Larry Alan Burns, the federal judge who sent Jared Loughner to prison for his role in the 2011 Tucson shooting, penned a riveting op-ed in Thursday's LA Times in which he called for Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban. It's a must-read column that largely went unnoticed--I only learned about it by reading Lawrence O'Donnell's Facebook feed.
This is noteworthy on two counts. Not only is it pretty significant for a judge to write an opinion piece, but Burns is a staunch conservative--he was appointed by Bush 43 in 2003. He thinks that the Second Amendment does give us the right to have guns for self-defense, and is a gun owner himself. And yet, he believes that there is no place for high-capacity clips in any reasonably civilized society.
I am not a social scientist, and I know that very smart ones are divided on what to do about gun violence. But reasonable, good-faith debates have boundaries, and in the debate about guns, a high-capacity magazine has always seemed to me beyond them.Burns points out that half of the deadliest shootings in American history have taken place since the assault weapons ban lapsed in 2004--and six of them have taken place since the massacre in Tucson.
Bystanders got to Loughner and subdued him only after he emptied one 31-round magazine and was trying to load another. Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, chose as his primary weapon a semiautomatic rifle with 30-round magazines. And we don't even bother to call the 100-rounder that James Holmes is accused of emptying in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater a magazine — it is a drum. How is this not an argument for regulating the number of rounds a gun can fire?
In Burns' view, we not only need an assault weapons ban, but we need one that was more stringent than the old one.
Ban the manufacture, importation, sale, transfer and possession of both assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Don't let people who already have them keep them. Don't let ones that have already been manufactured stay on the market. I don't care whether it's called gun control or a gun ban. I'm for it.This coming from a guy who, by his own admission, reads National Review and watches Faux News and is pretty skeptical of government regulation. In other words--this isn't some liberal talking.
Burns then turns to the arguments against an assault weapons ban--and takes them apart as if he were chastising a lawyer for making a frivolous argument.
(I)f we can't find a way to draw sensible lines with guns that balance individual rights and the public interest, we may as well call the American experiment in democracy a failure.O'Donnell was so impressed that for the "Rewrite" segment of his Thursday show, he simply read Burns' entire article.
There is just no reason civilians need to own assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Gun enthusiasts can still have their venison chili, shoot for sport and competition, and make a home invader flee for his life without pretending they are a part of the SEAL team that took out Osama bin Laden.
It speaks horribly of the public discourse in this country that talking about gun reform in the wake of a mass shooting is regarded as inappropriate or as politicizing the tragedy. But such a conversation is political only to those who are ideologically predisposed to see regulation of any kind as the creep of tyranny. And it is inappropriate only to those delusional enough to believe it would disrespect the victims of gun violence to do anything other than sit around and mourn their passing. Mourning is important, but so is decisive action.
Quite possibly one of the most important op-eds of 2012, and probably in several years.