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Mass murder, guns and the Second Amendment

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Last week in Las Vegas, yet another slaughter of our fellow citizens occurred. This horrific incident is just another in a series of seemingly random mass killings that defy logic. Country music enthusiasts were enjoying the talents of singer Jason Aldean when they were rained upon with bullets fired from 32 stories above by a madman named Stephen Paddock.

At this time no one has determined what might have been the motivation for such a senseless act. Psychological profilers are formulating hypotheses as to why Paddock sought to harm so many. With over 500 injured, some critically, and 58 murdered, all Americans are trying to make some sense of this deplorable horror.

Therein lies the problem. Despite whatever will be revealed as the compelling factors for Paddock’s devilment, the broad question of how the increased occurrences of mass slaughter can be lessened is most important.

Terrorism related acts perpetrated on our society are at least explained by religious zealousness. Random slaughters are even more heinous because they are more baffling to behold.

Inevitably, these outrageous acts of violence spur debates over gun control and interpretations of the Second Amendment. Fierce gun advocates believe that unfettered access to firearms is the only way to insure pure democracy. On the contrary, many citizens prefer common sense restrictions that they believe will not lead to the “slippery slope” toward rescinding the Second Amendment.

Here in Rhode Island, Governor Gina Raimondo recently signed into law a restriction on gun ownership related to anyone with a history of domestic violence. Even in bluer than blue Rhode Island, this law took three years from proposal to passage. This elongated effort illustrates the power of the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Nationally, with the events in Vegas, the political debate within the beltway has recommenced with a new fervor. Whether restriction advocates will prevail this time is an unanswered ongoing question. Despite all the heart-wrenching tragedies over the past two decades, congress has lacked any positive resolution toward formulating appropriate laws. Perhaps as this massacre fades from the forefront of the news so will the impetus to attempt to modify gun laws. This prospect of change begs the question whether further gun restrictions would indeed quell the trend toward mass slaughter in America.

Using a heavy hammer Stephen Paddock broke the windows on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. In his hotel room, Paddock had a cache of 23 firearms, including an AK-47 rifle with a “Bump-Stock” attachment, which modifies a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon. Also, he had a great deal of ammunition stacked in neat piles throughout the hotel suite. Below him were 22,000 concertgoers enjoying the music of country star Jason Aldean at the 91 Harvest Festival Concert.

For some undefined reason, he indiscriminately showered bullets into the crowd for 11 minutes. According to Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, Paddock had many rifles with bump stocks already affixed, 1.600 rounds of ammunition in his car and fertilizer which can be used to manufacture explosive devices.

This massacre was the worst tragedy of its kind in United States history. Nonetheless, America has suffered many similar incidents in recent decades.

Just this past June of 2016, an alternative lifestyle bar in Orlando Florida was fired upon by a religious zealot named Omar Mateen. He killed 49 people and wounded 50. At the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif., in December of 2015, Fared Farook and fellow gunmen Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people for religious reasons until they were killed in return fire from police officers. In September of 2013, in the Washington Navy Yard, a former Navy reservist Aaron Alexis opened fire at the Yard. He killed 12 people for no apparent reason.

Additionally, mentally deranged loner Adam Lanza killed 26 people, primarily little children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in December of 2012. Also, Army psychiatrist Nidal Hassan killed 13 people and injured 30 at Fort Hood, Texas. He claimed he was not accepted by his army comrades and they did not understand his religious beliefs. So he had to kill them.

Equally heinous was the murders at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, New York in April of 2009. Jiverly Wong, a 42 year old Vietnamese immigrant who had claimed he was experiencing problems with acculturation, killed 13 people and wounded four others before turning the gun on himself.

And probably the most shocking horror at that time, in April of 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot up their high school in Littleton, Colo. They killed 13 people and wounded 24 before committing suicide.

Those are merely some of the examples of gun related mass murder over the past two decades.

Whether the reasons for annihilation of others en masse are driven by some insane religious belief, or some deep depressive mental state, or some unidentified intangible, if the perpetrators did not possess the instruments of mass destruction, they could not kill so many so fast.

Cable news pundits and experts have concentrated their efforts on analyzing Stephen Paddock’s possible reasons for his attack. Retired FBI Profiler James Clemente speculated that Paddock suffered “some sort of major trigger in his life…a great loss, a breakup, or maybe just found out he has a terminal disease.” Clemente went on to note that Paddock’s father was a convicted bank robber and Paddock junior may have inherited some bad tendencies. “The genetics load the gun, personality and psychology aim it, and experiences pull the trigger typically.”

If Clemente’s theory is correct, then the overall societal conditions have little to do with the uptick in mass murders in recent US history. Or is the problem simply related to the following reality. When other maladjusted people wanted to cause mass destruction in America’s long ago past, they did not have access to weapons that could do the job efficiently.

To that end, California Senator Dianne Feinstein has proposed a ban of the bump stock device in the congress. Surprisingly, both the White House and the NRA have agreed with the measure. Even the Republican leaders such as Speaker of the House Ryan and Senate Leader McConnell have expressed a willingness to look at the proposal. Hopeful advocates for reform are wishful that this might start a dialogue about the restoration of the Assault Weapons Ban (AWB, effective 1994 to 2004), which was law but had a sunset clause that was not renewed by congress.

Locally, after three years of work, a bill sponsored by Representative Teresa Tanzi and State Senator Harold Metts that bans gun ownership by anyone with a domestic violence record has become law. Rhode Island joins a majority of states who have undertaken such measures to prevent the slaughter of terrorized spouses. The “Protect Rhode Island Families Act” is one example of a state doing what the federal government has neglected to do. Simply, a comprehensive national reform of the gun laws will replace the need for states to seek reform incrementally.

Gun enthusiasts believe that any reform will eventually lead to the removal of guns from the citizenry altogether. Our Second Amendment guarantees, “The right to keep and bear arms” and the right to have a, “Well regulated militia.” In the era of the musket, our forefathers could have never dreamed of the advances in weapons that we have at our disposal today.

Personally, I believe in the Second Amendment and I have legal firearms, and I have always followed all the safety precautions recommended in their responsible use. However, I do not need a Howitzer or an automatic rifle to defend my family or my business. My shotgun and pistols do the job well. Some common sense regulations, like background checks and the assault weapons ban, will not lead to the government taking away my protective armament. Modification of current law is not a slippery slope but solid ground.

Considering all the mentally unstable and religiously zealous people out in our society, enacting some appropriate restrictions would be sensibly cautious. Such logical action might thwart bad actors from accessing volume killing firepower in the future.

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