Once upon a time, I had my driver’s license suspended. I was in my 20’s; I was going through a divorce; and, I was a bit off my game. The judge allowed me to drive to and from work; but for two months I couldn’t go anywhere else. I had been trained and licensed to drive but it was made clear up front that driving was a privilege not a right. I was acting irresponsibly so I lost my privileges.
In Port St. Lucie, Florida last week, a road rage incident led to a white man, Dean Bair, threatening his momentary nemesis, a black man whose two children were in the car, with a gun. Racial epithets were hurled. The gun wasn’t used but there was a fistfight. Police searched Bair’s vehicle and found not only the 9 mm handgun that he was brandishing but also an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, loaded with the safety off. He was charged with aggravated assault and arrested. He was also charged with carrying a concealed weapon and using a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Was he mentally deranged or just a stupid redneck? I don’t know.
The public is split over gun rights but nearly everyone agrees that we need to keep firearms away from deranged people. People like James Holmes who is accused of the Aurora, CO shooting, Adam Lanza who killed 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, CT and Seung-Hui Cho who killed 32 at Virginia Tech in 2007.
So, why did the US Senate kill a bill that would have closed the gun show loophole and require background checks for all gun purchasers?
The answer is complicated, of course. Nothing is simple in Washington. The bill also contained provisions that limited rights to own semi-automatic weapons. The NRA campaigned against it. So, down it went.
And, you have to ask yourself… if you were a resident of Watertown, MA, would you have wanted to have a gun in your house this week? What would you do if a panicked Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were pounding your door? Would you have been better off if you had a gun?
Moreover, advocates of gun rights point out that nothing in the proposed law would have prevented the tragedy in Newtown. And, they are right about that. The only way to prevent a mother from giving guns to their mentally deranged children is to infringe on her right to own a gun in the first place.
There are those who would opt for that approach – taking guns away from everyone. But, it seems very clear to me that advocates of gun rights are a good deal more passionate about what they view as their basic rights. So, it’s not going to happen.
Following the vote, the president made an impassioned speech with former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at his side. Ms. Giffords didn’t speak as she still has difficulty doing so. She saved her words for an Op-Ed in the New York Times titled “A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip”. She expressed the views of many when she said of the 45 Senators who brought the legislation down, “They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing”.
I suppose they might still do something. There are ways they might prevent the mentally ill and convicted felons from owning guns. It won’t be foolproof and there will be exceptions. It wouldn’t have stopped the bombers in Boston, the terrorists on 9/11 or Adam Lanza’s mother from her folly.
On Thursday, the Senate voted for cloture by a vote of 68-31. So, the Congressional debate will continue.
Meanwhile, in Port St. Lucie, if Dean Bair is convicted of a felony, he will lose his right to carry a firearm -- in Florida. His guns aren't registered. He still may be able to buy a firearm at a gun show. Unlike driving, which is a privilege not a right, he wasn’t trained or licensed and his guns weren’t registered or insured.
WHO WILL LEAD?