We know what won’t change gun laws in the United States:
- Murdered children, gunned down in their school, in a park or in front of a supermarket.
- Murdered men, women, cops, grandmothers, uncles, friends, preachers, retirees, movie-goers, elected officials, people in a hospital, or at a city council meeting.
- Children who find a parent’s loaded weapon, pick it up even though they’ve been taught not to and kill themselves or someone else.
- Suicidal teenagers with access to a firearm.
We know what won’t get through Congress:
- Requiring background checks for all gun sales. (Only federally licensed sellers have to do the background checks now. Private sellers don’t.)
- Limiting high-capacity magazines that increase the number of bullets a shooter can fire before needing to reload.
- Limiting the accessibility of assault weapons.
Giving up on reforming gun laws to improve public safety would be easy, because progress seems so far away. But remember, even glaciers move.
The discussion, and that’s a generous description, has been disproportional. Proposals, compromise legislation, conversations get nowhere because the gun lobby’s “no” is resolute.
“No” has been an effective roadblock. As time goes on, and the evidence that gun laws need to change mount in mass murders, suicides and accidental shootings, however, it wears the tinge of childishness.
Polls, and simply talking to people, demonstrate that gun owners are not a monolithic group. The gun lobby, such as the NRA, doesn’t speak for every person with a gun, but it has the most money and can afford to speak the loudest and with the most leverage over politicians.
The gun-law-reform advocates have put forward proposals and ideas, and they’ve been met with the “no” response. It’s a cop-out.
So, some questions to get a necessary conversation going.
Let’s begin with two true statements, because believing the worst about the other makes vilification easier, but it’s not useful or truthful.
1) The vast majority of gun owners aren’t criminals.
2) The vast majority of gun-law-reform advocates don’t want to abolish or confiscate guns.
If you see the gun as innocent in these killings, what will you support to improve public safety?
Do these shooting deaths indicate that a problem exists? Why not?
Is the onus entirely on the human being who commits the crime? Do tools that increase the lethality of firearms, like extended magazines, affect the problem? Why are they necessary? Do they serve a purpose other than to make it easier to shoot more targets more quickly?
We regulate constitutional rights — shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater when there isn’t one, for example — so why should firearms be exempt?
Is “because I want one” a protected constitutional right?
Should we require guns that are lost or stolen to be reported to police or another agency? Why not?
Domestic violence is more likely to be fatal if a gun is in the home. Should people arrested for domestic violence, or those who have a restraining order out against them, be able to buy or possess a gun? Why?
Are there any types of firearms, accessories or ammunition that should be kept off the streets? Why? Why not? Is any regulation of guns a violation of the Second Amendment?
Is the Second Amendment more important than any other right Americans possess? Why would it be? What about the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Why should one group of people have to undergo a background check to buy a gun, but another be allowed to buy a firearm without any hindrance, no matter their criminal or mental-health background? What is the reason, other than inconvenience, to not require a background check of everyone?
If the problem is people with mental illness getting guns, then how do we stop that? Who decides what benchmark of illness to use, and how is that set? Is it a federal criterion, or should each state come up with its own?
What does a serious mental illness mean? Bipolar disorder? Schizophrenia? OCD? What if it’s being treated, or is situational depression, as in response to the death of a loved one?
If the problem is that people with visible mental-illness symptoms go untreated, then how do they get treatment? Are they forced? Who decides that? Who pays for it?
Do people who see others are having trouble have an obligation to report them? To whom? And then what? Are they held somewhere? For how long? What about their civil rights? Who advocates for them?
The guns have their champions, their protectors who say “no” to improving public safety.
So perhaps this is biggest question: How do we come together and truly talk about guns, public safety and these complicated problems?
Because isn’t it time we did?