Columnist Karen Rubin: Pols must take action on gun violence


The calculation of gun violence advocates is proving on target: the longer they can delay action in order to allow the imagery of the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. to fade from consciousness, the more likely the forces who control Congress can take hold.

That was on display during the Senate Judiciary hearing last week (and a contrast to the swift action that New York State took, before the gun violence advocates could start working on legislators).

If you would take the pulse, you would get the sense that a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines is viewed as nearly impossible, and even the almost universally popular idea of universal background checks is downgraded to “possible” versus “probable.

The Senate Judiciary hearing was distinguished by the emotional statement of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt as she held a town ‘meet-and-greet’ at a shopping mall in Tucson, and by a bizarre statement by Gayle Trotter, Attorney and Senior Fellow of the Independent Women’s Forum, Washington, D.C.

Giffords, showing more courage than any of the Senators she faced on the Judiciary Committee, veritably challenging them, “the time is now.”

But Trotter argued – absurdly –  that Congress cannot deny a young mother the “courage” she needs to face down an intruder and threatens her young children. The “courage” she argued is an AK-47.

At almost the same time as Trotter was giving this Orwellian statement to the Senate Judiciary committee, Lois Schaffer of Great Neck was in Hartford, Conn., hoping to give her testimony to a hearing on gun safety.

Almost four years to the day before the Newtown massacre, her daughter, Susie, a 48-year-old single working mother who grew up in Great Neck was shot to death as she walked into her home with groceries. She made the fatal mistake of interrupting a burglary in progress by two 17-year-olds  – on suspension from her own child’s high school – who had a stolen gun from another home in the neighborhood.

“The massacre at Newtown has finally ‘put a face’ on gun violence,” her statement would have said. “It has raised people’s consciousness that mirrors the loss such as our family experienced. The media has publicized the affects of the losses on the survivors. The nation must now begin a groundswell for change on this grave and societal issue.”

Schaffer had been a gun-control advocate for years, even before she was so tragically and personally caught up in the fight. But she pointed with a modicum of satisfaction after so many years of frustration, to New York State’s example, passing in lightening quick fashion, extraordinary for New York, The New York Safe Act. 

The law, which she said she hoped could be a model for Connecticut, tightens the state’s assault weapons ban, reduces the maximum size of the ammunition magazines, from 10 rounds to seven, strengthens permit requirements for firearms, requires background checks for all gun sales, including private sellers and buyers,  mandates that clinicians in mental health report patients whom they consider a threat to commit suicide, whose guns and permits are then mandated to be confiscated, and creates a state-wide gun data base that would prevent public accessibility. 

Schaffer never got to tell her story to the Hartford hearing, despite spending two days there.

But there is another aspect to Schaffer’s tragedy: New Yorkers should not be lulled into some sense of a security bubble because of tougher gun safety regulations here. 

Our children, spread across America at college campuses and in jobs and with families, are vulnerable to the insane lack of regulation and idolatry for gun and worship of gun violence that exists. 

In Nashville, where my son went to college, they made it legal to carry concealed weapons into bars. States want to copy Arizona and make it legal to carry concealed guns on college campuses – Virginia Tech be damned. 

In Arizona, a Long Island girl was shot to death in her college parking lot by a jilted boyfriend. Our family members can be murdered while vacationing in Florida, if a yahoo in a road-rage incident claims a Stand Your Ground right to inflict corporal punishment without benefit of judge or jury. 

Think we’re safe? The NRA is pushing for federal legislation which would require states accept the concealed carry permits of other states no matter how lax their laws and irregardless of a state’s tougher gun control statutes. States rights? 

Most significantly, it is so easy for New Yorkers intent on doing violence – perhaps they are felons or have court orders against them – to purchase guns in places like Virginia and Florida and bring them in, regardless of gun statues, is a danger to us all, just as it is in Chicago.

I was heartbroken to hear of the murder of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton who just a week earlier, I had seen in President Obama’s Inaugural Parade.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) mentioned Pendleton as he began questioning witnesses at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday on the issue of gun violence. Noting that Pendleton had marched in the inaugural parade just last week, he said, “It was the highlight of her young life. Just a matter of days after the happiest day of her life, she’s gone.”

Durbin said the biggest problem in Chicago – a city with strict gun control – is that the city is “awash in guns.”

“The confiscation of guns per capita in Chicago is six times the number in New York City,” Durbin said. “We have guns everywhere, and some believe the solution to this is more guns. I disagree. When you take a look at where these guns come from, 45 percent plus are sold in the surrounding towns around Chicago, not in the city.”

Durbin challenged LaPierre’s contention, which the NRA president made just days after the Newtown massacre, that the only thing “to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” – in other words, more guns, not less.

The preposterousness of that was tragically demonstrated just this week. 

Chris Kyle who earned a reputation as one of America’s deadliest military snipers, was murdered along with another man at a gun range. His alleged killer was a fellow veteran, Eddie Ray Routh, apparently suffering from post-traumatic stress. “The Good Guy With A Gun” theory didn’t hold up. And it can’t hold up. Because you don’t know who is the bad guy until the deed is already done.

Similarly, Gayle Trotter tried to suggest that banning military-grade assault rifles would somehow put young mothers at risk defending their young in their home.

Trotter related the story of Sarah McKinley, an 18-year-old Oklahoma woman who shot and killed an intruder on New Year’s Eve 2011, when she was home alone with her baby. 

But when Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked her what gun McKinley wielded, Trotter said she didn’t know. Actually, McKinley used a Remington 870 Express 12-gauge shotgun, a weapon which Whitehouse emphasized, would not be banned under the proposed statute. 

Indeed, I would have asked Trotter to come up with 30,000 examples of anyone successfully defending themselves with a gun – that is how many people are murdered each year by guns, 33 people each day.

As the New York Times noted in its Feb. 3 editorial, this notion that guns deter crime, keep people safe isn’t just a myth, it’s a lie –  one of many myths that the NRA perpetuates with impunity because the NRA has been successful in prohibiting data collection and research into gun violence. (President Obama took executive action in directing the Centers for Disease Control to study the causes of violence.)

But some data has emerged.

The New York Times reported that a 1990s study showed that for every instance in which a gun in the home was shot in self-defense, there were seven criminal assaults or homicides, four accidental shootings, and 11 attempted or successful suicides.

A 2011 review by David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center showed that far from making women safer, a gun in the home is “a particularly strong risk factor” for female homicides and the intimidation of women.

“In domestic violence situations, the risk of homicide for women increased eightfold when the abuser had access to firearms, according to a study published in The American Journal of Public Health in 2003. Further, there was ‘no clear evidence’ that victims’ access to a gun reduced their risk of being killed. Another 2003 study, by Douglas Wiebe of the University of Pennsylvania, found that females living with a gun in the home were 2.7 times more likely to be murdered than females with no gun at home,” the New York Times reported.

Which brings us to the shameful hypocrisy of the Violence Against Women Act. 

How dare Trotter make the claim that the government cannot ban military-grade weapons so that women can defend themselves, when Congress has for the first time in 20 years, refused to reauthorize VAWA, ostensibly because it would have provided protections for non-documented women, and for Indians on their tribal reservations. (The Senate has proposed a new version which they think removes the items objectionable to Republicans.)

You may think that gun violence is a concern in urban areas – like Chicago – and rural areas. 

But Columbine and Newtown are proof that suburban communities – not any different than Great Neck – are also at risk.

Newtown was the 31st school shooting since Columbine; there have been six just since the beginning of this year.

All of this, though has been good news for the security industry. Recently I sat in on a School Security forum sponsored by Technology & Security, a company that specializes in installing I.D. card readers, video surveillance, door locks and can set up peripheral security gates.

Great Neck schools have used the company for video surveillance systems, which we are told are being extended. 

A clever idea is that communications are “pooled” – based at BOCES  or some other hub, so that school districts can share the cost of monitoring.

“There are fiscal realities to our school systems. This is why this discussion today is so essential – security professionals put together with school professionals – both sides appreciate how we can help you within the budget allowances,” said David Antar, president, A+ Technology & Security solutions. “Talk to a parent, they will say there is no dollar value I would place on my child, my family. Yet the reality is, we can never lose sight of the mission of education. We cannot take our schools and turn into armed camps. 

“If you talk to security officials in the room – the expectation of perfect security should not exist in our society, but it does – for every security protocol we put into place, I can think of a way to defeat, as so many – but that is not the right discussion,” Antar continued. “That’s not the right conversation. The right conversation is what are you going to put into your schools today that works, what are you doing today that can be enhanced. Have you taken the time as personnel changes, different settings, to see other vulnerabilities – how buses line up. Do you have a perimeter ….. look at those vulnerabilities and assess.

“Then analyze what you do on a daily basis in your operations for security – not just about teachers or the school administrators. It’s about the children, about the parents. Pushing out that perimeter – (extend what know what’s going on the community).”

Should the question be how school districts can divert taxpayer money from teachers and computers to security? 

Maybe the right questions are “Why is it so easy to obtain such weapons? Why is it that even young kids can come to school with guns? What can we do to help identify and provide treatment for students – and family members –  who exhibit mental illness?”

Ah, that goes to the larger issue – government regulation and the current debate. These are the commonsense solutions that Obama and Democrats in the Senate and House have proposed.

But how incredible is it that nearly 100 percent of Americans agree (including 86 percent of gun owners and even NRA’s Wayne Lapierre in 1999) with the need for universal background checks (40 percent of guns are purchased without a background check; 6.6 million last year), yet even this proposal is at risk of going nowhere in Congress. A clear majority of people want government to ban military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

But it has become clear that government doesn’t answer to the people.

It is no different than the way Congress has adopted policies that contribute to the growing gap between rich and poor – the 1 percent versus 99 percent, as it were. (The recent fiscal cliff “compromise” was clear evidence of that). They don’t care that nearly 100 percent of the people want universal background checks because they are only concerned about the NRA which spends an inordinate amount of money to get the Congress they want.

What does this tell you about Congress? What does it tell you about every single issue of importance? 

Climate change. Infrastructure. Education. Fair Elections and Voting Rights. Immigration Reform. What does it say about the probability that Congress will address the budget and deficit reduction by protecting the wealthiest 1% at the expense of the 99 percent, exacerbating poverty rates?

Here’s the thing: you know how, when it gets down to it, the Gun Violence Advocates admit that their objection to the assault-weapons ban isn’t about preserving hunting (the bonding between father and son over a dead deer), or even defending one’s home (which no one has used an assault weapon to do). 

Even LaPierre admitted to Durbin during the Judiciary hearing, that “Second Amendment” is shorthand for being able to take down the government. They see themselves in an arms race in which they are entitled to have the same firepower as the police and soldiers in order to protect themselves, like The Founders against the British, from tyranny (that is “tyranny” defined as “a black, Democratic president” and not “tyranny” defined by the white guy Unitary Executive/Imperial President who dispensed with habeus corpus, the 4th amendment, and who green-lighted torture).

But here’s the irony that is looming: The corporatists who think they have government locked up because, between Citizens United, gerrymandering and voter suppression, they can make or break a candidate have another thing coming.

Because the result of that is to exacerbate and perpetuate the growing gap between rich and poor – the 99 percent. What they should be worried about is not the tyranny of government (because they are the government), but a civil war {think “Les Mis”).

Remember: the Gun Control Act of 1968 came about because whites were in fear of rioting blacks (not because of the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.), 

And so, when the masses rise up, the corporatists will think back at all those military-grade assault weapons they allowed to proliferate.


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