Jayne: When will it be time for discussion about gun control?

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 
photoGreg Jayne, Opinion page editor

We should be better than this.

One year and one day ago, 20 schoolchildren, six staff members, and a mother all died at the hands of a 20-year-old madman named Adam Lanza, who then took his own life and seized a particularly macabre place in infamy. All of this led to vast changes in … nothing.

Nothing has changed. Sure, we discussed increased background checks, both at the federal and the state level. We gave lip service to the memory of those 20 first-graders who died at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. And we did plenty of navel-gazing about the gun culture in this country. But nothing changed.

Early this year, the United States Senate considered a bill to expand background checks before somebody can purchase a gun; it had enough votes to pass, but not enough to survive a filibuster. In the Washington House of Representatives, a similar bill didn't come up for a vote because support was inadequate.

And that, apparently, was that. In the ensuing months, the gun-control debate has ebbed into the shadows, overwhelmed by Obamacare and the economy and Miley Cyrus' twerking as the causes célèbre. A national poll released last week by CBS News indicated that 49 percent of Americans believe gun laws should be more strict, while 12 percent say they should be less strict and 36 percent think they're just right. A HuffPost/YouGov poll also showed 49 percent in favor of stricter gun laws. Following the Sandy Hook shooting, support was anywhere from 57 percent to 60 percent.

The impact of 20 dead children, apparently, has a short shelf life. On Friday, meanwhile, there was another shooting at a high school in Centennial, Colo.

We should be better than this.

Look, I understand the issues involved. I understand the Second Amendment and the role that a well-regulated militia has played in the history of this country. But I can't understand how anything about our current gun culture is well-regulated, and I fail to see why anybody would be against additional background checks. Shouldn't people purchasing weapons at gun shows or in private sales face the same restrictions as those who buy at a gun store?

One of the most interesting things about the Washington Legislature's flirtation with gun-control measures this year involved gun-rights activist Alan Gottlieb. According to The Seattle Times, Gottlieb was willing to throw his support behind background checks if Washington would eliminate a database that tracks transactions by licensed gun dealers. But law enforcement officials opposed the suggestion because they use the database to, among other things, track down the last purchaser of a gun when that gun is used in a crime.

We're still waiting

I find that fascinating. To me, not wanting the government to know that you purchased a gun requires a peculiar level of paranoia. Yet at the same time, I am grateful for those who feel that way. I am grateful for the fear-the-government crowd who provide some balance to our culture, even if I worry that many of them are unbalanced.

Make sense? Probably not. And that's what is so aggravating about the gun-control debate. The reality is that we won't eliminate guns from our society, we won't rid humanity of evil, we won't prevent all random shootings. The reality is that background checks probably wouldn't have stopped Adam Lanza or the mother who enabled his gun fetish despite his obvious psychosis.

Which leaves us at a tragic crossroads in our history: At this point, we aren't even trying. As The Columbian wrote editorially in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting: "The debate about gun control was rekindled by opportunists within hours of the shooting. It is a discussion that must be held, yet discussions are at their most productive when not fueled by the rawest of emotions. But the time must come. Among the tragedies of Newtown is that there always has seemed to be an excuse for avoiding the discussion -- until the next tragedy delays it further."

A year has passed, and still we are waiting to have a meaningful discussion. We should be better than this.