Back­ground checks, as­sault ban a good start in gun-con­trol talks

If you carry the ‘no lim­its on gun own­er­ship’ ar­gu­ment to its log­i­cal ex­treme, you can ask should we be al­lowed to have our own per­sonal rocket launch­ers?

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - Green­berg is di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Pol­i­tics and Gov­er­nance at the LBJ School of Pub­lic Af­fairs at the Univer­sity of Texas

Isup­port

gun own­er­ship. I be­lieve in the Con­sti­tu­tion, and I grew up in an area where peo­ple owned guns for hunt­ing, recre­ation and pro­tec­tion. As a fam­ily, my hus­band and I used to take our kids to a Travis County range for clay and skeet sport shoot­ing. How­ever, gun own­er­ship should not put an end to com­mon sense.

Do in­di­vid­u­als really need as­sault weapons for hunt­ing? The com­mon sense an­swer is, of course not. In fact, the United States had a ban on spe­cific as­sault weapons, un­til Congress al­lowed the ban to ex­pire in 2004. If you carry the “no lim­its on gun own­er­ship” ar­gu­ment to its log­i­cal ex­treme, you can ask should we be al­lowed to have our own per­sonal rocket launch­ers? Com­mon sense tells us, of course not. Com­mon sense also says that the Found­ing Fa­thers did not have as­sault weapons or rocket launch­ers in mind.

I know that some peo­ple will dis­agree with me. They will ar­gue that guns are not the is­sue, and some even will say that more peo­ple need to be armed. Cer­tainly, guns are not the only is­sue. We also have sub­stan­tial un­ad­dressed men­tal health is­sues in our so­ci­ety. Hence, years ago, as a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive, I sup­ported pro­vi­sions in Texas gun leg­is­la­tion re­quir­ing back­ground checks for gun own­er­ship. How­ever, the back­ground check loop­holes for gun own­er­ship in this coun­try are so big that you could drive a Mack truck through them. The lack of a back­ground check re­quire­ment to pur­chase a gun at a gun show is the most ob­vi­ous and glar­ing loop­hole.

We talk a lot about per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity, but the con­ver­sa­tion seems to end with guns. Why do we al­low “re­spon­si­ble adults” to leave loaded guns and vi­o­lent con­tent ac­ces­si­ble to mi­nors? How many sto­ries must we read about kids get­ting ac­cess to loaded guns that are left sit­ting out and, ei­ther in­ten­tion­ally or un­in­ten­tion­ally, hurt­ing them­selves or some­one else? Just on Satur­day, a 3-year-old boy in Guthrie, Okla., got his hands on a loaded hand­gun from a bed­room night­stand and ac­ci­den­tally killed him­self.

We can see from the in­ci­dent last week at a school in China that it is much eas­ier to kill in­no­cent peo­ple with an as­sault ri­fle than with a knife. Also, we can look to the much lower mur­der rates in other in­dus­tri­al­ized so­ci­eties that have more gun reg­u­la­tions and more men­tal health ser­vices. Fur­ther­more, re­cent pub­lic opin­ion polls, in­clud­ing polls of NRA mem­bers, show that Amer­i­cans sup­port rea­son­able gun con­trol leg­is­la­tion, such as back­ground checks. Most peo­ple un­der­stand the silli­ness of the “slip­pery slope” ar­gu­ment. The op­tions are not lim­ited to (1) ev­ery­one must have guns and (2) no­body can have guns.

Now is the time that we as a so­ci­ety must face some dif­fi­cult is­sues and de­ci­sions. Will arm­ing ev­ery teacher and child end gun vi­o­lence in our schools? Com­mon sense says that it will not. Ex­pe­ri­ences from other coun­tries and our own his­tory show that there are al­ter­na­tives. There is a fork in the road, and we ei­ther can ad­dress gun vi­o­lence and men­tal health is­sues, or we can look the other way again. Should we ask adults to ac­tu­ally take per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity? Should we ban as­sault weapons and gun mag­a­zines hold­ing more than 10 rounds, close the back­ground check loop­holes, and pro­vide men­tal health ser­vices? Com­mon sense tells us yes, but the de­ci­sion is yours to make.

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