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Do we really want our schools to become fortresses?

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Posted: Saturday, December 29, 2012 12:00 am

Disclaimer: I have had some experience with guns. I was held at gunpoint at my law school campus once and survived.

Later, in 1991, I was a deputy city attorney at the time of the Cleveland School shooting in Stockton, and was involved in writing the first anti-assault weapons ordinance in the country at the direction of the Stockton City Council. The NRA filed a lawsuit against the city opposing the ordinance, but dropped it after the state of California passed their version of a state law banning certain assault weapons which pre-empted the city’s local ordinance.

That law is in effect today. California has one of the nation’s strongest gun control laws, and the ninth-lowest rate of gun deaths in the nation, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

In spite of NRA claims to the contrary, statistics show that the states with the lowest gun ownership rate and strictest gun control laws have the lowest rates of gun deaths. In addition to California, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut had the lowest per capita gun death rates. Each of those states have strict gun laws and low gun ownership rates.

However, Louisiana, Wyoming, Alabama, Montana, and Mississippi rank first in gun deaths — and all have weak gun laws and higher rates of gun ownership.

Single-fire weapons used for hunting, personal protection and target shooting are protected by the Second Amendment. They have a legitimate purpose. The Supreme Court has validated the right of ownership of those weapons.

However, the Court has also placed limitations on certain types of weapons, those surely not contemplated by our Founding Fathers. It is illegal to own a machine gun, for example.

One wonders how far the NRA would go in protecting weapons such as bazookas, tanks or nuclear weapons from regulation. The cynical part of me says that as long as manufacturers donate heavily to the NRA, they would market these to gun owners, and the NRA would lobby Congress to protect the sale of these weapons. The NRA has four million members. Surveys have shown that a majority of those members support reasonable gun laws that the NRA itself has bitterly fought. However, it has been increasingly clear in recent years that the NRA strongly represents gun and ammunition makers, and its goal has been to assist their businesses by increasing profits by the sale of firearms and munitions in this country.

Their pathetic call to arm teachers and place police officers on campuses rather than require limits on assault weapons and 100-round magazines is an insult to the victims and families of the 62 mass murders in the last 30 years. (One can only imagine some gun manufacturers already trying to figure out how they could profit by selling weapons to schools.)

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre insists that blame for the latest shootings should be on video games, the media, American culture and even natural disasters. He blamed everything except brutally efficient high-capacity guns and military style weapons.

His solution? Arm teachers and put armed police officers at every school in America.

Is this what we have become?

At Columbine, a sheriff’s deputy was on duty in 1999 and fired at one of the killers while 11 of their 13 victims were still alive. He missed four times.

Last August, New York City police officers fired at a gunman outside the Empire State Building. They killed him, but wounded nine bystanders.

These were trained officers. Do we really want to have teachers hunt for a key to a locked cabinet which holds a weapon rather than protecting their students, as the brave teachers did in Connecticut? Do we really want schools to become armed fortresses where teachers spend time on weapons training than on curriculum?

Even having a legally acquired gun does not make you safer. Statistics show that if you have a gun in your home, you are 22 times more likely to become a victim. Adam Lanza’s mother had a number of legally acquired weapons, one of which was used by her son to murder her.

Why does a hunter needsan assault weapon, a military weapon made for the purpose of killing people? Do hunters use them to hunt deer? Is that truly a sport?

Do gun owners want assault weapons because they enjoy target practice? Is it more important for gun enthusiasts to enjoy target practice than to protect society and our children from the threat of mass murder?

Why does a hunter need a 30- or 100-round magazine? The only reason that Jared Lee Loughner did not kill more victims in Tucson was that his 30-round magazine jammed. Is there any justification for owning a magazine that fires 30 or even 100 bullets in mere seconds?

After a crazed gunman in Australia killed 35 people in 1995, Australia passed tough new gun control laws. Afterwards, both gun suicides and homicides fell. In addition, while there were 13 mass shooting in Australia between 1979 and 1996, there have been none in the last 16 years.

One more proof that strict laws decrease gun deaths.

There are no easy answers. However, sensible laws regarding assault weapons and multi-round magazines are a start. Congress should close the gun show loophole and develop a background check system to ensure that anyone who buys a firearm is a law-abiding, mentally stable individual. We must examine our mental health system to make sure that those who need help are able to get it.

Is the stranglehold that the NRA has on our legislators too powerful for any action by Congress, even now? Or will the massacre of the 26 innocent children and adults fade from our collective memory until the next shooting, when we again will suffer the horror, tragedy and one more example of the absence of courage by our political leaders?

Cynthia Neely of Lodi is a retired city attorney.

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