In 1989 Patrick Purdy, armed with an automatic weapon, walked into an elementary school in Stockton California and killed eight people.
The outrage that followed was a spark that set fire to people’s minds. Five years — and several more massacres later — then-president Bill Clinton, a Democrat, signed into law a ban on automatic weapons.
The National Rifle Association massively retaliated. With hundreds of millions of dollars at its disposal, it launched the moral equivalent of war against the Democratic Party. In 1994 the Democrats controlled Congress. Shortly thereafter, with war chests financed in large part by the NRA, the Republicans took over Congress.
Since then, like the tail wagging the dog, the NRA with only 4.3 million members has controlled gun policy in this country. Smarting from their defeat in this 1990s “gun” battle, the Democrats let the automatic weapons ban expire. As a result, anyone – including people with a history of mental illness – can buy a gun online without a background check.
Of course the real victims in the NRA’s war against gun regulation are the children. The 20 children and six adults who died needlessly Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn. were politically casualties of war.
The tragedy in Sandy Hook Elementary School is indescribably horrible. Yet as horrible as it is, it is still relatively rare that children in affluent communities have to duck and cover.
Unfortunately, in the black community automatic weapons readily available for sale to cash buyers on line have become commonplace. They are not in the hands of hunters or families trying to protect themselves. They are in the hands of drug dealers and thugs.
An episode of the famous television show The Wire portrayed a mother sending her child to bed. Before he can get to sleep, a stray round from a gunfight over drugs takes his life. This poignant fictional scene captures the plight of too many mothers in the black community who must lullaby their child to sleep with the artificial thunder of automatic rifle fire in the background.
The terror and rage when the events in Sandy Hook took place came out of nowhere; there was surprise. In the ’hood such violence is no surprise; it goes with the territory. The children killed by stray rounds in the ghetto are collateral damage in the same politics of gun deregulation as the children in Sandy Hook.
I often wonder how the head of the NRA can sleep at night knowing that the NRA’s militant efforts to keep guns unregulated has resulted in the deaths of so many children. It is too bad there is no ghost of Xmas future who could show him how destructive and tragic the results of deregulated guns can be.
Until the ghost shows up, we need to act. The Democrats tiptoe around the Second Amendment as if it were an 800-pound gorilla. It is not. It is true that the Supreme Court has held there is a right to own guns for hunting and to protect your home. But you don’t need an M-16 to do that.
Intimidated by the militancy of the NRA in its war against regulation of automatic weapons, the Democrats not only do nothing, they say virtually nothing. Thus one Democratic congresswoman, Carolyn McCarthy, said shortly after the shooting in Sandy Hook, “Now is not the time to talk about gun control!” This is much like a child who is cowed by a bully.
The answer increasingly provided by political leadership – in red and blue states – is more guns. Put armed guards at the school. Arm the teachers! Turn schools into fortresses. I’m reminded of the mother holding up a sign at a gun control rally that said, “When one child throws a rock at another the answer is not to give all the children rocks.”
The answer to Sandy Hook, to the proliferation of automatic weapons in the black community, is not more guns. Our laissez faire policy on weapons of mass destruction thrives in a culture of fear. For the Democrats it is the fear of the power of the NRA. There should be a million parent march on Washington against gun violence. Politicians need to be made more afraid of the anger and militancy of mothers and fathers – black and white – than they are of the NRA.
Donald Jones is professor of Law at the University of Miami. He may be reached at DJones@Law.miami.edu