By Robert D. GILLETTE
It was good to read about the “Gun Reduction & Interdiction” (GRIP) program recently announced by a coalition of Mahoning Valley law enforcement agencies and discussed in a July 25 Vindicator editorial. This project will do good, but we need to be aware of its limitations. Confiscating guns that could be used in criminal acts may save some lives, but the benefit will be temporary unless the other factors driving street crime are also addressed. GRIP has value, but its benefits will endure only until the drug dealers can buy or steal more weapons. Some bad guys will be taken off the streets, but they will soon be replaced by the next generation of trouble-prone teens.
Let’s look at some of the other factors involved in our area’s problems, saving the most thorny one for last. First, the ongoing needs for strong funding and community support of law enforcement, court and corrections systems are obvious. Civil order and justice don’t just happen — the community must support them while requiring that they be robust and of high quality.
Next, consider our many unemployed and unemployable teens and young adults who lack the skills and credentials needed to succeed in today’s world. For many of them, drug dealing offers money, something to do, occasional adventure, and temporary chemical bliss. There are also the status and feeling of power that come from owning and carrying death-dealing weapons. Building more prisons can’t solve this problem by itself — we also need better-funded family service agencies, character-building activities for kids, block watch and other neighborhood groups, and top quality schools.
We also need to build stronger families. Every new baby should be a loved and wanted child who is welcomed into a stable and healthy home. This topic is too complex to receive the space it deserves here, so we’ll move on.
Gun law politics
The factor that this observer deems most in need of long-term attention is the sorry state of gun law politics in America. A half century ago the leaders of the National Rifle Association began a long-term propaganda campaign that said (paraphrased), “there are sinister people out there who want take away our guns and leave us defenseless against violent criminals and invading armies. The only way to prevent that is by NRA-led political action that will block any form of gun control law.” This devious campaign has succeeded. It’s always easy to frighten people and arouse them to march to a persuasive leader’s drum, and that’s what the NRA has done. Never mind that a gun kept in a home is much more likely to kill a resident of that home (intentionally, accidentally, or as a suicide) than an intruder. And we’re still waiting to be invaded by a horde of heavily armed liberals (ugh!) intent upon violating our wives and daughters.
A recent decision by the activist right-wing majority of the U.S. Supreme Court essentially rewrites the Second Amendment of our Constitution, which reads, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” That’s all there is — it deals with militias, not all the other things for which firearms can be used. That amendment was adopted in the year 1791, at a time when all guns were single-shot muzzle-loaders that had to be reloaded with a ramrod, gunpowder and a bullet after every shot. Glock pistols and AK-47 assault rifles didn’t exist. These words, addressing the long-irrelevant subject of citizen militias, have nothing at all to say about the weapons used by drug dealers, violent felons and mentally disturbed persons in 21st century America.
There is a potential middle ground where the legitimate concerns of gun hobbyists and public safety officials could be accommodated, but that can’t happen in today’s highly polarized atmosphere. We license motor vehicles and record their serial numbers. We examine and license drivers, and expect them to know relevant laws and safe practices. Gun owners could easily adapt to similar requirements, but the NRA will continue to block such common-sense action and the present mess will persist. Mexican officials will keep complaining about how easy it is for their drug gangs to buy assault weapons in Texas and use them for shoot-outs with the Mexican police. More American children will die in their beds during drive-by shootings, and there will be future incidents like Columbine and Virginia Tech. Sad.
Robert D. Gillette, a retired physician, lives in Poland.