Some Thoughts on Yesterday’s Gun Safety Hearings

Yesterday, the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee held seven hours of hearings on 20 bills aimed at improving gun safety in New Jersey. This morning, GOP Assemblyman John Amodeo was quoted on the New Jersey Republicans’ Facebook page:

“One more gun death is too many,” Amodeo, R-Atlantic, said. “We need stronger penalties against those who repeatedly put other people’s lives in danger to stop them before another tragedy occurs.”

Well, actually that did not happen. The quote is accurate except I substituted “gun death” for “drunk driving.” Amodeo and his colleagues are touting legislation they introduced to increase drunk driving penalties. And I applaud their action.

No Republican voted for stronger gun safety standards yesterday. You see, the gun lobby is much stronger than the drunk driving lobby.

The arguments that the gun lovers used yesterday translate well into the realm of drunk driving.

“Let’s just enforce the existing drunk driving laws. That will get drunk drivers off the street.”

“If someone is driving drunk, they are already a criminal. So more laws will just detrimentally impact law-abiding citizens.”

I was not in Trenton to witness yesterday’s hearings first-hand, but I listened to all seven hours on line, blogging throughout. The audience was dominated by gun zealots – about 300 of them by newspaper accounts. The testimony of the gun lovers was repetitive and for the most part, filled with anger. Only a few people advocating for gun safety testified.

Perhaps this is because the gun lovers’ attendance may have been highly subsidized while the gun control advocates could not afford a day off from work. The NRA is one of the country’s strongest lobbies – financed by the gun manufacturers. Organizations like One Million Moms for Gun Control are more grass roots (i.e. less wealthy.) Yet, there is as much enthusiasm on the part of gun control advocates as we saw from the gun lovers yesterday. Last month, in a frigid park in Jersey City, as many people who showed up yesterday took part in a rally for gun control, braving the cold instead of the relative comfort of the State House. It’s unfortunate that their presence was not stronger at the Assembly hearings.

No matter how many penalties we impose on drunk drivers, there will still be drunk driving deaths. That’s why in addition to strong laws, we recognize that other actions are necessary. We require cars to have air bags – we should require guns to have locks or biometric triggering devices. We require drivers to take an exam to help ensure their safety and the safety of innocent bystanders – we should do the same with gun owners. We require drivers to carry liability insurance. Why not do the same for gun owners?

It’s time for the GOP to wake up and realize they are being taken for a ride by a drunk driver. The gun lobby may not be drunk by booze, but they are drunk with greed and power, and the deaths that they are responsible for are no less tragic than those caused by alcohol.

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