Hales' first act as Mayor is a good one

T.A. Barnhart

Charlie Hales’ first substantive action as Mayor is one I am very proud of: He called on the nation and state’s political leaders to take real action on gun violence:

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales Monday joined with other city leaders across the nation to demand tougher federal and state gun control laws in the wake of the fatal shooting of 20 children at a Connecticut elementary school.

On the one-month anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Hales called on Congress to ban the purchase of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, require criminal background checks for all gun sales and make gun trafficking a federal crime.

"Those are some common sense changes we can make even in a country with the Second Amendment,'' Hales said, seated at his desk in his corner, third-floor office in City Hall.

And in response, from OPB:

Kevin Starrett of the Oregon Firearms Federation says Hales and other politicians are ignorant of gun laws already in place and says he'll fight additional legislation.

Charlie Hales apparently doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Or his police chief, Mike Reese, who spoke for “common sense measures…to reduce gun violence”. Only gun “rights” advocates understand the issues.

Meanwhile, in Newtown, Connecticut, a number of the parents of the children slaughtered — and let’s not mince words; these kids were butchered — have spoken out for the first time. Not only are they, like our mayor, calling on the nation to take meaningful action to prevent these kinds of tragedies, they are stepping forward as leaders.

These parents, more than anyone else, know what they are talking about.

America is a nation of laws. At our best, we do not legislate based on the nature of who people are; we limit our laws to what people do. Our laws function best when they guide action, not when they attempt to proscribe morality. A “love” of guns is a condition of a person’s morality, their values and beliefs. An abhorrence of guns is the same. Our laws must be limited to the actions of people regarding guns: lawful purchases and possession, safe storage and usage, and reasonable limitations on lethality. Our old battle over gun “rights” has been one about morality and beliefs, and this has done nothing to protect Americans or, in the long term, preserve real and necessary rights.

So let’s listen to the parents who know what they’re talking about.

Let’s listen to the city officials who have to deal with the carnage that results from illegal guns on their streets.

Let’s listen to our military leaders like Gen Colin Powell and Gen Stanley McChrystal who know as well as anyone what is a weapon appropriate for civilian use and what is not.

Let’s listen to our own hearts, to the pain we felt as the horrific reality of Sandy Hook sank in. That pain is as real as any argument made by legal advocates in one direction or another. We know we have to do whatever we can to prevent this kind of insanity — the kind of insanity that came too close to home at a mall many of us have visited over the years.

What good is a right that leaves 30,000 Americans dead every year? If the Second Amendment as currently interpreted by the Supreme Court — the right for individuals to possess weapons, regardless of any consideration of “militias” — is to be more than an excuse to hoard guns and ammo of stunning kill power, then that right has to face the same limitations First Amendment rights face. Weapons are not more sacred or powerful than speech; history has taught us that the freedom of speech is the most powerful right a person possesses. When all else has been lost, including guns and liberty, speech can redeem the cause of justice and tear down walls of injustice and imprisonment.

But we limit that right of speech, and we can limit the rights to possess firearms. We must limit that right, and we must do so in ways that honor the Second Amendment and that make our nation safer. This is not — not not not — banning guns. This is finding ways to allow law-abiding citizens to own and possess appropriate weapons and ammo while keeping military weapons in the hands of the military. Here’s one idea, used in a number of countries that face no risk of the government imposing tyranny, like the UK: Private gun clubs where some kinds of military weapons can be safely stored and shot. This would come under the category of “compromise”. And we must find compromise, because our current all-or-nothing gun politics is a failure.

One Newtown parent, Tom Bittman, put it like this: “Doing nothing is no longer an option”.

We’ve done nothing about gun violence for years other than accept it. The Newtown parents, brutalized so terribly, say, Enough.

“The bottom line,” said Bittman, “is we must act. We can’t let this happen again.”

The NRA and Second Amendment hardliners want nothing to change. They want to blame poor law enforcement, the mentally ill and video games. President Obama and the Sandy Hook parents want changes that will reduce, as much as possible, the terrible toll of gun violence in America.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales has joined this cause, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Sam Adams, in joining “Mayors Against Illegal Guns”. There will be a lot that Hales gets wrong over the next four years, but his first act is one that is one-hundred percent right. There’s little a city can do on these issues, but even speaking up in this way has been a hard thing to do politically in the past, even in liberal Portland. Hales has done that, and I hope he hears from all of us who want positive change and an end to massacres like Sandy Hook.

If you want to support the parents of Sandy Hook, you can join the Sandy Hook Promise.

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