Gun control and reality 

I am horrified to the core of my being, as I suspect most Americans are, by the events that took place in Tucson, Ariz., last weekend.

The loss of life and destruction caused by one clearly disturbed human being armed with an automatic weapon has besotted our nation. It has once again left the world puzzled, looking at us and wondering why our so-called democratic principles do not protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness any better than, say, the government of Sudan protects its citizens’ basic rights.

The Tucson massacre now becomes another in a seemingly unending series of massacres in which mentally ill people legally or illegally procure high-powered weapons and kill innocent citizens for no other reason than they simply can.

Remember Columbine in 1999, and Fort Worth, Texas, later that year, the Washington, D.C., sniper in fall 2002? Remember the Nickel Mines, Pa., slaughter of five Amish girls and wounding of six others, the April 2007 slaughter at Virginia Tech, the Fort Hood mass shooting of 2009 in which 13 were killed and 42 wounded? And now Tucson.

The U.K.’s Telegraph reported there were a total of 21 mass shootings in the United States between Columbine and last weekend, in which at least five and up to 32 people were killed. And meanwhile Gallup polls show support for gun control legislation on the decline.

Do we need a bit of a reality check here?

The National Rifle Association can argue, as its proponents and representatives have in the past, that guns do not kill people, people kill people. It can argue that there are plenty of laws on the books to control gun use and all police must do is enforce them to keep us all safe. But it can no longer argue with any bit of credibility that we are able to protect our citizens from wanton attacks by mentally ill people who easily procure automatic or semi-automatic weapons and commit mass murder. The fact is, gun ownership is so prolific that if U.S. authorities tried to confiscate every legal and illegal weapon in the U.S., it would take decades — if not centuries — to complete the job.

Meanwhile, law-abiding citizens quake in the terror that they will be next. If any good comes of the Tucson incident, it may be that Congress will pass some gun control laws, feckless as they may be.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, is introducing legislation that would make it illegal to “knowingly carry a gun within 1,000 feet of the president, vice president, members of congress or judges of the federal judiciary,” according to a statement released by his office. That is a massive shield for all of us, is it not? Of course not.

Others in Congress are offering up bans on high-capacity magazines, such as the one allegedly used by suspect Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson. Again, it is better than nothing, but it is sure not enough.

What is irresponsible in the extreme, however, are comments by lawmakers of both parties promising to pack heat from now on when at public events. According to the international Business Times website, Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., said he will start carrying a handgun for personal protection when he attends public events away from Washington, D.C. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said he plans to carry a gun while in his home district.

Arizona has among the most lax gun control laws in the nation, and if anyone in a shopping mall parking lot were going to be carrying weapons for self-protection, it would have been in Tucson. Did anyone produce a weapon that protected Rep. Gabrielle Giffords or Judge John Roll? Has anyone ever been able to react quickly enough to prevent any of the above-listed massacres? The answer, my friends, is no.

Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes a column for the Scripps Howard News Service.

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