(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
President Barack Obama wiped back tears at the White House on Tuesday as he recalled the many children killed by gunmen, while announcing stricter gun control rules. He said he intends to make gun control a major theme until the November election of his successor.
Obama has said his hardest time in office was facing the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. But despite that tragedy, the president could not persuade Congress to toughen US gun control. As has happened so many times before, legislation was trumped by the seemingly all-powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby.
This so-called gun politics pits two groups against each other: the gun control activists and the gun rights activists. They tend to disagree on the interpretation of laws about firearms, as well as what effects stricter gun control might have on crime and public safety in such a heavily armed country as the United States.
US civilians own an estimated 310 million firearms, and about 42 percent of American households have at least one gun. Handguns are the weapon of choice for 68% of gun-related homicides.
The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Law), passed in 1993, established a rudimentary national background check system to prevent certain restricted individuals from purchasing firearms. In an article supporting its passage, retired chief justice Warren E. Burger wrote: “Americans also have a right to defend their homes, and we need not challenge that. Nor does anyone seriously question that the Constitution protects the right of hunters to own and keep sporting guns for hunting game any more than anyone would challenge the right to own and keep fishing rods and other equipment for fishing – or to own automobiles. To ‘keep and bear arms’ for hunting today is essentially a recreational activity and not an imperative of survival, as it was 200 years ago. 'Saturday night specials' and machine guns are not recreational weapons and surely are as much in need of regulation as motor vehicles.”
Justice Burger’s car analogy is apt. Americans take it as given that to get a driver’s license, one must first learn to drive and pass a test; and in order to buy a car it must be registered and licensed.
Without sacrificing anyone’s constitutional right to bear arms – whether privately or as part of a militia – America’s gun culture must be brought under the same aegis of common sense that governs the privilege of driving or owning a car.
This means that Americans who seek to buy a popular murder weapon or just a hunting rifle must accept gun licensing rules that are no less strict than car licensing laws.
Someone who wants to buy a gun should first undergo a rigorous background check as part of applying for a gun license. The issuing of a gun license should be contingent upon completion of a course in gun safety. The gun purchase could then be made by presenting the license at a gun shop.
In the spirit of democratic solidarity, Israel should offer President Obama the benefits of its rather stricter gun control law.
Unlike in America, where possessing firearms is considered a right, Israelis understand that this is a privilege. In most of America, virtually anyone can walk into a gun store and out again with a gun.
In Israel, only certain categories of people may possess firearms.
Some examples: IDF reservists honorably discharged with the rank of regimental commander; ex–special forces enlisted men; retired police sergeants and above; residents of militarily strategic buffer zones considered essential to state security; residents of Israeli settlements; licensed hunters; and licensed animal-control officers.
To obtain a firearms license, an applicant must be a resident of Israel for at least three consecutive years, pass a background check of the applicant's health, mental and criminal history, establish a genuine reason for possessing a firearm (such as self-defense, hunting or sport), and pass a weapons-training course.
All those holding firearms licenses must renew them and re-take a shooting course at a gun range every three years and pass a psychological exam every six years. Around 40% of applications for firearms permits are rejected.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has a site called Global Study on Homicide. In 2013, the homicide rate in the US per 100,000 inhabitants was 3.8, while Israel’s was about half that, 1.8 in 2012.
The difference in American lives is the cost of playing gun politics.