Can We Stop the Violence

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

The national death toll from gun violence keeps mounting with 33 more killings now on the books.

Once again angry, frustrated and frightened citizens everywhere are expressing moral outrage and ask one question: what are we going to do about it?

And once again our president utters sanctimonious expressions of sympathy for the victims’ relatives while praising himself more for having paid them a visit.

In Gilroy, with its large Latino population where people were out on a sunny day enjoying the annual Garlic Festival,  three were killed including two children with 15 injured– in what police have since ruled out as an act of “domestic terrorism.” The 19-year old gunman took his own life so his motives may never be known. 

In El Paso, the killer, a 21 year old white male, confessed to the crime spree showing no remorse and leaving behind a 4 page screed filled with hatred of immigrants and Latinos saying he had “targeted Mexicans” and wrote about “an Hispanic invasion of Texas. 

Do these word sound familiar?

Invasion. Aliens. Killers. Criminals —are among those President Donald Trump repeatedly uses while discussing immigrants during his campaign rallies, according to a USA TODAY analysis of the transcripts from more than five dozen of those events.

Add to the list the December 2015 massacre in San Bernardino where it was a holiday potluck for county workers when 14 innocent victims were mowed down.

This puts 2019 on pace to be the first year since 2016 with an average of more than one mass shooting a day totaling 255 to date including the El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio massacres. 

The El Paso assault at a Walmart was the deadliest taking the lives of 22 and injuring 24.

The non-profit Gun Violence Archive reports 33,237 total shooting incidents, resulting in 8,796 gun deaths and 17,480 injuries, since January this year! Many involved teenagers, young children and even infants.

 These statistics do not lie and they paint a grim picture of a nation that is growing all too accustomed to such tragedies yet unwilling to take the necessary steps to curb the violence.

President Donald Trump and  GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield are citing video games as one of the principal reasons behind mass shootings in the US.

Gov. Gavin Newsom puts the onus squarely on Trump for the rise of “the gun culture.”

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called on Trump to act much more forcefully in pushing legislation for “common sense gun controls” which has been languishing in the Senate since January.

GOP Senate Majority Leader, Kentuckian Mitch McConnell, has steadfastly blocked any measures from coming to a vote and has the full support of the president. 

Public outcry after the most recent shootings may be forcing their hand even as the NRA puts up stiff resistance to every effort to limit the spread of guns.

Perhaps bowing to this pressure there are some signs that McConnell may be wavering and might support background checks and the so-called “red flag” laws which permit authorities to seize firearms from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.

The House previously voted to expand background checks.

These actions are bound to infuriate the Second Amendment gun enthusiasts who consider any restrictions a violation of their constitutional rights.

Meanwhile the jawboning continues while the killing keeps mounting.

The leading figure in Congress for stronger gun control laws and arguably its most forceful advocate is Sen. Dianne Feinstein who California voters rewarded last November by electing her— the ranking Senate Judiciary Committee member— to a historic 5th full term.

Feinstein, whose political career took off when she was sworn in as San Francisco’s Mayor upon the assassination of George Moscone moved quickly after her first election to the Senate in 1992 to pass the initial Assault Weapons Ban 

The measure was signed into law in 1994 but expired in 2004 and repeated efforts to renew it have been futile. 

 Mass murders have now begun to spike once more with many attributing this to the hate-filled racist rhetoric that the President of the United States has done nothing to contain and even seems a times two encourage.

“During the 10 years the ban was in effect gun massacres dropped by 37 percent compared to the previous decade, according to researcher, Louis Klarevas who wrote, “Rampage Nation: Securing America from Mass Shootings.”

In the decade after the ban’s expiration, his research showed there was an eye-opening 183 percent increase in these massacres.

Feinstein has regularly called for renewal of the ban on these weapons which use high-capacity ammunition magazines that have proved especially lethal and get quicker results.

Semi-automatic rifles and handguns with detachable magazines that allow rapid reloading are the favorites of mass murderers and legal in many states. The AK-47-style semiautomatic used by the Gilroy killer was bought in Nevada where a cache of other weapons and ammunition were found large enough to equip a platoon.

Now California’s senior senator is calling for a special legislative session to hold hearings on a new measure she has just introduced with 27 cosponsors. It would “create a grant program for states to set up their own extreme-risk protection laws,” said Feinstein.

Fifteen states have them but neither Ohio nor Texas—critical battleground states whose electorates could very well decide the next presidential election.

The legislation, notably, specifically excludes 2,258 legitimate hunting and sporting rifles and shotguns.

California with some of the toughest laws in the nation and after strong support from Gov. Newsom has already imposed an assault weapons ban also barring the sale of ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds.

The state also requires background checks on all gun purchasers including private sales.

Gun lovers argue that individuals bent on harm with criminal histories or mentally imbalanced can always get around these restrictions and elude law enforcement by purchasing weapons from states where sales of military-style weapons are entirely legal.

They are correct. But asking the question: might curtailing the number of illegal weapons in circulation reduce crime is one almost every five-year old would probably answer correctly?

We know it is impossible to fully safeguard every public assembly place, church, mosque, synagogue, shopping mall, entertainment venue, sports arena,  business, school and university where these killings are recurring with growing frequency.

We will always have lawless, psychologically damaged, ideologically twisted, individuals who we might ever be able to rehabilitate. That’s why we have prisons and hospitals.. But when a dog continues to bite others, we cannot blame the dog, we must blame the owner.

Guns do the damage but they require someone to pull the trigger.

 Although mass shootings will always draw the biggest headlines, we see that the dangers are much more pervasive when we look at gun shootings of all kinds looking even deeper at the States with the most (and least) gun violence.

East Bay Democrat Rep. Eric Swallwell who aborted his short-lived bid for the presidency, is proposing a mandatory federal “buyback” of all assault weapons.”—considered too radical a step by many.

 It has gained modest support from former Vice President, Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Congressman, Beto O’Rourke. In the debates, California’s Sen. Kamala Harris, another presidential hopeful, called it “a great idea.”

There are many reasons mass confiscation—even if voluntary—is unlikely to work.

For starters, Swallwell estimated it would cost $15-$20 billion to buy back 10 million assault weapons which he said could come out of defense spending.  Without confiscation he contends bans do not offer much protection. 

“The government cannot ‘buy back’ firearms it never owned in the first place,” counters Brandon Combs, the president of the pro-gun rights California-based Firearms Policy Coalition. 

Government can force the sale of property by invoking “eminent domain” laws. But guns are another thing entirely and barring an overturn of the Second Amendment, other remedies are going to be needed.

These senseless killings may have established at least one thing: inaction is no longer an acceptable option and both Republicans and Democrats are feeling the heat. 

But the rising temperature gauge only matters if the chief decision maker in the White House is bothering to read it and has instructed his dutiful lackey in the Senate to turn it down.

 

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