One country you’d never suspect did something brave about guns

By Rich HeilandColumnist, The Times


It just did what the United States lacks the moral fiber, heart, soul and compassion to do.

It said “enough” to gun violence and it only took two mass shootings.

On May 3, a seventh-grade student shot down eight children and a security guard. A ninth victim died two weeks later. The next day a man shot and killed eight and wounded 14 others not far from the first shooting.

In the aftermath thousands of Serbians marched in Belgrade demanding gun control. Within days Aleksandar Vucic, the country’s president, announced a “general disarmament” of the country. It began with an order to turn in all illegal, unregistered weapons. More than 9,000 illegal and legal weapons were turned in or confiscated along with more than 300,000 rounds of ammunition.

“Some people say it’s not the gun that shoots the bullet but a man,” he said. “But if that man doesn’t have a gun, the evil in his head can’t do any harm.”

The National Assembly also enacted new gun control legislation. People who haven’t given up their unregistered weapons now face prison sentences of up to 15 years. Gun owners will face strict background checks, psychological evaluations and regular drug tests. Other measures have also been enacted, including a ban on new gun licenses, stricter controls on gun owners and shooting ranges, and tougher punishment for the illegal possession of weapons.

Serbia, known to many outside the country for its civil war and strife in the late 20th Century, ranks third among nations for gun ownership. Only the United States, which is the leader, and Yemen have more guns.

According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine, among 64 high-income countries and territories, the United States stands out for its high levels of gun violence. The US ranks eighth out of 64 for homicides by firearm (age-adjusted). Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, two US territories, rank first and third on that list.

The U.S. by far has the most civilian-owned firearms in the world, at 120.5 guns per 100 residents. With more guns than people, and a climbing number of mass shootings each year, the US has not been able to institute gun control. This year alone, the US has had 227 mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

SO, WHY CAN’T the U.S. do something about its obscene level of gun ownership, violence and death? Maybe a better question is, “why won’t it.”

The Second Amendment often is cited. The Second Amendment is an archaic sop to slavery that was included in the Bill of Rights to get slave-owning states to ratify it. Slave states used armed militias to keep down slave revolts and re-enslave runaways. It has no relevance in the modern world.

Rallying behind the banner of the Second Amendment is a huge industry. The gun industry – from manufacturers to ammo makers to retailers – had annual revenue of $28 billion in 2019 according to a Forbes Magazine articles and sales have soared since them. Through its mouthpiece, The National Rifle Association and various political action committees, it has made owning politicians its primary goal, and it has succeeded.

The NRA, with industry money and backing, has spent years convincing millions of Americans that they live in unsafe hell holes facing hordes of unwashed, non-white evildoers who are coming to their front doors to crash in, rape and pillage. These people, who I now dub “The Gun Cowards of America,” also include in their numbers those who think the United States government is some form of tyranny and they must be prepared to fight back against the deep state. In other words, it consists of a mess of Trumpers like those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The membership also includes little boys who never grew up and somehow think a gun is some sort of sign of machismo.

These people are pathetic pawns of the gun industry and its propaganda arm. To be sure, there are gun owners who hunt, who like to shoot and I once was a part of that group. As someone who has taught riflery, owned guns let me quickly interject that nothing I would propose, or have seen proposed, would prevent me from doing what I did with firearms.

I LIVE NEAR Philadelphia, which has become one of the most dangerous cities in the nation. It’s a shame, because it is a fantastic city. But people die daily from shootings. The majority are young men of color but no one is immune from the flying bullets.

Philadelphia, if it chose, and the state of Pennsylvania, if it chose, could do a gun buy-back program but the problem is both would end up buying guns brought in from other places by those seeking to make a buck. Gun buybacks would take Federal action. The gun apologists say we never could get back all the guns, then start fresh with more strict laws for ownership and use.

True. But, evidence from other nations show you could get the majority of them. Critics, responding to that, bemoan how long it would take and use that as a reason for not even trying. No doubt it could take years. But the effort, combined with new, more strict laws and a campaign to at least try to repeal the Second Amendment ultimately would tip the scale away from this senseless plague of violence and death. While they delay and put up phony arguments more and more guns hit the streets every single day.

Republicans in Congress continue to fill their campaign coffers with dirty gun money and throw up roadblocks to any efforts to slow down gun control efforts.

Just this week they attempted to kill critical provisions of what really is a fairly tame effort by the Biden Administration to pass some semblance of gun control. House Republicans put up a bill, and passed it along party lines, to repeal a portion of those laws that prohibited using braces to basically convert a pistol into a rifle.

A stabilizing brace is a device that can be attached to a pistol to help a shooter “stabilize” their arm. While stabilizing braces are intended to aid shooters with disabilities, similar devices marketed as “stabilizing braces” have since been used to turn pistols into illegal short-barreled rifles and enable easy, accurate, and rapid fire that makes the firearm significantly more deadly. They have been around a while – in fact a major piece of gun legislation addressed them as far back as 1934.

Just hours before I wrote this post, the Senate rejected that resolution along party lines by a 50-49 vote. Think about that. 50-49.

MEANWHILE, WHAT DO a majority of U.S. citizens want?

According to a Fox News (yes, Fox) poll conducted in April:

  • 87 percent of voters support requiring criminal background checks for ALL gun buyers.
  • 77 percent support requiring a 30-day waiting period for all gun purchases.
  • 81 percent support raising the legal age to buy guns to 21.
  • 80 percent support mental health checks for all gun purchasers.
  • 80 percent say police should be allowed to take guns away from people considered a danger to themselves or others.
  • 61 percent support banning assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons.
  • 51 percent said they fear either they or ones they love could become victims of gun violence.

A CNN poll, which broke responses down by political parties, found a majority of Democrats (92%) and independents (65%) support new restrictions compared with 36% of Republicans. The poll also looked at age and found little difference 67% of adults younger than 45 and 62% of older adults support more strict gun laws.

So there you have it. Most of us want more strict gun laws. We may have some disagreements on what those laws would look like, but it’s clear a majority is fed up.

We need to be very, very focused on who we should be fed up with: The gun industry, the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party. They are covered in blood – our blood, the blood of our families, our friends, our neighbors.

Certainly the nation that led the world to victory in World War II and put a man on the moon can at the very least do what Serbia just did.

Rich Heiland is a retired reporter, editor and publisher. He has been a part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting team, National Columnist of the Year and a journalism instructor. He lives in West Chester.

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