Boston gun control billboard updated

Many folks from the greater Boston area are quite familiar with the huge anti-gun-violence billboard that’s been up in Boston for nearly two decades, outside Fenway Park along the Mass Pike. It’s reportedly the largest billboard in America.

Every so often, the Stop Handgun Violence group responsible for it, changes the specific message, though its focus is usually related to gun deaths of children. They have just updated it with a counter showing the number of gun deaths in the United States since the Sandy Hook massacre a year ago. You can read their press release here.

Credit: Anne Mostue of WGBH Boston.

Credit: Anne Mostue of WGBH Boston.

Meanwhile, even today there was another school shooting, just miles from Columbine High School. In a separate incident, a young mother was shot when she tried to take a handgun away from a 23 month old baby, who was playing it with it. Over five hundred children are killed every year in America due to gun accidents in the home and other gunshot incidents.

The Boston Globe published a front page story on Thursday, entitled:
Newtown far from a catalyst for gun control: In a year since school shootings, many states loosen their laws

President Obama […] made it his personal mission: “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?”

Much of the politics, in the end, turned against him. Today, it is easier, not harder, to carry a gun in many parts of the nation than it was before the Newtown massacre last Dec. 14.

More than 1,500 bills were filed in state legislatures amid a chorus of grieving voices from shattered families. And while several reliably blue states enacted major reforms, far more states, more than two dozen, passed laws that weakened gun control. Many expanded the number of places where concealed weapons are permitted.

The federal effort, championed by Obama, failed in April in the face of Senate opposition to expanded background checks, a ban on assault weapons, and limits on ammunition magazines. In Colorado, two state senators were recalled by voters for supporting tougher gun restrictions in the wake of horrific killings at a movie theater in Aurora. A third state senator resigned rather than face a recall.

Yes, more states rolled back controls than those who expanded them.

Recall in Rhode Island

Just next door to both Massachusetts and Connecticut, the little town of Exeter Rhode Island has exploded in vitriol as gun advocates campaign to recall four town council members who dared to try to move concealed-carry permitting from the overwhelmed and under-resourced town clerk’s office to the state attorney general’s office, which used to handle it anyway as recently as 2011.

Under Rhode Island law, it’s much easier to get a local permit than a state permit, so many gun owners get theirs through the local authorities who are less free to refuse permits. What’s the distinction?

State law mandates that local authorities “shall” grant the permit to a qualified applicant — but the attorney general “may” issue a permit, giving that office more discretion.

In general, Rhode Island towns and cities do local licensing through their police force, but the town of Exeter is too small to have its own police force. So a few years ago, a town council member who also happens to own a gun store, insisted the town clerk had to start issuing the licenses instead, even though they were not adequately prepared to handle the task.

Shortly thereafter, the other council members decided that they should actually probably hand it off to the state attorney general’s office, which could do more thorough checks on applicants but who also had more authority to deny permits. The (now-former) town councilman who owns a gun store has led a nasty recall election campaign against the four members (out of five) who pragmatically and for safety reasons thought the matter should be referred to professionals (though it would require a state legislative act to codify the exemption and thus hasn’t even taken effect yet).

This is literally the smallest possible measure of gun control possible — restoring the situation to how it was two years ago with a one word distinction in the level of permit availability — and yet the gun advocates are trying to run everyone out of office. (In a particularly bizarre twist, the recall process there stipulates that offices recalled are filled by the losing candidate in the previous election.)

The campaign has been extremely vicious and filled with lots of big cash from the wider gun rights movement, as well as allegations that during the petition phase the pro-gun side told senior citizens the council members were secretly trying to raise their property taxes.

Voters there will head to the polls tomorrow.

Thoughts on Connecticut

First, this was a deeply upsetting event, and it’s hard to grasp or process mentally. It would be anyway, but it’s especially hard as a native of New England — we have a lot of regional solidarity and closeness. For example, my mother texted me to remind me she and I had stopped right near that school this past May to get lunch while traveling between Delaware and Massachusetts.

Second. The bulk of the people who tell us not to “politicize” mass shootings are invariably gun advocates. They are aware that this *is* a political issue, whether in or out of the heat of the moment, and that if they can delay any immediate reaction when momentum in favor would be highest, that it’s even less likely any gun control legislation will be introduced, let alone passed. The rest of people who say not to politicize it are usually sincerely trying to keep the focus where it ideally would be, on the loss of life and the mourning families — but they are, in fact, enabling the other side, by silencing the gun control advocates who have been on the losing side for a decade. Silence is a de facto advantage to the gun lobby, since they are in the dominant position in the American political system. In the past two years, there have been at least a half dozen horrific mass shootings, and the gun lobby has effectively prevented the introduction or consideration of even modest, reasonable measures to tighten up legal acquisition of guns, restrictions on the types of guns sold to civilians, or the extended clips/magazines made legally available. They even managed to force people to stay silent in the aftermath of an attempted assassination of an elected member of Congress, which was quite obviously political, by telling people not to politicize the tragedy. Simply put, our government generally responds to problems only when there is broad public attention on it and a demand for solutions, particularly after crises hit, and gun violence problems are no exception — which makes it *necessary* to discuss this immediately, instead of waiting until everyone not immediately connected to a given tragedy has had time to “forget” till the next incident. It’s amazing seeing the comments about how we “can’t jump to conclusions” or be overly hasty because don’t know all the details yet, as if this weren’t something that was happening every few months, as if we can’t generalize that there’s a problem we need to act on. This isn’t some unprecedented and unforeseeable event, it’s something that keeps happening over and over. Other industrialized nations don’t have this problem (to the same level or frequency, even with the 3 unprecedented major incidents in Europe in 2011) because they have pretty strict controls — so much for the If Guns Are Outlawed Only Outlaws Will Have Guns platitude — as well as a lack of a “gun culture” (and yes better health care systems that help people struggling with mental illnesses get adequate help). Here, this is something that now seems to be accepted as an unavoidable part of our reality, that every few months a dozen or more people will be killed at once inexplicably (or that random gun violence will happen on city street corners daily, or that some number of wives and children will be shot dead in their homes by abusive husbands and fathers). Telling people not to talk about it at the time when something happens is, whether intentional or not, effectively an endorsement of the view that this will be our continued reality and that we should just accept it and shouldn’t do anything about it. If we don’t accept this premise, we *have to* talk about it and we have to talk about policy and political solutions, because this *is* a political issue, like it or not. If it weren’t, the NRA wouldn’t spend so much money each year on elections. Honestly, I don’t really think anything will come of this either, because the gun lobby has secured their position so strongly, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it or be quiet about it or wait until it’s faded from the news cycle. I’m tired of being silenced on gun control because I’m supposed to only be joining the collective mourning. I’m capable of holding more than one thought in my head at a time, and so are the rest of Americans. The gun advocates just don’t want that to happen because then they might actually have a fight on their hands in the halls of power.