Photo Caption: On Jan. 16th, President Obama wrote 20 executive actions to curb gun violence comprehensively. Photo credit: Reuters.
Whenever there is a mass shooting at a school, a movie theater, a shopping mall, or a local bar, there is an immediate cry for gun control legislation. And when such legislation is proposed, it’s only a question of time until the National Rifle Association (NRA) flexes its muscles and dilutes the laws that actually pass. This time, after a shooting in which 20 elementary school-age students in Newton, Conn. were killed by a madman with assault weapons, the Obama Administration was quick to respond with a comprehensive, ambitious menu of proposed legislation.
Are the gun safety proposals advanced by the Obama Administration sufficient to address the threats we face as a society? Or, are they merely lip service that offers band-aid solutions that only scratch the surface of a deeper, endemic societal problem? To me, the test of effectiveness is whether these proposals make me feel safer. Increased background checks? Sure, sounds reasonable. An emphasis on mental health treatment? Absolutely. Shine the light on those who need help. Increasing the database to identify those who shouldn’t own guns? Sure, let’s find ways to make sure that people with troubling backgrounds don’t fall through the cracks and get access to guns. A ban on assault rifles? That’s a no-brainer. Limits on ammunition capacity? Sure. Guns don’t kill people, bullets kill people.
At first glance, these gun safety proposals make a lot of sense. Then you remember, there are a lot of guns out there. America’s love affair with guns is legendary. According to the Congressional Research Service, there were an estimated 310 million privately held firearms for the estimated population of 314 million people in the United States. According to the last census, 48 percent of Americans reported having at least one gun in the household. You are left to wonder: How many firearms are already in the hands of those extremely angry individuals with a grudge against society?
So what can be done to make me feel safe? The NRA advances the position that schools would be safer if school officials carried guns. Pistol-packing math teachers? That is not a good idea in an urban high school setting. For schools with no-tolerance policies for weapons, the intent is to limit, not increase the number of weapons in schools. As someone who has official business in local schools, I can state that school security and safety is a top priority. Access (doorways) to schools must be closely monitored. I’ll admit, however, that security is tighter in secondary schools than in elementary schools. Increased police presence is a positive, but you wonder whether we are sacrificing a sense of freedom for a sense of security.
We all know people who have been killed by gunfire. My friend, Denise Louie, was murdered in 1977 in a cross fire of Chinese gangs shooting up the Golden Dragon Restaurant in San Francisco. Thirteen Chinese community members were murdered during a robbery in 1981, the Wah Mee Massacre, the worst mass shooting in Seattle history. We have had friends shot during drive-by shootings. We lamented. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The only effective means of gun safety is to confiscate all of those weapons out there — but that’s not going to happen. So, you hope that when you are in a store, it’s not the time that an angry ex-employee decides to take out his revenge on his co-workers with an assault rifle. You hope that when you are driving on the freeway, it’s not the time that you cut off the guy in the next lane, and the next thing you know, bullets are flying toward you in a fit of road rage. You hope that when you are out taking a walk, it’s not the time that someone does a drive-by shooting aimed at you, thinking you are someone else. You hope that the day you decide to go to a movie or to the mall, it’s not the time that the crazed maniac responds to the voices he hears with an all-out arsenal of handguns, shotguns and semi-automatics. It’s not safe out there, so be careful. The gun safety legislation is really too little to make a dent. But it’s better than doing nothing.