A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: Despite tired ‘guns-don’t-kill’ and ‘good-guys-with-guns’ narratives, guns remain the problem

Anyone who has ever watched an old episode of “The Untouchables” or the Coen Brothers’ “Miller’s Crossing” (highly recommended) is no doubt familiar with the Thompson submachine gun, popularly known as the Tommy gun, a weapon favored during its heyday by the likes of Al Capone, John Dillinger and George Kelly Barnes, whose penchant for the device earned him the tantalizing sobriquet Machine Gun Kelly.

The Tommy gun was a particularly vicious piece of work, capable of ripping off 700 to 800 rounds per minute. The so-called Chicago Typewriter (gotta love that) was invented in 1918 for military use but adopted by various gangsters during the Prohibition Era for their own nefarious purposes, mowing down anyone – including innocents – within range.

Authorities eventually came to the conclusion that the weapon’s role in the ever-expanding number of dead bodies and buckets of blood rendered it hardly worth preserving. So, in 1934, Congress passed the National Firearms Act, which, among other things, required those possessing a Tommy gun to register it with the Treasury Department, be fingerprinted, pay a heavy tax — $200, which today would come to about $4,000 — and be listed on a national registry. Violating the act could result in up to 10 years in federal prison and forfeiture of all devices or firearms found in violation.

Lo and behold, miracle of miracles, sales of machine guns plummeted and the violence declined. According to The Washington Post, “By 1937, federal officials reported that the sale of machine guns in the United States had practically ceased. In 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law didn’t violate the Constitution.”

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

While thousands of Tommy guns remained in circulation, anyone caught violating the provisions of the National Firearms Act could have the weapons confiscated and charged with tax evasion.

“It is a good example of something that is little known, which is a gun control law that was pretty effective in keeping such weapons out of civilian hands,” said Dr. Robert Spitzer a political scientist at the State University of New York at Cortland, during an interview with National Public Radio in 2013.

Congress took matters a step further in 1986 when it considered the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act, a measure that made it illegal for civilians to buy or sell any machine gun. The bill passed and was signed by the patron saint of conservative Republicans, President Ronald Reagan.

For good measure, it carried the support of – now get this – the National Rifle Association.

Now let’s move forward a bit. By the 1990s the nation faced another plague of gun violence, this one brought on by the narcotics trade, just as the violence during the Roaring 20s was brought on by bootlegging. In 1994, President Bill Clinton championed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, a subsection of which banned the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms – popularly known as assault weapons — and large capacity ammunition magazines.

This time the NRA opposed what amounts to a gun safety measure. Regardless, it passed, albeit with a sunset provision that voided the law after 10 years. It passed, survived constitutional challenges in the courts, and, naturally, gun violence once again ebbed. A study that appeared in the January 2019 edition of The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, looking at data from 1981 to 2017, determined that mass-shooting fatalities were 70 percent less likely to occur during the period when the 10-year ban was in effect.

The semi-automatic weapons ban, along with the ban on large ammunition magazines, failed to survive after the 10-year period as a result of Republican opposition, and the country continues to pay the high price. Last month, for instance, Salvador Ramos, 18, entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX, armed with an AR-15 style rifle – in other words, an assault weapon – proceeded to gun down 19 fourth graders and two teachers before members of a member of the U.S. Border Patrol tactical unit gained entry and killed the shooter.

For those keeping score at home, it was the third deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, behind the 2007 Virginia Tech University massacre that left 32 dead and 17 wounded and the 2012 annihilation at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, which resulted in 26 deaths, most of them babies, aged six and seven.

Imagine the horror.

So, given the facts, it would seem logical to revive the ban on semi-automatic weapons, which really are only good for killing fellow human beings, especially with the development of the bump stock, which basically converts them into machine guns, before we’re once again left aghast by another Robb Elementary School.

Good luck with that.

Let’s ask our old pal, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green.

“I don’t think banning whole types of weapons is consistent with the Constitution,” Paul said during an interview with WBKO-TV in Bowling Green. “I also don’t think banning how much ammunition you can put into your gun at a time is something that’s consistent with the principles of self-defense or the Constitution.”

Nothing uttered by Paul of course, was consistent with the principles of protecting our children from being decapitated as a result of ending up on the wrong end of a fusillade of bullets. Nothing he said was consistent with the principles of protecting one young survivor from having to smear herself in a dead classmate’s blood to convince the shooter that she, too, was dead. And there was nothing consistent with the principle of saving devastated families from having to provide a DNA sample so their mutilated child could be properly identified.

Nope, it’s all about some phony baloney constitutional principle that has been rejected – both in regard to the Tommy gun and assault weapons – by the courts in the past. Maintaining killing machines like the AR-15 so ranchers out west can shoot prairie dogs.

Sorry, folks, but that is some sick, bloody thinking.

Then there’s the old reliable, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-SomewhereorotherLewisCounty, the pride of the 4th Congressional District, who refers to some House proposals to address the semi-automatic weapons ban as “gun-grabbing legislation,” maintaining during a recent floor speech that efforts to address mass shootings are “unserious, unconstitutional and, most troubling, dangerous provisions.”

Massie’s sophistry is that everyone should pack because “criminals don’t follow the law,” a dead-end argument that fails to deal with why the nation has laws in the first place – because failure to comply carries consequences. And he maintains that school children are “sitting ducks,” essentially because teachers can’t keep guns in their desks, which would, of course, potentially open up a whole, new can of worms.

“Does hardening our schools work?” Massie asked. “Does letting trained teachers and professional staff carry, does it protect children? We know it does because in every single school district, every school that has allowed them to carry there hasn’t just been no mass shootings, there hasn’t been a single shooting.”

There have been any number of schools that haven’t been converted into a scholastic variation of Eddyville State Penitentiary that, likewise, haven’t experienced a fatal attack. And he fails to note that armed police were on the scene within four minutes, according to reports, before the annihilation began, and did nothing for more than an hour.

At one point about 150 officers were on the scene and sat idly by. The school had a security force but, inexplicably, a resource officer was not on campus at the time, according to reports. There has been no further explanation.

The unspeakable Uvalde tragedy gives the lie to claims that only good guys with guns defeat bad guys with guns – the good guys were on the scene and did nothing. It is the wide distribution of these killing machines – more than any other place on God’s earth – that are killing off our children one by one and folks like Paul and Massie are so bling they cannot see.

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  1. Richard says:

    The democrats have the power to pass gun laws and even enshrine abortion into law, by ending the filibuster in the senate. Its been done before, by both parties for other reasons. The democrats would rather forgo these tough political decisions and blame the republicans for inaction. We have a deeper problem in our society, when some would commit these types of evil acts. I don’t think its any coincidence that mass shootings for the most part, started after Roe was decided in 1973. They have steadily increased since then. When a mother can kill her own child in the womb, what’s really out of bounds?

  2. Frank says:

    Mitt Romney (Utah) $13,647,676
    Richard Burr (North Carolina) $6,987,380
    Roy Blunt (Missouri) $4,555,722
    Thom Tillis (North Carolina) $4,421,333
    Marco Rubio (Florida) $3,303,355
    Joni Ernst (Iowa) $3,124,773
    Rob Portman (Ohio) $3,063,327
    Todd C. Young (Indiana) $2,897,582
    Bill Cassidy (Louisiana) $2,867,074
    Tom Cotton (Arkansas) $1,968,714
    Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania) $1,475,448
    Josh Hawley (Missouri) $1,391,548
    Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee) $1,306,130
    Ron Johnson (Wisconsin) $1,269,486
    Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) $1,267,139
    Mike Braun (Indiana) $1,249,967
    John Thune (South Dakota) $638,942
    Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia) $341,738
    Richard Shelby (Alabama) $258,514
    Chuck Grassley (Iowa) $226,007
    John Neely Kennedy (Louisiana) $215,788
    Ted Cruz (Texas) $176,274
    Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) $146,262
    Steve Daines (Montana) $123,711
    Cindy Hyde-Smith (Mississippi) $109,547
    Roger Wicker (Mississippi) $106,680
    Rand Paul (Kentucky) $104,456
    Mike Rounds (South Dakota) $95,049
    John Boozman (Arkansas) $82,352
    John Cornyn (Texas) $78,945
    Ben Sasse (Nebraska) $68,623
    Jim Inhofe (Oklahoma) $66,758
    Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) $55,961
    Mike Crapo (Idaho) $55,039
    Jerry Moran (Kansas) $34,718
    John Barrasso (Wyoming) $26,989
    John Hoeven (North Dakota) $22,050
    Susan Collins (Maine) $19,638
    James Lankford (Oklahoma) $18,955
    Jim Risch (Idaho) $18,850
    Tim Scott (South Carolina) $18,513
    Kevin Cramer (North Dakota) $13,255

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