Pay the price for the common-sense gun laws we need
BY ARMAND DERFNER
There’s a one-word key to getting a sensible gun law — money.
Everyone knows the elements of a basic, common-sense gun law:
First, a complete ban on possession of all high-volume guns and magazines, with a reasonable buyback period for existing weapons after which they would be contraband and mere possession would be a crime.
Second, universal registration and background checks with no exceptions.
So why can’t we do it?
Here are some of the things called obstacles that aren’t.
The Second Amendment? Every serious person knows the right to keep and bear arms has limits, just as First Amendment free speech has limits like laws against libel, pornography and false advertising.
If lawmakers think the Second Amendment is unlimited, why don’t they take metal detectors out of the Capitol building and let all tourists pack heat in the visitors’ balconies?
Some people claim the 1994 temporary ban on assault weapons didn’t work, but if that’s true it’s because the ban was so leaky, applying only to future sales but not existing weapons, and exempting many weapons that should have been covered.
I have just returned from a family wedding attended mostly by hunters and gun owners. They have no interest in assault-type weapons, and no problem with background checks and registering all guns the way we register all automobiles.
Most important, they know lawmakers understand the difference between shotguns and assault weapons, and they’re not afraid that an assault weapon ban would be a “slippery slope” leading to curbs on hunting guns.
So what is the problem?
A lot of the problem seems to be the NRA and the legislators who seem to be afraid of it. But what we call “the NRA” may not represent the views of its general membership; it may be only the special interest agenda of one or a few lunatic-fringe spokesmen who have politicked their way to leadership positions in the organization.
This would not be the first time that a membership organization was hijacked by internal politics.
That brings us to Congress. The conventional wisdom is that any legislator who votes for any gun restriction is doomed because they will be targeted by the NRA for near-certain defeat.
However, we don’t know if this conventional wisdom is accurate because there has never been a strong political counterweight to push elected officials and candidates in the opposite direction.
A few candidates and some small organizations have tried to beat the drum for some restrictions, but the drumbeats have been faint, and the heavy political muscle — meaning money — has been missing.
Money is what we need now.
The basic bill outlined above is a litmus test. For those officials and candidates who won’t support it, start running hard-hitting radio and TV commercials and Internet posts targeting them by name again and again, making them very personally and very publicly accountable for their action or inaction.
Start now and step it up into the next campaign season. Make it clear that opposing a sensible gun law is not a free ride. Give them a political reason to overcome their fear of pro-gun extremists.
Past shooting tragedies have aroused public and moral fervor, but fervor by itself doesn’t last very long. Fervor reflected in funds is what makes the political process work, and it can do so for this life-and-death issue.
This won’t be cheap.
A fund of $50-100 million dollars would be good to aim for. It can’t come from the government either, it has to come from contributions by you and me.
But think how much we have lost in the lives of the Newtown children, the Virginia Tech students, the Aurora movie-goers, and on and on and on.
Don’t we owe it to them and ourselves?
Armand Derfner, a civil rights attorney, is a faculty member at the Charleston School of Law.