Laslo Boyd: The Guns of August (and Every Other Month)

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By: Laslo Boyd 

Jim Brady died last week and the District of Columbia Medical Examiner ruled his death a homicide. For those of you who don’t remember 1981, Brady was Ronald Reagan’s Press Secretary. When John Hinckley attempted to assassinate the President outside a Washington hotel, Brady was shot and severely wounded. 

In the years since then, he and his wife Sarah have been brave, unrelenting advocates for laws to reduce gun violence in this country. Their efforts led to the 1993 passage by Congress of what has been called the Brady Bill, mandating a five-day waiting period and background checks for handgun purchases.

His story is similar to that of Representative Gabby Giffords who was shot in Tucson in 2011. Along with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, she has become a leader in the fight to end America’s epidemic of gun violence.

When well-known people are shot or when there is a mass murder, the public pays attention. Unfortunately, it’s never for long and nothing really changes. In some respects 1981 seems like a more innocent time. We were rightly concerned with easy availability of handguns but had not yet come to grips with the dramatic increase in firepower that is now available to almost anyone who wants to purchase a weapon. It was a time when, compared to today, the NRA was reasonably rational and no one, not even Second Amendment “advocates,” openly carried weapons into stores and restaurants.

As of the time that I am writing these words, there has not been a mass shooting on the scale of New Town or Columbine or Virginia Tech in a while. We all do know, however, that the next one is not far off,

Meanwhile, gun deaths just keeping coming like the drip of a faucet. Recently, I saw several references to a 3-year old girl shot by a person with a gun firing at someone else. When I went to check the details, I discovered there actually had been three very similar incidents: in Baltimore City, Prince George’s County, and Philadelphia.

If you pay any attention to the news, the number and frequency of gun deaths is truly depressing. The jealous husband who shot and killed his wife in front of their two young children and then later committed suicide.  A Monday Baltimore Sun headline: One dead, two others shot in three city incidents. Another Sun story in which the Baltimore Police announced plans for stepped-up enforcement following the death of the 3-year-old. How many times have you heard that?

For gun enthusiasts, the recent story from Philadelphia about the doctor who shot someone who had come into a hospital and started firing must have seemed like the vindication of all of their assertions about a “good guy with a gun.”

In reality, the number of occasions in which that is the outcome is dwarfed by the times that a young child picks up a gun carelessly left out by an adult and kills a sibling. Or the frequency that seemingly simple arguments end up being settled by someone with a gun.

We are, collectively, totally irrational about guns. We have found the means to cut down dramatically on traffic fatalities. We have made major advances on all sorts of diseases that used to kill enormous numbers of people. We spend billions of dollars on national security to counter the threat of terrorists attacking somewhere in the country.

But we seem indifferent to the tens of thousands of people in this country who are killed annually with firearms. The examples of other nations having figured out how to keep their citizens safe from this scourge seems to have no impact on our policy makers.

Maryland has done much better than most states in enacting laws to regulate access to guns and to keep track of who wants to purchase them. However, it will take a national effort to really make a difference. There are too many loopholes, too many states in which anyone can buy a gun freely, too many obstacles to enforcement of even the existing laws to constitute anything resembling a coherent system.

Largely because Maryland has passed some tough gun laws in recent years, there’s no indication that either of the candidates for governor will be talking about the issue this fall.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s web site has a brief reference to having taken guns out of the hands of abusers, and the O’Malley Administration certainly has been a strong supporter of the new laws. 

Larry Hogan’s web site has nothing to say on the subject, although actually his web site has almost nothing to say on any subject.

The candidate with the most impressive record on gun control is Brian Frosh, who championed key legislation as chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The likelihood of Frosh becoming the next Attorney General guarantees that there will be a continuing focus on how to reduce gun violence in Maryland.

The ruling that Jim Brady’s death was a homicide probably won’t change John Hinckley’s fate.  It is, however, another opportunity to highlight the awful cost that citizens of this country pay for the unwillingness of their elected officials to address the ready availability of weapons that are only used to kill people.

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Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.