LETTER TO THE EDITOR: ‘Rational and effective’ gun laws needed

My family and the families of my three uncles would picnic at my grandparents’ farm in rural New Jersey. As a pre-teen, my father taught me to target shoot at cans with his 410 shotgun. I had fun. The “rural” high school I attended permitted students with a parental note and a hunting license to have an excused absence on the first day of hunting and deer seasons. After my 1967 college graduation, I returned to teach at that high school and retired after 33 years. The hunting privilege was phased out of the student handbook in the early 1970s.

As a public school student, the worst threat I had to avoid was a fight. As a teacher, the worst threats we encountered, beginning in the late 70s, were false telephoned bomb threats causing evacuations. Police would arrive, search the buildings and never find anything resembling a bomb. Eventually these bomb threats ended.

In 1966, Americans were horrified by a young man whose undiagnosed brain tumor conceivably altered his personality. He killed 17 people from the Texas Tower. Although not used by that shooter, the M16 was adopted in 1964 for military use and deployed to Viet Nam shortly thereafter. (It was based on the ArmaLite AR-15.) The intent of these weapons with their minimum fire rate of 700 rounds per minute was to kill as many enemy combatants as quickly as possible. Colt began selling its semi-automatic version with a five-round clip in 1964. This was followed by other manufacturers.

Civilian buyers bought the semi-automatic versions for sport. The bump stock was invented and manufactured by a retired Air Force veteran in 2010. It enabled the shooter near the Oct. 1, 2017, Las Vegas music festival to kill 58 and wound 422 within 10 minutes. This was deadly “sport.”

Since 1966 there have been at least 19 multiple killings involving students in public schools and colleges. One hundred ninety-three have been killed and 732 wounded. AR-15 style rifles have been used in several but not all of these assaults. Congress banned assault rifle sales for 10 years in 1994 but allowed prior owners to keep theirs.

One would think that the 15 deaths at Columbine High in 1999 and the 28 elementary school deaths at Sandy Hook would have motivated legislators to enact legislation to minimize the likelihood of similar tragedies. The Feb. 14 massacre at Stoneman Douglass left 15 students and two staff dead and 14 others wounded. Might this latest tragedy cause legislators to finally realize that they must protect civilians, especially students? A few state and federal lawmakers have prevented any meaningful regulation for protection from such killings. They must finally realize that they have to protect civilians, especially students, rather than bowing to the NRA, the firearm manufacturers’ or their lobbying groups.

“Thoughts and prayers” will never be enough. The surviving students from Stoneman Douglass have taken on adult responsibilities as they speak out against legislative inaction. They have organized, traveled to Tallahassee confronting the Governor and legislators, gone to Washington to talk to POTUS, been on CNN challenging NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch (who dodged directly answering questions), and have planned a mass protest in Washington, D.C. for March 24. These students are or will soon be voters. Their actions are motivating other young adults to support their movement. They have already earned the respect of many voters nationwide who are agreeing with their opinions and proposed actions. Politicians had best be wary.

A consensus is forming. What should happen? State and federal legislators should make the legal firearm purchase age 21. Bump stocks and rapid fire modifications to assault weapons should be outlawed. Magazine capacities should be limited to 10. Comprehensive background checks should be required for any transfer of firearms, eliminating the private sale, internet sale and gun show sale loopholes. There should be a nationwide mandate, including our military, to report individuals deemed unfit to own firearms to the National Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and the National Crime Information System (NCIC) ensuring fast but accurate completion of background checks. Failure to comply must carry severe penalties.

The wait time for background check completion should be extended to five days. Anyone on the no-fly and terror watch lists should be prohibited from buying firearms.

In the Heller decision of 2008, even Justice Scalia believed the Second Amendment does not assure unlimited access to all types of firearms. None of these proposals involve taking away firearms from responsible owners nor will they undermine one’s Second Amendment rights despite the NRA’s repeated propaganda.

What shouldn’t happen? Do not arm teachers! When a shooting is reported, a SWAT team is often sent and will be looking for anyone with a gun. It will prevent that person from using it, possibly fatally. A well-trained civilian, like a well-trained police officer, could mistakenly shoot an innocent person. If a teacher is carrying a gun someone could grab it and shoot. If it’s locked in a desk, reaction would be slowed. (Desks are easily broken into if no one is in the room.) A “…good guy with a gun…” isn’t a good answer. States rights shouldn’t be overridden by allowing open carry reciprocity as is currently being considered.

“Hardening” schools against shootings will likely be more costly than states or communities can afford. Southeastern High School in Shelbyville, Indiana is considered the “safest” school in America. (Search it!) It cost over $400,000 to make it so. Many schools, like Stoneman Douglass, are multi-building campuses making costs even higher. Schools should not be turned into bunkers. That would promote an atmosphere deleterious to a learning environment.

An assault-type rifle is not a weapon for self-protection for civilians. It is not a hunting firearm. A hand gun is not effective for self protection unless one is highly trained. A shotgun would be more effective. Regardless, any firearm should be kept unloaded and securely locked away so that young children cannot shoot themselves or others because they think it’s a toy to play with. We’ve all heard these stories. “Common sense” isn’t common. Rational and effective laws are possible. They will require a calm review by the populace and by legislators who care more for the well being of all of us than for their reelection.

Alan P. Gaddis

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