In the wake of the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, America must have some sort of rational discussion in Washington regarding gun regulation. Our country is the site of 80 percent of all child shooting deaths in the developed world, according to Erin Richardson’s and David Hemenway’s report “Homicide, Suicide, and Unintentional Firearm Fatality: Comparing the United States With Other High-Income Countries, 2003” in “The Journal of Trauma.” This statistic is embarrassing, to say the least, and as of now few of our conversations have been anything close to reasonable.
Our Founding Fathers wrote our Constitution with the intention of creating a mutable document capable of changing with the times. Technological progression has made it imperative that we view our Constitution as open to reasonable Amendments for the sake and safety of our citizens; and so, the document must remain live, and discussion regarding the modern nature of our Amendments must be encouraged.
When former House Representative of Kansas Todd Tiahrt claimed that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is winning the national battle against the black market for guns, as reported in the “San Diego Free Press” article “The Starting Line – Shooting Down False Arguments About Gun Control, Starting With the UT-San Diego Editorial Board,” he seemed at first to be making the only rational Republican argument.
However, even this proved unreliable, because despite the existence of over a 100,000 gun dealers in America today, the ATF has seen no increase in agents in the past 35 years, said James Cavanaugh, Former ATF Special Agent, on the January 14 “Rachel Maddow Show.” It has not had a director for the past six years because the Senate will not appoint anyone to the position. The very existence of Senate influence on the ATF is the result of a statement inserted into the Patriot Act in 2006 by Wisconsin Representative James Sensenbrenner, who received a “Defender Of Freedom” award from the National Rifle Association (NRA) that same year.
One percent of gun dealers were the original sellers of 57 percent of guns seized at crime scenes, according to “The Washington Post” article “Industry pressure hides gun traces, protects dealers from public scrutiny.” Therefore, the ATF would be hugely successful in stunting the black market by creating a federal registry of transactions and tracing illegal guns back to their original dealers.
This is impossible, however, as the ATF is prohibited from creating a federal registry, according to the article “Federal Law on Tiahrt Amendments” on the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s website. The ATF is also restricted from inspecting a license more than once every 12 months, overseeing used firearm sales, keeping background check records for more than 24 hours and requiring that gun salesmen deny weapons to customers under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These ludicrous restrictions were all established when a congressman slipped an amendment into an unrelated federal spending bill. This amendment, according to the “Washington Post,” was reviewed by the NRA and written by Todd Tiahrt himself.
Despite this inherent political dishonesty, however, it is both our right and our responsibility as Americans to make our voices heard. On an interesting Daily Show exposé several weeks ago, political commentator and Comedy Central satirist Jon Stewart presented his audience with a lengthy montage of Fox News video clips, featuring countless guests and anchors expressing all of the reasons why, when discussing gun control, the timing is always inappropriate. Mr. Stewart voiced his concern that if the Right continued to tell their viewers over and over that “Now is not the time,” we would face another tragedy before gun policy discussions had even been brought to the table.
One week and 27 dead later, we were all forced to conclude that Stewart was correct. Although the scope and magnitude of this tragedy should never be undermined, that does not change the fact that now is the time to act. Otherwise, we make it laughably easy for associations like the NRA to bully others into staying silent on these issues.
In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, it is imperative to remember that those pushing for change are not dishonoring the dead—after all, the American people, by remaining silent, have thoroughly and unforgivably done so already. The people who let the Newtown families down are not the gun-control advocates or the legislators. Rather, they are the people who looked on through years of school shootings and movie theatre massacres and chose to turn a blind eye. They are the people who held their right to bear arms above the right of a mother or father to see their child return safely home to them. Through our reluctance to speak, we are all accountable.
Grace Tully is a two-year Lower from Reading, MA.