Before driving to the funerals of their children gunned down in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut, those grieving parents must adhere to a long list of rules set by our government and the auto industry. All drivers must pass periodic driving and vision tests, prove they have liability insurance, obey speed limits, wear seat belts and strap children into government-approved car seats inside vehicles built to precise government safety standards.
Cars don't kill people, drivers do. But we heavily regulate the auto industry and law-abiding drivers.
Our government and weapon manufacturers haven't shown such commitment with guns. You don't see TV commercials touting safety improvements or warning about the dangers of irresponsible gun use. Gun advances in the last couple of centuries center on the ability to be more deadly much quicker.
The Connecticut gunman responsible for killing 20 first-graders and six adults before taking his own life used a semiautomatic rifle similar to the assault weapons soldiers use to fight wars and had hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
Once dedicated to Homeland Security, hunting and sports shooting, the National Rifle Association has morphed into a shill that fights any attempt to curb sales of the guns and ammo clips favored by our recent mass murderers, gangbangers and terrorists as well as military personnel. Many factors, other than guns, led to the Connecticut shooting. But the need for better mental health care or improved school security shouldn't make us think guns aren't part of the problem. In a nation with an estimated 300 million guns, weapons manufacturers continue to preach the lie that we must buy even more guns to make us safer. Protection apparently is the reason the mother of the school shooter bought the gun used to kill her.
We can't rid our nation of guns. Even if we did, people can, and have, murdered with knives, baseball bats and fertilizer bombs. Our Supreme Court has ruled that the U.S. Constitution guarantees private Americans the right to bear arms. Hunting has a rich history in our nation. It's impossible to make a thing designed for killing completely safe. But there are things our government and gun manufacturers can do to make less likely our recent spate of monthly mass shootings.
On May 20, 1988, I stood outside the Winnetka grade school where a deranged gunwoman shot up a classroom, murdered a boy, wounded five other children and nearly killed a college student named Phil Andrew, who lived nearby. Andrew went on to become executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence before embarking on a career as an FBI agent. The horror and call for change in the wake of that shooting mirror the renewed call for change now.
Just as drunken driving accidents finally pushed society into tougher laws and led alcohol-makers to spend millions on designated-driver programs, could the rash of mass shootings propel us into a deeper look at the weaponry sold in America?
"I don't know anybody in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle," West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III, an NRA-backed Democrat, said Monday on the MSNBC program "Morning Joe." He added, "I don't know anybody who needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting."
We should close loopholes that get guns in the hands of people who shouldn't own guns. Last week, the Brady Center gun control group named for Illinois' own Jim Brady, the press secretary to President Ronald Reagan who was critically wounded during an assassination attempt, filed suit against Armlist.com, an Internet site where Demetry Smirnov illegally bought the gun he used to kill his former girlfriend, Jitka Vesel, in 2011 as she left an Oak Brook office complex.
A generation ago, when public safety advocate Ralph Nader led the assault against unsafe cars, law-abiding drivers concerned about saving lives forced the auto industry to change. We decided we didn't want people driving around in unsafe cars that catch fire and cause accidents. We didn't want to be victims of people who don't carry insurance and haven't passed a driver's test. We didn't want to continue tolerating drunken driving. It's time for law-abiding citizens who want a gun for protection, hunting or sport shooting to stand up and let the weapons industry know things must change.
"What will it take for a majority of Americans to speak out for a sensible firearms policy in our nation?" U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin wrote in an opinion column Monday in the Chicago Tribune. "It will take more than a congresswoman being shot point-blank in the face as she gathers for a town meeting in Arizona. It will take more than a deranged gunman with a hundred-round magazine spraying bullets into a crowded movie theater in Colorado.
"It will take more than the kids who die playing with guns carelessly stored. It will take more than killings on the university campuses in Illinois, Texas and Virginia. It will take more than the shootings on streets in Chicago, East St. Louis and cities across the country. And it will take more than 26 victims, including 20 children, in a Connecticut grade school.
"What it will take," concludes Durbin, who is planning a hearing on the issue, "is for the majority of Americans, and the majority of thoughtful gun owners and hunters, to agree that there must be reasonable limits on gun ownership and weapons."