Skip to main content

Give gun owners what they want

By Daniel W. Webster, Special to CNN
updated 12:22 PM EST, Wed November 14, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • At the sentencing of Jared Loughner, issue of gun violence came up
  • Daniel Webster: It's time for elected officials to address key flaws in our gun laws
  • He says the NRA speaks for gun owners with the most extreme views
  • Webster: Politicians should push for reforms supported by most gun owners

Editor's note: Daniel W. Webster is professor and director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

(CNN) -- At the sentencing of Jared Loughner, Mark Kelly, speaking on behalf of his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, called out politicians for their "feckless leadership" when it comes to addressing gun violence in America.

"We have a political class that is afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws and how they are being enforced," Kelly said. "We have representatives who look at gun violence not as a problem to solve, but as the white elephant in the room to ignore."

Giffords was shot at close range in the head by Loughner at a constituency event outside a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona, on January 8, 2011. Her survival and recovery are indeed miraculous, yet after many months of physical therapy, she struggles with her speech and walking. There were 18 other victims in the mass shooting, six of whom died.

Daniel W. Webster
Daniel W. Webster
Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Despite being rejected by the military because of a history of illicit drug use and being kicked out of a community college for repeated incidents of threatening and bizarre behavior, Loughner legally purchased a semi-automatic pistol with a magazine capable of holding 30 rounds of ammunition.

The politicians called out by Kelly and Giffords let the National Rifle Association bully them into thinking that gun owners don't want key flaws in our current gun laws fixed and that you can't win elections without the backing of the NRA. The millions of dollars the NRA spent in unsuccessful attempts to win close Senate races in swing states with high gun ownership rates -- Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin -- suggests that candidates can and do win despite strong NRA opposition.

The NRA portrays itself as an organization that speaks for and advocates for gun owners. The reality is that they speak for gun owners with the most extreme views and for the gun industry. A case in point is their opposition to requiring background checks for all firearm sales.

Under federal law and most states' law, only individuals who attempt to purchase firearms from licensed gun dealers must present a government-issued ID, sign a form stating that they do not fit any of the firearm prohibition categories and pass a criminal background check. But criminals and gun traffickers are given an easy alternative. They can simply purchase firearms from private sellers who do not require any of these checks.

5 things gun owners want you to know

Maisch: Loughner sentencing 'emotional'
Tucson shooting survivor on gun control
Tuscon shooting survivor on Loughner

Closing this absurd loophole would not be political suicide for politicians who fear losing the support of gun owners. A recent survey found that more than 80% of gun owners and 74% of NRA members want this loophole fixed. It seems likely that Giffords and Kelly, both gun owners, would be among this large majority favoring this reform.

Gun owners don't want dangerous people to have guns. So it seems doubtful that most gun owners think gun dealers should continue to be offered the special protections that Congress has bestowed on them, which reduce accountability and make it easier for criminals to get guns. When states require background checks for all handgun sales and have strong regulation and oversight of licensed gun dealers, far fewer guns are diverted to criminals.

Politicians could also strengthen our gun laws so that, for example, individuals convicted of misdemeanor crimes of violence (often pleaded down from felony charges) or those who have been convicted of multiple alcohol-related crimes are prohibited from possessing firearms. Studies have shown that these groups commit violent crimes at rates many times higher than population averages. Keeping guns from criminals and alcoholics isn't anti-gun -- it's pro-safety.

While nonfatal crime rates in the U.S. are comparable to other high-income countries, our homicide rate in the U.S. is seven times higher than that of other high-income countries, due in part to greater availability of handguns. We can reduce the homicide rate by restricting high-risk individuals from owning guns and eliminating legal protections that shady gun sellers and criminals exploit. Science and public opinion are in alignment.

It's time for elected officials to listen to the common sense reforms supported by the majority of gun owners and gun violence survivors such as Giffords.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Daniel W. Webster.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT