After a savage attack last week in a gay nightclub in Orlando that killed more people than any mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Connecticut and America are waking up with a gun hangover. They only question is whether it’ll wear off and allow the nation to return to business as usual, or whether the headache and shame are so severe as to effect a real change in lifestyle. I’m hoping for the latter.
For obvious reasons, we in Connecticut — home of the former Sandy Hook Elementary School — are especially sensitive to such tragedy. In addition to the Newtown massacre, we’ve seen others, most notably the killing of four state lottery executives in 1998 and the execution of eight workers at the Hartford Beer Distributors six years ago.
Curiously, however, we were — and still are — home to a who’s-who of gun manufacturers, including Colt, Remington, Sturm Ruger, O.F. Mossberg, and Stag Arms. So it is perhaps a defensive reflex that some politicians in our state are quick to call for tighter controls on firearms. After all, these are dangerous weapons owned, manufactured, and deployed to kill people right in our midst.
In the days after the Pulse attacks in Orlando, at least four Connecticut politicians have emerged on the federal level to call attention to the need for Congress to act in addressing gun violence. Reps. John Larson, Joe Courtney, and Jim Himes walked off the floor of the House Monday during a moment of silence for the 49 dead.
“Silence,” Himes told his colleagues. “That is how the leadership of the most powerful country in the world will respond to this week’s massacre of its citizens . . . Not me. Not anymore. I will no longer stand here absorbing the faux concern, contrived gravity and tepid smugness of a House complicit in the weekly bloodshed.”
Himes has a point. We have a public health crisis. Why can’t we do something? The federal government responded to unacceptable vehicle-crash death rates by mandating the installation in cars and trucks of seat belts and, later, airbags. Yet we are told by gun rights advocates that the only response to 30,000 deaths per year at the barrel of a gun should be quick background checks and harsher punishments for gun crimes.
I recall being a guest on the WTIC radio show of former Republican Gov. John Rowland a few months after Newtown. We both talked about how the Second Amendment had its limits and how neither of us had a problem with banning semi-automatic assault rifles and extended-clips of the sort Adam Lanza used to massacre 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook.
Rowland noted — and I later experienced during the show — an oft-used ploy of the those he called the “gun nuts”: attack gun control advocates with lots of technical statements and queries (e.g.“How do you define an assault weapon?” . . . “Do you know how many bullets it takes to stop a person from attacking you?”). Those kinds of questions are designed to make you feel delegitimized and to remove your standing to participate in the conversation. Besides, the maneuver has a hollow ring. I know plenty of gun control advocates who feel free to weigh in on all manner of other subjects they know little or nothing about, but they think you must be an expert to talk about a public health crisis involving guns? Please.
Back to the Connecticut response to Orlando. Sen. Chris Murphy may have outdone himself when he led a Senate filibuster for nearly 15 hours starting late Wednesday morning and extending into the wee hours of Thursday morning. There was a great deal of grandstanding — that is, after all, what a filibuster is — but Murphy did an admirable job of drawing attention to one of his favorite subjects and eventually secured a commitment from Republicans to schedule votes to close the “terror gap” and expand background checks for firearm purchases. Baby steps.
After the era of Al Capone, Congress acted to ban the “tommy gun,” the short machine gun favored by mobsters with a cylindrical drum of bullets hanging from the barrel. Is there any law-abiding citizen in the nation who thinks we should bring tommy guns back?
That having been said, let us not fool ourselves into thinking banning AR-15s and Bushmaster M4s will make a huge difference in the death toll. The overwhelming majority of gun deaths are committed by shooters with concealable handguns, many of which were bought on the black market or at gun shows out of the reach of background checks and other more stringent controls. Try regulating them and see how far you get.
But Murphy, Larson, Himes, and Courtney are to be commended for drawing attention to the need for federal action. In a blue state like Connecticut, their actions aren’t exactly courageous but their cries for action just might prod Congress to make these weapons of mass destruction more difficult to obtain.
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