Commentary: Indifference comes at a terrible cost

The recent tragedy in the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, shocks us, but should not surprise us.  We all know about the list of similar events in this country.  What should surprise and distress every U.S. citizen is the fact that, despite the principles we voice, we have done nothing about these outrages.

We may assume that massacres by firearms will be more frequent and likely more massive.  Assault weapons, you know. The potential is clear.  In a high school graduation ceremony I attended recently, some 400 graduates and thousands of others were packed into a college field house.  Similar gatherings are common everywhere.

The issue that these killings pose are numerous.  One is how we may avoid terrorists.  Most of those who have devastated our people have been homegrown. There’s no doubt we’re also threatened by those from abroad.  While we have measures that hopefully may reduce these incidents, experience here and abroad demonstrates that they cannot be eliminated.

There is, as Orlando shows, what gays and other members of the “Apple-style-span”>lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community suffer.  On this subject, progress has been made.  The legal status of these citizens has been greatly enhanced in recent years, with the support of the majority of our people.  But the prejudice shown toward them is palpable.  A recent article in the Northern Virginia Daily portrays this locally.  Some who oppose the administration’s position on the so-called “bathroom” issue failed to show a trace of recognition or understanding of the fierce discrimination that these individuals have experienced – and still experience.  Churches and other religious institutions need to be careful of what they say and do with respect to this subject.

Now, to the sad and familiar tale of guns.  Our long tolerance of the limitless proliferation of firearms make significant reform unrealistic.  There are more than 300 million handguns and long guns in private hands in this nation.  So we are probably fated to accept the outrageous slaughter caused by these weapons.  They tend to be used to pick us off one or two at a time, to the tune of more than 30,000 victims per year.

Our indifference and our knuckling under to a militant minority have come at a terrible cost.  Thank you, the National Rifle Association; its main cohort, the gun manufacturers; and their enablers, our craven legislators (who will not even pass legislation designed to keep firearms away from those on the anti-terrorist “no fly” list).

A really meaningful reform is simple.  Make the sale or possession of assault weapons illegal. Except for the military and perhaps law enforcement, who needs them other than terrorists and the demented whose goal is to eradicate the greatest number of us possible at one fell swoop.  In a week this reform could be done if the political will were there.

The Second Amendment?  Nonsense.  The members of the Supreme Court who ruled that the amendment gives individuals the right to bear arms acknowledged that reasonable limitations on the right are possible.  The First Amendment’s explicit language holds that governments “shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.” Nevertheless, there are countless laws, regulations and rules clearly abridging the freedom of speech enacted by every town, city, county, state and the federal government.  For example, there are requirements of permits, limits on the place, time and volume of speech, criminalization of obscenity and, as we all have heard, prohibitions on yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.

Indeed, as we note in the daily media, a whole field of law has grown up criminalizing the making and communicating of child pornography. Such abridgements of speech have been upheld largely because they are reasonable.

A few days ago we’ve had good news.  The Supreme Court has refused to review cases of the lower courts that upheld laws enacted by Connecticut and New York that make assault weapons illegal.  So, in those states, assault weapons are banned.  What could be more reasonable?

It’s well past time when we won’t take it anymore.  The elections this year give us an opportunity to act.

It’s timely to quote the old truth:

“All evil needs to succeed is for good people to remain silent.”

Bob Lowerre is a retired attorney who lives in Woodstock.

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