Punish the Guilty, not the Innocent
Thankfully, at least one Democratic senator gets the picture. Senator Heidi Heitkamp said that Vice President Joe Biden's suggestion that we need stiffer gun laws is going way too far. I think she's right.
Newly elected Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota said on ABC News' "This Week" today that the gun-control proposals under consideration in the Obama White House are "way in extreme" and are "not going to pass" in Congress.
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that a group of administration officials being led by Vice President Joe Biden is crafting a set of gun-control proposals to present to President Barack Obama this month. According to the Post, the proposals "would require universal background checks for firearm buyers, track the movement and sale of weapons through a national database, strengthen mental health checks, and stiffen penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors."
"Let's start addressing the problem," said Heitkamp. "And to me, one of the issues that I think screams out of this is the issue of mental health and the care for the mentally ill in our country, especially the dangerously mentally ill. And so we need to have a broad discussion before we start talking about gun control."
"Well, I think you need to put everything on the table," said Heitkamp. "But what I hear from the administration--if the Washington Post is to be believed--that's way, way in extreme of what I think is necessary or even should be talked about. And it's not going to pass."
I'll go one step further. If the Washington Post story is correct, Vice President Biden has outdone himself this time. In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, it takes real chutzpah (I would say "stupidity", but I'm too diplomatic to do that) to even hint at stiffening penalties for carrying guns near schools. He and his task force should realize how much better off the students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School would have been if someone nearby that fateful day had had a gun and knew how to use it.
The latest report says that the Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza, wore ear plugs during his rampage. That's what you do when you are taking target practice. In a diabolical way, that's exactly what Lanza was doing, and it indicates that he has serious mental problems, but it doesn't tell us anything else.
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre suggested having armed security guards in our schools at least temporarily as a way to protect our children from the likes of Lanza. That makes sense to me. The last thing we need is a kneejerk response to a very real problem especially since it impinges on our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
As I said in a blog for American Thinker several days ago, let's have a national discussion about gun violence, but let's be honest. Jumping to the conclusion that stiffer gun laws will solve or reduce our gun violence problem at this juncture isn't being honest. I would even go so far as to say that it is lazy and sophomoric.
As a nation, we have ignored the problems that we created when we released certifiably mentally ill people onto our streets; we have medicated them with drugs that have terrible side effects; and we have taken far too long to recognize the costs associated with our naiveté.
We have pretended that gratuitous violence as a form of entertainment isn't a problem as well. The evidence is overwhelming. Businesses don't pay millions of dollars for 1-minute and 2-minute commercials unless they know that those ads influence behavior. Hollywood moguls have pocketed hundreds of billions of dollars over decades of time by selling superfluous violence, gun violence in particular, to mass audiences. They've glamorized it and made it seem cool. Ignoring the effects of those images on our population isn't just naïve: it's idiotic.
I'll be blunt: sane people don't walk into an elementary school and shoot innocent students and teachers. That's the work of an evil, demented, and/or insane person. The vast majority of gun owners, and by that I mean 99.99999% of gun owners, don't fall into any of those categories. They are ordinary people who own guns for self-defense and recreation, period. Penalizing them in any way whatsoever because of the actions of individuals like Adam Lanza who need intensive medical treatment (i.e., institutionalization) or jail time will only make matters worse.
Judging by Vice President Biden's kneejerk response to our very real problem, I have to conclude that Larry Pratt, Executive Director of Gun Owners of America, is correct: "The issue is not just about gun control. It's about control."
Neil Snyder is the Ralph A. Beeton Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia. His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily.