Scott Mackay Commentary: Time To Get Serious About Guns

Oct 6, 2017

The mass shooting last week at a country music festival in Las Vegas has renewed conversation about gun control. RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay says its way past time to get tougher on this issue. 

From sea to shining sea, it’s become a sad ritual: Another murderous shooting with military-style rifles, this time amid the glitz of Vegas. 

The reaction is much the same as it was in such tragedies as Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and the Pulse nightclub in Florida. Politicians offer up platitudes and prayers, vigils are held and the media chronicles the innocent lives cut short by another plague of violence.

There is much hand-wringing. Those who support gun control ask what will it take for our country to deal with gun violence that claims more than 30,000 each year in America. Conservatives and the National Rifle Association assert that the aftermath of a tragedy is not the time to address gun issues.

There is a glimmer of hope this time; even the NRA has said it would be willing to discuss regulating devices, known as “bump stocks” that are designed to allow semi-automatic to function like military-style automatic weapons.

But the NRA and the Republicans who control both houses of Congress aren’t willing to consider more sweeping rules that could help reduce the epidemic of gun violence, which has taken more than 300,000 lives since 9/11.

Gun related deaths are much higher in the United States than anywhere else in the industrialized world.

So that means citizens who are aghast at these shootings and want to do something about them must act locally. In this realm, there is some good news for residents of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, two states with among the nation’s strongest gun  laws. Both states have among the nation’s lowest gun violence rates.

“We are the NRA’s worst nightmare,” says John Rosenthal, co-founder of Massachusetts-based Stop Handgun Violence. He adds, “We have proven that gun laws work.”

In Rhode Island, the General Assembly recently approved a measure aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence by stripping guns from their abusers. The legislation took effect recently after a long and torturous negotiation between lobbyists and lawmakers, those who wanted to crack down on domestic abusers and those who argued it would infringe on gun owners’ rights.
THE NRA and its allies argue that laws regulating guns don’t reduce gun-related crime. It’s the same simplistic argument pitched on those bumper stickers that read, “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”

Ii is time to face facts.  A recent study by the Violence Policy Center, based on information from the federal Centers for Disease Control, shows that Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii and Rhode Island have the lowest gun violence rates among the 50 states. The highest gun violence rates are in the states of Alaska, Louisiana, Montana, Alabama and Mississippi. This study showed that states with weak gun laws and high gun ownership rates lead the United States in gun violence.

The gun lobbyists argue that such studies are flawed because correlation does not always mean causation. Problem is, the gun lobby has pushed measures in Congress that bar the federal government from studying gun violence in any meaningful manner.

A recent Harvard study suggests that because of various loopholes, more than 20 percent of guns ar acquired without a background check. That should end.

Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements sees daily the carnage  guns on our streets. A big problem is that guns purchased in southern states with lax gun laws end up illegally in Providence. Clements suggests banning assault rifles and high-capacity clips. Yet, he isn’t naïve; he says there is no easy solution.

“We’ve got 350 million guns in this country, which is more than the population,’ says Clements.

A serious solution would be for a national gun registry that would allow police to see just how many guns an owner has. Asking the NRA to permit that is like leaving the porch light on for Jimmy Hoffa.

And if you can’t buy a beer until you are 21, why are you allowed to purchase a gun?

How many more have to die before Americans get serious about gun violence. Too often in these perilous times, the prayers and vigils ring hollow.

Scott MacKay’s Commentary can be heard every Monday on Morning Edition at 6:45 and 8:45 and on All Things Considered at 5:44. You can also follow his political analysis and reporting at our “On Politics” blog at RIPR.org