Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why Congress Must Act on Gun Safety

While there's been plenty of talk in the last 48 hours about other issues in Washington, but that doesn't mean gun safety reform is "dead". Rather, expect more action this week as Senate hearings begin. Oh, and more legislation will soon be introduced as well.

Last week brought stories of Republican Senators crossing the aisle to at least rhetorically endorse some of the president’s top goals on gun control. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is reportedly working with Democratic Senators on legislation to ban the trafficking of illegal guns. He’s also working “to find an amenable background-check proposal,” according to staff.

It is not so surprising that Kirk has joined the push for new gun laws after the Newtown, Conn., school massacre. He has supported a ban on so-called assault weapons in the past and has expressed support for new proposals for one. But there are signs more conservative Republicans are ready to join the push for background checks, which is the central legislative goal of gun control advocates in the current debate. On Friday, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) said he’s working with Democrats on a background check plan. (Coburn did not respond to a request for comment from TPM Monday.)

If more Republicans come out in support of expanded background checks, or at least the concept of them, it would bode well for that chunk of the president’s gun violence plan.

Perhaps some Republicans are taking a closer look at what Americans actually want. Yes, yet another poll shows broad support for gun safety!

As Washington begins the fight on gun control in earnest, a new poll from Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health should bolster Democrats pushing for new firearms regulations.

According to the survey, released today, a majority of Americans support a wide array of policies being discussed in Congress: 89 percent support closing the so-called gun show loophole by requiring background checks for all firearms sale; 69 percent support banning the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons; while 68 percent support banning the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines. Meanwhile, more than 80 percent favor prohibiting “high-risk individuals” from having guns, including those convicted of a serious crime as a juvenile or those convicted of violating a domestic-violence restraining order.

Just contrast many Nevada politicians' fear of the gun lobby with actual public opinion. And for that matter, contrast their fear of the gun lobby with sound public policy. One just can't ignore either any more... Unless one is a politician who's more concerned about one's NRA rating than the safety of the American people.

Speaking of safety, ProgressNow Nevada Executive Director Brian Fadie saw this firsthand when he did a shooting trip with Nevada Assembly Member Michelle Fiore (R-Las Vegas). Fiore wanted to highlight how "safe" semi-automatic assault rifle shooting can be. Yet strangely enough, that exercise more likely proved the opposite.

This emphasis on safety during the class was a point of pride with Fiore and I think one of the two main reasons she wanted me to go through it (the other being to fire a gun). But for all of the practice and repetition of safety procedures I cannot say I came away feeling safer around guns or better about our gun laws.

In the final session of the class, after more than 18 hours of learning about our handguns and practicing safety procedures, two separate people forgot their safety training and their gun fired a bullet when it was not supposed to. They were pointing down range at the time so no one was hurt, but that’s not the point. This was supposed to be the time during class when people would have the most practice safely handling a gun and they still fired bullets unintentionally.

What scared me even more was an incident in which I forgot the safety procedures myself. During one of the drills I was having a problem removing the magazine from the gun. Suddenly everyone around me started giving advice, even reaching over and handling my gun themselves, and it became a hectic situation. In the commotion I forgot to unload my gun at the end of the drill. Luckily, one of the instructors saw my mistake, came over, and unloaded my gun. [...]

How many guns are purchased where the owner never goes through any training? How many guns are purchased where the owner does go through a training course at the time, but then thinks they’re set for life and never return?

After the training I spoke with one of the directors of Front Sight and told him my concerns. He actually agreed and responded “You know how there is drivers ed? We think there should be gun ed.”

At Brian's training day at the range, the instructor noted "The 50% Rule". That states that shooters are only 50% as effective in real world street fights as they are in controlled shootings at designated sites. Because of the incredibly fast-paced nature of a real world shootout and the rush of adrenaline coming from the "fight or flight" mentality of a real gun fight, a shooter typically doesn't remember what one learned during training. And that assumes that the shooter is actually trained. In Nevada, along with other states, gun buyers are not required to attend trainings.

This is why the gun lobby's preferred solution of more guns really won't work. Can untrained civilians handling assault weapons actually prevent tragedies? Or will they just lead to more unnecessary accidents?

And again, what kind of democratic society can properly function in an environment where every public setting is an armed battlefield? How can free trade work in that environment? How can a free exchange of ideas work in that kind of environment? Think about that.

And think about what happens in the real world when these military grade assault weapons and heavy ammunition are so readily accessible. This is why Congress must act on gun safety.

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