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Main Street: Children, moms and the NRA

Columnist Rich Wandschneider lives in Joseph.

Published on February 20, 2018 2:48PM

I have no quarrel with hunters, in fact, I wish we had more of them and that we could figure out a way to sell wild meat commercially and reduce the growing national deer herd.

But that’s not today’s discussion. Today it’s mass shootings, especially on school campuses and especially with semi-automatic weapons with large magazines. It’s also guns of any kind in the hands of those who should not have them.

I think and hope we are at a turning point in the national discussion about guns and violence because the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., scene of the latest mass school shooting, are speaking up.

They’re writing editorials in the New York Times challenging elected officials in their home state and most importantly joining forces with students, mothers — and dads — across the country to dare elected officials to take on the National Rifle Association.

Although an early advocate for gun registration and some sensible restrictions, the NRA has powerfully opposed all such restraints for more than 40 years.

In something that could have been scripted for a movie, David Hogg, a 17-year-old student journalist at Stoneman Douglas, interviewed classmates as they huddled in classrooms and closets while the shooting went on.

“I recorded those videos because I didn’t know if I was going to survive,” he said. “But I knew that if those videos survived, they would echo on and tell the story. And that story would be one that would change things, I hoped. And that would be my legacy.”

Another high school junior and survivor, Cameron Kasky, leads a “Never Again” student campaign on Facebook, calling out elected officials by name and telling them that prayers and sympathy are not enough.

Kasky, maybe the most articulate 17-year-old on the planet, told dithering prayerful politicians that “People say it’s too early to talk about it ... If you ask me, it’s way too late.”

At other high schools across the country, students rallied in solidarity, staged walkouts to protest Washington’s inaction in protecting students and teachers and made plans for a national protest day. A gun control advocacy group, “Moms Demand Action,” is setting up a parallel student group.

Can it work? There’s some evidence from Sandy Hook, the site of the 2012 killing of 20 young students and six teachers. In its wake, Connecticut lawmakers under pressure from moms and dads enacted laws expanding an existing ban on the sale of assault weapons, prohibiting the sale of magazines with more than 10 rounds and requiring the registration of existing assault rifles and higher-capacity magazines.

The state also required background checks for all firearms sales and created a registry of weapons offenders, including those accused of illegally possessing a firearm. Gun deaths in Connecticut have dropped more than 30 percent.

Gun deaths across the country are decreasing. Although the U.S. still leads the developed world in deaths — suicides, murders and accidental shootings — by gun, attention to mental health issues and the state-by-state patchwork of background checks seem to be making a difference.

Oregon, like California and Connecticut, has more laws on the books and fewer deaths per thousand than do Texas, Florida and their NRA stronghold kin.

But the explosion of massacres with assault weapons goes on. One lesson, it seems to me, is enough here. A mass shooting in Australia in 1996 led to banning the sales of, and buying back of, assault weapons.

Australia hasn’t experienced a fatal mass shooting — one in which five or more people are killed — since that time.

When I was on the Enterprise school board in the ‘80s — before Columbine, Sandy Hook and Stoneman Douglas — Oregon Fish and Wildlife would call us when they got a poached deer or elk, and we would have it sent to the butcher and processed for “Cowboy Macaroni.”

And pickups in the school parking lot had gun racks and guns in them. Some students hunted after school. The NRA taught hunter safety classes so young kids could hunt.

And every year there were thousands of lethal drunk-driving accidents. And then along came MADD — Mothers Against Drunk Driving — formed by moms who had lost children to drunk drivers. By the late ‘80s, “designated drivers” were common; I remember Wayne Davis telling me that alcohol had been a big contributor to the auto-body business before MADD.

He said that cleaning up alcohol-related car crashes had been the worst part of his work.

We’re no longer in the ‘80s. Deer cause more car wrecks than drunks. And students and moms might have found their first major gun control ally.

Al Hoffman Jr., a Florida-based developer and Republican fundraiser, will no longer donate to politicians who take money from the NRA, and is writing to cohorts suggesting they do the same.

Is this the turning point?

Columnist Rich Wandschneider lives in Joseph.


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