It’s time for Aurora and Colorado to get real about the divisive issue of gun control.
Reality seems to avoid those on both sides of the argument.
This week, Democrats in the state House pushed through two measures that seek to diminish the likelihood of another shooting massacre such as the ones that have rocked Aurora and Columbine High School. Realistically, the two proposals being considered won’t by themselves do much to prevent another shooting.
State Dems are looking to reduce the size of ammunition magazines to under 15 rounds. Gunmakers have created guns that fire almost endless shells in rapid fire. The idea is that after shooing 15 bullets at the most, a gunman would have to stop and reload, giving victims a chance to either escape or shoot back. Of course there’s nothing being proposed to prevent a gunman from carrying endless clips of 15 bullets, or carrying just as many loaded guns.
The measure is more feel-good lawmaking that appeals to the common sense of most Colorado residents. Why would anyone but the military or a criminal want or need a giant clip or magazine?
On the other hand, critics of this bill say it’s an infringement of Second Amendment rights to own guns. First off, there are no rights granted by the U.S. Constitution that are absolute. As a society, we have wisely agreed that a reasonable expectation of safety and comfort is the guiding force for legislation. The right to free speech is limited by safety and libel laws. The right to travel is limited by transportation rules. The right to a fair and speedy trial is limited by court rules and decorum. The right to choose a religion is limited by what a religion can legally do.
Critics of gun control are unreasonable in expecting that any gun control contraints are unconstitutional.
More practical is another measure passed by House Democrats that requires background checks for all gun sales. In Colorado, you must pass a criminal background check before you can purchase a gun from a store. But the law doesn’t apply to guns sold privately.
We’re agreed that as a society, we want to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, and this proposal could do just that. It’s unfair to expect those purchasing guns from stores to have to undergo anything different than those who purchase guns outside of a retailer, and it’s dangerous.
What neither of these proposed laws address is the fact that most criminals don’t buy guns from stores or gun shows. They steal guns from law-abiding citizens, other criminals or they buy them on the black market.
Clearly, the consequences for those actions need to be more serious and finely tuned, because, realistically, guns aren’t going away any time soon.
Here’s the reality, Colorado. Last year, the U.S. gun industry accounted for $11.7 billion in sales. The National Rifle Association spends hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying state and federal lawmakers and financing election campaigns. There are tens of millions of background checks completed every year. Americans spend as much on ammunition as they do guns each year.
Guns, rifles, shotguns and assault weapons are hugely popular and prolific. Legislation must be specific and quantifiable if it’s going to do any good.
What would improve public safety would be a massive increase in programs that prevent and treat mental illness, as well as programs to educate the public on when to intervene in the lives of those who are dangerously mentally ill, and especially those who have access to weapons.
Likewise, laws that limit public access to military-style weapons are a prudent way to reduce public casualties over time. Banning assault-style weapons, and these weapons are definable, is a reasonable job for the government, even though it will take years to diminish the quantity and easy access to these weapons.
There will be no easy, single or fast answers to reducing public massacres by people with guns. But realistically, a package of controls, laws and public health changes most certainly can reduce these horrific incidents.