder to obtain illegal magazines and weapons than simply driving to a neighboring state.

Yet, no amount of legislation can change our culture. While effective legislation may dampen instances of violence, it will not change the fact that we are a violent culture, period. Out of our 235 year history, the United States has been at war or involved in combat operations for 214 of those years. Our movies, video games, music and media often glorify and romanticize violence and a culture of war.

Violence is a part of human nature and has been for centuries; however in America we seem to have perfected the art of burying the consequences of violence and violent actions, while justifying violence on moral or ethical grounds. Throughout its history the United States has engaged in violence in the name of liberty, justice and protecting freedom, and in doing so has created a culture which not only accepts violence, but relishes it and has been diluted to believe that peace can only be achieved through war. 

No amount of legislation can undo what has become of our collective mindset. A fundamental cultural shift is needed if we are to end senseless tragedies the likes of Sandy Hook, Aurora, and Columbine.  More attention needs to be paid to the mentally ill and support given to their families so that they do not feel the need to act out violently, as the shooters at Sandy Hook and Aurora did. More attention is needed from parents, to teach their children the proper ways to handle their anger and frustration, as anger and frustration are parts of life. A collective cultural shift is the only way to truly stop rampant gun violence.

No comments:

Post a Comment