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OP-ED | Common Sense Gun Reforms Needed

by Susan Bigelow | Aug 9, 2012 8:14pm
(16) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Opinion

Guns, like abortion and taxes, is one of those issues that seems to turn everyone in America into frothing, rigid partisans, which means that it’s next to impossible to make progress on it. Gun-control advocates fought a losing battle in the 1980s and 90s, and no amount of blood spilled in Colorado, Wisconsin or Connecticut can convince us to open that fight back up. For the time being, any kind of serious gun control is not politically possible.

And yet, here’s a case that makes me think we ought to try: Sung-Ho Hwang, a local lawyer, headed into a New Haven showing of Batman this week with a gun tucked into his waistband. This seems like an incredibly bad idea, given the context of the painfully recent theater shootings in Aurora, CO, but he did it anyway, citing the need to protect himself on downtown streets late at night. He was arrested after patrons, understandably worried, called police to say there was a man with a gun in the theater.

Hwang, as it happens, had a valid pistol permit, and what he was doing was not against the law. Apparently just bringing a gun into a movie theater is not illegal. According to the letter of the law he shouldn’t have been arrested at all. And yet, like New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, I feel like there’s something about that action which is jarring and provocative. “Just because something is legal,” the mayor said at a press conference, “Doesn’t make it right.” The same goes for purchasing vicious, but legal, assault weapons in Colorado—which is exactly what the Aurora shooter did.

So what can we do to get past the arguing and suspicion and enact real reform?

I get all kinds of pro-gun spam to the email address I use to sign up for political lists, and sometimes I listen to radio shows on AM radio that have a strong pro-gun lean to them. When they avoid “Obama and the UN are going to take your guns away!” hysteria, their underlying arguments make a certain amount of sense. Many see gun control as a symptom of the much larger and more insidious problem of government intrusion into our lives. Guns are a right, says both the courts and the Constitution, and if the government can take that right away what stops them from taking others? Besides, gun advocates argue, many gun owners are brought up in a culture which teaches them to use guns responsibly. Being a gun owner doesn’t make someone a monster or a criminal. In Switzerland, for example, a huge majority of the population owns guns and yet there is so little gun crime that the Swiss don’t bother keeping statistics on it.

Despite that, the United States suffers from more gun-related injuries per capita than any other country in the developed world. People have used guns to commit horrific mass killings, and Connecticut is in no way immune. The lottery shootings in 1998 happened in the town where I grew up, Newington, and a little over a decade later there was another mass shooting in Manchester, only twenty miles away. Gun crime in our cities is depressingly common, though it happens in the suburbs and rural towns too. Something has to change.

It’s time to start using our common sense when it comes to guns. Mr. Hwang had every right to carry his gun into that theater in New Haven, but he should have known better. Mayor DeStefano is calling for state law to be changed to allow municipalities to restrict gun owners from carrying weapons into certain kinds of buildings. This is a good start, but we can do more. For instance, we can enact sensible restrictions such as keeping military-grade assault weapons out of civilian hands. Also, instead of trying pointless gun buy-back or trade-in programs, we should embark on an ambitious two-pronged campaign to educate people on how to use guns more safely, and to work to alleviate the social and economic inequalities that lead to gun violence in the first place.

In this age of austerity and blaming the poor for their lack of wealth, that seems like a tall order. In gun-friendly Switzerland, though, there is very little gun crime because there is very little crime of any kind. By and large, the people’s needs are met. If we really want to reduce gun crime while respecting gun owners and the Second Amendment, which should be our goal, we must look to common sense laws and social solutions first.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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(16) Comments

posted by: Joe Eversole | August 11, 2012  8:31am

I am always fascinated by those that wish to restrict the type of weapons as a means of “gun control”.  Why is it that when an individual goes on television and uses words to destroy lives, no one talks about limiting the type of free speech some one should have?  Aside from this, the fact that the Swiss have both high gun ownership and low crime is a result of a different societal structure.  The bulk of the Swiss population has served in the Swiss Army (a requirement I believe), where they learn gun safety.  They are also a far more homogenous society, where they conflicts of race,class, etc, aren’t ingrained in their history.  Comparing the Swiss to the US is apples to oranges.  Now, onto the incident in New Haven.  Mr. Hwang acted in a legal manner.  When something is legal, by it’s very definition, it is right.  Mr. Hwang did nothing wrong by bringing a gun into a theater.  The patrons who voiced their concern did nothing wrong either.  The mistake made here, was the police departments over reaction.  Plain and simple. And when they realized that they had made a mistake, they compounded it by arresting Mr. Hwang.  Breach of Peace has long been the tool for Police in Connecticut to arrest a Citizen who has actually broken no other laws. It allows the Police to be no better than bullies.  Exercising power over the citizens in direct conflict with our basic rights.  Oh wait a minute, wasn’t that why the 2nd Amendment was written into the Constitution in the first place?

posted by: brutus2011 | August 12, 2012  3:20am

brutus2011

I don’t like sidearms. I was taught as a youth how to fish, hunt, and skeet shoot. Rifles and shotguns have utility other than harming fellow humans. Sidearms do not.
Having said that, I disagree with Ms. Bigelow that Mr. Hwang exercised poor judgement by carrying his sidearm into a public theater. He exercised his legal right to protect himself in a near-lawless city.
Instead of praising a mayor who has failed to protect his citizens, Ms. Bigelow should touch on the utter hypocrisy of most of the mayor’s words.

posted by: Jeff023 | August 12, 2012  9:58am

Susan, there is a long history of “gun contol,” and I would suggest you read some of the many books and articles about it (from both sides) before simply opining that exercising the right to self-defense is somehow morally wrong. You will find that there was a case in Connectcut where a man inadvertently exposed the pistol he was carrying concealed.  The police arrested him on similar trumped-up charges.  He was acquitted and the case thrown out of court almost immediately. Yes, it’s legal to take responsibilty for your own self-defense even—or especially-in a movie theater. I suggest you get in touch with Scott Wilson of the Connecticut Citizens’ Defense League and educate yourself a bit about the whole issue. Among your incorrect assumptions: “military grade” assault weapons are NOT available to the general public. I would respectfully challenge you to do some research.  There is a right to bear arms as well as keep them, and an inner-city mayor’s naive opinion doesn’t trump the Constitution and the Supreme court.  Do yourself—and your readers—a favor and consider this matter a bit more carefully.

posted by: EngrScott | August 12, 2012  10:13am

Ms. Bigelow, where you aware that Connecticut law already covers this situation?  The CT General Statutes state that one cannot bring a firearm onto personal property or to any place of business where the owner forbids it.  I believe all the owner of the property has to do is post a sign indication that firearms are prohibited on the premises and that posting has the force of law.  the company I work for has such signes posted at each entrance.  This is one of the concerns that I have when there is an incident and folks rush to the media to suggest/demand new laws:  they don’t even understand the laws we already have!  While I agree Mr. Hwang was incredibly insensitive, given the recent events in Colorado, all the theater had to do was post a sign forbidding firearms and I bet Mr. Hwang would have left his at home or would have chosen not to come to the theater.  We don’t need new laws.  We need a broader understanding and application of the ones we already have.  BTW, I read (don’t know if it is true or not), but guns WERE prohibited at the theater in Aurora, CO.  The murderer left them in his car, entered through the front door legally, and then propped open the back door so he could return with the weapons.  Laws only apply to the law abiding.  So while current law could have been used to stop the New Haven incident, it did nothing to stop the violence in Aurora.

posted by: libs are a joke | August 12, 2012  10:16am

we need to keep guns out of the hands of democrats.  They commit the vast majority of crimes.

posted by: john s cinque | August 12, 2012  10:58am

Ok….there is so much to say but it matters not to the LIBERAL what the truth or the facts are. The fact that the 2nd Amendment is in fact there for us to be armed equally with the government because the 2nd Amendment exists for the only reason that it keeps those who choose to rule instead of represent from becoming a tyrannical police state.
Now for some current info. It is case law that police have no duty to protect the people.NO DUTY TO PROTECT YOU…
So remember when your cowering under a chair waiting for the police to come to your rescue….THEY DONT HAVE TO.Many do but thats for other reasons other than their appointed duties.
Warren v. District of Columbia[1] (444 A.2d. 1, D.C. Ct. of Ap. 1981) is an oft-quoted[2] District of Columbia Court of Appeals (equivalent to a state supreme court) case that held police do not have a duty to provide police services to individuals, even if a dispatcher promises help to be on the way, except when police develop a special duty to particular individuals.
South v. Maryland, 59 U.S. (How.) 396, 15 L.Ed.433 (1856) (the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that local law-enforcement had no duty to protect individuals, but only a general duty to enforce the laws
OK THERE ARE 2 EXAMPLES OF MANY COURT CASES.
So when a Liberal tells you that you should not be armed, or that those who believe that the criminal has more rights then the victim…remind them that there is a very good chance no one is going to come to their aid and if they do…they will probably over react.But over reaction is for a whole different post.
Sorry for the ramble, but the next time your at the movies..the mall…a grocery store…or for that matter just about any where you walk you can bet on the fact there is a law abiding citizen standing next to you who is armed and that person will act to save your life while you the Liberal cower under a table and wait for your executioner to make his rounds while you plead on the phone for help.

posted by: littlemike | August 12, 2012  12:55pm

It is time to “START” using common sense? “Mayor DeStefano is calling for state law to be changed to allow municipalities to restrict gun owners from carrying weapons into certain kinds of buildings. This is a good start…” No, it is a bad move toward turning more and more places into victim-disarmament zones, where criminals can run free with no fear of resistance. Did “gun-free zones” save the victims at Columbine, Virginia Tech, etc.? It certainly didn’t help the victims in that movie theater in Aurora! Citizens’ right of self-defense would be unnecessarily infringed with no public safety benefits.

“...but we can do more. For instance, we can enact sensible restrictions such as keeping military-grade assault weapons out of civilian hands.” This is a false assumption. The standard sporting rifles that we see dressed up to look “tactical,” which are what consumers have access to, are NOT “military grade,” and the assault rifles used by armies are NOT the same as “Assault weapons.” The latter term was coined intentionally to confuse and deceive people into accepting more restrictions against firearms that are functionally identical to wooden-stocked ones.

As for a “campaign to educate people on how to use guns more safely,” that is exactly what the NRA has has shown leadership at doing all along, from the basic firearms instruction courses that are required of pistol permit applicants to the legendary Eddie Eagle program which protects kids from unsafe contact with firearms. It is of course the right thing to do, and any effort to expand the public’s exposure to that should be encouraged. Unfortunately, it is something that some anti-gun politicians like the mayor of Washington, DC loathe and seek to block.

Let’s never forget, “gun control” isn’t about guns, it is about CONTROL.

posted by: USCitizen | August 12, 2012  3:42pm

“and to work to alleviate the social and economic inequalities that lead to gun violence in the first place”

I’m so tired of that term, I don’t have as much as many people, but I don’t feel the need to shoot those people and take what they have earned. And if want more, I work a little harder.

The way to remove all inequalities is simple, no one gets anything from the government, you are 100% responsible for your care and well being.

At that time, everyone is equal.

posted by: joemanc | August 12, 2012  8:42pm

Susan - just curious…if the Syrian population was allowed to be more heavily armed, do you think their dictator Assad would be bombing the smithereens out of his own people? Let alone that he, and his family have been in power for decades! The people can’t get enough weapons to fight back. I don’t know what their gun control laws are, but the civil war against it’s own people that is happening in Syria today would never happen here today. Wake up!

posted by: borisvian | August 13, 2012  9:33am

We have to understand, there’ll be always people with inferiority complex, and unreasonable fears who need guns to feel themselves better (and bigger).

Now, these wussies will always fabricate feverish arguments about tyrannical governments, and self-protection, bla-bla-bla. But could anyone bring me an example from US history when a bunch of men were able to force the government’s military might (Army, Navy, Air Force, FBI, etc.) at gunpoint to reverse its decision?

The overwhelming majority of gun-related deaths are not intruders being killed but innocent bystanders victimized, or self-inflicted wounds.

Having been lived in NYC, in the 80’s, nobody has to warn me about self-protection. Common sense always helps, guns usually just escalate the problems.

Other, European countries do not have guns and do not have these problems, yet they have way more personal rights than we have here. Switzerland and Finland are atypical, the majority of civilized countries do ban guns, righteously.

European people are not any better than the Americans, simply, they just do not have access to guns. When they do, oh boy, look what Hitler’s thugs had done to the world. So, take the guns away! No healthy adult person needs a gun.

George Harrison, at one point in his life was attacked by an intruder with knife, he and his wife were able to fight off the intruder. John Lennon, at the last point in his life was attacked by an intruder with a gun, and he didn’t stand a chance.

Sad irony is, Americans already have reasons to riot and fill the streets with protest against tyrannical government, which gives them wars and guns and prisons, instead of affordable health care and education.

Mr. Lawyer was the only man who felt so threatened that he needed to indicate he has a “self-protector” with him, among all visitors. To find the wimp is as easy as to find the gun.

posted by: ASTANVET | August 21, 2012  11:17am

I love the ‘common sense’ ploy.  It is common knowledge, or common sense, or commonly believed when you want to sway someone into thinking the way you do.  I do not profess to know why someone wants to buy a particular brand of gun, car or milk.  I don’t profess to know why some people want to carry a firearm, or wear a wrist watch.  The fact is they are engaging in legitimate, legal, and constitutionally protected activity.  All the name calling in the world by calling gun owners ‘wimps’ or trying to deride their choices by saying they fall outside what you consider “common” sense is just a bullying tactic.  More people die by motorvehicles, by drinking, by drugs, by other behaviors and personal choices.  I think it is time to get YOU out of everyone elses life.  For someone who preaches tollerance I find it stunningly ironic that the left is so intollerant of anyone elses opinion and their personal choices.

posted by: NOW What? | August 21, 2012  4:07pm

ONLY in the United States is there absolutely NO common sense employed in the regulation of guns/personal firearms.  Right now folks in other countries pretty much just shake their heads, but if large-scale shootings continue to hit the international news media it will only be a matter of time before the issue results in cutting significantly into the country’s international tourism dollars… as if the effects of the recession aren’t bad enough in this regard…

posted by: ASTANVET | August 21, 2012  8:46pm

NOW WHAT? -  interesting that you want to bow to international opinion - no other foreign body has authority over our constitution, and our laws.  You are flabbergasted because people don’t think like you do, that they don’t make the same choices that you would make.  It must be interesting to be the all knowing, and wise person that can dictate the personal choices of 310 million Americans.  For those who wish to commit illegal activity there are laws that can be enforced to prevent murder, robbery and the illegal possession of a firearm.  If you want to have a debate over our rights as Americans lets have a debate that is grounded in law (our law).  Lets base it on our constitution, and lets not base it on opinion.  It’s again very interesting that you wish to curtail someones civil rights in regards to the second amendment.  How about the first amendment, or the 4th amendment, maybe the 14th amendment… where does your social engineering to YOUR common sense standards end?  Thankfully we have a legislative process to protect the citizens against tyrants like you.

posted by: NOW What? | August 21, 2012  10:58pm

“ASTANVET” - If you’d make the effort to read and study the 2nd Amendment, you’d find that the purpose of it was (and is) to ensure that we had a *militia*... and a REGULATED militia at that…  NOT to bear arms just for the sake of bearing arms, let alone to be vigilantes, play play cops & robbers, or hunt whatever game one chooses. Our laws are *supposed* to be driven by the Constitution and the Congressional intent behind it, not the other way around.

Also “interesting” that you call someone who doesn’t share your bizarre view of the Constitution (which you seem to confuse with *laws*) a “tyrant.”

posted by: bumpin4 | August 22, 2012  1:31am

If someone in that Colorado theater had a legal gun on them on the day of that shooting, I believe there would have been less casualties.

posted by: ASTANVET | August 22, 2012  11:50am

ok NOW what?, what I mean by Tyrant is by trying to rule (by way of regulation) a state, or nation based on your opinion.  That is why we have a representative government.  So that people who have different opinions than you have a voice in government.  I know the 2nd Amendment; I know the text and the foundations to it as well as the context by which these fresh revolutionaries wanted to protect against tyranny.  But we’re coming off the rails here with what you are suggesting.  There is no basis for you to insert your “common sense” - I have no idea what regulations you would envision.  I personally like to protect my civil liberties… all of them… and have dedicated my life in service of this nation to defend your and my civil liberties.  Your assertion that you want to take away someone’s rights to carry or possess firearms is the exact reason I used the word ‘tyrant’ because it is the rule by one, not of many.  Again, you seem to not have any tolerance towards a different opinion - and I doubt very highly that there is room for you to consider an alternative to what you already believe.