Opinion » Ted Rall

A Pen at a Gunfight

Gun-control advocates look foolish, weak

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You know the ritual: gunman goes berserk, liberals call for gun control, regulation eventually ensues.

The modern gun-control movement began in 1981 after the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. Press Secretary James Brady, shot and paralyzed in the same incident, successfully lobbied for the passage of the Brady Law, which imposed a background check and waiting period of up to three days for gun buyers. The 1999 shooting spree at Columbine High School resulted in new laws making it illegal to buy a gun on behalf of a criminal or a child seeking to evade the Brady Law requirements. Congress funded state-run databases of the mentally ill, also prohibited under Brady, after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech.

On July 20, a man used multiple weapons--including a semi-automatic rifle with a 100-round magazine--to murder 12 filmgoers in Aurora, Colo. (The clip jammed after he fired 30 rounds.) Last week, a white supremacist and washed-up U.S. soldier mowed down six people attending services at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Every day, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg reminded us, 34 Americans are shot to death.

So what new gun-control laws can we expect? None.

Neither the White House nor Congressional Democrats have any appetite for taking on the powerful NRA during a close election year. Polls show the public sharply split on the issue. After the shooting at the Sikh temple President Barack Obama offered nothing more than pabulum: "Terrible, tragic events are happening with too much regularity for us not to do some soul-searching to examine additional ways that we can reduce violence."

Either you're serious about eliminating gun violence, or you're not. "Soul-searching" isn't going to block the next bullet fired by a madman--but the law, coupled with rigorous enforcement, can.

I am a pro-gun leftie. Here's why: 60 million Americans own 200 million firearms.

Who are they? Right-wingers, mostly. There are about 25 percent more gun-owning Republicans than gun-owning Democrats. Some of these conservatives send me death threats. As long as they are allowed to buy and possess guns, I'll be damned if I let the government pass a law that stops me from defending myself if one of them comes after me.

This is an arms race. The only way I'll turn against the Second Amendment is if the cops go door-to-door, confiscate and destroy everybody's guns. All of them. Even the tiny little lady pistols.

Even then, I'd still be nervous. Because state security apparatus would then have a monopoly on firepower. We're not there yet, but given the relentless rightward drift of our politics from democracy into police state authoritarianism toward neofascism, and given what we're already seeing--legalized torture, concentration camps, police department drone planes, a president who says he has the right to assassinate U.S. citizens without trial--one can easily foresee the day when we might be forced to fend off the jack-booted thugs of a future rogue American state.

But that's my personal, possibly paranoid, take about a possible dystopian future. As a nation, here and now, there's a valid argument to be made that we've outgrown the right to bear arms. We're no longer a frontier society. We're urban and suburban, not rural; less than 2 percent of Americans still live on farms; 95 percent of us don't hunt; those who still hunt do it for fun not food. We haven't had to repel a land invasion by foreign troops since 1812. Why do we need guns?

The NRA may sound hysterical--it's certainly opportunistic, having called for donations three days after Aurora--but it's right about gun-control advocates. Anti-gun liberals say they favor "common-sense measures that protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens but make it harder and harder for those who should not have weapons under existing law to obtain them, " as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says Obama wants.

Proposals to tighten controls on automatic assault rifles and reduce the number of bullets per clip merely nibble around the edges of a serious issue.

There are too many guns already out there, too many legally purchased weapons that can be sold privately without being subjected to the Brady Law, for such half-measures to have any effect beyond possibly reducing the body count of the next group killing.

If you're serious about putting an end to America's bloody love affair with guns, you're going to have to repeal the Second Amendment. Everyone, including Democrats, knows that. But it's hard to get behind a gun ban that's only supported by 26 percent of the public (a record low, down from 60 percent in 1959). Liberal gun opponents must either embrace a radical and unpopular measure--the only one that might stand a chance of having the desired effect--or keep proposing wimpy changes that make them look foolish half-assed and intellectually dishonest.

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