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Yvonne Abraham

Shot through with humor

By Yvonne Abraham
Globe Columnist / September 8, 2011

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That Rick Perry is a laugh riot.

The Texas governor, who packs laser-sighted heat, fielded the ultimate softball at an event in South Carolina over the weekend: How does he feel about gun control?

“I am actually for gun control,’’ Perry said. Pause. “Use both hands.’’

Har.

We live in an America where views that inhabited the kooky fringe not so long ago are now settled in the mainstream. So polls have the recently declared Perry besting our former governor and previous front-runner Mitt Romney in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

Now, I’ve been critical of Romney at times. But he looks better every time Perry says something dense, which is often (Evolution is just one theory! Global warming is a hoax by greedy scientists!).

Romney is a Second Amendment guy, but as governor, he wasn’t an absolutist. In 2004, he signed into law a permanent ban on assault weapons in Massachusetts. Everybody seemed pretty happy with it at the time, even National Rifle Association types, who extracted some concessions in return for the ban on AK-47s, Uzis, and other exotics.

Since then, the national electorate has lurched to the right, forcing Romney into inelegant contortions to explain even positions considered firmly Republican a few years ago. Shortly after Romney signed the bill, Congress, most of which is owned by - or terrified of - the gun lobby, allowed the federal assault weapons ban to expire. That’s why Jared Loughner was able to so easily obtain the semiautomatic weapon he used to kill six people and injure a gun rights-supporting congresswoman in Arizona earlier this year.

On guns, as on many other issues, Massachusetts is increasingly isolated. Most other states do the NRA’s bidding, with Texas among those setting the abject standard.

In its 2010 scorecard on gun safety, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gave Texas six out of a possible 100, because the state “does nothing to stop criminals from getting guns from unlicensed sellers, and nothing to ban assault clips,’’ among other reasons.

That’s reflected in fatality rates. Figures from 2007, the latest available, show that almost three times as many people per capita died from guns in Texas than in Massachusetts.

But Massachusetts isn’t an island. All the gun laws in the world won’t keep weapons from coming in. Of the 2,173 guns recovered by police and traced last year, only 438 - 20 percent - were first purchased in Massachusetts, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The rest came from New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Georgia, and other places that look more like the Wild West, as guns go. They were bought in states where anybody can walk into a gun show and buy any weapon desired without a background check; where there are no product safety standards for guns; where the few people who lose their gun licenses because of mental illness get them back way too easily; where massacres like the one in Arizona redouble efforts to make guns more plentiful instead of less.

“We’ve reached a very dangerous tipping point as a result of having weakened gun laws for so long,’’ says John Rosenthal, head of Stop Handgun Violence, which has pushed for the Massachusetts gun laws enacted since he cofounded the group in 1995. “Since then, 450,000 Americans have died from firearms,’’ he says. “Every number is a life, and it’s so disgusting that Congress doesn’t care, and officials like Rick Perry can take the position that gun control means [using] two hands.’’

But this is where we live now, in a country where Romney gets grief for daring to ban weapons designed solely for killing people, and where his chief rival scores big for making gun control a joke.

“It feels hopeless,’’ Rosenthal says.

Which will only make Perry fans laugh harder.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com.