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How Much More Blood Before Reform?

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Within 12 days of Australia’s Port Arthur massacre in 1996, where a lunatic with an AR-15 mowed down 35 people, the Australian parliament enacted bipartisan gun regulations. There has not been a mass shooting in Australia since.

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It is difficult to imagine any bipartisan reaction at any level of government in the United States happening within 12 days. This shows how calcified our republican democracy is.

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The Connecticut House of Representatives is meeting today to “fix” the budget deficit, but there will be no discussions about gun control. There will be no legislation brought by a brave representative from the floor to ban 30-round magazines, like the one used by the maniac with an AR-15 at Sandy Hook.

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Why? What is the failure of our country’s ability to respond to these massacres and other crises afflicting our country? Some will argue our system designed a long deliberative process into law-making so we don’t rush into mistakes. But that can’t be it.

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As the Daily Show’s John Oliver wisely said yesterday, when the shoe bomber tried to blow up a plane, the immediate response forced all of us to take our shoes off at the airport – to this day. Do any of us feel any safer for this barefootedness? No.

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Here we have endured 60-some odd mass shootings in our country in the last decade or so, and now, anyone can purchase a high-capacity magazine for an assault rifle for $8.99 online, no questions asked. Again, what is the problem?

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This legislative/governance paralysis afflicts issues beyond the availability of guns. Federally, we confront intractable economic issues like unjust foreclosures, unaffordable health care, outrageous student loan debt, an unwinnable war on drugs and unthinkable cuts to Social Security, to name a few.

We cannot get anything done. Why are we not nimble self-governors? I understand that every time someone dies in a car accident, we don’t ban cars. But at the same time, we have not invested in any mass transit systems for decades, and our auto-centric infrastructure, our roads and bridges, are quite literally rusting and collapsing from neglect.

A simple solution, like registering guns and monitoring more heavily than cars, has been lightly debated this week. The day of the Sandy Hook massacre, I called Ron Pinciaro, the executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence. I have long been a donor to CAGV.

He said he received calls from all over the world wanting to make sense of American gun policy. Thanks to CAGV, Connecticut has the fourth best gun control legislation in the United States. But Pinciaro wants to take it a step further, and regulate guns similarly to cars, where gun owners have to register guns.

It may not have stopped Sandy Hook, Pinciaro said, but there are more than 30,000 deaths annually attributed to firearms – not just from murders, but suicides and accidents and so forth. Many of those are preventable.

Many of these deaths come by illegal guns. The first time a gun is purchased, it is done legally. The second hand market includes the black market. A legal gun owner whose gun ends up on the black market should have some accountability. The theory, I think, is that this would reduce gun deaths.

There are 33,000 or so annual fatalities from cars. Cars are highly regulated and essential to life in America. I do not know the proportion of legal car vs. illegal car fatalities, but car fatalities have been dropping annually since 2006. Gun deaths, not so much. And we refuse to regulate them.

Guns are not highly regulated and essential only if you need to hold in your hands the power to end life. Some would call that fear, others would call it impotency. I call it ridiculous. I grew up in a home without guns.

The only time I ever wanted a gun was in the Autumn of 2007, when I was on a boat going through Bab El Mandeb and the Gulf of Aden, the lawless bodies of water dominated by Somali and Yemeni pirates. We had two guns on board, and sufficient ammunition to deal with a pirate attack.

Thus, I saw arming a yacht in international waters as legitimate self-defense. Some say that living in the suburbs merits the necessities of an AR-15. That is laughable. The probability of a pirate attack north of Somalia was much higher than that of a home invasion in the United States.

Owning a machine gun with high-capacity magazines will not protect my family in my neighborhood. Gun violence has spilled blood on the sidewalk in front of my house. Me having a firearm would not have protected Charles French, the boy assassinated a year or so ago on Laurel Street.

You cannot protect yourself from all of the risks of daily life. And having a gun does not insure victory in a firefight. Having a gun makes it more likely tragic violence will visit your life.

So I am not armed, nor will I ever be. My mind is my weapon of choice. If there is an economic meltdown, an AR-15 will not protect me as much as my ability to build community. We are all in this together.

Those who have AR-15s to protect themselves in the event of an economic Armageddon are fooling themselves, and living in fear. And our legislatures capitulating to this fear makes us all less safe. Is it fear that prevents our governments from moving? No, because fear makes us take off our shoes.

So what is it? FairVote.org, a self-titled Center for Voting and Democracy, says that part of our problem stems from our winner-take-all electoral system. FairVote this week proposed fixing governmental gridlock through choice voting and proportional representation.

Hyperpartisan legislators – radical right and left lawmakers who refuse compromise and thus paralyze our system – win not just because of gerrymandered districts, but because of the winner take all system. We need voting systems that elect more representative, centrist governments.

For the first 50 or so years of our republic, many states held congressional elections on a statewide basis, authors Rob Richie and Devin McCarthy said in their piece “It’s Not Just Gerrymandering: Fixing House Elections Demands End of Winner-Take-All Rules.”

“The movement to single-member districts was ironically driven by the goal of partisan fairness, avoiding distortions from the use of statewide winner-take-all elections,” they said. Here we are, locked in a hyperpartisan reality from a winner-take-all system.

But reforming our electoral system with an aim to fairness and ending the winner-take-all system will not happen in 12 days. Nor will we pass gun control in the 12 days after that, or protect Social Security from Obama and his rightist tendencies in the next 12 days after that.

This conundrum, I suppose, is why the 40-Year Plan. My patience grows thin for the slow pace of reform when I weep at the innocent blood spilled so cavalierly in this country. We must give up this notion of individualism, whether in gun ownership or transportation, and subscribe to collectivism.

Our country has been failed by individualism before, but we seem to have forgotten the lessons of the Great Depression. FDR was able to do so much in his first 100 days because years of economic catastrophe preceded it.

It is awful to think that we might have to endure more suffering and pain than Sandy Hook to experience another 100-day period of governmental action to protect us from our own greed and fear.


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