Ursula Rozum: Gun control hijacked by gun makers

Ursula serves on the GPNYS executive committee. She is a community columnist with syracuse.com. The article, along with video of Ursula at the shooting range, appeared online on April 4, 2013.

I think guns are scary. They can be used to kill people. Lots of people. Innocent people. Fast.

Whether it's disturbed individuals who get their hands on an assault weapon, or brutal dictators and government-sponsored death squads who mow down entire villages, or assassins who take out political opponents or even rogue cops who shoot first and ask later, guns have the potential to terrorize and destroy lives.

Yet not all guns are equally lethal, and not all gun owners are reckless or blood thirsty.

Just to verify this assumption, I called up an NRA member, also a family friend, and asked him to take me shooting. If the average gun owner is anything like the guys I met at the shooting range, they take their “right to bear arms” and gun safety seriously.

Even though most gun owners are law-abiding citizens, we still need to regulate access to deadly weapons. Universal background checks should be a non-issue. Ninety-two percent of Americans, including 74 percent of NRA members, support a universal background check. And it's a bit shocking that we are actually debating whether it makes sense to stop allowing people to possess automatic weapons whose only real purpose it to kill a lot of people really fast.

Those who point to the Second Amendment when decrying a proposed assault weapons ban must be forgetting that these kinds of weapons didn't even exist in the time of the Founding Fathers.

Unfortunately, it's seems pretty much impossible to address the deeper causes of gun violence in today's reactionary and polarized political environment - but I can still try. A Spanish friend was shocked to hear that I'd been shooting and that I don't want to ban all weapons. Europeans have got it right about lots of stuff, like universal healthcare, GMO regulation and extended maternity-leave. And in my heart, I'd like to trust them on weapons, too. But historically, at least in the United States, prohibition just doesn't seem to work.

Drugs are illegal, and people still use them. When abortion was illegal, women risked their lives. We can't even stop teenagers from smoking – and everyone knows cigarettes kill. The argument for limiting gun rights is pretty compelling – weapons proliferation leads to tragedy. According to the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in an unintentional shooting, a criminal assault or homicide, or an attempted or completed suicide than to be used in self-defense. In the U.S, children under 15 commit suicide with guns at a rate of 11 times the rate of other countries. The horror of massacres like Newtown put gun control on the political radar – but without policy change, aren't we just holding our breath?

Enter the gun pushers, the merchants of death, the fear profiteers.

In the United States of America, where corporations are “people,” just a few months after a killing spree took the lives of 20 children, many senators, Democrats and Republicans, are ready to back down from an assault weapons ban. Really? They think it's acceptable to put semiautomatic rifles into the hands of anyone who has $700 to spare?

The NRA's (not) brilliant solution is to sell more guns by placing armed guards in every school. Doesn't that look like the “tyrannical police state” that some gun rights advocates say they want guns to defend themselves against?

I've spent time in places with armed guards of the state ubiquitous in public places - Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico - these are countries fueled by horrific insecurity (think rampant corruption, mass graves, executions, muggings, and lots of US supplied guns.)

Nearly 90 percent of weapons seized in Mexico are trafficked from the U.S. With billions spent providing military aid to our neighbors for an unwinnable Drug War and Made in USA weapons arming the drug cartels, it should be clear who's cashing in. The domestic guns and ammo business totaled $11 billion in sales and $993 million in profits in 2012. Overseas weapons sales by the United States totaled $66.3 billion in 2011, accounting for more than three-quarters of the global arms market. Let's not let the NRA, whose biggest source of funding is gun merchants and manufacturers, hijack public policy and turn our streets into a war zone.

For some, our streets are already a sort of war zone. Gun violence has plagued African American neighborhoods for too many years. Rev. Marcus Jackson's March 24 op-ed critiquing the Mayor's Landmark Theatre Forum on gun violence got to one important root of the gun violence problem. It's jobs and the economy. Without access to living wage jobs, we should not be surprised that some people will sell drugs. The new Syracuse Truce program identifies acquiring employment as an incentive to get gang members to turn their lives around. But where are the jobs? Where can these young men get jobs that pay enough for them to pay their bills?

Our community should embark on a public jobs program that provides gainful, constructive employment to every person willing and able to work who cannot find a decent job in the private sector. Instead of segregating low-income ghettoes into retail markets for illicit drugs, where violent gangs protect their sales territories, let's give the gang members the opportunity to work constructively rebuilding the housing, parks, business districts, and services of their own communities. The Drug War is its own Pandora's Box of failed public policy. It's expensive and we the people are losing on all sides.

The world feels upside down. I want to give law abiding sportsmen the benefit of the doubt. I wish guns were only used for hunting. Or just for self-defense. But they're not. Guns are scary because the people who make them really don't care about protecting human life – and once again we see private profit and a corporate special interest driving public policy.

With rights come responsibilities. The Second Amendment begins with the words "a well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free State, ..." The Founders who adopted this language were right to balance the right to bear arms with the right of the community to reasonably regulate that right to protect public safety.

The self-defense we really need now is to fight back against the onslaught of special interests of the arms merchants and manufacturers who care far more about their gun sales than gun safety, public safety or constitutional rights.