Obama appointed Vice President Joe Biden to a task force on new gun laws. The National Rifle Association stated it is “prepared to offer meaningful conversations” about steps to prevent another such assault.
Americans are taking their own steps. Some are buying semiautomatic weapons. Some are buying armored backpacks for their children.
This is some conversation we’re going to have.
If the discussions focus only on how to prevent another tragedy like Newtown, they are likely to churn, lose momentum and end with the status quo. Connecticut has relatively tough gun laws, yet they failed to stop the killer in Newtown.
The debate has to focus on such shocking, tragic and rare-but-not-rare-enough events, and it has to focus on the everyday slaughter in America. It has to focus on cities such as Chicago, which is nearing 500 homicides for the year.
It has to focus on the United States having the highest rate of violent crime and the highest gun ownership rate of any industrialized nation.
There are measures that have been debated for a long time, that would help to deter violence without infringing on constitutional rights. Background checks should be required for every gun purchase — yes, get rid of the gun show loophole. The capacity of magazine clips can be limited. We can evaluate the U.S. experience with a ban on assault weapons and determine how such a law could be more effective.
Law enforcement, from the Justice Department to the local prosecutor and cop shop, can evaluate if we’re making the best use of laws already on the books to deter violent crime.
It’s time to evaluate the experience of other nations like Canada, which requires a firearms safety course, a license and a waiting period for any firearms purchase, and has a drastically lower rate of violent crime.
It’s time for a national discussion, including input from law enforcement, military veterans and sportsmen. NRA, let’s hear your definition of “meaningful.”
Toughening laws on firearms is only one step. It’s also time for a national conversation about our culture of violence. It’s time to talk about the impact of violent video games. Time to talk about treatment for mental illness. Time to talk about personal responsibility — keeping weapons and ammunition safe and secure in the home. If only the weapons in one home in Newtown had been beyond the reach of one 20-year-old.
Will tighter, more consistent laws begin to restrict, over time, the abundance of guns in the wrong hands? The gun lobby has argued that this is a feckless pursuit. We’d concede that state by state efforts, city by city efforts, face tough challenges when there’s a national market for guns. There are plenty of handguns in Chicago, even though not one has been legally purchased in the city in decades.
But the U.S. has passed significant federal law — from the Gun Control Act of 1968 to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 — and our gun homicide rate has fallen sharply since the late 1970s.
It’s time to build on those effective laws.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois has called for hearings to clarify the parameters of the Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling that the Constitution protects an individual right to own firearms. Durbin hopes his hearings will illuminate that the high court has still left plenty of room to tighten access to guns without impeding on constitutional rights.
For more than a decade, Congress has virtually ignored the calls for change in federal gun policy. The unspeakable tragedy of Newtown may finally change that. Let’s move forward.