Columbia City Council members have gone all Howard Beale on us. To paraphrase the star of the classic film “Network,” they’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take gun violence any more. At least not without trying to do something about it.
It’s basic common sense to protect personal property from theft, particularly expensive property. It’s even more important to protect personal property that can be used to kill people or facilitate other crimes.
Earlier this month, the council approved ordinances that make it easier for police to confiscate firearms from gun owners judged to be an “extreme risk” to themselves or others and tighten restrictions on guns near schools. (Another ordinance creates extra penalties for people convicted of committing hate crimes.)
That follows the council’s approval in August of an ordinance aimed at requiring gun owners to notify police when their weapons are stolen. And another in July that prohibits making or owning “ghost guns” — homemade weapons that don’t have serial numbers. And a 2017 ordinance to prohibit the use of bump stocks.
It’s not clear that these ordinances are allowed under an overly broad state law that prohibits cities and counties from restricting “the transfer, ownership, possession, carrying, or transportation of firearms, ammunition, components of firearms, or any combination of these things.” But it’s also not clear that they’re all prohibited.
Another week, another mass shooting — the most recent one in Virginia Beach late last month — to remind us of our nation’s desperate need for common-sense gun laws.
We don’t like people coming up with creative legal arguments in hopes of persuading a judge to write a new law rather than interpret the laws we have, and we especially dislike that sort of action by government officials. But in a state with the nation’s 12th-highest gun-death rate — with an average of 309 gun-related homicides and 495 gun-related suicides each year, along with thousands of nonfatal shootings — we applaud Columbia for making a good-faith effort to find something it can legally do to protect its citizens from the epidemic gun violence that our Legislature and our Congress refuse to address.
The state attorney general’s opinions have consistently said local efforts to reduce gun violence likely violate state law, but the office noted last week that the question raised by the ghost-guns ordinance was “a closer one than many of the questions considered in our previous opinions.”
That suggests that Columbia officials might be close to finding some actions they can take beyond simply complaining that the Legislature won’t let them act and refuses itself to enact laws that have broad and growing public support and don’t interfere with the protections guaranteed in the Second Amendment.
Actually, our Legislature has done more than simply refuse to address the problem. Some legislators are working actively — too often with the acquiescence of their colleagues — to make the problem worse, with a constant stream of legislation to broaden the rights of gun owners far beyond those afforded in the Constitution, while further narrowing the rights of victims to be protected by their government.
We still don’t know all of the details about a tragic shooting that left seven people dead and injured at least 25 others in Odessa, Texas, on…
Columbia’s ordinances aren’t perfect. The red-flag ordinance, for instance, lets a judge declare someone an “extreme risk” and order the confiscation of weapons at the request of any “family member,” a term that is defined extremely broadly. The school-zones extension is based on authorization in federal rather than state law, and seems written as much to send a message (as a “whereas” clause says) as to actually extend the gun-free zones already in state law.
But local officials throughout our state who are concerned about gun violence should take a look at all of the ordinances and see if they can improve them. Given the cost of suicide and homicide in our communities, it’s time for local officials to push back as hard against the Legislature as they can without clearly violating state law or the U.S. Constitution.