Ready, aim, time for firearms control


POSTED: Thursday, April 23, 2009

Acting with urgency because of President Barack Obama's campaign pledge to renew the ban on assault weapons, people in Hawaii and elsewhere are acquiring the dangerous weapons at a frantic pace. Obama's decision to put the issue low on his agenda will lengthen the buying frenzy as mass killings continue. Reinstatement of the ban is needed sooner rather than later.

The chances are not good. Less than two months after Congress approved a ban on the sale of semiautomatic assault-style weapons in 1994, Democrats lost control of Capital Hill. It expired in 2004, and while Obama said last week he was “;not backing off at all”; from his campaign promise, his focus for now is “;how we can improve our enforcement of existing laws.”;

Hawaii has the nation's lowest household gun ownership rate at 9.7 percent of the population and — not by coincidence — the lowest gun death rate at 2.2 per 100,000 people. Gun registration in Hawaii rose last year by 23 percent and is exceeding that rate by a clip of 13.5 percent so far this year.

The same trend is occurring throughout the country, as 58 people have been killed in mass homicides in the past month. The worst was in Binghamton, N.Y., where Jiverly Wong fired at least 98 times in little more than a minute, using semiautomatic pistols including a 9 mm Glock, the same gun as one of those used by Cho Seung-Hui two years ago to kill 32 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech.

Hawaii's gun laws are relatively strong. The Glock pistol used in the Binghamton and Virginia Tech shootings is sold in various states on the mainland with two magazines, each capable of holding 15 rounds, and Cho had bought rapid-fire clips with as many as 33 rounds each.

Hawaii law limits the capacity of ammunition clips to 10 rounds. Legislation to repeal that limit passed the House two years ago but fortunately died in the Senate. The 10-year assault weapons ban also limited ammunition clips to no more than 10 rounds.

Unfortunately, last year's Legislature rejected a proposal to ban possession of .50-caliber sniper rifles made by Barrett Co. that are so powerful that the only two firing ranges on Oahu that can handle their firepower are on military grounds.

The pro-gun-control Violence Policy Center reported last week that assault weapons purchased in the United States are fueling drug wars in Mexico. President Felipe Calderon said nearly 90 percent of the weapons seized in Mexico could be traced to the U.S. After meeting with Calderon, Obama called for the Senate to ratify a long-stalled treaty aimed at curbing illegal arms trafficking, but what is needed more is a renewal of the ban on assault weapons.