Skip to main content

Give gun owners what they want

By Daniel W. Webster, Special to CNN
November 14, 2012 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • At the sentencing of Jared Loughner, issue of gun violence came up
  • Daniel Webster: It's time for elected officials to address key flaws in our gun laws
  • He says the NRA speaks for gun owners with the most extreme views
  • Webster: Politicians should push for reforms supported by most gun owners

Editor's note: Daniel W. Webster is professor and director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

(CNN) -- At the sentencing of Jared Loughner, Mark Kelly, speaking on behalf of his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, called out politicians for their "feckless leadership" when it comes to addressing gun violence in America.

"We have a political class that is afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws and how they are being enforced," Kelly said. "We have representatives who look at gun violence not as a problem to solve, but as the white elephant in the room to ignore."

Giffords was shot at close range in the head by Loughner at a constituency event outside a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona, on January 8, 2011. Her survival and recovery are indeed miraculous, yet after many months of physical therapy, she struggles with her speech and walking. There were 18 other victims in the mass shooting, six of whom died.

Daniel W. Webster
Daniel W. Webster
Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Despite being rejected by the military because of a history of illicit drug use and being kicked out of a community college for repeated incidents of threatening and bizarre behavior, Loughner legally purchased a semi-automatic pistol with a magazine capable of holding 30 rounds of ammunition.

The politicians called out by Kelly and Giffords let the National Rifle Association bully them into thinking that gun owners don't want key flaws in our current gun laws fixed and that you can't win elections without the backing of the NRA. The millions of dollars the NRA spent in unsuccessful attempts to win close Senate races in swing states with high gun ownership rates -- Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin -- suggests that candidates can and do win despite strong NRA opposition.

The NRA portrays itself as an organization that speaks for and advocates for gun owners. The reality is that they speak for gun owners with the most extreme views and for the gun industry. A case in point is their opposition to requiring background checks for all firearm sales.

Under federal law and most states' law, only individuals who attempt to purchase firearms from licensed gun dealers must present a government-issued ID, sign a form stating that they do not fit any of the firearm prohibition categories and pass a criminal background check. But criminals and gun traffickers are given an easy alternative. They can simply purchase firearms from private sellers who do not require any of these checks.

5 things gun owners want you to know

Maisch: Loughner sentencing 'emotional'
Tucson shooting survivor on gun control
Tuscon shooting survivor on Loughner

Closing this absurd loophole would not be political suicide for politicians who fear losing the support of gun owners. A recent survey found that more than 80% of gun owners and 74% of NRA members want this loophole fixed. It seems likely that Giffords and Kelly, both gun owners, would be among this large majority favoring this reform.

Gun owners don't want dangerous people to have guns. So it seems doubtful that most gun owners think gun dealers should continue to be offered the special protections that Congress has bestowed on them, which reduce accountability and make it easier for criminals to get guns. When states require background checks for all handgun sales and have strong regulation and oversight of licensed gun dealers, far fewer guns are diverted to criminals.

Politicians could also strengthen our gun laws so that, for example, individuals convicted of misdemeanor crimes of violence (often pleaded down from felony charges) or those who have been convicted of multiple alcohol-related crimes are prohibited from possessing firearms. Studies have shown that these groups commit violent crimes at rates many times higher than population averages. Keeping guns from criminals and alcoholics isn't anti-gun -- it's pro-safety.

While nonfatal crime rates in the U.S. are comparable to other high-income countries, our homicide rate in the U.S. is seven times higher than that of other high-income countries, due in part to greater availability of handguns. We can reduce the homicide rate by restricting high-risk individuals from owning guns and eliminating legal protections that shady gun sellers and criminals exploit. Science and public opinion are in alignment.

It's time for elected officials to listen to the common sense reforms supported by the majority of gun owners and gun violence survivors such as Giffords.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Daniel W. Webster.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2248 GMT (0648 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2049 GMT (0449 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT