“Out of the mouths of babes….” goes the saying when adults are confronted with innocent but brutally honest assessments of their shortcomings.
And that is the case in spades today in Parkland, Fla., where teens who have witnessed the slaughter of their friends in yet another mass shooting are speaking truth to power with rallies and protests.
“What kind of country lets this happen over and over?” asks a shooting survivor.
“Protect kids, not guns” reads a poster.
The list of mass shootings in schools just this year already is approaching a mind-numbing dozen. And the number and location of mass shootings in the past decade in the U.S. are too long for most of us to remember. It’s a reminder that today’s anguish and demands for reform quickly fall on deaf ears.
Maybe this time will be different. And if not this time, when?
SENSIBLE GUN CONTROLS
This newspaper, dating back to the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, has consistently called for sensible gun controls. These include mandatory background checks for all purchases, including at gun shows and over the Internet. Also, reinstating the ban on military assault-style weapons and limiting the size of the magazines to 10 bullets. And here are a few more:
—provide greater access under the law to mental health records to prevent persons with serious mental illness from purchasing weapons;
—ban the sale of armor-piercing bullets;
—expand restrictions on gun possession and ownership to those with a history of domestic violence and stalking
—repeal the ban on studies by the Centers for Disease Control on the effects of gun ownership and use on public health
—lengthen the waiting period for gun purchases when background checks have been delayed.
LENDING OUR VOICE
We republish the list above knowing that it has failed to gain much traction. But it’s important to bear witness and lend our voice as a newspaper to those who have been struggling to be heard for decades. Even the mass shooting at a Tucson Safeway in 2011 that killed six and gravely wounded an Arizona congresswoman has failed to stir elected leaders in this state to move on any of these reforms. If anything, the backers of gun rights in this state have responded by mouthing the NRA line that more, not fewer, weapons of mass destruction in the hands of private citizens will make our communities safer.
And when that argument seems almost obscene in the face of the latest carnage, NRA turns to fear-mongering over the Second Amendment: Gun controls, they say, are the first step down a slippery slope toward gun confiscation by a federal government that can’t be trusted to manage a VA waiting list, much less a database with 800,000 security risks.
We’ll concede that there are plenty of examples of government incompetence and even malfeasance – some veterans on the waiting list died before getting treatment. And the IRS and the NSA don’t inspire confidence that our civil liberties are uppermost in the minds of bureaucrats.
But when gun deaths top 30,000 a year and mass shootings keep climbing in frequency and severity, the public, according to polls, is willing to at least give the government the power to do background checks on all gun purchases, including at gun shows, and put in place tougher standards for those with violent pasts and links to terrorist networks.
As we’ve said in the past, if the NRA insists it’s not the gun but the person using it inappropriately who must be stopped, they should have no problem with proposals to register all guns with the local police and setting up procedures for the police to deny a purchase for a range of disqualifying behaviors. If challenged, the police have the burden to prove to the judge why the denial should stand. But a Second Amendment right to own a firearm is simply not absolute – otherwise, we’d let convicted felons have guns. So we have already started down the slippery slope – and there should be no turning back.
Research is also starting to show a correlation between guns and violence, notwithstanding the falling crime rate. The latter is attributed to a variety of factors, but more guns holding off criminals is not one of them. In fact one academic study has found just the opposite: as the share of households with guns drops, a drop in the homicide rate follows. And taking guns out of the hands of domestic abusers reduces intimate partner homicide by 10 percent.
FIREARMS AND VIOLENCE
On the other side, studies are showing that laws that allow people to carry firearms without training are associated with a substantial rise in the incidence of assaults with a firearm and other crimes like rape and robbery. Firearms homicide rates rose 25 percent in Missouri in the five years after a law requiring a permit to purchase a gun was repealed. Reverse the ban on the CDC sponsoring research on gun violence, and you’re likely to see even more proof of the link between irresponsible gun ownership and violence
The continuing stonewalling in Congress and the Arizona Legislature on gun controls against overwhelming public support for many common-sense measures speaks to a larger inability of elected leaders to move beyond the agendas of special interests to enact long overdue reform. Elections have consequences, and if Congress and state lawmakers continue to listen to the NRA instead of 80 percent of their constituents, voters need the courage to set them straight – no how matter how much fear the NRA attempts to inject into the issue.