Time for se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion on guns

WE SAY: Con­neCti­Cut SChool Shoot­ingS

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS -


be­fore the first of the fu­ner­als were con­ducted in New­town, Conn., the im­pact of the ele­men­tary school mas­sacre was be­ing felt both emo­tion­ally — and prac­ti­cally — all over the coun­try.

The death count in Con­necti­cut was 20 chil­dren and six adults dead at the hands of a gun­man who shot him­self as po­lice ap­proached. Of­fi­cers also found the mother of the shooter shot to death at her home.

In Austin, Po­lice Chief Art Acevedo an­nounced co­op­er­a­tion with Austin In­de­pen­dent School District po­lice in step­ping up se­cu­rity around schools. In­deed, school of­fi­cials ev­ery­where were on high alert. As hor­rific as the Con­necti­cut slaugh­ter of in­no­cents was, the pos­si­bil­ity of copy­cat acts can’t be dis­counted.

It is a re­al­ity that robs us of the abil­ity to mourn in peace.

As com­mend­able and ap­pro­pri­ate as the stepped-up se­cu­rity mea­sures are, they once again are lock­ing the doors af­ter a rob­bery. In 2012, there have been at least 13 mass killings at var­i­ous places around the coun­try in­clud­ing an in­ci­dent in Col­lege Sta­tion that left three peo­ple dead — in­clud­ing the shooter — and four wounded.

And af­ter each in­ci­dent there is hand wring­ing, po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing and dec­la­ra­tions that some­thing must be done. Then noth­ing hap­pens.

Noth­ing hap­pens be­cause as a na­tion

Shrugged shoul­ders and Wy­att Earp fan­tasies are no sub­sti­tutes for ac­tion.

we have a cu­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship with firearms and the con­ver­sa­tion about them is usu­ally driven by ex­trem­ists. It is a per­fect cli­mate for po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing and empty words that fill the air un­til the next time it hap­pens and the cy­cle restarts.

Speak­ing to the griev­ing fam­i­lies in Con­necti­cut and across the na­tion, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama got it right: “Th­ese tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”

The pres­i­dent also got it right when he said, “Can we hon­estly say we’re do­ing enough to keep our chil­dren — all of them — safe from harm? … If we don’t get that right, we don’t get any­thing right.”

There is a cer­tain dan­ger in re­act­ing emo­tion­ally, but there is a greater dan­ger in us­ing that cau­tion as an ex­cuse to do noth­ing, hid­ing be­hind clichés about how laws can’t stop sense­less vi­o­lence or how dif­fer­ent things might have been had the vic­tims been car­ry­ing weapons of their own. Shrugged shoul­ders and Wy­att Earp fan­tasies are no sub­sti­tutes for ac­tion when ac­tion is clearly needed.

Re­strict­ing the size of am­mu­ni­tion clips, for ex­am­ple, would be a good start. Adam Lanza, the au­thor of the New­town tragedy, in­vaded the school with semi-au­to­matic weapons — two pis­tols and an AR-15 ri­fle — and car­ried with him 30-round mag­a­zines and enough bul­lets to kill ev­ery child in the school.

No one would se­ri­ously sug­gest a to­tal ban on weapons. It would be equally ridicu­lous for the gun lobby to sug­gest that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion wants to dis­arm the pop­u­lace. This ad­min­is­tra­tion has, if any­thing, ex­panded gun rights. Obama signed leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing peo­ple to carry loaded firearms on fed­eral land. Obama over­turned a ban on train pas­sen­gers trans­port­ing firearms.

While schol­ars may ar­gue about the word­ing of the Sec­ond Amend­ment, the fact is that the right to own a gun has long been set­tled. All rights carry re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, how­ever, and those guar­an­teed by the Sec­ond Amend­ment are not free of re­stric­tions.

Gun own­er­ship, for ex­am­ple, can be de­nied peo­ple with crim­i­nal records or his­to­ries of men­tal ill­ness.

Part of any rea­soned dis­cus­sion on an ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse to the New­town tragedy and the oth­ers that pre­ceded it would be clos­ing loop­holes in ex­ist­ing laws — like the one that per­mits buy­ers to cir­cum­vent back­ground checks when buy­ing weapons at gun shows.

But to fo­cus solely on the weapons will miss an im­por­tant el­e­ment in prevent­ing vi­o­lence.

Lanza’s state of mind be­fore the shoot­ings will never be fully known or un­der­stood. But ob­vi­ously, the 20-yearold was dis­turbed and just as ob­vi­ously didn’t get the help he needed when he needed it. In­stead, he got ac­cess to guns. The story is a fa­mil­iar one and should be re­mem­bered as politi­cians and pol­i­cy­mak­ers move to­ward trans­lat­ing words about guns into ac­tion.

It won’t be easy to re­move the stigma that still — cu­ri­ously enough — ex­ists about seek­ing men­tal health ser­vices. It won’t be easy find­ing ways to fund it ad­e­quately or to pro­vide in­surance to help peo­ple who seek it cover the costs. Nei­ther will it be easy to ig­nore the ex­trem­ists and search for rea­son­able re­stric­tions on guns and am­mu­ni­tion.

But that doesn’t mean we should do what we’ve done in the past: use the im­pos­si­bil­ity of it all as an ex­cuse to do noth­ing.

The pres­i­dent was ab­so­lutely cor­rect when he noted that we must do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to pro­tect our chil­dren — if we can’t get that right, then we can’t do any­thing right.

We can get it right if we ex­er­cise the will to get it right. If we don’t get it right, the events of New­town, Conn., will haunt our col­lec­tive con­science un­til the end of our days. We need to get it right.

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