When a person begins an argument by palming a card or concealing an important fact it is natural to become suspicious. So what are we to make of the NY Times editorial and guest op-ed pieces about gun control today?
Here are the Times editors:
Congress Takes Up Gun Violence
Senate hearings on stronger gun controls are scheduled to begin on Wednesday before a divided Congress and a nation agonizing over how to prevent more of the carnage that killed 20 schoolchildren and six adults last month at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. The gun lobby’s opposition to reasonable controls is already fierce, and political courage is, as ever, wavering in Congress. But this singular opportunity to curb the gun violence must not be wasted in more of the posturing in Washington that tolerates 30,000 gun deaths a year.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear a raft of proposals, including a vitally needed ban on fast-firing semiautomatic weapons, like the military-style Bushmaster assault rifle the Newtown gunman used in his killing spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The measure would also ban ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets, which have facilitated battlefield-scale killing of the innocent in the Newtown school, the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and dozens of similar tragedies.
Making federal background checks universal, instead of limiting them to sales by licensed gun dealers, is no less vital, closing a loophole that lets 40 percent of firearm sales take place with no oversight. This proposal is the chief goal of many gun-control groups and has a different aim than the assault weapons ban: the proliferation of handguns that are used in most gun violence, particularly in cities.
30,000 deaths per year and we need to Act Now to prevent another Newtown!
Here are James Baker and John Dingell:
But the harsh truth is that too many Americans are dying from gun-related shootings — more than 30,000 each year and more than one million since 1960. Gun violence now rivals traffic accidents as the leading cause of death by injury in the United States. Quite simply, gun violence threatens to overwhelm us.
Americans are grappling for strategies to make sure that the horror that occurred in Newtown isn’t repeated. The White House has made suggestions, and many governors have offered theirs. The National Rifle Association has spelled out its proposals.
With the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled today to hold the first congressional hearings on gun violence since the Newtown tragedy, we offer four general guidelines for a national dialogue on sensible solutions to this deadly malady.
First, any legislation that is suggested should be broad-gauged. There is no one single cause of gun violence and no single solution. That will mean determining if there is any reason for weapons to have magazines that hold 30 rounds or more. It will mean assessing whether armor-piercing bullets — opposed by police chiefs around the country — should be legal. And it will mean considering strengthening background checks.
30,000 deaths and we should Act Now!
The concealed fact is that of those 30,000 deaths, roughly 19,000 are suicides. Every suicide is regrettable and the case can be made that access to guns increases the overall suicide rate by increasing access to a highly lethal means of acting upon what is, in many cases, a transitory suicidal impulse.
However, the case has not been made that reducing access to semiautomatic rifles with high capacity magazines or armor piercing bullets will bring down the suicide rate. Unless we have an underreported national epidemic of people committing suicide by shooting themselves fifteen times and bleeding out, I think it is fair to say that linking the suicide rate with a need to regulate magazine capacity is a bit of a misdirection play.
If the Times editors believe in their argument they ought to go ahead and make it honestly. They could explain that their 30,000 deaths includes 19,000 suicides and, per the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, about 6,000 handgun homicides, 300-400 rifle homicides, and 1,500 uncategorized firearm homicides. Will readers take away from those statistics the idea that assault rifles are the key problem facing the nation as it confronts gun violence? Raymond Kelly, NYC Police Commissioner, didn't exactly make that case. Still, the Times editors should make the argument and find out.
HYPERBOLE WATCH: The Times editors include this (my emphasis):
The measure would also ban ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets, which have facilitated battlefield-scale killing of the innocent in the Newtown school, the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and dozens of similar tragedies.
Dozens? Mother Jones, in reviewing their list of mass shootings in the US since 1980, found 31 that involved high capacity magazines (i.e., more than ten rounds).
And some of those 31 incidents would probably not have played out differently if the killer was limited to ten round magazines. The VaTech killer used ten and fifteen round magazines and the panel which investigated the incident concluded that the magazine size was not a factor. At Newtown, Adam Lanza ran out of time and targets, not bullets; he shot his victims three to eleven times each before killing himself.
Glancing at the Mother Jones list, I note that the Columbine killers used thirteen ten-round magazines. I count fourteen incidents involving semiautomatic handguns with the popular eleven-to-nineteen capacity (e.g., the Glock 19 with fifteen in the magazine). Are the Times editors confident that a semiautomatic Glock with fifteen in the magazine is capable of "battlefield-scale killing" that could be avoided if limited to ten in the magazine? Or by "dozens of similar tragedies" do they mean 'nearly two dozen in the last thirty years, maybe'?
We all await their ongoing contribution to a sensible national debate.