Published on June 15, 2016 by Michael “Vass” Vasquez at the Binghamton Political Buzz
As the nation once again tries to address the issue of terrorism and mass shootings, the 2nd Amendment has once again come under fire as the nation struggles to identify the correct path to travel. The line between rational concerns and controls is juxtaposed against emotion and over-reaction, with some politicians self-imposing silence on the issue. The question that directly faces the nation is what is the best direction to take.
None question the fact that the Orlando nightclub shooting is a tragedy for the nation. 49 Americans were killed with as many injured. But the reaction has varied from singular actions like renewed calls for gun bans by President Obama on June 14, 2016, consideration of arrests on suspicion of committing a crime, and/or blame (of islamophobia, fear of offending a religion, for and against gays, and US inter/national policies).
Calls for another gun ban center on “assault weapons” – a term that is broad and misapplied regularly. As is commonly used, an “assault weapon” is generally considered a standard semi-automatic firearm (normally but not exclusively a rifle) that has mostly cosmetic features such as a pistol grip, folding stock, magazine loading, and military-style appearance. Often this title is matched with a mislabeling of firearms, sometimes for sensational reasons.
In the case of the Orlando shooting, early reports claimed an AR-15 (civilian version of an M-16) was used when the actual firearm was a Sig Sauer MCX. The Washington Post, as an example, had to change the title of their June 12, 2016 article to correct their inaccurate labeling of the weapons used in the shooting.
“The headline in this story was changed to make it clear that the weapon involved in Sunday’s shooting in Orlando was not an AR-15.”
But the AR-15 has become the face of mass shooting firearms due to the familiarity to Americans from movies, even as studies and reporting have found that riles are the least commonly used firearm in mass shootings. In fact, according to a NY Times article from September 2014 on the myths of assault weapons, the Justice Department has determined that the most effective way to reduce gun violence is not an “assault weapons ban” but targeting locations and individuals.
“Handguns were used in more than 80 percent of gun murders each year… Handguns were the weapons most likely to kill you… The ban did reduce the number of assault weapons recovered by local police, to 1 percent from roughly 2 percent… More than 20 years of research funded by the Justice Department has found that programs to target high-risk people or places, rather than targeting certain kinds of guns, can reduce gun violence.”
Other research, done by Professor James Alan Fox of Northwestern University, has shown that even with the “assault weapon” ban in place, the number of mass shootings have been unaffected. Of course this is contrasted by FBI data based on edited timeframes as we noted in the 2014 article Is the FBI stacking the deck on gun violence and mass shooting stats?
“Over the past 13 years fewer mass shooting (by 8.6 incidents/year) and fewer injuries and murders as a result of these shootings (by 20 people/year) than is the 30 year historical average have occurred.”
Even with the data indicating the error of simplifying the solution to mere gun restriction, calls for gun bans continue. According to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on June 14, 2016, gun control is a requirement in fighting domestic terrorists,
“I think that we have to face the facts that gun control is part and parcel of homeland security and how things are evolving.”
But that is countered by Chris Cox of the National Rifle Association (NRA). His comments highlighting the failure of a reliance on a singular action to protect the populace,
“The San Bernardino terrorist attack wasn’t stopped by California’s so-called ‘assault weapons’ ban. The gun ban in Brussels didn’t prevent the terrorist attack there. And France’s strict gun control didn’t stop the two attacks in Paris, committed with fully-automatic rifles and grenades.”
But if a gun ban is not the answer, what about arrests? As proposed on June 14, 2016, on WUTQ’s Talk of the Town program, by Counter-terrorism expert Princella Smith, a change to constitutional freedoms is needed. As she stated,
“I don’t understand why the FBI can’t put someone in jail for [unintelligible] even just under suspicion for communicating with people also on the watch list… I believe because we are facing a unique threat…if you are on the internet openly speaking things that say ‘I want to destroy Americans based on such and such ideology’ that should be an arrestable offense. I’m literally saying change the law.”
This is in ways even more dangerous to some than the shooting itself. It channels elements of the McCarthy investigations https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism, with the potential of almost any action being interpreted as a “danger” or “threat”, depending on the political preference of those reviewing.
“But governmental suppression of causes and beliefs seems to me to be the very antithesis of what our Constitution stands for… The First Amendment provides the only kind of security system that can preserve a free government – one that leaves the way wide open for people to favor, discuss, advocate, or incite causes and doctrines however obnoxious and antagonistic such views may be to the rest of us.” – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, Yates v. United States, 1957
The outrage of the IRS targeting conservatives highlights the potential abuse of such a change in policy.
“Among the most serious allegations a federal court can address are that an executive agency has targeted citizens for mistreatment based on their political views. No citizen—Republican or Democrat, socialist or libertarian —should be targeted or even have to fear being targeted on those grounds.” - Washington Post, March 22, 2016
Though the issue of mass shootings and terrorism are different, the question of bias and political agendas should be considered. The question of what, if any, constitutional rights are worth exchange for the presumption of safety must be asked. The key being that safety cannot be guaranteed, either by arrest or gun control.
Even in nations (like Israel) where arrest or detainment based on a presumed threat exists, acts of terror still occur. Strict gun control efforts equally have failed to prevent acts of terror and gun violence, such as in cities like Chicago and San Bernadino, and States like New York (which enacted the NY SAFE Act in 2013 that has failed to curb gun violence according to the June 2016 G.I.V.E. report) .
Which brings us to blame. Examples include Donald Trump blaming radical Islam, Hillary Clinton blaming guns, President Obama blaming critics, and the ACLU blaming Republican Christians. But as in all cases where finger-pointing exists, this is both flawed and ineffective. Blame neither protects nor prevents anything. If anything, blame merely influences political favor and advances political agendas.
All of this would infer that greater discussion is needed. But that is not the case for many politicians. With emotions high, in an election year, some politicians have opted to avoid discussion of the 2nd Amendment, gun control, and other aspects of the issues facing the nation – at the federal and local levels. One example, from Upstate New York, is that of Assemblyman Marc Butler and State Senator Robert Ortt. Their planned joint press conference to discuss a Bill addressing the NY SAFE Act was cancelled after the Orlando shooting, with no indication of when they might resume this discussion.
Given the push, immediately in the aftermath of a mass shooting and/or terrorist attack, to demand action, it would appear that an emotional response (of whichever extreme) is likely. Concurrently, the likelihood of such sudden action being inadequate to resolve the root problem remains high. If past history is an indicator, the complexity of the issue and its multiple parts – religious zealotry, mental illness, political furor, ect. – will never be boiled down to a 30 second soundbite nor a politically motivated isolated and narrow piece of legislation. The best path of the nation remains as obscure after the Orlando shooting as it was prior to it.