With each passing minute, more heart-breaking details about last week's school shooting pour out of Newtown. Few are as frustrating to read as the story of the town's struggle with gun laws. Newtown, like many American towns, is filled with hunters and responsible gun owners. It is also filled with a more troubling group of people, people that like to load up targets with explosives and shoot them with assault rifles at illegitimate ranges just to see the flames and feel the shock wave. Meanwhile, other citizens notice that even at the legitimate ranges the sound of rifle rounds has been increasingly replaced by the distinctive bursts of automatic weapons at all times of day and night. As The New York Times reported on Sunday night, the people of Newtown tried to get a handle on the gun problem earlier this year. Thanks in part to the nation's second most powerful gun lobby, Newtown's efforts were quashed.
Newtown is home to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), which is located just across the highway from Sandy Hook Elementary School. This should serve as proof that the town is relatively open-minded about guns. But as the number of gunfire complaints stacked up, Newtown police chief Michael Kehoe appealed to the town council for help. This lead to a couple of crowded town hall meetings, where a representative from the NSSF spoke and said that the danger of swimming was greater than that of guns. "No safety concerns exist," he said of the town's guns. The ordinance drafted up by a bi-partisan group of county officials would have imposed new rules on shooting and required new targets and firearms used at ranges to be approved by the Fire Chief. It was shelved.
There's no way of knowing what would've happened if the ordinance had been passed or if it would've prevented the massacre at Sandy Hook. However, it does illustrate well the struggle that change gun laws for reasons even as simple as keeping noise down. Now that President Obama has made changing gun laws an imperative, we're sure to see that struggle amplify across the country. The latest reports say the president will introduce a ban on high-capacity magazines, a measure that will be joined by Diane Feinstein's recently announced bill to ban assault rifles. So far, the National Rifle Association and the NSSF have remained silent about the tragedy. Expect that to change quickly as Congress goes back into session in a couple of weeks and these bills make their way to the floor.