Is gun control a security issue or a political cop out?

Since 1949, there have been 14 total mass-victim, active shooter incidents recorded in the United States, beginning with a neighborhood domestic murder rampage in Camden, New Jersey that left 13 dead and ending just last month in Newtown, Connecticut at the Sandy Hook Elementary School that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults. In total, these 14 mass killings have resulted in 229 deaths, 187 wounded and, in most cases, the death of the shooter themselves.

This roster of infamous destruction includes venues we will never forget like The Bell Tower at the University of Texas in Austin in 1966 that left 19 dead; a McDonalds’ restaurant in San Ysidro, California in 1984 where 22 were killed and the Luby’s restaurant in Killeen, Texas that saw 24 murdered in 1991. There was Columbine High School in 1999 (15 dead), Virginia Tech (33 dead) in 2007, Fort Hood where Army Major Nidal Hasan committed an act of cold, calculated terrorism by gunning down 13 fellow servicemen in 2009, and then the wounding of United States representative Gabby Giffords in Tucson, Arizona in 2011 that also took six lives.

This past year, Americans were sickened when we witnessed a deranged killer walk into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and shoot 12 patrons to death and wound another 58, then just before Christmas we suffered the tragedy in Newtown.

Of course the outrage was palpable following the Newtown killings, as they were for each of the other massacres. The public demanded that lawmakers take action for strict gun control legislation. President Obama postured, calling for a "re-examination" of U.S. gun laws. To show all Americans it was of the upmost importance, he promptly put Vice President Joe Biden on the job to lead another reform committee to study U.S. gun policy - including limits on high-capacity magazines, background checks at gun shows and limits on military-style weapons.

And so it goes. Tragedy strikes, then public outrage, which is followed by a parade of blowhard politicians promising reports, reviews and reform that amounts to nothing more than insincere lip service. The truth is we’ve heard this hewn cry for action in response to gun violence before. Yet following each of the 14 major mass shootings in the past 64 years, not much in the way of federal or state legislation has resulted. And those laws that did emerge from a handful of these incidents were summarily overturned by state, federal and Supreme Court challenges that upheld Second Amendment tenants. 

The fact is the topic of gun control has long been a political issue that intimidates both Democrats and Republicans.  Bill Clinton wrote in his 2004 memoirs that his party lost control of the Congress to Republicans in the 1994 midterm elections on the heels of them passing an assault-weapons ban that same year. Other Democrats also point to Al Gore’s stance on stricter gun laws during his 2000 presidential campaign as the reason he lost to George W. Bush.

Whether those claims are valid are certainly disputed by many political experts. But the perception is strong enough to influence any strides towards meaningful gun control legislation. It seems that only sensational mass shooting events stir the emotion of Congress to consider sensible and realistic legislation. Yet once the newspaper headlines fade, so does the zeal of lawmakers.

Brian D. Baker, CPP, is a senior security management consultant and licensed private detective in Pennsylvania, with more than 20 years experience in security management, investigation, and consulting. He is also an experienced academician, having taught criminology, security management, and forensic investigation as a full-time and adjunct professor at several schools in Central Pennsylvania, including Penn State University.

Like many gun owners, Baker thinks that more personal accountability and enforcement of existing gun laws would help mitigate some of the threats. Talking with Baker via phone this week, he is extremely passionate about the tenants of responsible gun ownership. "If as a gun owner you invoke your Second Amendment rights, then you better be prepared to consider the environment you are bringing firearms into and how you plan to treat them in your space,” he said. "Like anything else that poses potential risk to you and others, employing a little common sense goes a long way!"

Baker used the example of one of the Columbine shooters, whose parents purchased weapons for his recreational use despite the fact he was under psychiatric care for major depression and a violent personality disorder. "We do need gun control when you have parents who selfishly or irresponsibly introduce firearms into an environment where there is known risk."

As the gun control issue regained the spotlight last month, some lawmakers and health professionals also pushed for more efforts to research the connection between gun violence and the mentally ill. In several of the 14 mass killings mentioned in this story, there was direct correlation to a mental impairment –either a brain tumor as in the case of University of Texas gunman Charles Whitman in 1966, or substantiated mental illness attributed to the Virginia Tech killer in 2007.

As Robert J. Spitzer, chairman of the political science department at the State University of New York College at Cortland and the author of four books on gun policy, including "The Politics of Gun Control" recently wrote in an article in the Washington Post, "few crimes are more heinous than the killing of children. But schools are safer for kids than their homes or the streets. Out of a school-age population of roughly 50 million, the number of violent school deaths between 1992 and 2010 did not exceed 63 per year, according to the National Centerfor Education Statistics. In other words, the odds of a child dying from a violent attack at school are literally one in a million."

When you consider that more than 500 gun-related murders were committed in Chicago in 2012 alone – more than double the number of mass shooting victims since 1949 – it is obvious political and community leaders have no stomach for tackling the systemic causes of gun fatalities. 

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