JUNE 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 6
JAMES L. IANNONE
RELATED ARTICLES Stricter Gun Control Won't Stop the Violence RECENT COLUMN OTHER COLUMNISTS
Stricter Gun Control Won't Stop the Violence
JAMES L. IANNONE, a native of Dix Hills, Long Island (NY), is an Assistant District Attorney in New York City - Queens County. Iannone, a staff columnist, lives in Dix Hills, NY.
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JAMES L. IANNONE
Exactly one month after the tragedy at Columbine High School, Republican lawmakers in Congress were desperately trying to kill post-Columbine gun control initiatives. They said the shooting was a terrible aberration being blown out of proportion by the media. And then it happened again. Fifteen year old Thomas Solomon Jr. shot six of his classmates at Heritage High School outside Atlanta, marking the seventh school shooting in 18 months.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's murderous rampage left 15 people dead, 23 injured, and a far greater number of lives permanently shattered. The students killed at Columbine High School will soon fade into anonymity, like the victims of the other six school shootings. However, the families who have lost their sons and daughters will never forget.
The NRA's favorite slogan is "Guns don't kill people, people do." This statement is absurd; people armed with guns kill people. Guns allow a person to kill many from a distance. A knife or another weapon could never cause the type of massacre that occurred in Littleton, Colorado. Guns allow a murderer to kill and remain almost detached from the carnage.
Just how many people are killed by guns in America? According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 38,505 people died from a firearm injury in 1994. To put this number in prospective, 38,000 American soldiers died in the Korean War.
Gun advocates always argue that the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees citizens unfettered access to firearms. The Second Amendment reads, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Notice the first four words that our Founding Fathers premised the Second Amendment with: "A well regulated Militia." It seems clear that even in 1791 the Founders recognized that the State possessed regulatory authority over firearms.
It is important to remember the context in which the Second Amendment was written. The United States was, at the time, a mere four years old. We did not possess a standing army. Our nation's army was comprised of a citizen militia. Citizens of the Unites States lived in fear of Indian attacks and being invaded by the British or another foreign power. In addition, America in 1791 was predominantly an agrarian society; people hunted for food back then, not for sport. Gun's in the 1790's were long, bulky rifles that an expert marksmen would have a difficult time getting two accurate shots off inside of a minute. They bore no resemblance to a modified TEC 9 semiautomatic handgun that can fire 36 shots without being reloaded that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold brought to Columbine High School on April 20.
The NRA contends that tightening gun laws would only keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens, and that the majority of criminals purchase their guns illegally. This is simply not the case. Since most existing gun control laws are state laws, criminals simply go to states like Florida and Virginia that barely regulate the sale of firearms. Or they go to gun shows, which are currently exempt from running background checks. The two sawed off shotguns, the semiautomatic rifle and the modified TEC 9 were all purchased at a gun show outside of Denver within the past year.
The only thing that was illegal about the arsenal amassed by Klebold and Harris was that Harris purchased the TEC 9 when he was 17 instead of waiting a month until he turned 18. Colorado law prohibits sale of a handgun to a minor. It is perfectly legal in Colorado to furnish a minor high-powered semiautomatic rifles and sawed off shotguns, as long as the minor does not have a criminal record. Apparently, juvenile delinquents who have been arrested and placed on probation for breaking into an automobile and who made death threats to neighbors do not pose a serious enough threat to the community to restrict their right to bear arms.
The NRA and other groups such as the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms have fought to legalize bullet proof vest piercing bullets, plastic guns (which can't be detected by metal detectors) and automatic weapons. They have bitterly opposed any waiting periods for the purchase of handguns and were instrumental in orchestrating the demise of the mandatory five-day waiting period imposed by the Brady Bill. They oppose mandatory child locks on handguns. They have led efforts to help convicted criminals have their criminal records sealed so they can purchase guns.
The Gun Lobby was even able initially to orchestrate the defeat of several modest post-Columbine gun control initiatives contained in the Juvenile Crime Bill. The proposals in the Juvenile Crime Bill sought to re-institute a waiting period to conduct background check for prospective gun buyers, require gun shows and pawnshops to conduct background checks, and mandate child safety locks on handguns. The shooting at Heritage High School on the morning that the Senate was to vote on these measures for the third time shamed the Senate into narrowly passing these very modest overtures. However, the bill is still not a certainty to become law. Republican Leaders in the House of Representatives have promised to scuttle as much of the legislation passed by the Senate, despite poll after poll that show that the vast majority of Americans are in favor of these restrictions. Rest assured that the Gun Lobby will use every bit of influence it has and spend every dollar it can raise to keep these provisions from becoming law.
Even the much-vaunted Juvenile Crime Bill contains many loopholes that will allow troubled teens like Harris, Klebold, and Solomon easy access handguns and assault rifles. The minimum age to purchase these weapons would be raised to 21. However, minors would still be allowed to possess these same guns. Drinking laws prohibit adults 21 and over from walking into a 7-11 and buying a six pack of beer for a minor. However, Congress sees nothing wrong with an adult over the age of 21 handing a gun to a deranged teenager in the parking lot of a pawn shop.
It is time for Americans to stand up and protest the Gun Lobby using the Second Amendment to hold law abiding citizens hostage to gun violence. Guns are dangerous instruments that serve no other purpose than to kill. They can wipe out a lifetime of hope, promise and love with one pull of the trigger. The American people deserve strict laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals. They deserve the security of not having to fear another school massacre at their child's high school.
It is time for Americans to open their eyes.
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PHOTO of Denver protest copyright ©1999 CNN