Americans must choose between accepting the status quo on gun violence or taking action. The clearly superior decision is to take reasonable action to reduce the carnage. Vice President Joe Biden correctly maintained this week that “we are not going to get caught up in the notion that, unless we can do everything, we’re going to do nothing. It’s critically important that we act.”In other words, extremists on both sides could “yeah, but what if …” this debate even deeper into the abyss of inaction. But the better way is for rational realists to find common ground.
Biden says his special committee — created by President Barack Obama in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 Newtown, Conn., shootings — will announce recommendations by Tuesday. That’s a fairly quick response by government standards. And we hope those recommendations advance the nation toward action. An Associated Press story on Thursday mentioned three possible recommendations, all of which should be endorsed by right-thinking and resolute Americans: banning assault weapons (actually reinstating the ban that expired in 2004), prohibiting high-capacity ammunition magazines and tightening background checks on gun purchases.
Note that none of these three would inhibit the rights of hunters and recreational target shooters, rights that we fully support. Nor, as gun-control foes continually point out, would any of these three measures solve the problem. But we believe they would help reduce the chance of mass killings. Enacting reasonable restrictions also could help lower this terrifying estimate: about 85 shootings daily in America (about 53 in suicides), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Perhaps the Founding Fathers could not envision a society where up to 60 shots could be fired from a high-capacity weapon in a crowded movie theater. But it happened in Aurora, Colo. last July. The Newtown school tragedy reminds us of the sole function of an assault weapon, one that should belong solely to the military. It is to maximize human deaths in just a minute or so. This horrific intent strays far beyond the standards of hunting or target shooting.
We are better than this, as The Columbian noted in a Dec. 30 editorial, which agreed with these steps that polls show are supported by high percentages of National Rifle Association members: Require background checks for every gun purchase and on gun shop employees. Prohibit individuals on the terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms. Require gun owners to report to police when guns are lost or stolen. And establish minimum (federal) standards for concealed carry permits.
Additionally, increased attention must be paid to mental health issues as a violent nation seeks to understand what makes people commit these killings.
Whatever recommendations are made by Biden’s committee, we are certain they will be vehemently opposed by many people and well-heeled lobbying giants such as the NRA. Their collective voice will be unfortunate, because it will embrace existing conditions in America. Let us all hope these guardians of the status quo fail in their desire to do nothing about gun violence.