Gun control redux: Obama must step up and implement strong gun laws

If Newtown and Sandy Hook Elementary School, Connecticut, are the safest places in America, as asserted by some, which child, parent or anyone is safe from the mix of lax gun laws and mental illness anywhere in the country today? An emotional President Barack Obama appeared serious last week when he promised after the deaths of 26 Americans, 20 of them school children, "meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this."

In drafting America's first effective federal legislation, Obama and the Congress might note that Canada's homicide rate is about 1.6 per 100,000 residents. This contrasts with America's rate of 4.8.

As Robert Spitzer puts it in The Politics of Gun Control, "…in recent years, more than thirty thousand Americans have been killed annually as the result of the homicidal, accidental and suicidal use of guns. In all, Americans wielding guns intimidate, wound and kill hundreds of thousands of people every year."

The absence of effective gun laws at the national level is no doubt a major cause of this ongoing mayhem. Guns are a force multiplier, which increase the danger an unhinged individual (or a fully-hinged person with malevolent intent) can pose.

Taking meaningful action could start with two steps. The first would be to ban semi-automatic weapons. If it were illegal to own such weapons, the tragedy at Sandy Hook might not have occurred. The killer's mother would not have had them in her home for her son to access. This mother, teachers and their young students would not have lost their lives because of her available legally-owned weapons.

A semi-automatic weapon ban might also have prevented the shootings at the theater in Aurora, Colorado, the Wisconsin Sikh temple, the Oregon mall, the Columbine massacre, and the Virginia Tech massacre. All of them were carried out with legally-owned semiautomatic weapons. Stopping such carnage requires an effective ban.

A second step would be to ban the possession of ammunition by those persons who 'collect' firearms. Collectors who demand their 'rights' should be told that their right to collect firearms will in future be balanced by the public's right to be free from their inherent lethality with misuse. Guns ... in the hands of the wrong people ... do kill people. Why not make it a crime for gun collectors to possess ammunition for their weapons on the premise that 'collectors' do not need ammunition?

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been an outspoken gun control advocate for years. He notes that his state has some of the toughest gun laws in the country; New York City also enjoys the lowest murder rate of any big American city.

Bloomberg says openly that Americans who wish to use firearms should join the army or the police and that ordinary citizens don't need them. In the wake of the Connecticut rampage, he stresses that President Obama's priority should be to lead the country on gun control. The president's job "is to perform and to protect the American public" Bloomberg said in a recent interview, adding that it's time for Obama to stand up and tell the country what needs to happen, not go to Congress and ask what lawmakers want to do.

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Author Robert Spitzer concludes that effective gun regulation across the U.S. requires a brand new framework despite thousands of regulations at the state and municipal levels. While acknowledging that the gun regulations in the state of New York are still among the toughest in the country, he notes that its firearms bureau data indicates that 80 to 90 per cent of the guns used in crimes across the state come from outside its boundaries.

Despite the power of the National Rifle Association and the bitter partisan divide in Congress, the time has come for a national conversation about gun control; Obama's call for meaningful action must be addressed.

Probably no justice issue divides Canadians from Americans more than the control of handguns, assault rifles and other weapons. Our own nationals are often victims of the current toothless federal regulation of guns in the U.S. The measures at the state and municipal level differ so widely that weapons which are declared restricted in Canada and most countries often appear to flow virtually unimpeded from states with weak laws to ones with stronger regulations and across international borders.

Responsible gun regulation in America and the accompanying reduced gun violence can only be achieved nationally in Washington.

David Kilgour is co-chair of the Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran and a director of the Washington-based Council for a Community of Democracies (CCD). He is a former MP for both the Conservative and Liberal Parties in the south-east region of Edmonton and has also served as the Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa, Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific and Deputy Speaker of the House.

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