Tuesday, December 18, 2012

U.S.A.: No. 1 with a bullet

  Barely attentive to anything that would prevent such horrors — Newtown, Aurora, Tucson — we are entranced by the gripping accounts and vigils and memorial services afterward.

  We reflect on compelling examples of courage and calm like the teacher who herded her students into the closet and occupied them with Crayons and paper as shots rang out.

  If we wanted fewer horrors, rather than more gripping reading and broadcast material, we could find other stories worth our time.

  Like the one about whoever manufactured the bullets sprayed throughout Sandy Hook Elementary: Tell us about the process he used to construct ammunition designed to break up inside the body of a first grader.

  It's a special kind of bullet, made for killing killers, but available to those who would kill innocents. And that, apparently, is just fine by America.

  Hundreds of rounds were on and beside the body of the Newtown killer. Tell us about the means by which one would acquire that ammunition. Tell us about the multi-round magazines used in Newtown and Aurora and Tucson. Explain their sporting and self-defense purposes.

  Did you notice once again the calls not to politicize America's latest gun massacre? Let the families grieve, goes the line. Prayers are in order, not any actual discussion of public policy that might save lives.

  And when we run out of prayers and accounts of heroism and tragedy, we can get on with doing nothing.

  I'm thinking, not so this time. This time we are going to have an actual policy discussion and not be deterred by the mere thought of stirring the National Rifle Association and assorted gun cultists into action.

  A chilling irony: The day before the Newtown murders, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who had deferred on any discussion of new gun laws after the Aurora theater massacre, said that sufficient time had passed since that event to open up discussion about gun violence and what the state can do about it. This was top-of-Page 1 news in the Denver Post.

   A Republican lawmaker was aghast. "The governor (a Democrat) has built this perception as a moderate," he told the Post. "I think this changes the perception."

   So immoderate, so radical — to even speak about our gun culture and the people it kills.

   Add them up. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence has. Since the Tucson shootings in January 2011, America has endured 72 mass shootings.

   Add them up. America loses 32 lives a day to gunfire. Over a year, that's 11,680, or more than three 9/11 attacks. At this very moment our government is doing something at countless points of contact to prevent another one of those.

  According to the Brady Center, America's homicide rate is 6.9 times higher than 22 other high-income, high-population countries combined.

  Try to pick apart the circumstances to demonstrate that tougher gun laws would have no bearing on Newtown's suffering. That's not the point, but that's the gun industry's ruse.

   As President Obama said in his remarks from Newtown, it is beyond the pale that the nation would accept this bloodshed and just move on with daily commerce, including the unfettered sale of military-style weapons.

   One key policy matter raised after the Tucson shootings will get new life: limits on high-capacity magazines. Thirty-round clips fed the AR-15 that killed so many at Sandy Hook Elementary.

   No civilian needs that firepower. Sadly, our discussion has been driven, or blunted, by those who amazingly say they do. It's a little bit like the debate over lifesaving stem cell research, stopped by a micro-minority of Americans.

   It's radical to talk about stricter gun laws? It's radical to look anew at military-style weapons, their ammo and their capacity? Get real, America. What's radical is to allow them to go uncontrolled. What's radical, to the point of pathology, is that until now this was a policy vacuum of which policy makers dared not speak.

   Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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