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Tipping Point?



Here's my take on guns: I get hunters. The hunter-gatherer gene in our DNA may have faded a bit with so many city dwellers who believe chickens come into this world plucked, washed and wrapped in plastic. But that gene has not disappeared.

And living in a rural county like Humboldt for 45 years — with less-than-adequate access to law enforcement protection — I get those who feel the need to have a handgun and maybe even a concealed weapon permit for protection.

Further, I absolutely understand the need for a strong, well-trained military. But military-style assault weapons — AR-15s and AK-47s, semiautomatic guns that can accept large-capacity magazines — have no place outside the military and law enforcement SWAT teams in any civilized nation on earth. These weapons have one purpose and that is to kill humans. Lots of humans and in a hurry. Civilians who possess military weapons do not make us safer. They make us less safe. That these weapons are so readily available in this country is barbaric.

Let me pound a stake in the heart of the argument made Monday by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, one that was supported by the second worst of the Supremes, Antonin Scalia: Thomas called these weapons "modern sporting rifles." He said, "The overwhelming majority of citizens who own and use such rifles (roughly 5 million Americans), do so for lawful purposes, including self-defense and target shooting."

Please. You can't scare off a home intruder with a handgun? And target shooting for sport? Can't you register those "sporting rifles" and leave them locked up at the range? Or find another hobby. Archery is good. That's something that would make the rest of us feel safer.

Thankfully justices Thomas and Scalia were in the minority Monday when the Supreme Court correctly refused to hear a Second Amendment challenge to a Chicago suburb's ordinance banning semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. That the court declined to hear this case gives hope that other municipalities and states will follow suit with similar legislation.

As I struggled to make sense this past week of the endless loop of escalating gun violence in this nation, I ran across a New York Times article (Dec. 5) on Britain's gun laws banning private ownership of handguns and most semi-automatic rifles on Britain's mainland. Do you know the roots of that handgun ban, why it was so swiftly enacted?

In 1996 a 43-year-old man in Scotland stormed a school gym with four handguns and killed 16 children. (Sound familiar?) Citizens were furious. Within a year that law was passed for all of England and today it is soundly supported by law enforcement. Monday's case before the Supreme Court concerned a similar ordinance, albeit much less strict. The city of Highland Park, Illinois, passed an ordinance in response to the Sandy Hook (Conn.) elementary school shootings three years ago. Officials saw something that horrified them and took action to protect their city.

Maybe we've reached a tipping point and can move in another direction. The NYT Sunday edition included a front-page editorial, the first since 1920, pointing the way. It called for an end to the gun epidemic in America. You can find it online by searching "NYT editorial guns."

Here are some highlights:

"America's elected leaders offer prayers for gun victims and then, callously and without fear of consequence, reject the most basic restrictions on weapons of mass killing.

"(U.S.) politicians abet would-be killers by creating gun markets for them.

"It is past time to stop talking about halting the spread of firearms, and instead to reduce their number drastically – eliminating some large categories of weapons and ammunition.

"It is not necessary to debate the peculiar wording of the Second Amendment. No right is unlimited and immune from reasonable regulation."

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