In the wake of the latest shooting outrage in Colorado, we’ve been treated to the usual nonsense from the gun nuts and right-wing punditry. Washington Post columnist E J Dionne wrote two excellent columns (here and here) on the subject in which he eviscerated the arguments of the NRA and its allies on why sensible restrictions on guns are both necessary and potentially effective and on their efforts to stifle even the semblance of a debate. He also bemoaned the cowardice of those who support such laws but meekly accept their powerlessness in the face of the gun lobby’s political and financial muscle.
A particularly absurd assertion by opponents of gun control is that gun laws don’t work. If that were the case, the murder rate from shootings in the United Kingdom, which essentially bans the sale and possession of hand guns, would be no different from ours (there is little difference in rates for other types of crime between the two countries). Instead, the United States has the highest murder rate of any advanced nation and the gap is much greater when shooting deaths alone are counted.
Obviously, a total ban never was on the cards for the United States and is now impossible thanks to the interpretation of the Second Amendment by the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court. But there is another more realistic model we could follow: Canada.
Canada is an example of a country with a thriving but stringently regulated gun culture. The result is a country where there are plenty of gun owners but the homicide rate is a fraction of our own.
Requirements imposed on Canadians include mandatory firearms training and an approved method of safe storage. Even the conveyance of firearms is strictly regulated. The key, however, to Canada’s lower rate of gun violence is the focus on ensuring as far as humanly possible that the wrong person is not issued with a license to possess a firearm. For example, in addition to the usual background checks, an applicant must provide references from individuals who know the applicant and can attest to the fact that they know of no reason why he or she should not be issued with a license to own a firearm. That requirement alone would prevent many dangerous individuals from legally obtaining a gun; the alleged shooter in Colorado, for example, would have had a tough time coming up with such references judging by his isolated life style (one mirrored in the Virginia Tech shooter and many other perpetrators of mass shootings).
The folks at the NRA love to point to the myriad gun laws on the books in America. The problem, as they well know, is that most of these are local and state laws which vary greatly in reach and effectiveness. What we need are more effective and stringent national laws such as closing the gun show loophole and banning assault rifles. States also need to pull back on the whole idea of concealed weapon permits. Add to that wish list some ideas from Canada such as imposing safe weapons storage requirements and, most important of all, establishing a more rigorous screening system for all potential gun buyers.
We don’t have to nor should we live in fear of our movie theatres, shopping malls, work places or schools becoming war zones. Common sense laws can be highly effective but we need to start standing up to the gun zealots in this country and rewarding politicians who do likewise. Is that really asking too much?