Thursday, October 15, 2015

Are we finally seeing the limits to gun madness in the United States?

No new gun control laws have been passed recently, but we may finally be seeing the limits of the gun madness that has gripped the country for the past few decades. 

For a while now, every year has seen Republican state legislatures pass laws that loosen gun controls and Republican judges strike down existing gun control laws. Some of these new laws allow people new rights to carry guns in public—on university campuses, in restaurants and in employers’ parking lots. Other new laws give gun-toters new shooting rights, for example, stand-your-ground laws, which give people the right to protect and defend their lives against threats or perceived threats. These laws usually replace laws that require individuals to retreat from danger.  Individuals have used these new laws to ostentatiously display guns and use them at will. 

This week, however, saw what may be the beginning of a move to stem the slow but steady erosion of societal control on gun violence that these new laws have engendered.

In an important case in Milwaukee, a jury is making a gun shop pay more than $5 million in damages to two police officers severely wounded with a pistol purchased in the store by what is called a straw buyer. A straw buyer is someone qualified to buy a gun who purchases it for someone who isn’t qualified, in this case, for an underage male who fired his illegally purchased firearm against police a few weeks later.  

Meanwhile, in Auburn Hills, Michigan, police are charging a woman who shot at a fleeing shoplifter posing no immediate danger to her or anyone else. The shoplifter hadn’t even pilfered anything from the shooter. Police in Elkhart, Indiana said they were considering filing charges against a man who did pretty much the same thing.   In both cases, the shooter had absolutely no skin in the game. What was the motive then? I can only conclude that, like the legendary Bernard Goetz who went hunting muggers on the New York City subway in 1984, these people were wishing and hoping for an opportunity to take their guns out and shoot another human being. 

The good news is that these cases suggest that America is finally drawing a line in the sand as to how much we are willing to endanger our population to accommodate the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) incessant need to expand gun rights.   

The bad news is that we are drawing the line at a very dangerous place. We won’t allow obviously false gun purchases, while still accepting the ease at which people can purchase multiple guns, including military grade firearms, and as much ammo as they want. There are still stand-your-ground laws that allow stone cold killers like George Zimmerman to shoot freely whenever they say they feel threatened. Many states still allow people to carry guns on college campuses and in restaurants and other public places. 

I would thus not yet consider these three cases of constraining gun proliferation as a watershed or turning point. Rather what we’re seeing are gun fanatics testing and finding the limits of their new freedom. Tragically, their freedom, based on a flimsy constitutional framework, endangers all of us and comes at the cost of tens of thousands of gun deaths a year. 


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