Francisco de Goya's The Third of May, 1808. 1814, Museo del Prado, Madrid.
I’m always intrigued when I read stories of 19th Century art patrons fainting in galleries before particularly graphic paintings by Goya, for example, or depictions of human suffering in works such as Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa. It seems strange that our Victorian cousins’ sensibilities were so delicate and different from our own. Though their lives were often harsh with death a constant companion, they weren’t inundated on a daily basis with violent visual imagery in movies or on T.V. as we are today. I think of this every time there’s a mass shooting in this country. While it’s always horrifying, I must admit each time one of these events occurs I feel a little more numb than the last time. Is this a sympton of the desensitization that that our pre-24 hour news cycle fore bearers had not yet acquired? In a nation where, according to the Congressional Research Service, there are twice as many guns per capita as there were in 1968 (more than 300 million in all) it’s often hard to be surprised.
This brings me to two bills dealing with gun legislation sitting in the PA Senate. One is an improvement on current law, the other is simply appalling.
The first is SB 501: Enhancing Safety For All Parties Involved In Protection From Abuse. Under current PA law, when a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order is issued, judges have the discretion of whether to order a surrender of the defendant’s firearms. The defendant has the option of turning them over to a parent, close friend, or relative. This presents a very dangerous proposition. Nothing prevents the third party from allowing the defendant continued access to the weapon. There are at least three cases over the last decade where a defendant has convinced their friend or relative to return the gun and then committed a homicide. (Click here to view the Domestic Violence Fatality Report.) SB 501 would only allow the firearms to be surrendered to the County Sheriff, an additional law enforcement agency, or a federally-licensed firearms dealer. If the defendant is convicted, the firearms would have to be handed over within 24 hours rather than the current 60 days.
Providing victims with extended PFA protection is a significant tool for victim safety and offender accountability. SB 501 would allow judges to use risk assessment tools to determine whether a defendant poses a danger to a victim when determining bail.
Ellen Kramer of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence notes, “There is so much more that must be done to stem the tide of domestic violence in our communities. For many domestic violence victims, a PFA offers vital protection that allows them to escape their abusive relationships and live in safer and more independent environments.”
Now for the appalling part. The gun lobby has a singular solution for securing our country against gun violence: Americans need to pack more heat. According to NRA Leader Wayne LaPierre, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Beyond this being simply nuts, the lack of logic in it was born out in the recent massacre in Las Vegas.
“If you were in the concert venue, concealed carrying, it’s not likely you could effectively respond,” said Pete Blair, the executive director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University and author of a study of police responses to active shooters. “Most people with a pistol aren’t accurate or effective beyond 25 yards.”
In the case of Pennsylvania Senate Bill 383, the “good guys” are teachers. SB 383 would allow school personnel to have access to firearms in school safety zones with three conditions: if the school board approves, they are licensed to carry, and have met certain training requirements. The bill has passed 28-22 in the PA Senate. Now it's up to the House Education Committee.
Numerous groups have come out in opposition to the bill, including PSEA, AFT, Ceasefire PA, and Moms Demand Action. “Elementary, middle and high school teachers should not be expected to do double-duty as sharpshooters, nor should they have to tolerate an environment where their colleagues or visitors in their schools might be carrying a loaded gun," reads a statement from Moms Demand Action.
When we let fear shape public policies, we end up with a false sense of security without actually addressing the problem. When we let campaign donations and the NRA shape public policies, we end up with a lot of "thoughts and prayers" and no concrete action. It's this lassitude or "numbing down" that the gun lobby and the politicians in its pocket are counting on.
Some may chalk up Victorian delicacy to tight corsets, but I like to hope that we are still capable of a spontaneous and visceral reaction to violence and bloodshed. Let's hope our lawmakers, too, have retained at least this much of a semblance of humanity.
posted by Amy Levengood