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In the aftermath of another bloodbath

Opinion: Columns

March 13th, 2018 12:43 PM

By Ray Heise

One View

A friend of mine who tutors math asked me in jest if he should buy a handgun in response to the NRA and Trump proposal — following our most recent mass shooting tragedy at a high school in Parkland, Florida — that teachers should carry guns in schools as the first line of defense against people entering schools with AR-15s, intent upon killing as many people as possible.

I asked him if he thought there were any other possible solutions that made more sense than arming teachers to risk their lives confronting unhinged people armed with an assault rifle with a 30-round magazine. 

His response was the same one given by an ever-growing number of Americans: He would first prohibit the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines to the public. 

The "benefits" side of the ledger with respect to the public's ability to own such weapons appears to be virtually nonexistent. Neither assault weapons nor high-capacity magazines are necessary for self-defense, and the ability to own or possess one or the other, or both, provides little or no discernible public benefit. 

The "risk" side of the ledger, however, is off the charts. Both assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines possess an extraordinary capability to take human lives in unimaginable numbers that can only be justified as weapons of war. The painfully obvious high risk/low reward nature of these weapons and ammunition magazines should make the decision to prohibit their sale to the public a "no brainer."

In spite of the fact that these weapons and devices continue to spawn tragic mass casualties that have already resulted in hundreds of deaths, the NRA and its Republican supporters in Congress, continue to place a higher value on the ability of the gun industry to profit from the sale of these weapons of war than it places on the fundamental obligation we all have to protect human life and safety. 

And be clear, there is no justification, legal or otherwise, for the NRA's stubborn insistence that these weapons of war continue to be made available to the public. The NRA's underlying motivation for this steadfast position is nothing more than the unvarnished greed of their primary benefactors, the gun manufacturers. They want nothing more than to continue to profit from the unjustified desire of some to own such weapons, regardless of the resulting high cost in human lives lost.

The NRA attempts to mask this ugly truth behind righteous language about protecting Second Amendment rights, but there is no Second Amendment right to own an AR-15 or other assault weapon. There is no constitutional right to own a high-capacity ammunition magazine. 

If the Supreme Court wanted to expand the Second Amendment to include the right to own assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, it has had multiple opportunities to do so, but it has very deliberately chosen not to take such action. The Supreme Court in the fall of 2015, for example, refused to take an appeal of the Seventh Circuit's decision upholding the constitutionality of Highland Park's ordinance banning assault weapons. 

I repeat, there is no constitutional right to own an assault weapon.

Additionally, the NRA attempts to deflect any responsibility for the tragic consequences of their public proliferation of these toxic weapons of war by seeking to shift all responsibility for the consequences of these actions to law enforcement, and the government generally, by demanding that law enforcement and government be singularly responsible for creating, implementing and maintaining a system to protect the public  from the very same dangerous weapons of war that the gun industry continues to release into the public. When these weapons of war are misused, with tragic consequences, the gun industry points the finger of blame at the failure of the system to protect the public.

There is no question that government and law enforcement have an obligation to protect the health and safety of its citizens. When, however, the first actions that should be taken with respect to mass shootings, are the enactment of prohibitions against the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines to the public, and those actions are not taken, one must dig a little deeper and look at the reasons for that failure to act.  

The only obstacle standing between the will of the vast majority of Americans to have effective gun regulation legislation enacted to address the epidemic of gun violence in this country is the NRA and the influence it has over a broken Congress that places a greater value on the millions of dollars it receives from the NRA to turn a blind eye than it places on its responsibility for the health and safety of the very citizens who elected them.

Many felt that if the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook five years ago was not enough to spur Congress to action on rational gun regulation, such as universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and 30-round magazines, then no tragedy would be capable of stirring them to action.

It may not be the enormity of the tragedy that spurs Congress to action, but rather the youth and passion of a whole new group of people who have decided to jump into the reasonable gun regulation fray that may bring about effective legislation. It appears that young people across the nation have been stirred to action as a result of the recent shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

As happened during the Vietnam era and at other times in our history, young people have taken up a cause to the benefit of us all. Their passionate and fearless calls for reasonable gun legislation will be difficult to ignore. Their collective will and energy will sustain them. If the rest of us join them now, we may be able to bring about real change in a more timely manner, and, in the process, save many more from this senseless slaughter. 

Just as banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines should be a "no brainer" for Congress, actively joining and supporting these energized and passionate young people for our common good should also be a "no brainer" for the rest of us.

The first step is to call Gov. Bruce Rauner's Springfield office, 217-782-0244, and tell him to sign Senate Bill 1657, the Gun Dealer Licensing Act, sponsored by state Sen. Don Harmon, which recently passed both houses of the Illinois Legislature. 

Former village attorney Ray Heise is a proud member of Gun Responsibility Advocates, which preaches that with gun rights come responsibilities.