As shooting incidents recur and the death toll mounts, will the American political leadership have the courage to take up gun control regulation?
That famous Homer-Simpson-esque bumper sticker of the U.S. National Rifle Association, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” would appear to have run its course after two deadly gun rampages in less than three weeks left 19 people dead and many injured, some critically.
Puzzling though it may seem to many outsiders, that may however not be the case, as both the nation’s President and the Presidential-hopeful maintain a stony silence on gun control laws and the U.S. government did little to stop the recent collapse of a much-needed arms control treaty supported by the United Nations.
The latest round of bloodshed, marked with the crimson shade of a hate crime, reportedly saw a tall, white, balding man — some said an Army veteran — sporting tattoos relating to the 9/11 terror attacks, target worshippers at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara in the sleepy suburb of Oak Creek, near Milwaukee.
Meanwhile James Eagan Holmes, a student at the University of Colorado, is currently in prison facing charges of killing 12 individuals and wounding many more at the screening of the latest Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20.
At the scene of the crime in Oak Creek, which sent shockwaves through the Sikh community and indeed the entire nation, an incriminating piece of evidence was discovered — a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun, a weapon that the state of Wisconsin allows its residents to carry freely.
While the outbreak of violence reopened a welcome debate on religious-ethnic stereotypes, in particular the vector of violence consistently inflicted upon Sikhs and Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11, both the government and the public discourse have refused to bring up the need for tighter regulations governing the purchase of handguns and semi-automatic weapons.
Wisconsin’s lax standards
And Wisconsin is the perfect example of a state that has not only adopted historically lax standards for gun ownership and gun-carrying — the current administration under Republican Governor Scott Walker has sought to further relax these standards.
Since November 1, 2011, Wisconsin residents were told they could apply for a concealed weapons permit through the Wisconsin Department of Justice, making their state the 49th in the nation that was allowed “concealed carry” of firearms.
The irony in this case was that a number of residents may well not feel the need to apply for such a licence given that Wisconsin has long been an “open carry” state, or one in which no licence is required to carry a gun in plain sight.
According to reports, there are 12 states nationwide that permit open carry of a handgun without licence requirements; 13 states call for some form of licence, often a single permit for open and concealed carry; and 17 states do not prohibit open carry in general but either do not pre-empt local laws or law enforcement policies or have material restrictions carrying such as banning anyone with a past felony.
While it is going to be too late for victims in the Sikh community and their families in Oak Creek, the extent to which Wisconsin has gone to protect the Second Amendment on the right to bear arms may be questioned in the weeks and months ahead.
For not only has Governor Walker’s government pressed forward with its NRA-supported concealed carry law, but the 2011 codification of that provision added a sub-section to the Wisconsin Disorderly Conduct statute that further tied the arms of law enforcement officials who may seek to challenge an individual carrying a concealed weapon.
Under Statute 947.01, subsection 2 notes: “Unless other facts and circumstances that indicate a criminal or malicious intent on the part of the person apply, a person is not in violation of, and may not be charged with a violation of, this section for loading, carrying, or going armed with a firearm, without regard to whether the firearm is loaded or is concealed or openly carried.”
The only persons who may be denied the right to purchase a handgun or firearm in Wisconsin, according to a note provided by the NRA, is anyone who fails a background check for criminal history, involuntary commitment, or domestic violence. There is a requirement that 48 hours must elapse from the time the dealer receives a confirmation, that the buyer has passed a background check, before a transfer may occur.
This, then, is where the great state of Wisconsin stands with regard to its residents’ appetite for gun-carrying: so long as you have not committed a serious crime or have not been committed to a mental health facility in the past, you can possess and carry a weapon openly, and the law has been designed to tie the hands of any police officer who may seek to question your behaviour in public.
The worrying aspect of this law for most gun control activists is the fact that most individuals who are likely to embark on a killing spree of the sort witnessed in Oak Creek may be first-time offenders. This means that Wisconsin’s gun laws are in effect heavily tilted in favour of all such deviant cases.
While President Barack Obama and his rival Mitt Romney may hope avoid mentioning gun laws until November fearing the influence that the pro-gun lobbies such as the NRA wield nationally, it is the victims of gun violence, and their friends and families suffering lifelong scars, who will pay the greatest price for the silence of America’s political leadership on this burning issue.