The first day of deer hunting season was a school holiday in the coal mining region of Western Pennsylvania where I grew up. Our parents made sure my brothers and I went to the gun range in the basement of Greensburg’s City Hall for National Rifle Association training in how to safely maintain and fire a rifle. Back then, gun-related deaths were rare, and every one of them was cause for concern.
Now, each day, there is news of another mass shooting, another innocent bystander killed by gunfire, or both. Elementary school children, Amish girls, church goers, ministers, college students, broadcast reporters and cameramen have all been targets. And of course, their family and friends are also victims.
It has been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different outcomes. We keep failing to provide adequate regulation of guns and the killings mount. And the net effect of this prolonged insanity is that as 2016 begins, America is by far the “leader” in gun-related deaths and injuries among developed nations. Compare this dismal record to the automobile, where we have made great strides in effective and balanced regulation that has enabled a healthy auto industry and at the same time provided great improvements in safety, saving hundreds of thousands of lives and preventing millions more injuries.
A crucial question is: “How did we get here, as a nation?” I have several observations. Guns became far more lethal; they became far more widely available and acquired because guns were effectively sold to ever growing numbers of people as important either for identity, safety or both. Meanwhile, regulation did not keep up. In fact, in the case of assault weapons, what little constraints there were, disappeared. And finally, the legal system failed to impose liability and actually worked to strengthen the trend, through questionable rulings on the Second Amendment.
My views on gun control have hardened over the years, initially informed by my experience as a first responder in treating gunshot wounds. I recall one call where my ambulance crew responded to a shooting. When we arrived, we found our patient was shot in the head by a 45 caliber round, even as the police were chasing the shooter out the other door. Then, a few years ago some 30 gun-toting activists appeared during a Falls Church City Council meeting with intimidation a likely outcome. And last year when I went to Richmond to advocate on transportation issues, I was greeted – ironically on Martin Luther King Jr. Day – by gun advocates carrying assault rifles in front of the legislative office building. I saw office after office of House delegates and State senators “visited” by people openly carrying their guns that January 19.
I find it especially galling that as elected officials charged with the duty of protecting our citizens, we can regulate payday lending, but are denied by Richmond any power to effectively regulate firearms merchants. The commonwealth has even prohibited us from restricting firearms in our own government facilities, which, by the way, our state neither helps us build nor maintain.
As a part of local government, I am bound to act according to laws passed by the General Assembly, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try to change them. As a citizen, I am outraged at the arbitrary control the Richmond regime has over us when it comes to guns, in particular, and oppose that power wholeheartedly. And as a taxpayer, I object to gun policies imposed by Richmond that require us to shell out the dollars needed to provide our police with battlefield-ready equipment because that is the condition under which they now work, thanks to failed national and state gun policies.
The legal foundation for blocking effective gun regulation is, in my view, questionable. Ignoring the plain language and history of the Second Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court found a broad individual “right to bear arms” independent of the “well-regulated militia” language that conditions that amendment, as was true for its predecessors, as written by the nation’s founders. In my view, the founders had a pretty good grasp of the English language and if they wanted to grant a personal right unconnected to militia, they would have done so. Nevertheless, even this Court has since let stand some gun regulation, in recognition that this so called right is not limitless.
So today, as a result of decades of ineffective restrictions on firearms and their huge multiplication in numbers and lethal force, we have as a nation “progressed” from well-trained hunters engaging in their sport to daily mass shootings and individual killings. President Obama’s gun regulation announced earlier this week may be modest and limited, but it is at least signal of national weariness with the appalling bloodshed and is a glimmer of the will to change course.
Virginia’s Governor and Attorney General have also become active in the effort to better regulate the lethal force represented by firearms. Now, in addition, we should hope and push for more local gun regulatory authority to respond to the particular needs of our City and its citizens.
Rational gun regulation should not be a partisan issue – it directly affects all of us. At its core, it is simply an issue of failed policies leading to disastrous consequences for our state and nation. It is time for this insanity to be replaced by reason that delivers a better balance of gun access and regulation.
David Snyder is a member of the Falls Church City Council.