Time for serious discussion on guns
WE SAY: ConneCtiCut SChool ShootingS
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.