We at Philropost are not fanatics about "this day in history" or any of that foofooraw. Usually, the alleged historians get the dates or the facts wrong. Worse yet, the various emphases of certain items often get shifted to things that really no longer pertain, such as the independence of Barbados from Great Britain, something that took place on this date back in 1966 but which, I feel safe in saying, means very little these days, even to the citizens of Barbados. Or, to Great Britain, for that matter.
Once in a while things of continued significance deserve commemoration, or at least some acknowledgement, and so it is with something that happened on this date a few years ago. One of those things might be the discovery in 1974 by Maurice Taieb of the human remains of the person who came to be known as Lucy, a hominid partially pieced together from fossils located in Ethiopia's Afar Depression. At 3.2 million years of age, these remains were the oldest found evidence that linked to the evolution of human beings and their discovery would be more than worth recalling except that I've found no less than three different certified dates of the occurrence, those dates being October 1, November 24, and November 30. You would think that a society with the skills required to carbon date those remains would also be able to keep accurate records about the date of discovery. But perhaps I quibble.
One anniversary that is certain is that it was on this date in 1993 that then-President Bill Clinton signed what was officially called The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, a set of rules that came to be known as The Brady Law.
Certain events in American history resonate with people of a minimum age. Attempted or successful assassinations of our Presidents are among such events. I was five on the day John Kennedy was publicly executed in Dallas. My kindergarten class received the news and we were summarily dismissed early. I was attending a writers conference in Huntington when on March 30, 1981, we received the first reports that a man named John Hinckley had shot and wounded newly-elected President Ronald Reagan in Washington D.C. , just outside Ford's Theater, the location where, back in 1865, President Lincoln had been shot and killed. Also wounded in the Hinckley shooting were DC police officer Thomas Delahonty, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, and White House Press Secretary James Brady. Brady's shot was to the head. Although he and the other victims survived, Brady himself was permanently paralyzed from his injuries.
The gun used in the shootings was a six-shot double action revolver that Hinckley had purchased in Dallas. During the act of purchasing the weapon, Hinckley lied to the gun salesman about his address and used for identification an expired Texas driver's license. Jim Brady and his wife Sarah lobbied and campaigned for the enactment of federal regulations requiring criminal background checks on those persons who attempt to buy firearms. For the first five years of the existence of the Brady Bill, people wanting to buy guns were required to wait as long as five days in order to allow the licensed gun dealer to contact the FBI, who would then initiate a criminal background check. By 1998, the Feds had put together something called the National Instant Crime Background Check System, a computerized background check that almost always gave the gun dealer the yes or no within just a few minutes. Since its inception, this law has prevented the selling of almost two million guns to people with dangerous criminal backgrounds.
The problem then as now is that not all purchases of firearms take place between a consumer and a licensed firearms dealer. There is such a thing as an unlicensed firearm dealer. These are typically folks who have their operations at so-called gun shows. Unlicensed sellers are allowed to sell firearms without conducting background checks or documenting the transaction in any way. In addition, because federal law does not require private sellers to inspect a buyer’s driver’s license or any other identification, there is no obligation for such sellers to confirm that a buyer is of legal age to purchase a firearm. As a result, convicted felons, minors and other prohibited purchasers can easily buy guns from unlicensed sellers. Five states--California, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island--along with the District of Columbia--override the federal permissiveness and require universal background checks on all firearms purchases, whether by a licensed or unlicensed dealer.
What kind of person does the Brady Law prevent from purchasing firearms weaponry? Banned from buying guns are convicted felons and fugitives from justice, people deemed addicted to illegal drugs, people the various courts refer to as dangerously mentally ill, undocumented immigrants, soldiers who have dishonorably discharged, people who have renounced their U.S. citizenship, and spousal abusers. These are the same types of people who are able to buy guns from unlicensed dealers outside the aforementioned states and D.C. But those unlicensed dealers probably don't account for many of the purchases, right?
Actually, unlicensed dealers sell forty percent of all guns purchased in the United States.
Guess which states lead the nation in gun deaths? If you think they are any of the five states with mandatory background checks, you may be surprised to learn that in reality they are the great states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alaska, Alabama and Nevada. All five of these states have extremely permissive laws regarding the public carrying of open or concealed weapons. As far as the five states that require background checks even by unlicensed dealers, two of those states--Rhode Island and Connecticut--are in the top five states when it comes to the smallest number of gun deaths, the other three being Hawaii, Massachusetts and New York, all of which have what the Violence Policy Center terms "strong" gun laws. According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, requiring a background check for handgun sales by private sellers as well as by licensed gun dealers helps reduce illegal gun trafficking within a state
by as much as 48%. Meanwhile, California has seen a twenty percent reduction in gun-related deaths since 1993. This is the state with the toughest guns laws in the country. (In fairness, it must be admitted that in 2010, California led the nation in firearms murders, even though that year saw an eight percent reduction from 2009. Then again, it is the most heavily populated state. Likewise, the District of Columbia has the highest firearms murder rate in the nation with 16 gun-related murders per 100,000 residents.)
Personally, I do not feel comfortable with a mental defective or violent criminal having access to a gun. Most of the time I feel that I should not be allowed to have a gun, even though, according to public records, I am neither psychotic nor criminally inclined, which only goes to show how incomplete public records can often be. Where I live, we hear gun shots two or three times a week, usually in the dead of night, usually unanswered. After a while you get tired of calling the police and you just roll over and go back to sleep. (When we first moved here, our neighbors looked at us with amusement as we would diligently report every shooting we heard. After a while, the police stopped checking in with us and we began to suspect that we were being perceived as public nuisances.) But even a presumably reasonable person can flip out and shoot somebody.
While the number of accidental shootings in the United States has been on the decline in recent years, there were 680 accidental gun deaths in 2008 and 15,500 gun-related injuries, most of these involving children who had found loaded guns in their own homes. Not to dazzle you with statistics, but of the nearly 13,000 murders in the United States in 2010, 8,775 were committed with guns. Of those, more than 6,000 were committed with handguns.
Prohibition of guns would be about as successful as our earlier experiment with outlawing liquor, something else that kills a lot of people. However, the problem with gun control's effectiveness has always been the attempt to prohibit in a vacuum. Telling Americans they cannot buy guns is a lot like telling boiled water that it is not allowed to turn to steam while refusing to add ice cubes to the pot. Better yet, we might think about turning down the flames. The pressures experienced by many people in this country are staggering. I am not referring to the unimaginable pressures that plague a person such as the shooter in the Tuscon massacre. I am thinking here about the day-to-day frustrations of a man or woman--although it's usually a man we hear about--laid off from work, held in contempt at home, made to feel diminished or inadequate because he or she cannot buy the kids the latest nonsensical gadgetry, hounded by a bureaucracy that spends more money trying to catch thievery than the amount of thievery itself, and ignored by just about everyone else except for the friendly and sympathetic unlicensed gun salesman down the street. Add to that a carefully cultivated paranoia from the psychotic producers of alarmist news programs and sensation seeking anchor persons, and you have the makings for a lot more "accidental" shootings, right along with the annual massacres.
It was also on this date in 1994 that Tupac was shot five times in a Times Square recording studio.