This was not a good weekend for rational, fact-based conversations about gun ownership in America.
Leading things off was the carnival barking of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump at the National Rifle Association convention in Kentucky. Trump reiterated common fantasies about gun-free zones, claimed that the Second Amendment is in danger of being abolished and pitched that women in high-crime neighborhoods need guns for safety.
Actually, ensuring that domestic violence abusers are denied access to guns would be among the best changes that would help keep women safe. Details, details, definitely not The Donald’s forte.
Let’s move on to Tuesday. Rep. Stacey Newman of St. Louis County will represent Missouri in White House meetings. Gathered will be governors, legislators and mayors working to promote common-sense reforms to help stem deaths from guns, without overreaching into Second Amendment rights.
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Sadly, it’s not often that one can write “common sense” and “gun law” in the same sentence. But despite the loudest rhetoric, this is where most Americans reside. They respect gun rights but also want to increase gun safety. They support expanding background checks and keeping guns from the dangerously mentally ill.
How to accomplish those goals in the current political climate is what’s difficult.
“I’m just tired of particularly our kids being expendable just so that people can be elected,” Newman said Monday from Washington. “Having to vote for a gun bill to get re-elected is just nonsense.”
She noted that most politicians are elected from a small base of voters, so they are not answering to the wishes of the general public.
Unfortunately, Missouri is a great example. Newman can give testimony to what hasn’t worked here.
Newman has teamed with Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker for many of her efforts. As mothers, they’ve both been outspoken when yet another young child is shot. Baker recently charged a Kansas City man with multiple offenses, including second-degree murder and endangering the welfare of a child. The man’s 2-year-old daughter apparently shot and killed herself when he left a 9 mm handgun loaded and within her reach.
In February, Newman introduced legislation to criminalize such negligence. She wants prosecutors to be able to charge an adult with endangering the welfare of a child if they knowingly fail to secure a loaded weapon with a lock or in a safe, leaving it readily available to someone under 17 and resulting in injury to the child.
The bill couldn’t even get the courtesy of a hearing.
Instead, Missouri legislators passed a bill to expand the “castle doctrine” to include “stand your ground” provisions. Think George Zimmerman. He ended up using a self-defense argument in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. But part of the discussion around the case was because in Florida, it’s OK to not retreat, to shoot and then claim self-defense later. The state was the first to pass such a “stand your ground” law in 2005.
Gov. Jay Nixon has the Missouri version on his desk. Even if he vetoes it, the legislature will likely be able to override his no vote come next session.
Newman will also meet with Americans for Responsible Solutions. The organization was founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, after she nearly died in a 2011 mass shooting that killed six people. Both Giffords and Kelly are longtime gun owners.
But they are sensible. They regularly debunk the stretched fantasy that more guns will necessarily equal more safety.
A police officer’s nightmare is answering a call of an armed intruder in a public space and encountering armed civilians, too. How are they to know who is the bad guy? In fact, when Giffords was shot, there was a bystander armed at that Tucson, Ariz., shopping center. He’d taken the safety off of his semi-automatic pistol, and only because he heeded the warning of others he did not fire at an innocent person.
Those sorts of real-case scenarios are important. Yes, they complicate pat answers, myths about who owns guns and how they function in society.
It’s part of not buying into easy arguments that don’t pan out upon closer inspection. Take gun-free zones. There isn’t evidence that such zones are more likely targets because of the absence of guns. That’s partly because mass shooters often choose their locations for mayhem based on other factors, like where they attended school or a personal vendetta. And they often do so intending to be killed. They desire a gunbattle with police.
“I think there will be an interesting cross-section of people,” Newman said of Tuesday’s meeting. “You come because you are committed to saving lives and have hope that working together there will be progress.”