The price of whose free­dom?

Wisconsin Gazette - - Editorial -

“It was like a video game only it was real,” a wit­ness to the Las Ve­gas car­nage told Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio in the af­ter­math of the na­tion’s lat­est “largest mass shoot­ing in his­tory.”

The man had been seated in a bar on the 32nd floor of the Man­dalay Re­sort and Casino when the shoot­ing be­gan, tar­get­ing a nearby mu­sic fes­ti­val packed with fans. He and his com­pan­ion could see ter­ri­fied peo­ple run­ning for cover. They watched vic­tims fall. They saw blood flow­ing.

Maybe the eye­wit­ness had to tell him­self the shoot­ing was real not only be­cause it was too ran­dom and vi­cious to believe, but also be­cause gun vi­o­lence is a real and ma­jor part of Amer­i­can cul­ture. We see it every day in pop­u­lar en­ter­tain­ment and in head­lines. If we live in eco­nom­i­cally de­pressed ar­eas, it’s hap­pen­ing around us.

When you wake up to a head­line such as “Fifty-nine killed, hun­dreds wounded in na­tion’s largest mass shoot­ing,” it’s just an­other morn­ing in Amer­ica. De­pend­ing on your per­son­al­ity, you ei­ther shrug and move on to the next story or weep and curse the gun lobby that writes and en­acts — through elected sur­ro­gates — the na­tion’s firearm poli­cies.

Just a week be­fore Stephen Pad­dock — an older white recluse with a massive stash of guns — went on his in­ex­pli­ca­ble shoot­ing spree, a con­gres­sional com­mit­tee voted once again on leg­is­la­tion to dereg­u­late si­lencers, al­though you’d never guess that from the name of bill: the Sports­men’s Her­itage and Recre­ational En­hance­ment Act.

Law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials call it a dis­as­ter. Imag­ine how much greater the toll in Las Ve­gas would have been if no one could have heard the shots ring­ing out around them.

Mean­while, the gun laws here in Wis­con­sin are con­sid­ered among the loos­est in the na­tion. State law does not re­quire a gun li­cense or per­mit for the pur­chase of shot­guns, ri­fles, hand­guns or other firearms.

Repub­li­can state leg­is­la­tors re­cently ad­vanced a bill that would al­low nearly ev­ery­one to carry a loaded, con­cealed firearm in pub­lic with­out any safety train­ing or even a sim­ple back­ground check. Also tucked into that bill is a pro­vi­sion that would per­mit felons and do­mes­tic-abuse sus­pects to own “an­tique” firearms — those man­u­fac­tured be­fore 1899. Un­der the law, felons and do­mes­tic abusers sub­ject to re­strain­ing or­ders could own sin­gle-shot mus­kets and pis­tols, lever-ac­tion ri­fles, re­volvers, early semi­au­to­matic ri­fles and hand­guns.

Maybe they’re do­mes­tic abusers, but that’s no rea­son to in­ter­fere with their gun col­lec­tions, the think­ing goes.

The “an­tique” firearm pro­vi­sion is quite a change from cur­rent Wis­con­sin law, which pre­vents felons from own­ing firearms for the rest of their lives. It also forces most peo­ple un­der re­strain­ing or­ders to sur­ren­der theirs.

It’s not just Repub­li­can law­mak­ers who are fol­low­ing the dic­tates of the for­mi­da­ble gun lobby.

In March, the GOP-ma­jor­ity Wis­con­sin Supreme Court ruled that Madi­son’s Metro Tran­sit could no longer for­bid firearms on pub­lic buses. The ma­jor­ity was elected with the help of ob­scenely large do­na­tions from Repub­li­can cor­po­rate-rights groups — the ones that want to elim­i­nate nearly all of the na­tion’s reg­u­la­tions lim­it­ing the abil­ity of Big Busi­ness to do what­ever it likes in the pur­suit of greater prof­its.

And that’s what this is all about — money. The massive prof­its made by the firearm and mu­ni­tions in­dus­try fund do­na­tions to sup­port­ive leg­is­la­tors and a pro­pa­ganda ma­chine that whips Amer­i­cans into a re­li­gious-like fer­ver over the in­dus­try’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Sec­ond Amend­ment.

The guns and mu­ni­tions in­dus­try has made an av­er­age of $11 bil­lion an­nu­ally over the past eight years, ac­cord­ing to sources, in­clud­ing state game and fish de­part­ments, the IRS and the U.S. Bureau of Al­co­hol, Tobacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives. The in­dus­try’s sales rise by dou­ble dig­its nearly every year.

Ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, there are now be­tween 270 mil­lion and 310 mil­lion guns, in­clud­ing semi­au­to­matic weapons, in the United States. What jus­ti­fies so much fire­power?

Bill O’Reilly said that the slaugh­ter in Las Ve­gas is “the price we pay for free­dom.” But what about the price that the 30,000 Amer­i­cans who are killed by firearms each year and their loved ones pay for such “free­dom”?

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