By Frank Friedman
I understand that op-eds are written to put forth the author’s point of view on a particular topic, and that they should not necessarily be expected to be balanced. But a recent one published by the Jewish Exponent on March 15 often crosses the line between honest advocacy and Trumpian distortion. It is rife with innuendo, inaccuracies, and biases unbecoming of discussion on such a volatile and important issue as gun control.
It begins with an unsubstantiated claim that “our solutions [to the gun problem] have been worthless.” In fact, many solutions are not worthless, but may have been poorly executed or never enacted into law, due often to the undo influence that the National Rifle Association exerts over our state and federal legislators and president. There are a number of sound ideas out there, a few of which are suggested later in this article, but the author of “Mad as Hell” clearly prefers not to hear them.
The author blames the greater weight given to the rights of individuals over the greater social good, and presents a brief lecture as to the fate of today’s mental institutions, suggesting, with no proof, that many have closed because of our concern for the rights of individuals. Perhaps there is some truth to this, but it is also true that we in the United States have not attached sufficient importance to the treatment of mental health.
Each time there is a gun-related tragedy, mental health issues are raised, but there is little interest in doing more than using it as a deflection from some of the real issues. Certainly, there has been little funding for better mental health treatment in the United States.
It is claimed that we need drastic changes in our laws and a focus on mental health issues. Changes, perhaps. Drastic? Another deflection from the real issues concerning guns in America. Deciding whether to institutionalize an individual is a very difficult decision. But we have heard all this before; it is nothing new.
When it comes time for our Republican-led government to make decisions in Washington and our state capitals, we seem to prefer to fight wars overseas and pass massive tax cuts, than address the funding of much maligned and underfunded social organizations in our home country.
The op-ed in question suggests that the “gun control debate for immediate prevention is a canard” and goes on to say that it is “unrealistic to believe that the Second Amendment will be greatly diluted or overturned.”
These are the real canards, as is the comment concerning the confiscation of the estimated 300 million (or more) guns in the United States. These are NRA scare tactics. They are not the real issues. I suspect that the percentage of American civilians or politicians or other leaders advocating either overturning or diluting the Second Amendment or confiscating our guns is quite small and ineffectual (with apologies to Justice John Paul Stevens).
What is serious business are proposals such as 1), banning the sale and ownership of military-style weaponry, including automatic and semi-automatic guns; 2), banning the sale of large caches of ammunition (such as high-capacity magazines); 3), stopping the flow of guns that makes it easier for those who should not have guns to get them (including red-flagging dangerous purchasers); 4), keeping guns out of the hands of children; 5), universal gun registration; 6), banning concealed weapons; 7), enacting sweeping safety measures; and 8), strengthening and enforcing laws concerning background checks, to name a few.
These would seem to be worthwhile proposals for reducing the possibility of repeated carnage such as we have recently witnessed. They should be seriously considered and debated. Armed and trained police in our schools and metal detectors may be an appropriate deterrent in this day and age. But what chance does a policeman, much less a teacher, with a gun have against a crazed individual with an automatic or semi-automatic weapon, who probably wants to die? And how effective will metal detectors be against an individual who walks into a school with such weapons and starts shooting? Helpful in controlling the carnage, possibly — but probably not a lot.
Some seem unwilling to admit that maybe the Second Amendment does not guarantee the right of an individual to own military style weapons of any sort (including bombs and grenades), and unwilling to admit that any steps taken to remedy our gun problems, including addressing mental health issues, may take years to have some real effect. But the longer we wait to take steps to get these weapons and ammunition banned in production and ownership, the worse things will get. Societal changes are needed. But sensible gun control is also required.
Influential members in the Jewish community have an opportunity to bring sound reason and debate to bear on the gun control issue. We should take this responsibility seriously, not just because of gun issues, but because the failure of our government to take even small steps to ameliorate this crisis is symptomatic of a bigger problem — the power of corporate and special interest lobbies over a government that is supposed to represent its people, but no longer does.
Frank Friedman is a professor emeritus at Temple University.