On guns, we need a Sen. Kilcannon
The WashPost blog, January 14, 2011
John Boehner says we don't need more gun laws to stop the slaughter. Democrats are proposing only tiny tweaks. If we're serious about stopping Tucson-style bloodbaths, it's time we listened to Sen. Kerry Kilcannon.
As I first wrote in a column back in 1999, Kerry Kilcannon is the hero of "No Safe Place," the 1998 political thriller by Richard North Patterson. Kilcannon is a senator from New Jersey who's running for president. He's also an eloquent fighter for sane gun laws, a quest made poignant because Kerry lost his older brother, a presidential aspirant himself, to an assassin's bullet.
Re-reading my old column as our timid leaders serve up another round of post-carnage policy pablum, I realized how desperately I want to hear a real-life politician talk about guns the way Kilcannon does.
His big speech comes before the California primary, at a park in Sacramento. The crowd is filled with gun zealots who threaten Kerry at every stop.
"Today," Kerry began softly, "is the anniversary of a death."
The crowd hushes, expecting that Kerry means his brother's.
"His name was Carlos Miller," Kerry went on, "and he was nine years old. He was murdered in this park in a drive-by shooting, committed by a racist with an AK-47.
"He died, as people die every day in this country, cherished by his family, little noticed by the rest of us, quickly forgotten by the media." Kerry paused, and then his voice rose. "Because the carnage is so great that only a mass slaughter, or the death of a celebrity, even makes us pause.
"Over 40,000 American were killed with firearms last year. One hundred and ten people every day....
"'Guns don't kill people,' the gun advocates tell us, 'people do.' So let's ask how many people around the world last year killed other people with, say, handguns.
"Thirty-six people in Sweden.
"Thirty-three in Great Britain.
"One hundred twenty-eight in Canada.
"Thirteen in Australia.
"Sixteen in Japan." For an instant, Kerry paused. "And, in the United States, thirty-thousand four hundred and ninety-five.
"In our country, people armed with handguns committed over one point one million violent crimes.
"In our country, guns are the leading cause of death for black males under thirty-five.
"In our country, fifty-three percent of the victims in spousal murders died from gunshot wounds.
"In our country, the annual firearm-injury epidemicdue largely to handgunsis ten times larger than the polio epidemic in any year in the first half of the twentieth century....
"What causes this terrible slaughter?" Kerry asked. "Are Americans less humane than the Japanese, or the Australians, or the Swedes? Do Americans consider mass murder a small price to pay for the unfettered right to buy and sell arms?...
"We do not. These tragedies occur because, despite the wishes of the vast majority, our efforts to control the flow of weapons are among the most feeble in the world. So there is something else which must be said, out of respect to Carlos Miller and the countless others who have died for no good reason.... The notion that James Madison wrote the Bill of Rights so that racists and sociopaths and madmen could slaughter innocent men, women and children with assault weapons or handguns is one of the most contemptible notions that an irresponsible minority has ever crammed down the throats of its potential victims."
Kilcannon would license handguns, requiring applicants to take a course in firearms use and pass a safety test. He'd ban weapons or bullets whose sole purpose is to kill people. He'd limit gun purchases to one a month, helping put illegal traffickers out of business. And he'd make manufacturers install a code in every gun, like a home alarm, so that only the licensed owner can use it.
Together, these measures make the mealy-mouthed current reform talk look laughable.
As I said back then, it's crazy that we need to look to fictional heros for leadership on guns, but that's the state of our politics. So it goes, twelve years and too many deaths later. How many more well-armed lunatic loners will it take before our real leaders sound like real leaders?