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The lesson of Aurora: California is right about gun control

CAPITOL JOURNAL

Forget the NRA's thoughts and prayers — we need solutions like those California has adopted, not the same old, deadly excuses.

July 25, 2012|George Skelton | Capitol Journal
  • A candlelight vigil Tuesday at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood for the victims and survivors of the Colorado movie theater shooting.
A candlelight vigil Tuesday at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood… (Robyn Beck, AFP / Getty Images )

SACRAMENTO — Maybe we can finally drop the tired canard about the only people being affected by gun control are innocent law-abiding citizens.

It's an offshoot of the old NRA spiel that when we outlaw guns, the only people with guns will be outlaws.

Actually, maybe we'd all be safer. Spare us from these law-abiding citizens who are law-abiding until they're not — until they arm themselves with a gun or three and shoot up a school or a home or a workplace or a crowded theater.

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The suspect in the Batman movie massacre,James E. Holmes, apparently was law-abiding until he obtained an AR-15 assault rifle with a 100-round magazine, a .40-caliber Glock pistol and a 12-gauge shotgun. Then he went batty. Close to 70 people were shot and 12 died.

Too many law-abiding citizens go crazy when they get fired or suspect their spouse of cheating or merely sink into some dark hole. And their mayhem would be far less deadly if they were merely throwing knives instead of spraying bullets.

Remember the old rule of thumb about the 1st Amendment: Your right to free speech does not allow you to cry fire in a crowded theater. Seems to me the same principle should apply to the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. No one should be allowed to haul a 100-round assault weapon into a movie theater. Or any other public place, for that matter.

Some statements soon after the Colorado mass killing really grated.

President Obama's and challenger Mitt Romney's were particularly pathetic.

Both politicians previously had supported stronger gun controls. Romney even signed an assault weapons ban as Massachusetts governor. But now they're both cowering before the intimidating NRA, offering no solutions to gun violence — merely, as the New York Times described it, "embracing the role of national grief counselor."

The NRA issued a brief statement that was predictable but nevertheless irritating. Its "thoughts and prayers" were with the victims, the gun lobby said, while declining further comment "until all the facts are known."

Facts? How about a dozen killed and scores wounded by the gunfire of a deranged man, armed with an apparently legal arsenal?

I don't care about anyone's thoughts and prayers. I want to hear about solutions. And don't tell me there aren't any. That is not acceptable.

Also not acceptable: Arming everyone for a shootout, as many gun zealots advocate.

I don't think we want that kind of America — where Sara tells dad, "I'm going to the movie now," and dad replies: "OK, drive carefully and don't forget your sidearm." She can prop it up in the soft drink cup holder at the theater.

For decades, the firearms lobby has fought every meaningful gun control proposal — in California much less successfully than in most states and in Congress.

This is a self-defeating strategy for the long term. The pendulum swings. America isn't likely to tolerate one mass killing after another forever. Give us another generation or two or three, at this murder rate, and Americans will be clamoring for — the dreaded word — confiscation.

What about the 2nd Amendment? Any amendment can be amended.

It's law-abiding gun owners — hunters, target shooters, people arming themselves for protection — who care most about retaining their firearms. They're also the gun experts. Their ideas and proposals would be useful in reducing firearms violence — before our grandchildren seriously consider seizing their weapons.

All we hear, however, is that such-and-such a proposal — banning assault guns, for example — won't eliminate murder. Well, duh. We've had killings ever since the first human crawled out of a cave.

But we can lower the kill rate by reducing the firepower and doing a much better job of keeping weapons out of the hands of mental misfits.

That's not the type of rational discussion, however, that sells NRA memberships. Scare tactics about confiscation are much more marketable.

California has been doing a pretty good job on gun control.

Under California law, the Colorado killer could not have bought an assault weapon or a 100-round magazine. Assault guns are banned, and the magazine limit is 10 rounds. California also requires strong background checks and a 10-day waiting period for gun purchases.

The killer could have bought the sidearm and shotgun here, but it's very unlikely those weapons would have inflicted as many casualties. Lives could have been saved.

"Quite frankly, if the U.S. had California's laws we would be a safer place," says Brian Malte, director of legislation for the Washington-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

"Gun deaths in California have been declining at a faster rate than in the U.S."

But, he added, "states with stronger gun laws are undermined by states surrounding them with weak laws. Which means we need federal laws."

Amanda Wilcox, who heads the Brady group's legislative efforts in this state, says that "law-abiding gun owners can still buy in California. I think we've found a very good balance."

They're buying at the rate of nearly 2,000 guns per day, she says.

There's some attempted tweaking of California gun laws in the Legislature.

A law enforcement-backed bill by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) would prohibit people from openly carrying rifles and shotguns in malls, coffee shops and similar public places. The Legislature last year banned the open carrying of handguns, so some clowns began carting around long guns. Police waste their time checking out this silliness.

A bill by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) would close a loophole in the assault weapon ban by making it mechanically impossible to quickly detach one empty magazine and insert a loaded replacement.

It's hard to fathom why any truly innocent law-abider would object.

george.skelton@latimes.com

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