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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Open Letter to Congressman Richard Hanna

June 1, 2013

Dear Congressman Hanna,

Thank you for your thoughtful reply of May 23, 2013.  I have been unable to answer until now and beg your pardon for such a delay.

Although I am not a gun owner, I am a descendant of many who were gunsmiths in their day: a great-grandfather who independently made locking mechanisms for gun-makers in Birmingham, England; a great-granduncle who was a gunsmith in the Gun Quarter of Birmingham England; a grandfather who came to Woodstock, Ontario to join his brother, a superintendent at Tobin Arms (which was transplanted from Norwich, Connecticut), in the trade; two granduncles who immigrated to this country from Birmingham, England to continue their work in the gun manufacturing business, and who worked for such companies as L.C. Smith in Syracuse, Hunter Arms in Fulton, Westinghouse Arms in Springfield, MA, Tobin Arms and Hopkins & Allen Arms in Norwich, Ct. One granduncle ended up in Ithaca, NY as a superintendent at the Ithaca Gun Company and one of my father’s brothers spent his whole career employed with that particular manufacturer, also ending up as a superintendent.  A cousin still works for the remnant of Ithaca Gun at King Ferry, NY. 

I say all this only to make sure you know that I have paternal blood coursing through my veins that impels me toward sympathy with the rights of gun owners: a right to the possession of firearms for the purposes of hunting and target-shooting and competition, and whatever sporting use, such as skeet shooting, can be found for them.  Certainly, as you do, I want to protect the legitimate rights of citizens to own guns and to use them in ways that are legitimate.  However, as you succinctly state, “it is clear that we need to keep maniacs and known criminals from owning guns.”  While I would not use the word “maniac” to describe those with mental illness (most of whom do not engage in violent behavior), I do agree that we need “a broad national dialogue on how we keep firearms out of the hands of disturbed individuals” and from those with aberrant behavior that could, at any time, be turned on innocent bystanders.

Actually, dialogue and discussion have been taking place for some time now, but continuous talk is “cheap” and actions must begin in order to set new standards, directions, and guidelines, just as we did when a “smoking is good for you” attitude prevailed although it was killing people left and right.  Now we must approach a culture steeped in a violence that is harmful to our health, and especially to the well-being of children and young people.  Mental aberrations are a contributing factor, video games another, wild west attitudes are another, and gangs willing to shoot rivals are another.  There are a multitude of factors that must be addressed in order to change a prevailing acceptance of a culture of violence. I agree with you that a place to begin is to work toward finding practical ways to prevent firearms getting into the wrong hands.  One of those practical ways, supported by over 90% of citizens in several polls, is to expand gun background checks from where such checks stand now under the Brady Act (covering only federally licensed dealers) to where most gun sales will be covered.

This is not the be-all, end-all of preventing gun violence.  It will not prevent all innocent individuals from being harmed by guns; it will not prevent all persons with aberrant behavior from acting out with guns; it will not prevent all criminals from owning guns.  It occurs to me that there is very little legislation designed to wipe out all the bad things that legislation often tries to address.  Legislation like this can only make a dent; a start; a needed new direction.  The best such legislation can do is to provide the police with a new law that can be enforced; to provide a law that will begin to change attitudes about gun violence; to provide a new atmosphere by which we can advance the cause of the importance of human life and the imperatives we are under to protect innocent life as much as we possibly can.  To do nothing is to allow the existence of a cancerous cultural norm of violence that is as harmful to our health as was smoking.    Yes, we must talk and debate; but, at the same time, we must act.

I commend you for acting as you already did, by voting for increased funding for NICS in the FY 2013 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriation Act.  But as we both know, that particular Act passed the House, but not the Senate.  Therefore, while that vote was one I applaud, it failed (through no fault of yours) to “help to save lives and protect innocent Americans from harm by ensuring that firearms stay out of the hands of those prohibited to purchase them” because it did not pass.  Secondly, it was inadequate because it targeted the NICS which only federally licensed gun dealers are required to utilize, and it failed to close gun show loopholes or attempt to address other gun sales (such as online sales).  For this reason, along with many petition-signers from across your district, I encourage you to move ahead from a lost opportunity to one with more promise.  We have asked that you become a co-sponsor of H.R. 1565, the bipartisan bill on expanded background checks proposed by Peter King and Mike Thompson.

It appears that many of your colleagues have already moved beyond conversation regarding this issue.  The last time I checked, 178 had signed up to cosponsor this bill.  We call on you to do the same.  This issue will not go away, and you are not that far away from a positive position regarding this matter.  We again urge you to make the decision (a courageous one indeed) to cosponsor the King-Thompson legislation.  Thank you for listening.


While I have limited expectations regarding this request, I fervently hope that others will write similar letters to their congressmen, requesting similar action.  The point being, that further debate on the functionality of this particular issue – expanded background checks for gun sales – is unnecessary, and results in nothing more than a delaying tactic.  Join me, if you care to, in addressing YOUR congressman on this one facet of the gun violence debate.  Action and concrete results are long overdue – Publius