Calls for stronger gun laws follow on-air shootings

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

The on-air slayings of a TV journalist and her cameraman in Virginia brought renewed attention to gun violence in the United States, which has the highest percentage of privately owned guns in the world, followed at a distance by Serbia and then Yemen.

Each day, an average of 89 people die of gunshot wounds in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 58 of those deaths are suicides. Most of those who die are white and male.

The morning of the killings, Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he was heartbroken over the tragedy and loss. He said, “As we reflect with heavy hearts on this tragedy, it is appropriate to begin to ask questions about how we can prevent these senseless events in the future. Keeping guns out of the hands of people who would use them to harm our family, friends and loved ones is not a political issue; it is a matter of ensuring that more people can come home safely at the end of the day. We cannot rest until we have done whatever it takes to rid our society of preventable gun violence that results in tragedies like the one we are enduring today.”

Of course, McAuliffe is aware that gun control is a political issue — charged like a powder keg, partisan and polarizing.

The White House quickly called on Congress to move on gun-control legislation and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton repeated her call for universal background checks. 

“We’ve got to do something about gun violence in America,” Clinton said while campaigning in Iowa. “And I will take it on. It’s a very political, difficult issue in America. But I believe we are smart enough, we are compassionate enough, to figure out how to balance the legitimate Second Amendment rights with preventative measures and control measures so that whatever motivated this murderer who eventually took his own life, we will not see more deaths, needless, senseless deaths.”

Republicans, meanwhile, focused on mental health.

Presidential candidate Marco Rubio said, “It’s not the guns, it’s the people who are committing these crimes.”

“The common thread we see in many of these cases is a failure in the system to help someone who is suffering from mental illness,” said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who as Milwaukee County executive dramatically cut the budgets for mental health services and opposed $92 million in federal stimulus money for a mental health complex.

Gun-rights advocates like Walker argue that stricter gun laws wouldn’t prevent killings like the WDBJ shooting.

However, gun-control advocates point to the law in California that bars people convicted of violent misdemeanors from owning guns and to the permit-to-purchase regulations in 13 states that require prospective gun buyers to be cleared by local police, who can check character references. 

Meanwhile, a national permit-to-purchase system was proposed in legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

“The evidence is clear: sensible handgun laws save lives. … All states require licenses to drive a car or hunt or fish — so why not handguns, which can kill? Requiring a license to purchase a deadly weapon is at least as important as requiring one to drive a car. This legislation should win broad, bipartisan support,” said Blumenthal.

The bill is based on research from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research showing a clear link between requiring a license to purchase a handgun and a dramatic reduction in firearm homicides. The research found Connecticut’s adoption of its handgun-purchaser licensing law led to a 40 percent decrease in firearm homicide rates. Earlier research found that Missouri’s repeal of a similar law led to a 25 percent increase in firearm homicide rates.

In Wisconsin, the open carry of loaded handguns and long guns is allowed without a license. Private sales of guns are legal in the state and no background check or government permission is necessary.

In June, Walker signed into law measures that eliminated the state’s 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases and allowed off-duty, retired and out-of-state police officers to carry firearms on school grounds.

Walker, who has a rating of 100 percent from the NRA, previously made Wisconsin the 49th state to legalize concealed carry and signed into law a “castle doctrine” bill, giving homeowners more legal protections when they shoot someone.