Wednesday, December 11, 2013

One year after Sandy Hook, America (and Wisconsin) has a lot yet to learn

A quick rant on the need for reasonable gun regulations in our state and our country

One year after the most horrific of nightmares became reality for a sleepy New England town, little if anything has been done to address the events of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Twenty children and six school administrators were killed that day, for no apparent reason. What went through the shooter’s mind that day -- addressing him by name serves no grand purpose -- remains a mystery. He and only he knows why he did what he did, and that secret has been taken to his grave.

It isn’t fair to those children, it isn’t fair to those families, what this man took from them. So much potential, so much promise...gone in an instant.

There is no happy ending to this story. Few (if any) can imagine what a happy ending could even look like, what any resolution could bring for these people.

Families from across America held onto their little ones a little tighter that night, as the reality of the situation became apparent: Newtown, Connecticut, was really Anytown, U.S.A.

Yet, the possible remedies for such a tragedy were readily dismissed by the usual parties -- the National Rifle Association specifically, as well as the lawmakers they fund. Hoping to calm the nerves of a populace fed up with such tragedies, NRA leaders came up with their own solution: more guns, especially in schools.

Any calls for regulation of any kind were scoffed at by those “defending” gun rights. No, banning weapons of any kind was out of the question. No, limiting the magazine count was also an option they couldn’t accept. And don’t even think about expanding background checks, or closing the gun-show loophole, both ideas which were also readily dismissed as an “infringement” on gun owners’ rights.

Each of the regulations intended to curb abusive gun behavior was turned down by conservative lawmakers in Congress and their pro-gun sponsors. They were called cowards by the left, and heroes by the right. The rest of America, already understanding the realities of a do-nothing Congress, went on with their lives, cynically believing there was nothing that could be done.

Four months earlier, Wisconsin saw a tragedy of its own, in a place of worship no less. At that time, we heard the usual lines from those favoring loose gun laws -- there was no way to prevent this, except to have more guns. We heard the (errant) line that gun-free zones only encouraged “bad guys with guns” to do their dastardly deeds, in spite of the fact that the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek wasn’t a gun-free zone.

Wisconsin itself has experienced a rise in gun-related crime, in a year when a newly-enacted concealed carry law went into effect. The idea of the law, its proponents asserted, was to allow citizens the freedom to carry their weapons wherever they wanted to. More guns, after all, would lead to less crime...or so we were told.

In fact, crime in the state went up. Violent crime, defined by the FBI as murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, increased by a rate of more than 18 percent (per 100,000 citizens) compared to the previous year’s numbers. Murders and aggravated assaults went up by 26 percent and 29 percent, respectively. And the number of murders related to guns went up even more so, increasing by 34 percent.

Those that had us believe that concealed carry would fix things, at least in the short term, were wrong. And it wasn’t just in urban areas, either: take Milwaukee and Madison out of the equation, the two largest cities in the state, and Wisconsin’s murder rate per 100,000 went up by 83 percent from the previous year.

On the issue of gun violence in this country, and in this state, we’re clearly missing the point. Something needs to change in our collective minds about the growing number of tragedies we experience. Instead of finding solutions, however, we’ve simply numbed ourselves to these experiences, resigning ourselves to offer prayer and condolences, and nothing much beyond that.

I myself can’t offer a solution that everyone is going to like (nor should I -- I’m a mere opinion writer, not a lawmaker). I don’t actually think that’s possible, in the gun debate or any other political issue facing the nation or the state. But the solutions offered by those purporting that more guns are needed, or that concealed carry will lower crimes, are wrong.

One thing I’m certain of, however, is that the cynicism of our time needs to end. The solutions need to be discussed openly, honestly, and without callous.

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