The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act passed in 1966 authorized the federal government to set standards for car safety which have resulted in a whole slew of new mandatory life-saving features like head rests, energy absorbing steering wheels and shatter-resistant windshields. Highways themselves are being designed better with clearer delineation of curves, use of breakaway sign and utility poles, enhanced illumination, more barriers separating oncoming traffic lanes, and more guardrails than in the past. And stricter enforcement of laws against drunk driving and mandating seat belt use have also gone a long way toward making our highways safer.
When it comes to guns, by contrast, it is still the wild west out there. In many states, there is no age or background check (at gun shows) for those who want to purchase a handgun. In some places, you can pack a concealed weapon anywhere you wish, including bars where alcohol is served. And there are few restrictions on the types or numbers of guns that one can buy. Sniper rifles, as well as military style assault and automatic weapons — some powerful enough to shoot down a helicopter — are sold openly on the internet.
Steve Barborini, a former supervisor for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told MSNBC that the online sales loophole permits what he called “a weapons bazaar for criminals.”
There’s no background check, Anybody that has a murder conviction can simply log on, email someone, meet ’em in a parking lot, and buy a freaking AK-47.
A bill introduced in the Senate by New York’s Chuck Schumer to stop this illicit internet traffic in guns has been tied up in committee for over a year now, thanks in part to the machinations of the NRA. The powerful gun lobby is also active in virtually every state of the union making sure that effective legislation never sees the light of day. Even law enforcement agencies have their hands tied in many states by legislation which prevents them from taking effective action to monitor and restrict handguns.
Florida, for example, where the Trayvon Martin shooting occurred, bans its cities and counties from regulating firearms without the state’s permission, prevents police from collecting data on firearm sales at pawnshops and forbids adoption agencies from considering gun ownership when looking at placing children, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says that Florida has some terrible gun laws– but not the worst in the nation, by their reckoning. That dubious distinction goes jointly to Arizona, Alaska and Utah where restrictions on gun purchases are virtually nonexistent.
What impact do gun laws have? Gun control opponents claim that limiting the availability of handguns does not make us safer, but more vulnerable to criminal gun violence. Their solution: arm ordinary citizens and the bad guys will be outgunned. But this is a prescription for escalating gun violence. The five states with the highest per-capita gun death rates– Louisiana, Wyoming, Alabama, Montana and Mississippi– all have extremely high rates of private handgun ownership, according to the Violence Policy Center. They also have conspicuously weak gun laws. By contrast, the five states with the lowest rates of gun-related deaths– Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut– have fewer handguns and the toughest gun control laws in the nation.
The evidence is clear– the more guns are out there, the more likely they will be used to take a life. To cut these escalating death rates, we need to strictly restrict access to handguns, as they do in virtually every other advanced nation on earth.
The highways of America are a whole lot safer today because of the aggressive and highly effective government regulation of automobiles. Let’s regulate handguns and make our streets safe too!
Photo from bbcworldservice via flickr
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