Bookman: Insane approach to gun laws ripe for change

August 15, 2019 8:10 am

A demonstrator holds a sign depicting an assault rifle at a protest following a mass shooting which left 22 people dead, on Aug. 7 in El Paso, Texas. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

A black-clad man in full body armor, using an assault weapon equipped with a 100-round magazine, opened fire in a Dayton nightclub district and killed nine people, wounding another 17, in the 30 seconds before being gunned down himself by police.

Another shooter, this one in El Paso, walked into a Walmart armed with an assault weapon and began to target Hispanic-Americans whom he believed to be “invading” our country, eventually killing 22 people before surrendering to police.

And in Missouri last week, a man clad in tactical gear and body armor, carrying an assault weapon, a handgun on his hip and more than 100 rounds of ammunition strapped to his chest, decided to take a stroll through his local Walmart just for the jollies of watching other people flee him in terror. He later told police that he was “testing” his Second Amendment rights, which in his mind apparently include scaring his fellow citizens to death.

In each of the above cases, the weapons were bought legally and carried legally. In Texas, Ohio and Missouri, state law allows assault weapons to be carried openly and publicly, which means the two mass killers could not legally have been stopped until the moment they opened fire, and by then of course it would have been too late.

That situation is, on its face, ridiculous. It is ridiculous in a civilized country built upon the rule of law to allow the open carry of high-capacity military weapons by untrained civilians in public places, yet that is the system that we have somehow accepted as sane. It is not sane.

And Georgia is as bad if not worse than most states, with gun laws so weak that pro-gun lobbyists at the Legislature have pretty much run out of things in the legal code to nitpick. That makes it tough, because they need a sense of confrontation to keep the donations flowing.

That’s why, as part of their 2014 “guns everywhere” bill, they forced through a law that would prohibit law enforcement officers from even questioning someone like the Missouri idiot as he walked into Walmart to show off his inadequacies.  In 2017, they also forced through a bill allowing guns on college campuses.

But things are changing, and changing quickly. The NRA has been exposed as an elaborate scam, milking its members of dues and donations that were supposed to be going to defend gun rights but instead were being funneled to the group’s leadership. More importantly, the politics are changing as well.

Until now, suburban Republicans and Republicans running statewide in Georgia have been able to walk in lockstep with their rural counterparts and the NRA, safely taking the maximalist, no-compromise position that the NRA requires for its A plus rating. No longer.

Last year, in a suburban Atlanta congressional district that had long been a conservative stronghold, a black female Democrat named Lucy McBath defeated a Republican incumbent while making gun-safety laws a focus of her campaign. And instead of looking for confrontation on gun issues, GOP legislative leaders are now plotting how to protect their suburban members from having to take tough votes on gun bills.

Most tellingly, Democratic candidates, including those running statewide, are also speaking out against the insanity. Metaphorically, they are running toward the sound of gunfire in an effort to help, rather than retreating in fear.

All of this is healthy. All of this is necessary. It’s just a damn shame that it has taken so long, with such a high body count.

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Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman

Jay Bookman covered Georgia and national politics for nearly 30 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, earning numerous national, regional and state journalism awards. He has been awarded the National Headliner Award and the Walker Stone Award for outstanding editorial writing, and is the only two-time winner of the Pulliam Fellowship granted by the Society of Professional Journalists. He is also the author of "Caught in the Current," published by St. Martin's Press.