By Tom Gentry
Every rational human being wants to put a stop to acts like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary, but as a nation, it’s not enough to simply make changes — we must move in the right direction.
There is a time for emotion, and a time for clear thinking and logic. Some are quick to point fingers and blame “easy access” to guns or so-called “assault weapons.” While guns are an emotional issue for some, there are some very important facts that must not be ignored.
Guns are regulated more now than ever before, yet this mass shooting phenomena is relatively new. There was no federal waiting period or mandatory background check when buying a gun until the 1994 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. Prior to the Gun Control Act of 1968, low-cost guns, from military surplus to “Saturday night specials,” were widely available, even through mail-order outlets. Until the National Firearms Act of 1934, anyone with the money could buy a machine gun. In spite of far easier access to arms in our recent past, school shootings simply didn’t happen.
Firearms are inanimate objects made of steel, plastic and wood. They have no will of their own, and can be used for good or evil depending on the person wielding them, just like so many other tools. Firearms can, and are, used every day to save innocent lives and stop violence, many times without firing a shot. And just like everything from hammers, knives and baseball bats to fertilizer and gasoline, they can be used for evil purposes when in the hands of someone with evil intent.
Mass shootings occur in areas where guns are prohibited. They happen in schools, theaters, colleges, churches and malls. All written into law or optionally posted by their owners as “gun-free” zones. Now consider where deranged gunmen do not go on shooting sprees: firing ranges, police stations, gun shows and gun shops. If guns themselves were the problem, logic would lead one to expect just the opposite. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that these monsters are cowards, looking for a guarantee of little or no resistance from their victims.
Intercession by legally armed citizens can stop shooting sprees long before police arrive. At the Appalachian School of Law, Grundy, Va., in 2002, Tracy Bridges and Mikael Gross ran to their cars, where they had stored personal firearms. They stopped the gunman, and held him for police without firing a shot. In the 2007 shooting at the Youth With A Mission Center in Colorado Springs, Jeanne Assam engaged the attacker with her own gun, stopping his attack. Just this April in Aurora, Colo., a recently-released felon attacked the New Destiny Center congregation in the parking lot, and was stopped almost immediately by an armed citizen.
During the recent shooting in Newtown, Conn., Dawn Hochsprung, Mary Sherlach and others gave their lives attempting to protect their students. Imagine how different the outcome may have been had these heroes been armed. Would such a monstrous act even have even been attempted if an immediate armed response was likely?
Piers Morgan has been using his TV show to showcase his hatred of guns. He likes to point to his country’s gun ban as the gold standard of safety. What he doesn’t tell his audience is that a study done by Cambridge University found that, since the United Kingdom’s gun ban, you are statistically more likely to be mugged in the U.K. than in the United States. Nor does he want to talk about the rising rates of home invasion, burglary, assault and rape since the 1997 gun ban.
Canada, perhaps our closest neighbor both geographically and sociologically, enacted strict gun bans in 1991 and 1995, and has seen their crime rates climb even as crime rates in the U.S. have dropped. Clearly, criminals are emboldened when they know with reasonable certainty that their victims lack the means to defend themselves.
Guns are the means by which septuagenarians and the physically handicapped can defend themselves against young and strong thugs. Bob Costas famously stated that had Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher not had a gun, two lives would not have been lost. However, given the size and strength disparity, it’s obvious Belcher would have had no problem killing Kasandra Perkins with any weapon, including his bare hands. Quite contrary to Mr. Costas’ assertion, if Ms. Perkins had a gun, she might be alive today. A gun is the only thing that could have equalized her size and strength disadvantage, and given her a chance to defend herself.
Without armed citizens, we are simply setting the stage for the strong to prey on the weak. While it’s true that firearms are sometimes used for suicide, just as with homicide, those bent on doing it will find a way. Japan has a much higher suicide rate than the United States, yet they seldom use guns for that purpose.
Many, including Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D), would like an “assault weapons ban.” This is disingenuous, at best, since true assault weapons are already banned by the 1934 and 1968 laws. According to FBI statistics, the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, which lasted for a decade, had no positive effect on crime. The media bombard us with rants about military weapons not belonging in the civilian population, while they ignore the case of United States v. Miller, where the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects the ownership of military-type weapons, exactly the type that some wish to ban.
The true purpose of the Second Amendment is to protect us from our own government; it has nothing to do with hunting or other sports.
Twenty-five years ago, we learned to shoot bows in the back yard of Rockford East High School as part of physical education class. As JROTC students, we learned to shoot rifles in the basement of the school. Occasionally, we carried fully functional M-14s, much more powerful than today’s M-16s and AK-47s, through the halls and grounds of the school, and at least once even in CherryVale Mall. Yet, there were no shooting rampages associated with these acts.
There is no denying our society has problems that did not exist just a few years ago. We need to get the proper help for the mentally ill. We need a media that don’t sensationalize events and report on the ranking of body counts. We need families and communities joining together to help raise our children to know right from wrong and to feel empathy. We need a system of law, order and punishment that is both just and feared. Maybe we even need to take a long, hard look at the forms of entertainment we let our children use. But clearly, when you look at the facts, the simple machines we call guns are not the problem.
Tom Gentry is a lifelong Rockford resident.
From the Dec. 19-25, 2012, issue