Shall we blame the weapons or the centuries-old ideology of religious martyrdom for the tragedy in San Bernardino?
For some, it is easier to focus on assault rifles rather than confront the theology of terror that will strike again. I will leave the religious arguments for others, but box cutters and a fertilizer bomb have actually been the deadliest terrorist weapons used in America.
Rifles, according to the FBI, were identified as the cause of 40 California homicides in 2014. Let us not minimize the tragedy, but mosquitoes were nearly as deadly by transmitting the West Nile Virus that killed 31 people in the state.
Defending gun ownership apparently now requires a defense of the so-called assault rifle. Personally, I returned my only M16 rifle to the Army decades ago. You can legally buy one that looks like it, but the civilian version only fires a single shot with each pull of the trigger – just like the 130-year-old technology in semiautomatic pistols. California law also limits all guns to a maximum capacity of 10 bullets in their magazines. You will have to wait 10 days and pass a background check no matter where you buy it – there is not a “gun-show loophole” in this state.
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If you want a fully automatic assault rifle, you either need to enlist or buy a video game. Only in Hollywood do assault-style rifles spray a never-ending stream of bullets. The TV nightly news does show extremists firing fully automatic AK-47s elsewhere in the world, but not in the U.S.
The current emotional hysteria makes it difficult to have a rational discussion about guns, but let us try. Suicides by firearms claimed 21,175 lives last year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The annual FBI Uniform Crime Report shows there were 8,124 firearms homicides including 248 in which rifles were identified as the weapon. Meanwhile, 2,662 people were stabbed, clubbed or beaten to death. The CDC says accidents including poisoning, falls and motor vehicles killed more than 100,000. Drunken drivers killed 10,000. Distracted – texting – drivers killed 3,000. The numbers can easily be verified online.
Sadly, there is a tragic concentration of violence in our inner cities that, like suicides, dramatically distort the actual risk from gun violence for the vast majority of Americans.
A Dec. 13 Fresno Bee commentary by Leonard Pitts Jr., columnist for the Miami Herald, was headlined “Focusing on what African Americans do to each other.” He noted, “Over half the murder victims in this country last year were black …”
Fixing education and providing jobs in these communities will save far more lives than new gun laws.
But activists seem determined to pass new laws that may simply criminalize passive gun ownership by law-abiding citizens. American civilians already own an estimated 350 million guns and more than 40 percent of households are willing to admit they have one.
Criminals and terrorists will still be able to find guns and ammunition no matter what “feel-good” restrictions are enacted.
For instance, a new California initiative will require a background check to buy ammunition. It sounds rational, but will I be placed on a watch list when I buy 200 shotgun shells at a time and then be designated as a straw buyer if I share them with my son, a veteran, on Saturday morning at the local trap-shooting range? Terrorists will simply buy their ammunition in Nevada.
Similarly, banning gun ownership by people on the no-fly list sounds like a good idea, but there needs to be a judicial procedure. An anonymous bureaucrat should not be allowed to suspend a citizen’s Second Amendment rights.
Law-enforcement officials seem to agree that not a single proposed new gun restriction would have prevented any of the recent attacks. Killers driven by visions of martyrdom or mental health issues will continue to be tragically difficult to identify and intercept. No law can stop evil intent.
Jerrold H. Jensen is a resident of Visalia. He says his “perspective is shaped by my experience as an infantry officer trained on a dozen different weapons a half century ago and by years of hunting in the Rocky Mountain states.”