Monday, December 17, 2012


Gun Control

Gun control is actually a misnomer – it should be called sensible gun regulation but the chances of this happening are about as great as the members of the NRA all becoming Quakers or joining CND.

So, Newtown, Connecticut joins the sad litany of communities that have suffered such unthinkable and appalling crimes. The list is long and it is not confided to one country, continent, ethnicity, religion or creed. It is truly an all-encompassing human tragedy.

Is it possible to stop such crimes? Is it possible to identify those of us who are likely to commit such crimes? Are such crimes preventable?

The answer to each of the above is no. So, what should we do? Anything? Nothing? Give up?

The first step would be to identify the problem. Sounds simplistic, but too little is known about what makes some of us “snap” in such an unimaginable manner. We must not abandon efforts to come to a better understanding just because the task seems so difficult. As the old saying goes “ An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

By all accounts, the perpetrator of this tragedy would fit most criteria for mental illness.

Unfortunately, so would a large number of others who pose no risk to society. Are we likely any time soon to be able to identify potential mass murderers? No.

Does that mean that we should give up trying to improve mental health screening and treatment? No – absolutely not.

Next we need to consider what the role of government is in the quest for some solution – or at least some improvement.

The NRA and others would have you believe that the government can have no part to play in gun control at all because of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Seems fairly simple. Or is it?

The first part is often not quoted or misquoted. This is the part that mentions a militia. In its historical context this makes perfect sense. In 1787 most of the country was not settled. Indian intrusions in the parts west of the Appalachians were a real and present danger.

George Washington's early military career was spent in the Virginia militia. The Founding Fathers recognised that the citizen soldier was invaluable in maintaining order on the frontier. They were also vehemently opposed to the English practice of hiring mercenaries. They believed, quite rightly, that a citizen force drawn from the local community would best serve the need of the new nation. In this they cannot be faulted, even after 200-odd years. The citizen militia is guaranteed by the Second Amendment. Unlimited access, use and ownership of guns is not.

It's the second part that causes controversy. “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”.

The Supreme Court has ruled - When the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008, it was the first time the Court had considered the meaning of the Second Amendment in 69 years.

In the previous case,
U.S. v. Miller (1939), the Court noted: “In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a [sawed-off shotgun] at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. Certainly, it is not within judicial notice that this weapon is any part of the ordinary military equipment or that its use could contribute to the common defense.”  This reaffirmed the "collective right" interpretation of the Amendment that federal courts had taken since 1791.

In fact, no federal appellate court had adopted an "individual right" interpretation of the Amendment until the 2003 case of
U.S. v. Emerson. Yet in the Heller case a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court ruled that, "The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home." The ruling overturned a long-standing ban on handguns in the District of Columbia. It was the first time in history that a gun control law had been struck down on Second Amendment grounds.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, made an important qualification, however.
"Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited," he stated. "The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on long standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." My italics.

it is clear that there is no unqualified right to bear arms. The question is how do we quantify the right guaranteed in the Constitution?

On one side we have the people who believe that the right extends to carrying any kind of firearm and also carrying it as a concealed weapon if they choose. Others believe the right does not extend so far. What is clear is that the Supreme Court has been very reluctant to rule on the over-arching provisions of the Second Amendment.

With good cause – it's a minefield.

The English Media is predictably confused on the issue – not quite realising that the Constitution is the US equivalent of the Queen; so, changing it is tantamount to replacing the monarchy.

Does this mean that nothing can be done? Not necessarily.

Many people have conveniently forgotten that during the Prohibition era Congress did impost limits on the Second Amendment.

In 1934 FDR took action with the National Firearms Act

Brought about by the lawlessness and rise of gangster culture during prohibition, President Franklin D. Roosevelt hoped this act would eliminate automatic-fire weapons like machine guns from America's streets. Other firearms such as short-barrelled shotguns and rifles, parts of guns like silencers, as well as other "gadget-type" firearms hidden in canes and such were also targeted. All gun sales and gun manufacturers were slapped with a $200 tax (no small amount for Americans mired in the Great Depression; that would be like a tax of $2,525 today) on each firearm, and all buyers were required to fill out paperwork subject to Treasury Dept. approval.

In 1968 we got the Gun Control Act
The assassination of John F. Kennedy, who was killed by a mail-order gun that belonged to Lee Harvey Oswald, inspired this major revision to federal gun laws. The subsequent assassinations of Martin Luther King and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy fuelled its quick passage. License requirements were expanded to include more dealers, and more detailed record keeping was expected of them; handgun sales over state lines were restricted; the list of persons dealers . . .

The key element of this bill outlawed mail order sales of rifles and shotguns; Up until this law, mail order consumers only had to sign a statement that they were over 21 years of age for a handgun (18 for rifle or shotgun); it also detailed more persons who were banned from possessing certain guns, including drug users, and further restricted shotgun and rifles sales.

In 1986

Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act

Made it illegal for anyone to manufacture or import armour piercing ammunition, or "cop-killer bullets," which are capable of penetrating bulletproof clothing.

Firearms Owners' Protection Act

Eased restrictions on gun sellers and the sale of some guns. Imposed additional penalties for persons using a firearm during certain crimes and persons with robbery or burglary convictions who are illegally shipping guns.

The idea that the government has not and cannot limit the sale, use, possession or ownership of guns is simply wrong. The government has and continues to do so.

The question then must be has any of this done any good?

The answer is a qualified yes.

In general crime and particularly crimes of violence using firearms has been falling. It is still far higher than even in neighbouring Canada, but the trend is downwards.

Unfortunately, this is not relevant to preventing people who are clearly not in control of their faculties from committing another Sandy Hook. People as these are not deterred as “normal” criminals are. No amount of judicial punishment or restrictions will stop them.

This is a good time to see what others are doing. Gun crime is international. It knows no national, ethnic, religious or cultural boundaries.


The Sandy Hook episode pales in comparison to Oslo/Utoya, Norway in 2011. Anders Breivik, 33, murdered 69 people – mostly on Utoya island in Oslo fiord with an additional 8 killed when he bombed a government building in Oslo.

“July 22, 2011 will live long in the memory of all Norwegians after the carnage that unfolded that day.

After detonating a bomb outside the prime minister's office in Oslo, killing eight people, Anders Behring Breivik took a ferry to Utoya Island and embarked on a shooting spree that took the lives of another 69 people attending a youth camp. Total killed 77 and many were youth workers meeting on Utoya for a conference.

Authorities said Breivik roamed the island shooting at campers, before members of an elite Norwegian police unit took him into custody.

In August this year, Breivik, who boasted of being an ultra-nationalist who killed his victims to fight multiculturalism in Norway, was judged to be sane at the time and sentenced to 21 years in prison after being charged with voluntary homicide and committing acts of terror.

An independent report into the worst atrocity on Norwegian soil since World War II blamed a series of intelligence and planning failures for delaying the police arrival on the island by 30 minutes.

Despite ownership and the type of ammunition permitted for use being tightly regulated, the report also criticized Norway's gun controls as "inadequate." It called for a total ban on semi-automatic weapons of the type Breivik purchased with relative ease.

Like Finland, Norway has a high number of guns in circulation with hunting a national pastime. According to the Small Arms Survey 2007: Guns and the City," there are almost 32 firearms per 100 people in Norway. This compares to 88.82 per 100 in the United States.”

This case is unusual in that Breivik was arrested and stood trial. The judges ruled, perversely in my view, that he was sane at the time of the killings.

In one of his first acts as leader, Prime Minister John Howard announced major reforms to Australia's gun control laws just 12 days after 35 people died at the hands of a lone gunman wielding a military-style semi-automatic rifle at a popular tourist spot in Tasmania on April 28, 1996.
In the wave of public revulsion against what became known as the Port Arthur massacre, the move for stricter gun controls was led by Howard, who had taken office just seven weeks earlier and who, in the first few hours after the tragedy, declared himself horrified "at this shocking and senseless act."
He took his anti-gun campaign around the country, at one stage addressing a hostile pro-gun rally wearing a bullet-proof vest. He also oversaw a successful gun "buy-back" scheme that took some 650,000 guns out of circulation.
Australia's eight states and territories got behind legislation that addressed mass shootings: High calibre rifles and shotguns were banned, licensing was tightened and remaining firearms were registered to uniform national standards -- an accomplishment regarded by many in the country as Howard's enduring legacy.
Australia has been compared to the United States for its "frontier mentality." But unlike the U.S., there is no constitutional right to bear arms, gun ownership is markedly lower and American-style gun culture has taken hold in only a few pockets of Australian society -- most notably among the crime gangs operating in the two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne.
Finland enjoys a strong tradition of hunting and has a high proportion of gun ownership, with 1.5 million firearms owned in a nation of more than five million people, according to government figures.
Gun control has also been more relaxed here. Until recently anyone aged 15 and over was able to apply for a gun license if they offered a valid reason such as membership of a gun club.
Though gun crime is rare, the country has suffered two major incidents at schools in recent years.
On November 7, 2007, a teenager opened fire with a handgun at his high school in the southern Finnish town of Tuusula, killing eight people before fatally turning the gun on himself.
Police said all of 18-year-old Pekka-Eric Auvinen's victims had multiple gunshot wounds, most to the upper body and head. Some 69 shells and more than 320 unused bullets were found at the scene.
Auvinen, who had no criminal record, obtained a license for the weapon the previous month and regularly practiced sharp-shooting as a hobby at a local range, police said.
The authorities said Auvinen, who police later described as lonely and antisocial (my italics), had posted a series of videos on YouTube featuring guns, with some hinting at the massacre at Jokela High School itself.
The following year, on September 23, the country was numbed by news of another mass shooting. Over the course of 90 minutes, 10 people were fatally shot as Matti Juhani Saari, wearing a ski mask and black fatigues, rampaged through a campus at Kauhajoki city's School of Hospitality in south-western Finland.
The 22-year-old later died in hospital from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Chillingly, police revealed Saari had been questioned days before the shooting about a video posted on the internet showing him firing a gun, though no action was taken because he was licensed and had not broken the law.
In the wake of the shootings, the Finnish government moved to issue new guidelines on the use of firearms, particularly handguns and revolvers. New applicants for handgun licenses are now required to show they've been active members of a gun club for one year and be vetted by their doctor and police.
The minimum age for purchasing licenses of short barrel weapons has been raised to 20 -- 18 for hunting rifles. Permits are now valid for a period of five years before being reviewed.

Despite relatively limited gun ownership and availability, Britain has experienced several mass shootings in the past 25 years.

On August 19, 1987, 27-year-old Michael Ryan went on a bloody rampage for several hours in the southern English town of Hungerford, Berkshire armed with a pistol, hand grenade and an automatic rifle. He murdered 16 people and wounded over a dozen others, before he shot himself after being tracked down in a college building in the town.

In the wake of the Hungerford massacre, Britain introduced new legislation -- Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 -- making registration mandatory for owning shotguns and banning semi-automatic and pump-action weapons.

Nine years later, on March 13, 1996, 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton burst into a school in the picturesque town of Dunblane in central Scotland and embarked on a terrifying shooting spree that left 16 five and six-year-old children and their teacher dead. The former scoutmaster turned one of the four pistols he was carrying on himself.

The following year, a new law -- Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997 -- was passed effectively banning the private ownership of all handguns in the UK. This followed a highly successful public campaign in the months after Dunblane that included a petition being handed to the government with almost 750,000 signatures, according to British media reports.

Britain was shaken by another massacre in June 2010 when a lone gunman, named as Derrick Byrd, killed 12 people and injured almost 30 others after a near four-hour shooting spree in rural Cumbria, northern England. After a huge manhunt, the body of the 52-year-old taxi driver was found alongside two powerful rifles, one equipped with a telescopic sight. He had taken his own life. Police were investigating 30 crime scenes at one point.

The tragedy again raised questions about the effectiveness of Britain's gun laws after it was revealed Byrd was licensed to carry firearms. The licensing application process involves being vetted by police as well as the applicant's doctor to assess their fitness to own a weapon.

Enough said? There is no American gun control problem – there is a universal, world-wide gun control problem with some unidentifiable individuals killing their fellow men. No country has the monopoly on gun crime. We are all in this together.

What's to be done? President Obama has hinted at some measures. There is very little chance that any legislation will be forth-coming. The world moves on. It's sad but true. There is no appetite in America for legislation.

But, some of the crazier aspects of local laws may be shamed into oblivion. The idea that we should have more guns being carried by citizens, either openly or concealed, is more that idiotic – it's just plain criminal.

There is this notion that maybe if the teachers had been armed at Sandy Hook or the caretaker or the principal or the janitor or casual passers-by then the tragedy could have been prevented.

What tosh!

The more people we have routinely carrying guns the more deaths we will suffer.

Of course, you and I are fine – but what about him down the road? Or Uncle Joe? Or Jasper, the coon-hunting red-neck who is by common consent three short of a six-pack? (Great – give him one of the semi-automatics, I hear the nuts saying)

Arming school personnel would only result in so many more tragic accidents that Sandy Hook would look like a Girl Scouts picnic.

Ok, let's put police in every school.

There's an idea? Maybe cops on very street corner, 7-Eleven, Mom and Pop store, shopping mall, sports event, kindergarten, grade school, high school, university and college, bar, country club, VA hospital, America Legion Hall. (This list is as inexhaustible as is is silly and fruitless. - who is going to pay for all this – the NRA – the already hard-pressed tax payer – the ACLU – it's just beyond belief that some rational people I know are advocating this kind of prescription – think – think – this would not save a single life – it never has!)

Some people are just not thinking.

Time to make my recommendations.

Let's increase the spending on mental health.

Let's try to reduce the guns in society which have nothing to do with hunting. (BTW the best hunting weapon I know of is a .50 calibre machine gun – you can hit a target a half- a mile away – I know I qualified at Ft Hood, Texas in 1968 – BTW is the NRA advocating twin 50's mounted on the back of Ford Broncos?)

Let's have a grown-up debate about gun legislation – not the silly ideas that we are currently being snowed under by. I support the Second Amendment. I support the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Let's do all we can to make sure our citizens are safe at home, work, school or wherever.

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