Over the last three days we have heard news of several violent episodes in which guns were used to kill. On Friday we watched news reports from Binghamton in horror as details became available regarding the murder of twelve people at an immigration support center in that New York State town. The shooter in that rampage took his own life before police could apprehend him. Two days later we learned of the killing of three Pittsburgh police who were responding to a domestic violence call. The latest incident involved a husband, jealous over his wife’s decision to leave him, who killed their children and then committed suicide.
These tragic incidents are just the latest in a number of situations in which innocent people suffered at end of a gun’s barrel. It was not long ago when the nation was sympathizing with Virginia Tech University when it became a crime scene after a student killed 32 people on campus. That tragedy followed the mass killings at Columbine High School in Colorado. After each of those tragedies we thought a national consensus would emerge on gun control. We were sadly mistaken. Despite the number of innocent lives lost, our nation seems stuck on stupid when it comes to stamping out the flow and use of firearms by citizens.
For some time now the Black community has been under assault from gun violence. Just check the pages of any city newspaper or watch the local news and you will learn of a death resulting from a gunshot. Some of the violence is attributed to drugs and some to domestic disputes, but whatever the source of the conflict; guns are the weapon of choice for resolution. Easy access to firearms has made gun violence a public health epidemic in our cities. It is why the retort of gun advocates that “guns don’t kill, people do,” would only make sense if these violent acts were committed with knives or some other instrument. Guns are the preferred weapon because of their killing proficiency.
The gun lobby has been effective at yelling foul and throwing up the Second Amendment every time the public and lawmakers seems ready to tackle gun control. Hopefully, these latest tragedies will motivate Congress to put the interests of public safety before the whining of the N.R.A. over the infringement of their constitutional rights. Just as the old adage that the First Amendment does not give you the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, the Second Amendment should be given a similar treatment when it comes to the question of unfettered access and use of firearms. Yet, we know that this issue runs into a roadblock at the Supreme Court and that is why drastic measures may need to be taken by the President.
We desperately need real gun control in the United States. While many people who own registered firearms act responsibly in their care and use, there is a gaping hole in our current system’s ability to track firearms and determine the competency of the owner. The acts in Binghamton and Pittsburgh were committed with high-powered automatic weapons, and in both instances, the perpetrators were apparently heavily armed and protected, and prepared to take on law enforcement. We have long since crossed the threshold of common sense when it comes to prohibiting access to assault style weapons and instituting harsh penalties for their possession and discharge.
The time has come to declare gun violence a national emergency. Changes to the law after the Virginia Tech incident may not be enough to seriously curtail gun violence. It is not enough to have gun registration laws, the government must take drastic measures to secure the public’s safety, including confiscation and requiring psychological examinations, along with an extended wait period and training certification, before a permit is issued. That, of course, will not deter individuals who buy guns illegally or gun traders who sell them outside the reach of the law.
For those individuals, the government needs to apply the same principles it does to racketeering charges against organized crime figures or white collar criminals. Until the full weight of the government, meaning police, F.B.I., I.R.S., etc, is brought down on the illegal gun market, and stringent gun ownership rules are put in place, we will continue to see the blood shed we witnessed in Binghamton and Pittsburgh. The current environment endangers the public and law enforcement alike.