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  • Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press

    President Barack Obama exchanges a high-five with Grant Fritz on Wednesday after signing a series of executive orders related to gun control. Several children who wrote to the White House about gun violence were invited to the signing.

  • John McGinness is the retired sheriff of Sacramento County, an adjunct professor of criminal justice and host of "The John McGinness Show" on KFBK (1530 AM).

Viewpoints: Emotion not best guide in talks on gun control

Published: Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5E
Last Modified: Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 - 8:34 am

The events at Sandy Hook Elementary School have created an understandable and appropriate groundswell of emotion across the country. The image of young, innocent lives being taken in a final act of violence by a madman generates an appropriate element of outrage in the minds of thoughtful people.

The energy created by such emotion makes people want to act, because they believe action is necessary in order to create change, with the hope of preventing such an unthinkable crime in the future. The energy created by such emotion speaks well of the collective compassion of our generous nation; how pathetic would it be if such an unfathomable act of human destruction was perpetrated and created no outrage?

Good comes from such emotionally based energy. It can be the impetus for recognition of the fragile nature of life and the need to consciously value those for whom we care deeply. Such energy can motivate people to be more vigilant in terms of recognizing expression of dangerous or high-risk thoughts in others, and perhaps break the bonds, born out of politeness, that prevent good people from taking action in the face of subtle cries for help.

Emotion is great for motivation and consciousness. However, there must be an overt effort to clear such emotions when making serious decisions, particularly when such decisions will face challenges of constitutionality and compromise the liberty of law-abiding Americans.

I approach the question of gun control with the utmost objectivity. I have been trained extensively in the use of firearms and have carried a gun most of my adult life. However, I am not a fan of guns; I don't really care for them at all. I am not a hunter, and I find no personal pleasure in sport shooting, nor do I find fault with those who do.

I recognize the value of firearms for purposes essential to protection and security. I have been involved in shootings and have investigated homicides. I have seen firsthand the carnage intentionally created by human beings with firearms, as well as knives, hammers, automobiles, rocks, chemicals and even fire. In each of these cases it is the human act, not the object chosen, that causes the loss of life.

That observation is more than a slogan, it is an absolute and undeniable truth. Therefore, I am mindful of the futility of gun control legislation and the executive actions announced by President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

In his announcement, President Obama acknowledged that none of his 23 executive actions would have prevented the Sandy Hook or Aurora shootings. His actions merely satisfied the political need for the president to take action, maybe action consistent with a long-term political agenda, or perhaps intended to appease the temporary angst of a nation. In his announcement, he employed young schoolchildren and used their words as part of the emotional justification for his action. Unfortunately it was action void of efficacy in terms of making the nation safer.

The people who have perpetrated the evil attacks that have captured the nation's attention in recent decades acted in a violent criminal manner. No law will influence the actions of such evil people in the future, and no law will eradicate firearms; rather, they will limit access on the part of those who choose to comply with the law.

The use of children in his messaging is significant: Children are expected to act and formulate ideas out of emotion. Responsible adults must apply the benefit of wisdom, experience and knowledge when creating laws that affect the nation.

With some local exceptions, the nation has seen a dramatic reduction in crime involving firearms and violent crime in general in the last decade. That trend began as states imposed tough sentencing laws. When the prevailing belief is consistent with such harsh sentencing laws, the behavior of a society seems to improve.

Conversely, strict gun control laws have not produced the same success. Chicago has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation and yet more people were murdered with guns in Chicago in 2012 than were killed among coalition forces in Afghanistan in that same time frame. Where is the outrage there, and what message should be drawn from that data?

Criminal behavior should not be tolerated. Harsh sentencing laws should be used to protect society from those who violate the rights of others, while sending a strong message to those who would consider behaving in the same manner. As for politicians looking for a quick fix to ease the emotional scars of a nation in shock, they should employ an accepted strategy to reduce gun violence – a cooling-off period to allow logic and sagacious reasoning to prevail over the heat of emotion.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by John McGinness



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