Thursday, January 24, 2013

Angst over gun laws in "rural" states

The New York Times reports in a front-page story today on responses from folks in various states to recent proposals to tighten assault weapon ownership, "Democrats in Senate Confront Doubts at Home on Gun Laws."  As the headline suggests, a commonality among these states is that they each have at least one Democratic Senator.  Another is that they have significant swaths of rural territory and/or wilderness:  Alaska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, West Virginia, Minnesota, Colorado, and Montana.

The story's dateline is Beckley, West Virginia, and here's an excerpt focusing on gun politics in that state:
If there is a path to new gun laws, it has to come through West Virginia and a dozen other states with Democratic senators like Mr. Manchin who are confronting galvanized constituencies that view any effort to tighten gun laws as an infringement. 
* * *  
As a hunter with an A rating from the National Rifle Association, Mr. Manchin gave advocates for new weapons laws reason for optimism after he said last month that gun firepower and magazine capacity might need to be limited. 
But now, Mr. Manchin, who affirmed his support for gun rights by running a campaign commercial in 2010 showing him firing a rifle into an environmental bill, says he is not so sure. One of his local offices has been picketed, and even some of his most thoughtful supporters are cautioning him that stronger background checks are about all the gun control they can stomach.
An earlier post featuring Senator Manchin's initial comments following the Newtown school massacre is here.

An item more explicitly linking guns to rurality is this opinion piece by former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, regarding his successful fight for gun control down under.  He initially addresses who was in Parliament when a gunman in Port Arthur, Tasmania killed 35 in April, 1996, prompting his initiative for greater gun control:
I was elected prime minister in early 1996, leading a center-right coalition. Virtually every nonurban electoral district in the country — where gun ownership was higher than elsewhere — sent a member of my coalition to Parliament.
Of the Australian battle for gun control, he continues:  
Our challenges were different from America’s. Australia is an even more intensely urban society, with close to 60 percent of our people living in large cities. Our gun lobby isn’t as powerful or well-financed as the National Rifle Association in the United States. Australia, correctly in my view, does not have a Bill of Rights, so our legislatures have more say than America’s over many issues of individual rights, and our courts have less control. Also, we have no constitutional right to bear arms. (After all, the British granted us nationhood peacefully; the United States had to fight for it.)
* * *
City dwellers supported our plan, but there was strong resistance by some in rural Australia. Many farmers resented being told to surrender weapons they had used safely all of their lives.
* * *  
Passing gun-control laws was a major challenge for my coalition partner: the rural, conservative National Party. All of its members held seats in nonurban areas. It was also very hard for the state government of Queensland, in Australia’s northeast, where the National Party was dominant, and where the majority of the population was rural.
For a piece that is more optimistic about the possibility of achieving greater gun control following the Newtown massacre, see this.

Postscript:  A story in the January 26, 2013 edition of the New York Times is about a fundraiser by the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, which will give away one rifle each day in May to those whose names are drawn in a raffle.  The organizers have already sold all 1000 tickets, at a price of $30/each. Some of the guns that will be given away are assault rifles, which has added to the controversy over the raffle.  Two New Hampshire gun manufacturers, Sig Sauer and Sturm, Ruger & Company, are co-sponsoring the fundraiser.

Making the point that gun ownership has a strong cultural component, which may be linked to hunting or to rurality, Lorraine Peterson of Litchfield, who was shopping at a gun store in Claremont, New Hampshire, is quoted in the story:
Honestly, I don’t see what the big deal is — they’re just talking about it because of Sandy Hook.  I don’t mean to sound insensitive. This is New Hampshire. This is a sport.

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