News and Tribune

April 14, 2013

HOWEY: Guns and common sense


NASHVILLE —  For the life of me, I don’t see how expanded background checks for gun purchases is an assault on the Second Amendment. Yet, that is the phrase we hear over and over and over again from the Indiana congressional delegation.

What is really happening as President Obama pushes for his gun legislation and it courses through the House and Senate is this: Fear, not from the barrel of a gun, but fear of the more than $500,000 the National Rifle Association poured into the U.S. Senate race against Dick Lugar last year.

But in the wake of the Newtown massacre and the Obama-Biden gun initiatives, conservative Republican members of Congress from Indiana are about to hyperventilate about protecting our Second Amendment rights. Almost every proposal in response to Newtown was viewed through that prism. Every statement from each of them is couched in “protection of our Second Amendment rights.”

We’ve seen members like U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman somersault in and around this issue, at one point publicly urging gun manufacturer Beretta to locate a plant in Indiana. I mean, Marlin shore do love his guns!

There’s another side to this story and it has been enunciated by Sen. Joe Donnelly, who since January has used the phrase “with gun rights come responsibility.” That phrase has been picked up by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s TV ad campaign aimed at both Donnelly and Sen. Dan Coats.

Coats released a statement after a procedural maneuver on Thursday. “I believe it is both the duty of our government and society to work together to protect children and keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and those with mental illness issues who could cause harm to others. I welcome an open and fair debate on sensible ways to do that without punishing law-abiding citizens for exercising their Second Amendment rights. The Reid-Schumer bill goes too far and expands the government’s power to regulate, monitor and control the American people’s constitutional right to bear arms.”

Earlier in the week, Coats signed on to a letter by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul that stated they “intend to oppose any legislation that would infringe on the American people’s constitutional right to bear arms, or their ability to exercise this right without being subjected to government surveillance.”

The bill poised to advance in the Senate came with a deal forged by Sens. Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Pat Toomey, the Republican from Pennsylvania.

“The events in Newtown changed us all,” said Manchin, a Democrat from a gun-lovin’ state. “Nobody here in good conscience could sit by and not try to prevent a day like what happened in Newtown from ever happening again.”

Toomey, who once led the conservative Club For Growth, added, “I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control. I think it’s just common sense.”

“Common ground rests on a simple premise,” Toomey continued. “And that is that criminals and the mentally ill shouldn’t have guns. I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that premise.”

This legislation adds a modicum of security, but it wouldn’t have prevented Adam Lanza’s Newtown tragedy, or that of Columbine High School or some of the other infamous massacres.

In the Indiana General Assembly, the reaction has been a bill that requires every school to have armed personnel. This is a knee-jerk “don’t just stand there, do something” legislation that could provide an array of unintended consequences.

The very notion of a teacher, a janitor, or a poorly paid security guard responding to a Lanza-like scene — a hallway gun battle as students cower in classrooms —  is a nightmare waiting to happen.

A better response would be to study the growing list of school shootings and use trained, local police to appear with some regularity. What if we learned that most school shootings occurred around 8 or 9:30 in the morning, or during lunch break?

A more reasonable response might be for the city police or local sheriff to cruise through the school parking lot or hallways on a regular basis, if nothing else than to plant the notion that an impediment to a twisted fantasy exists. Or how about cops doing end-of-shift paperwork and roll call in a small office at the local school?

That would be a better use of resources than that speed trap over by the Dairy Queen.

Greenwood police were placing old squad cars in bank parking lots as a relatively cost-effective deterrent to bank robberies. Imagine that: An empty cop car prevents pulp fiction.

Memo to our lawmakers: We need common sense, statistical analysis, metrics and some innovation.  The hysteria, political posturing and propaganda are an affront to the parents of the Newtown kids and teachers now resting in Connecticut graves.

I suspect if legislators had the chance to talk with one of the Newtown parents and look deep into their eyes, they might come to a similar conclusion.

The columnist publishes at Find him on Twitter @hwypol.