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John Patrick Grace: Gun-violence debate yields sane ideas

Jan. 22, 2013 @ 04:28 PM

Attentive Herald-Dispatch readers no doubt caught the snippet in the paper for Thursday, Jan. 12, reporting on the arrest of a 43-year-old man in the 1100 block of Third Avenue, Huntington, after the man said he wanted to “get on the roof with a bullet-proof vest and shoot people.”

A wake-up call, if anyone here needed one: Newtown, Conn.,  Aurora, Colo., and Tucson, Ariz. — all sites of recent massacres with high-powered weapons — are really just “Anytown, USA,” and Huntington could easily fit into the mix.

The burning issues in the gun-control debate will flare right here, just as they are flaring in areas that have experienced mass gun tragedies.  

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., our former governor, a longtime National Rifle Association member with an A-rating from that organization, has said that “everything needs to be on the table” in the discussion over how to combat the threats posed by individuals such as the man arrested in Huntington.

Appearing on a Sunday CNN talk show with former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who ran for the Republican nomination for president last spring, Manchin said the NRA position of “we can’t even talk about any new regulations on guns” was not acceptable.  

While refusing to be pinned down by CNN host Candy Crowley as to whether he personally would vote for a ban on semi-automatic and automatic assault weapons, Manchin said that such a ban  should be part of a national conversation.

Both he and Huntsman called for “comprehensive legislation” that would also include a range of mental-health issues and the effect of violent video games on the psyches of unbalanced individuals.

Recent national polling has shown fairly strong support for two parts of a prospective policy aimed at attenuating gun violence in schools and other public places: 65 per cent of those polled have expressed support for having armed guards in schools, and 85 per cent of those polled favor universal background checks for all gun purchases.

A slight majority, 53 per cent in one poll, favor restoring the national ban on assault weapons, semi-automatic and automatic rifles. More agree (62 per cent) that sales of magazines holding more than 10 rounds should be barred.

Gun shows have allowed purchasers to skip such checks and waiting periods, whereas retail gunshops require them. Either gun shows will have to include background checks and waiting periods, or else gun shows likely will be shut down.

To date the NRA and the even-more conservative Gun Owners of America have opposed any and all changes in gun control, both at the federal and at the state levels. These groups tend to dismiss calls for tighter regulations as “an assault on the Second Amendment.” They sometimes also speak of a “Trojan Horse,” meaning even some tightening that may have popular approval would only lead to more and more efforts to restrict, and even confiscate, guns in America.

The Dec.14, 2012 Newtown, Conn., massacre of 20 first-grade children at the Sandy Hook Elementary school, the school’s principal, the school psychologist and four teaching staff  is being spoken of in Congress and on political talk shows as “a tipping point.” Popular sentiment, for instance, swung from a majority being opposed to an assault-weapons ban before the Newtown shootings to a majority supporting such a ban afterward.

Following the report of a study commission headed by Vice President Joe Biden, the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are making a push for comprehensive reform to tamp down gun violence in America. A number of Republicans are expected to break ranks and join them.

Hope for sane reform is in the air. And none too soon.

John Patrick Grace carried and fired an M-16 assault rifle as part of his U.S. Army training, though never in combat. He is a former reporter, editor and foreign correspondent for The Associated Press, and now a book editor and publisher based in Huntington.

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