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Stephen Gottlieb: Back from a trip – English and guns

I just got back from a trip abroad. We were treated everywhere with the greatest respect while visiting our former exchange student and her family in Serbia and Montenegro, and then in Spain for a meeting, People were happy to help us. We had no Serbian (though I learned how to say “thank you”) and little Spanish (though I studied in high school it’s virtually gone), but they were happy to use whatever English they had. When we couldn’t communicate it was still all smiles. Somehow, only in this country do people believe that English is under fire and all traces of foreign languages should be eliminated, despite the foreign policy disaster if some Americans weren’t conversant with other national languages. Of course there is one place where English really is under fire and has been for decades – Quebec. But I’ve never heard any suggestion that we ban the Quebecois.

That’s what I intended to talk about. But the news here on my return has been overwhelming. Another senseless mass killing of people the murderer didn’t know, had no grudge against, one a six year old child. A killing with no point, nothing to say but death and destruction. 70 people shot in all, and innumerable people grieving. Nothing will ever erase the pain – there is no closure, only distance.

Conservatives ridicule anyone singing about solidarity, with words like “Kumbayah” – but I grieve now for people I do not know and will probably never meet, because they are human and they are hurt and in pain that should never have happened. I grieve because my country has not figured out how to live at peace.

All legitimate gun users can hunt and protect themselves – some gun owners have been able to foil attacks on them, though others have died in the effort, and as we have seen recently, some have killed innocent people by using their guns to play at being policemen, and still others have turned their guns on themselves and those close to them in fits of rage.

If anyone else in that theatre had a gun, it wouldn’t have made a difference against the armor Holmes wore. Perhaps nothing could have prevented him. But there is a difference between the law of averages and one individual case. There are lots of things that could be done, in spite of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Second Amendment rulings, to make events like his less likely. People do not need attack weapons for legitimate purposes and should not have them. They do not need weapons capable of causing mass mayhem and should not have them. People should have to pass a security check for any and all guns. And ammunition should be tracked.

Remember the National Rifle Association slogan “guns don’t kill; people do”? Imagine James Holmes could have killed and injured all those people in Aurora, Colorado with a Swiss Army knife! The next time you hear NRA claims, just laugh.

Steve Gottlieb is Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. He has served on the Board of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and in the US Peace Corps in Iran

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect the views of this station or its management.