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Let’s move forward on gun safety issue

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Why would anyone oppose measures to keep weapons out of the wrong hands?

Gun rights activists claim it’s because new regulations won’t work. They say these rules will only impede law-abiding, responsible citizens.

The first problem with this argument is that it ignores evidence that such regulations are effective. The second is that we’ve never enacted laws like this on the widest scale possible, so how do we know they wouldn’t do the job?

A third glitch is that many alleged law-abiding, responsible citizens willingly or carelessly put firearms in the wrong hands. And finally, many gun enthusiasts aren’t pushing to keep their guns to preserve freedom — they just want to hang on to the guns themselves. One study, published in 2012 in Preventive Medicine, shows that in states where background checks have been expanded beyond federal requirements, gun deaths have decreased.

“The results show that states with specific checks for restraining orders, fugitive status, mental illness and misdemeanors, which are considered more comprehensive checks, are associated with a 7 percent reduction in homicides and a 2 percent reduction in suicide deaths,” according to a July 25, 2012, article on ScienceDaily.com. “Also, firearm homicide deaths are 13 percent lower when states have checks for restraining orders and 21 percent lower when fugitive status is checked.”

Gun enthusiasts complain that criminals don’t submit to background checks and still get guns. Ergo, background checks don’t work.

Yes, criminals won’t halt their illegal activity just because some new law goes into effect. But these regulations may motivate gun owners to stop putting their weapons into the criminal market.

The best estimates show that between 10 percent and 15 percent of guns used in crimes where stolen from their owners. This means that between 85 percent and 90 percent of the guns used in crimes were put into the criminal market by their owners.

If universal and comprehensive background checks were required for every single gun transfer, backed up with registering every firearm, law enforcement agents could track down how guns used in crimes ended up in the wrong hands. And if gun owners were held accountable for their firearms used in crimes, fewer guns would get into illegal hands.

It’s clear that intense resistance to reasonable gun regulations rests less on the fear of losing liberties as much as it does on the fear of losing guns. In his book “America and its Guns: A Theological Exposť,” James E. Atwood examines the troubling phenomenon of how many gun owners engage in idolatry with their weapons. He writes:

“Their lifestyle choices indicate idolatry as they nurture deep emotional attachments to instruments that are made to kill; grow threatened and angry when gun values are questioned and refuse honest dialogue about the place of guns in society; support no preventive measures to stop gun violence, only punishment; show little or no grief for society’s gun victims; vigorously oppose any law to restrict sales of guns to the most dangerous members of society; claim an absolute, unrestricted, unregulated constitutional right to use their guns against our government if they consider it tyrannical; claim the blessing of a loving God on weapons that kill; [and] believe the solution to gun violence is to have more guns.”

Atwood in his book used the following statement made by Warren Cassidy, a former executive with the National Rifle Association: “You would get a far better understanding of the NRA if you were approaching us as one of the great religions of the world.”

This is absolutely frightening. Because just as anyone else completely immersed in an ideological cause, some gun owners will embrace nonsensical notions as long as they further their goal.

The image of idolatry fits perfectly. The gun shows become their churches, and the NRA serves as their Holy See. They will hold tight to these weapons believing they alone can provide security.

If people want to possess lethal weapons, they should jump through some big hoops. We must have universal and comprehensive background checks every time a gun changes hands. We also need licensing of every gun owner and registration of every firearm, with the ability to trace each gun through its history of ownership.

People also should have to go through rigorous training and testing before they are given a gun. And this process should be repeated to renew gun licenses and registrations every few years.

We do this for cars to ensure that people operate them safely. Why should it be any different for the most dangerous device that exists on the street, the gun?

In this series of columns, I have reviewed the provisions of the New York SAFE Act, why many gun enthusiasts don’t comprehend how the founders viewed the Second Amendment, the unnerving attraction that some gun owners have to racial ideology and the tendency to look upon guns as idols.

Atwood writes that most NRA members actually want something done about gun violence. So it’s up to them, the rational yet silent majority, to confront their fellow gun owners about focusing on what’s truly good for this nation: Reducing the number of guns in circulation and keeping them away from dangerous people.

Guns are hazardous instruments that should be used sparingly. The cult of adoration built around them must be dismantled if we are to establish a foundation of peace in this country and move beyond a culture of violence.

Certainly, people should be allowed to own guns. But some zealots scream about oppression as soon as gun control is discussed. By confusing inconvenience for tyranny, they do us all a great disservice.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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