Suffolk Closeup: Aurora massacre has East End pols talking gun control

The massacre in Aurora has reverberated here and across the nation. Questions being asked include: how could the federal ban on the manufacture for civilian use of assault weapons — firearms designed specifically to kill people — have been allowed to lapse?

Also: how does the violence that permeates many Hollywood movies these days impact on violence in society? And will there be needed changes or will this tragedy, like the other shooting sprees of recent years, pass only to be followed by the next massacre?

A local official with extensive knowledge about violence is Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. She worked for the Department of Peacekeeping at the UN and has a degree in human rights and conflict resolution from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

“I think the American people are being misled by that faction that’s so pro-gun and claims it’s a black-and-white issue: you’re either allowed to carry arms or not,” she commented last week. “There are ways to regulate access and use on the part of civilians of weapons.” It’s “mind-boggling” that in the U.S. someone “can go into a store and buy an assault weapon.”

Indeed, although the federal law involving assault weapons was permitted to lapse, there has been — and continues to be — a prohibition in New York State on the sale of such guns, notes State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor. “This is not about trying to outlaw guns. What we’re talking about are automatic weapons, which have one purpose only and that’s to kill people.” But New York State is “part of a larger country” and “a lot of guns” involved with crime in New York “come from the South and out west.” And, said Mr. Thiele, “We have a lack of action on the federal level.”

The New York Times in an editorial last week noted that when “campaigning for office in 2008, Barack Obama vowed to reinstate the assault weapons ban that had expired in 2004.

That would have prohibited the AR-15 rifle (a version of the military M-16) used in the Colorado theatre shooting, The Times noted, adding, “But as president, Mr. Obama has made no attempt to do so.” Meanwhile, his 2012 rival, Mitt Romney, “banned assault weapons as governor of Massachusetts … but now he opposes all gun control measures.” Another editorial three days later further criticizing them was titled: “Candidates Cower on Gun Control.”

As to the federal representative from this area, Tim Bishop, his Communications Director Oliver Longwell says: “Congressman Bishop believes Second Amendment rights are compatible with common sense regulations to protect the public. Generally, laws currently in place in New York State, including a ban on assault-type weapons and large capacity magazines, are an appropriate standard for the nation.”

Democrat Bishop’s Republican opponent this year, Randy Altschuler, said: “There are plenty of politicians out there right now pandering to voters by calling for more gun control laws as if this were some magic pill to prevent future Aurora, Colorados from happening. I think most common sense people realize that all the gun control laws in the world won’t stop an unstable, violent person from securing a gun and committing a heinous crime. If it did, the answer to all this would be easy.”

What about violence in movies? Being inflicted by coming attractions in theatres these days is some experience, with one ultra-violent film after another. In college, I wrote a novel reviewed by a professor who advised: “You’ve got to kill some people” to up the “tension.” A cheap trick. Greek dramas and Shakespeare’s plays, yes, include violence, but not the extraneous, ridiculous violence that comes out of Hollywood today to hype “tension.” Cheap tricks and dangerous.

Director Peter Bogdanovich said last week that “violence on the screen has increased tenfold … There’s too much murder and killing … It numbs the audience into thinking it’s not so terrible.”

It’s not only Hollywood. “Violent video games played by children — their brains still developing — blur the line for some kids between reality and fantasy,” commented Suffolk Legislator Jay Schneiderman of Montauk, a former teacher. The massacre also shows we “need to do more to detect mental illnesses” and deal with that. He also wonders how the Aurora shooter so easily obtained thousands of bullets.

“In the age of [the Department of] Homeland Security, for it not to be picked up when someone orders this much ammunition, I can’t believe it,” he said.

The first Times editorial last week was aptly titled: “6,000 Bullets, There is no constitutional right to build a secret ammunition dump.”

The issues must be grappled with and not avoided again, even with the National Rifle Association as always leading the way in blocking action.

Karl Grossman is a syndicated columnist. His column appears each week in the Shelter Island Reporter. He lives in Sag Harbor.