Sam Bauman: Whatever happened to gun control in Nevada?

The Colorado movie house massacre is just the latest in our history.

Guns have played a long role in American history, from the Colonial right up to today. In recent times here in Carson City, we've seen our own massacre at the IHOP on Sept. 6, when seven died and many others were wounded.

As a loyal liberal, I wondered after the IHOP and Colorado shootings why there was no hue and cry from the gun-control lobbies. Had they gone soft after so many such incidents, dating back to perhaps the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 through the shootings of John F. Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Columbine High School, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, et al.?

All of these events involved guns - pistols, automatics, long guns, all part of the 300 million guns in the nation - one for every resident. (You got yours?) More than 80 million of our weapons are handguns, 15 million assault long guns.

But around Nevada, there was not a peep that I could dig up. Lots of talk about the grouse habitat, bear hunting licenses, male vs. female. I widened my search and found little gun-control talk anywhere around the state. (There was one campaign TV brief of Mitt Romney with a long gun, being cheerful.) Stumbled on a book at the Carson library that went far to explain it all. It's "Gunfight" by Adam Winkler and, after reading the 300 pages, (plus index, etc.) it all became clear.

It was the Supreme Court in its infinite wisdom and usual 5-4 split that tamed the for-or-against gun tumult. It was the result of a suit filed against the District of Columbia's strict gun rules by a man named Heller (no relation to our beloved Sen. Dean Heller, although he may want to claim some ties). D.C. had very tough laws about who could have a weapon in the District.

Naturally, the Nation Rifle Association was involved but didn't want a ruling by the Supreme Court about Amendment II to the Constitution, which reads, as if anyone in Nevada didn't know (we'd added the right to bear arms to our Constitution in 1982, after all):

"A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

The NRA was afraid that the Supreme Court would rule that despite the introductory clause, the right to bear arms could not be tampered with. And that was the big money-maker for the NRA: "Contribute to protect your guns." It was a successful ploy that had long enriched the NRA. For most of its life, the NRA had backed gun control.

Until 2008 the courts had generally viewed the amendment as a whole - that to bear arms, you had to be part of a militia. In 2008, the court split 5-4, as usual these days, saying nope, the second clause was independent of the first.

Not many people were happy with the ruling. D.C. had to abandon its tough gun laws, and the NRA lost a big money-maker. (They made it up with a campaign to protect the Supreme Court from change.) The Brady gun-control people realized that they were forever limited in what controls they could impose that would stand a court test.

The funny thing about all this is that from Colonial days on, guns were under strict control. In those days, villages demanded that guns be stored in central warehouses, gun powder separately. Even towns like Tombstone, Ariz., (where versions of the Gunfight at the OK Corral are staged daily) required the parking of guns with the sheriff before walking the streets.

This continued after the Civil War, when black soldiers returning with guns sold cheaply to them were forced to give up their weapons by such as the Ku Klux Klan as well as police. And the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago led to strict gun controls there as in D.C. and for the same reason, crime such as Al Capone's Valentine Day's Massacre of seven with Tommy Guns.

What the 2008 ruling did was give a little to each side. The pro-guns side got lasting protection against confiscation of their guns. But the anti-gun folks only got the approval to continue the gun control rules largely in effect.

Of course, automatic weapons are still barred despite the fact that they are common in the U.S. Army (militia). No automatic weapons, those which continue to fire as long as the trigger is depressed, are legal. And assault weapons, banned for 10 years, are legal as long as they are not automatic. (That was a phony ban anyway, based more on looks than on performance.)

Personally, I never felt more than slight leanings toward gun control. I've had everything from a Red Ryder BB gun to a Mauser long rifle to a Ruger .22 pistol, and my father was a top skeet shooter, firing annually at the Vandalia, Ohio, championships. I gave my Ruger to a girlfriend when ordered to Japan, and the rest sort of vanished.

And in truth, what do you do with 300 million guns? Like what do you do with the 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants? Beat the guns into plowshares? Just pretend the illegals aren't here so we can staff Las Vegas casinos (not to mention pick our fruit and veggies)?

Well, who ever thought the Supreme Court would get it right? Not us liberals.

• Sam Bauman is a regular contributor to the Nevada Appeal.


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