Karen Heller: Gun control an issue whose name politicians dare not speak

Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey: After massacre, "I guarantee you that not a damn thing will change."
Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey: After massacre, "I guarantee you that not a damn thing will change." (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff)
Posted: July 26, 2012

We're going to talk about gun violence and the tragedy of Aurora for a while, the horror of 12 massacred and 58 wounded, and then we'll be done.

And certainly we'll end the discussion before the forthcoming national conventions, because gun violence is the issue whose name politicians dare not speak.

Actually, our national leaders have already copped out of the debate, fearing the wrath of the almighty NRA and an American electorate more consumed with economic issues than with reversing a national homicide rate, the great majority caused by firearms, that dwarfs all other industrialized nations'.

On this issue, President Obama, who called for renewing the ban on assault weapons as a candidate four years ago, has been abysmally silent.

His press secretary made some vague gun-control comments while stressing that the president "believes we need to take steps to protect Second Amendment rights of the American people."

Mind you, he said this aboard Air Force One while the president was en route to Aurora, Colo. Gun violence is ravaging Obama's hometown of Chicago, reeling from a 32 percent spike in homicides, but he's not going to address that. As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg rightly said, "The president has spent the last three years trying to avoid the issue."

As governor of Massachusetts, the other Mitt Romney passed a ban on assault weapons. After Aurora, candidate Romney cautioned: "Now is not a time to be talking about the politics associated with what happened in Aurora," because any discussion of guns is considered political rather than a public health and safety issue. Instead, Romney urged waiting.

Like, forever.

Most state legislators, certainly ours in Harrisburg, have been dismal about banning assault weapons that are designed exclusively for killing people, not ducks.

These elected officials are completely at odds with mayors and police chiefs, of cities large and small (and also the Congress members who represent those cities), who live with the cumulative carnage and cost of firearms on a daily basis.

Gun violence is not simply a public safety threat, but a plague that destroys neighborhoods and suppresses economic development while draining civic budgets of money desperately needed elsewhere.

"I guarantee you that not a damn thing will change," Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey tells me. "The issue is gun violence, and our cities are hemorrhaging. Why can you buy thousands of rounds of ammunition on the Internet, and no one bats an eye? You should have to register any legal sale of any firearm. You need some requirement of background checks, even if it's a private sale, otherwise it's one big loophole."

He's a strong advocate for "real punishments for people committing crimes with firearms, and you need to enforce them. You lock up people for 12 to 15 years just for having a gun during the commission of a crime, and you won't have to do that too often."

But, first, let's make the streets of Tampa safe from water pistols. They will be banned by temporary ordinance from the area surrounding next month's Republican National Convention.

Actual handguns? No problem, as long as owners have concealed-weapon permits - despite Mayor Bob Buckhorn's appeal to Gov. Rick Scott to temporarily prohibit them, citing that, with nearly 4,000 law enforcement personnel, "a firearm would not be necessary for self-defense." Scott refused, citing the Second Amendment.

Then again, those same citizens will be prohibited from carrying guns inside the convention center, just as they are banned inside state legislatures or the Congress. As Ramsey says, "Politicians get to live in their own little cocoons, while the rest of us are screwed."

What have we learned so far from Aurora? That the Internet turns out to be a great marketplace for something other than porn. Shooting suspect James Holmes purchased 6,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as a 100-round, high-capacity rifle magazine, without attracting anyone's attention.

Turns out that in the world of assault weapons, that's not much. As the director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners told the New York Times, "I call 6,000 rounds of ammunition running low."

Also, that mass violence is good for the firearms business. Colorado gun sales soared last weekend following the carnage.

"I've had 200 homicides so far this year. If I had 12 in a month, I would not consider that a very bad month. I understand the attention, and my hearts go out to the victims' families and to all the victims of gun violence," Ramsey said. "But it happens here every day. If the tragedies we've had on our streets of our cities don't get people motivated - which have far surpassed the losses in Afghanistan or Iraq - then I don't know what will."

Ramsey is right. Nothing will.

After Aurora, as with Columbine and Virginia Tech and Fort Hood, we will wring our hands and mourn the dead, and absolutely nothing about our gun laws will change.


Contact Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @kheller.

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