Common-Sense Gun Control Is Long Overdue
  • Released: 2/4/2013
Published in The Montgomery Democrat, February 2013

By Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett

On December 14, our thoughts and prayers went out to all the families touched by the senseless slaughter perpetrated at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Such violence directed toward anyone is unspeakable – aimed at little children all the more so. There is no point in trying to make sense of it for it makes no sense. We prayed, we mourned and – now -- we try to figure what we can do to make sure our classrooms resound to the sounds of laughter and learning, not tragic consequences.

The place to start is with stricter gun control laws.

I served as an infantry captain in Vietnam. High-powered assault weapons, ammunition clips capable of discharging dozens of rounds in a few seconds, and armor-piercing projectiles belong in the hands of our armed forces and specialized law enforcement units, not in the hands of civilians. No one should be able to buy ammunition over the Internet. And our Police should not have to worry about being outgunned by the bad guys.

Democrats – President Obama and Vice President Biden on the federal level and Governor O’Malley here in Maryland – are taking the lead in crafting common-sense reforms. You can protect the Second Amendment and the rights of sports shooters and help make guns less available in America.

Making it harder to get guns -- and especially certain kinds of guns – can help make weapons less accessible to troubled folks with mental health issues, people involved in domestic disputes and arguments, and children in gun-owning homes.

Guns kill about 30,000 Americans a year. Many of those are suicides. Some are accidents. However, about a third are homicides. But for guns, a good many of those people all three categories would be alive today.

Of course, we need to take a hard look at the connection that mental health has with gun violence. Over the past decades we as a society have moved to a model of “de-institutionalizing” mental health services. But have we invested the resources necessary to deliver on the promise of community-based mental health? And, even with patient confidentiality issues, should there not be some way to determine if the person purchasing a weapon has mental health challenges? Common sense says yes.

It says a lot that the firearms death rate in the United States is 10 per 100,000 residents. Here are comparable rates in other countries: France 3, Canada 2, Israel less than 2, Australia 1. The U.S. rate is 400 percent higher than the United Kingdom’s .25 rate and about 1500 percent higher than Japan’s .07 rate.

All these countries include individuals with similar mental health issues, but have far fewer gun deaths. What’s the difference, even allowing for culture? The answer, I believe, is the broad availability of guns in America.

For some years now we Democrats have avoided making this a major priority, perhaps in deference to making our party a “big tent” where “pro-gun” Democrats can make common cause with the Party on broad economic issues where there is agreement or, perhaps, hoping to neutralize the political clout of the gun lobby.

After Newtown, it is time for Democrats to reengage. It is time for common-sense gun control measures that all Americans -- Republicans and Democrats, gun owners and those who have lost loved ones to gun violence – can rally around.

  • Release ID: 13-002

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