Let’s talk about guns

November 27, 2018 6:01 am

Image via Shutterstock.

At last, the midterm elections are over.

Let’s talk about guns.

Last month, after a gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh, no less an authority on gun violence than the president of the United States lamented that the synagogue didn’t have a security guard. (Four Pittsburgh police officers were shot responding to the attack).

We must suppose that if it had an armed guard everyone would have been saved. Or at least they would have had a better chance.

That seems to be a common position among the pro-gun lobby: hire an armed guard or two to protect large gatherings of unarmed targets.

Then, a couple of weeks later down at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif., a man gunned down 12 people.

The first one he killed was the security guard. Another victim was a police officer who rushed in to stop the massacre.

Two days later, in Illinois, an armed security guard succeeded in stopping a shooter and had him on the ground and under control when the police arrived. The security guard was shot and killed by the police.

The argument that armed security guards will be a hedge against mass shootings has been around in various forms for a long time. Before Donald Trump’s latest suggestion, it took the guise of arming teachers.

However it’s framed, the argument always comes down to this: more people with guns will lead to fewer shootings. Put another way: it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun. Telling who’s who, however, as a mall shooting in Alabama just last week shows, isn’t always easy.

At its next session, the Virginia General Assembly is expected to take up a number of proposals for improving schools safety. One is a suggestion to increase funding for more school resource officers, otherwise known as armed guards, in public schools. Like the states that already allow teachers to carry firearms, it’s a call for more guns in schools.

And when, as recent history teaches us, it doesn’t work out, what next?

Arming the students?

The Second Amendment 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.”

It guarantees the people the right to form militias for the common defense. It was written some 230 years ago and not much talked about until about 40 years ago when the gun industry latched onto it, some say in reaction to the passing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts.

Now, it seems, we talk about it all the time, though that part about the militia doesn’t get a lot of press.

I was an editor at the Richmond Times Dispatch in 2007 when a heavily armed young man killed 32 people at Virginia Tech. I remember well how horrible it was to edit story after story about people whose children were shot down in a college classroom.

A few months after the Tech shootings I took a job as Gov. Tim Kaine’s press secretary.

I was a close witness to Kaine’s attempts to do something about guns. He wanted to eliminate the loophole that allows people to buy guns at gun shows without having to undergo a background check.

The legislation never made it out of committee at the Virginia General Assembly. Those opposed to it said the time wasn’t right, that we were politicizing the tragedy, and that the Virginia Tech shooter didn’t buy his weapons at a gun show, anyway.

It was as if they were saying that because the Tech shooter didn’t avail himself of the loophole, the loophole didn’t really exist.

Predictably, there have been dozens of mass shootings since Virginia Tech, and the time has still never been right to close the gun-show loophole.

(Editor’s note: Kaine did, via executive order, close the loophole that the Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, who had been ordered to seek mental health treatment, did slip through.)

Whenever we have a mass shooting the anti-gun crowd starts up with its usual tirade against assault weapons. The pro-gun crowd offers up its usual thoughts and prayers and says it’s the wrong time to talk about gun control. The whole rigmarole fades out of sight.

Guns were also pretty much out of sight during the debates leading up to the elections. Surely, the Republican candidates all promised to protect our Second Amendment rights. The Democratic candidates were mostly in favor of some form of gun control, often involving a restriction on assault weapons. They also promised to protect our Second Amendment rights.

I attended one candidate’s meet and greet where a questioner asked, “What is the main issue for young voters?”

The answer: “Guns.” There was no discussion beyond that observation.

At another event, I listened to a candidate say he favored a ban on high capacity ammunition magazines.

He said a move to ban assault weapons would only lead to a long and fruitless argument over what, exactly, is an assault weapon. (Here’s an idea: Any automatic or semi-automatic weapon is an assault weapon. Seems simple enough.)

Again, there was no real discussion beyond that. Banning high-capacity ammunition magazines would be effective, and possible, he said. We’ll see.

It seemed that the campaign was the wrong time to talk about guns. The big issue for Democrats in Virginia was health care. They also talked about reaching across the aisle. The Republicans in Virginia seemed to want to talk about Nancy Pelosi, of all things.

Guns didn’t really come up, or were a second- or third-tier issue.

The election of a Democratic House has pretty much smothered the debate over the Affordable Care Act. Future discussions are more likely to be about expanding health care rather that ending it. We’ll see about reaching across the aisle and Nancy Pelosi.

As for guns – the election’s over. Let’s talk about high-capacity magazines, the gun-show loophole and assault weapons.

Let’s talk about guns.

Views of guest columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Virginia Mercury.

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Gordon Hickey
Gordon Hickey

Gordon Hickey is a lifelong reporter and editor who worked for more than 20 years at The Richmond News Leader and Richmond Times-Dispatch covering law enforcement, courts, and politics. He also served as Gov. Tim Kaine's press secretary and most recently was director of communications at the Virginia State Bar.