The national gun debate ties people into knots.
Enduring modest protest, the Sacramento City Council last month adopted new requirements for firearms dealers wanting to operate in the central city. Prospective gun- and ammo-sellers now have to navigate the same hoops as liquor stores, medical marijuana dispensaries, massage parlors and other “sensitive use” businesses.
It was a vote for regulatory consistency, but got tangled up in the politics of tragedy.
“I don’t see anything in the ordinance that makes our streets safer,” Councilman Allen Warren, the lone dissenting vote, said at the August 27 hearing. “What I do see is another impediment to a business that wants to operate legally and responsibly.”
The neighborhoods in Warren’s district are no stranger to gun violence. It’s the kind of piecemeal calamity that doesn’t rate national outcry, but withers into a begrudging sense of normalcy, a mistaken sense that this is how it always was.
As gun massacres dot the nation in quicker succession, that cold resignation threatens to push us further.
Council members delivered a 5-1 vote sandwiched between mass shootings perpetrated by troubled men with legally procured guns. In the back of their minds was the December 14, 2012, horror in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20-year-old Adam Lanza executed 27 people—including 20 school children and his mother—using a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle. No one had yet anticipated Aaron Alexis, 34, an honorably discharged Navy reservist who kept his security clearance despite run-ins with law enforcement and mental health issues. Alexis killed a dozen men and women with a sawed-off shotgun at the Washington Navy Yard on September 16.
Sacramento’s new firearm regulations won’t do much to prevent such violence. But the notion that they were ever intended to is a straw-man argument opponents constructed just so they could tear it down.
“If this is not in fact going to reduce gun violence, then why are we doing it?” challenged Craig DeLuz of the California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees. “And the point is to say, as a city, ‘We don’t like guns and we don’t like those who do.’”
DeLuz is doing what lobbyists are supposed to do—fabricating conflict to drive up membership. Every time he says the guv’ment is coming to take yo’ guns, another M4-carbine rifle finds a home.
It’s an effective strategy that gums this debate in stasis, and it’s what happens every time a common-sense tweak to gun laws is attempted. Second Amendment absolutists and gun control advocates alike only dig the trench deeper.
But the city of Sacramento, with its nine firearm establishments and evolving rule book, illustrates that extremists don’t have to monopolize the dialogue. The truth is in the middle, and it’s actually pretty boring.
The use permit Sacramento now requires of firearms dealers allows planning commissioners to impose certain conditions governing location, hours of operation and security measures favored by the police department. It also gives the public a chance to weigh in when a store wants to open nearby.
“This is not exceptional,” observed Councilman Steve Hansen. “The community should have a say what goes into their neighborhoods.”
And who knows? Maybe, as police Chief Sam Somers Jr. hypothesized, there could yet be some benefit to public safety. He pointed to an ammo-related ordinance that had the surprise effect of taking guns away from “people who shouldn’t have them.”
Other approaches—like the mayor’s literacy program and a proposed psychiatric facility in north Sacramento—can only bolster those odds.
“We don’t know what we’re going to prevent down the road,” Somers added.
Or what we may have already prevented.
That’s something Gov. Jerry Brown would do well to keep in mind as he’s lobbied from all angles on the 14 gun-related bills cluttering his desk.
Both Lanza and Alexis are dead; there’s no reason their dark legacies have to survive them.