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Capitalizing on a crisis

Published January 18. 2011 05:00PM

While I don't want to sound cruel or give the impression that I don't care about what happened in Arizona last week, I believe that this sad event has been blown out of proportion. The massacre of six people with countless others wounded was tragic for the families and for the nation as a whole.

That said, I believe Congress is using this tragedy for their own purposes. Our elected representatives decided to postpone their legislative agenda for a week so that they can consider other prepackaged laws.

The shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has certainly shocked members of Congress. They are now scampering to ensure that they have protection when they appear in public.

In the past, they have excluded themselves from legislation including healthcare, Social Security, and even sexual harassment. They now know that they cannot exclude themselves from the risks facing the general public. A lone gunman in the right place at the right time is not only a threat to the congressmen but to the general public as well.

As always, Congress does not want to waste a crisis. As I write this, there are several pieces of legislation that are being rushed to the floor. This includes another gun control law that will infringe on our Second Amendment rights and a law limiting free speech. Neither of these laws should be passed.

In these dire economic times, Congress should not be wasting their time on items that are doomed to failure. Gun control will not prevent future acts of violence. "Guns do not kill people, people kill people".

As for restricting free speech as it relates to oral and written threats, this is a clear intrusion into our First Amendment rights. I have difficulty determining what constitutes a threat.

Last month, I cautioned a friend who was very upset with a certain congressman. Under the proposed law, his comments could be interpreted as a threat to the congressman. Yet he had no harmful intentions. He's a kind and gentle man who was just stating his dissatisfaction with the congressman's voting record. Did he make a threat? Some might say he did. A jury of 12 of our peers who are given just the threatening part of the conversation would conclude that he indeed had committed a crime. But if the conversation was considered as a whole and his statement was taken when in context, clearly no crime was committed.

There have been many mass murders and massacres here in the United States in the last two decades. Whether it is Virginia Tech or Fort Hood, the shooter always has the advantage. The criminal knows when he or she will strike, their guns are ready, and they have additional ammunition so they can reload quickly.

The missing factor in these mass murders is someone else with a concealed carry permit and a weapon that can respond to the threat and shoot the perpetrator. This happened over the weekend in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. A man shot his mother-in-law to death and then started firing at a policeman who responded to the disturbance. The officer was pinned down and radioed for help.

While other police units responded from nearby towns and cities, it is quite possible this officer would have been killed before they arrived. The perpetrator's father-in-law grabbed a shotgun and killed his son-in-law, saving the policeman's life and his own. Without access to a weapon there could have been four or five people killed instead of two.

Armed citizens are useful in situations when a troubled person decides to execute his friends, neighbors or fellow citizens. Let me be clear, I do not want a return to the Wild West. I believe that responsible citizens who had a background check and handgun training should be able to possess a right-to-carry permit and be allowed to carry a concealed weapon for their protection. I do not believe that gang members, ex-convicts or the mentally unstable should be permitted to carry weapons of any type.

Governor Rendell chose to veto the revisions to the Castle Doctrine. As it now stands, if someone invades your home and they are armed, you the homeowner are required to retreat. If you are cornered and you can prove your life is threatened you can shoot the intruder. But before you do so, you better make sure that there are witnesses. In this state, you could be charged and convicted if you shoot an intruder in your own home.

If you are in a situation where your life is threatened dialing 911 will not save your life. If a person is armed or you believe they are, you should have the right to defend yourself and your family with deadly force if necessary. If your home is invaded you should not have to retreat. Clearly the current law is written for the protection of criminals rather than honest hard-working citizens.

The revisions to the Castle Doctrine would permit a property owner to use a weapon against an intruder. This legislation should be resubmitted after January 18th when we have a new governor. If you believe as I do, I suggest you contact your state legislator. They need to pass a revised Castle Doctrine as soon as possible. We don't need a tragedy like those in Tucson or Fort Hood in Pennsylvania before we pass this legislation.

As for our congressmen considering the modifications to our Second Amendment right to bear arms, I suggest that they kill this bill. Instead, they should enforce existing laws that prevent criminals and those with mental challenges from obtaining weapons. Jared Loughner, the perpetrator of the Arizona massacre, was reported by educators for being mentally unstable.

Last year, the police were called to the school five times because of his threatening nature. Fellow classmates would sit by the door to ensure that they would not become a victim should he freak out and start shooting. This man's issues were well known but the authorities did nothing. Prevention is the best alternative.

We have laws that permit us to detain those who may be a threat to society for a psychiatric evaluation. I am in favor of these laws and I believe that if Loughner was evaluated and treated, this massacre would not have happened.

Don't penalize law-abiding citizens because our government failed to do their job as it related to an unfit individual. The signs were there, the complaints were made, but the authorities chose not to act. I blame these authorities for the needless deaths in Arizona. There was no need for a nine-year-old who was born on 9/11 to die on 1/9/11 in a hail of bullets. My heart goes out to the families of those who were killed or wounded in this event.

The authorities should place more emphasis on early detection of those afflicted with mental illness and ensure they get the proper treatment. Placing further restrictions on gun ownership by law abiding citizens and restrictions on free speech are not the answer. Enforcement of existing laws is the best solution.

© 2011 Gordon Smith - All Rights Reserved

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