The year was 1991. Bryan Adams topped the music charts, cell phones were beginning to shed unsightly pounds and The Silence of the Lambs ruled the box offices. And the Tacoma Dome hosted its last gun show.
In the ensuing 23 years our country has endured a major terrorist attack, two lengthy foreign wars and a tortuous economic spiral. It is a new era indeed, yet for all of that some aspects of society stubbornly resist change.
For example, if you were to attend the 1991 gun show at the Dome with the intent of purchasing a firearm from a private seller, the only requirement would be sufficient cash. Despite the violent introduction of drive-bys to our region and the surging phenomenon known as mass shootings, that singular requirement was still the standard at the gun show which took place this past weekend at the Dome.
Kate Martin’s article (TNT 4/26) highlighted the fact that the Dome’s recent sales event, like its ’91 predecessor, required no background checks for purchases made between private parties (unlike another gun show held simultaneously at the Puyallup fairgrounds). This is a classic example of the gun show loophole, a vestige of the past still clinging to the present.
Yet there seems little reason to point this out. After all, the gun debate is as stagnant as peace talks in the Middle East – a lot of hot air from both sides but little in the way of constructive change. If tragedies like Newtown are insufficient to mandate change, then what could?
Against that backdrop, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland commented that ideally the city should “require unversal background checks,” and added that “people do support background checks, including people who own guns.” On any other topic such remarks would not be controversial, but in the politically charged realm of gun rights these words are the verbal equivalent of a shot across the bow.
While the rhetoric from those who harbor extreme viewpoints (pro and con) is filled with sound and fury, the majority of Americans are in favor of both the 2nd Amendment and reasonable safety restrictions. According to a Gallup poll, that includes mandating background checks for gun sales between private parties.
The reason is simple. There is sufficient evidence demonstrating that many of the weapons purchased from gun shows find their way into the wrong hands, including cartels across the border and criminal street gangs in major U.S. cities.
The problem, as always, is that the gun lobby will not tolerate any restrictions on the right to bear arms, whether one is a law-abiding citizen or an unmedicated psychotic suffering dangerous hallucinations. This viewpoint is a staunch defense of citizens’ rights, but what it fails to recognize is how an overzealous focus on a singular right can trample on so many others.
The 65% of Americans who support background checks have an expectation that their right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness will not be infringed by a society awash in firearms. Tacoma’s passionately articulate mayor, along with several of her fellow council members, understand this.
But a few others don’t view this as a matter of public safety. Councilman David Boe opined that “no one called me to see if it’s OK for Justin Bieber to come to the Tacoma Dome,” (because runaway estrogen can be toxic?). Councilman Joe Lonergan worried about lost revenue, suggesting that the suitable response was to “have a study session.” (Sure, that always helps.)
The sponsor of the Dome’s gun show, Wes Knodel, responded to Strickland’s comments by uttering the words calculated to strike fear in the hearts of politicians everywhere: National Rifle Association. Rather than address the legitimate concerns of elected officials, Knodel has chosen playground politics (i.e. calling in an older brother to kick the crap out of a rival).
It is disheartening that after so many years, and so much gun violence, little has changed with respect to gun safety. But at least there are a few voices of reason among Tacoma’s city council willing to speak up on behalf of the people.
It’s worth keeping in mind come November.