Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mourn, and Then Act


On Saturday, Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot during a public meet and greet with her constituents at a supermarket in Tucson. Her assailant, a 22-year-old Tucson resident, also emptied several rounds of bullets into the crowd of people at the parking lot, killing six people and wounding several others. Incredibly, Ms. Giffords is still alive but in critical condition, with a bullet lodged in her brain.

In all of my conversations with friends and family after the tragedy, the subject of gun control has been raised. I read in the BBC online that New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg has already said he would try to ban high-capacity ammunition clips, the use of which allowed Giffords’s attacker to wound and kill so many people in so little time. Though most Americans (69%) still support the legality of handguns, according to a 2009 poll by the Times and CBS News, 54% of Americans would support a ban on assault weapons.

It seems incredible that major acts of gun violence, such as Columbine and Virginia Tech, have not already brought about stricter gun control. But those incidents, while providing fodder for gun control advocates, also bring out the tired and illogical argument that honorable citizens can prevent and curtail murderous rampages by carrying, and using, their own weapons. I would be very interested to know just how many such citizens have successfully protected themselves or others by using firearms—I imagine that the number is extremely low. After Virginia Tech, only 30% of Americans polled thought that stricter gun control laws could have gone a long way towards preventing that catastrophic act of violence. It’s almost as though we do not have the example of nearly every other industrialized country with strict gun control laws, and significantly fewer gun deaths, to guide us.

Today in Tucson, President Obama will attend a memorial service for the six people killed and more than a dozen wounded in the attack. Let’s hope that even as the publicity for the horrors on Saturday dissipates, policymakers will gain strength and momentum in an effort to ban certain weapons and enact much stricter gun control in our country.

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