Thursday, January 27, 2011

Utah’s Gun Appreciation Day

The New York Times - Opinion Pages
By Gail Collins

This week in Washington, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey introduced three very modest gun regulation bills, including one making it more difficult to sell guns to people on the terror watch list.

Meanwhile, in Salt Lake City, the State Legislature is considering a bill to honor the Browning M1911 pistol by making it the official state firearm.

Guess which idea has the better chance of passage? Can I see a show of hands? Oh, you cynics, you!

Yes, a committee in the Utah House of Representatives voted 9 to 2 this week to approve a bill that would add the Browning pistol to the pantheon of official state things, along with the bird (seagull), rock (coal) and dance (square). Also, although it really has nothing to do with this discussion, I have to mention that the Utah Legislature has provided its citizens with an official state cooking pot, and it is the Dutch oven.

“This firearm is Utah,” Representative Carl Wimmer, the Browning bill’s sponsor, told The Salt Lake Tribune. He is an energetic-looking guy with a huge forehead who has only been in office four years yet has, according to one of his videos, “sponsored and passed some of the most significant pieces of legislation in Utah history.”

Capitol observers say the Browning bill has an excellent chance of becoming law. Meanwhile, Lautenberg will be lucky to get a hearing. The terror of the National Rifle Association is so pervasive that President Obama did not want to poison the mood of his State of the Union address by suggesting that when somebody on the terror watch list tries to buy a gun, maybe we should do an extra check.

“But people are now commenting on the fact that the president didn’t talk about it in his speech. That hasn’t happened for years,” said Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, whose job really does require an inordinate amount of optimism.

Lautenberg’s bills are extremely mild, and no one seems eager to argue in public against the one that would end easy access to 30-bullet magazines that allow someone with a semiautomatic pistol to mow down a parking lot full of people in a matter of seconds. Instead, they just refuse to come to the phone or toss out platitudes.

“The people that are going to commit a crime or are going to do something crazy aren’t going to pay attention to the laws in the first place. Let’s fix the real problem. Here’s a mentally deranged person who had access to a gun that should not have had access to a gun,” said Senator Tom Coburn on “Meet the Press.”

Another of Lautenberg’s bills would tighten a loophole in current law so a mentally deranged person who should not have access to guns could not go to a gun show and buy one without the regular security check. But never mind.

On Monday, the Utah State Capitol celebrated Browning Day, honoring John Moses Browning, native son and maker of the nominee for Official State Firearm. There were speeches, a proclamation, a flyover by a National Guard helicopter, and, of course, a rotunda full of guns. “We recognize his efforts to preserve the Constitution,” Gov. Gary Herbert said, in keeping with what appears to be a new Republican regulation requiring all party members to mention the Constitution at least once in every three sentences.

It is generally not a good policy to dwell on the strange behavior of state legislators since it leads to bottomless despair. If I wanted to go down that road, I’d give you Mark Madsen, a Utah state senator who tried to improve upon the Browning Day celebrations by suggesting they be scheduled to coincide with Martin Luther King Day since “both made tremendous contributions to individual freedom and individual liberty.”

But it’s a symptom of a new streak of craziness abroad in the land, which has politicians scrambling to prove not just that they are against gun regulation, but also that they are proactively in favor of introducing guns into every conceivable part of American life. National parks. Schools. Bars. Airports.

“There is abundant research suggesting in cities where more people own guns, the crime rate, especially the murder rate, goes down,” Utah’s new United States senator, Mike Lee, told CNN.

Actually, there’s a ton of debate about this, which is hard to resolve given the fact that, as Michael Luo reported in The Times, the N.R.A.’s crack lobbyists have managed to stop almost all federal financing for scientific research on gun-related questions. But Lee has definitely made the list of most creative commentators on these matters, ever since he dismissed calls for a calmer political rhetoric after the Tucson massacre by arguing that “the shooter wins if we, who’ve been elected, change what we do just because of what he did.”

Feel free to say whatever you like about the senator’s thinking. Be frank. Otherwise, the shooter wins.

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