The numbers are simply horrific.
Between the deadly shootings at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school on Dec. 14, 2012, until the end of 2013, there were 54 people shot to death on school campuses in the United States, most of them children. Another 37 were injured in the 31 campus shootings.
The surprise isn’t that the numbers are growing, or even that 2014 was only two weeks old when a 12-year-old brought a shotgun to school and started shooting. The surprise is that — despite near universal demand for action — there has been virtually no change to gun laws to try to address the problem.
If anything, it’s been the reverse — instead of trying harder to keep guns out of school, some have proposed more guns. Laws have been proposed allowing college students to carry concealed handguns, or arming public school teachers as a “last line of defense” against a shooting rampage.
Stunningly, the lack of action is not due to disagreements in how to craft new laws. Instead, perhaps due to fear of the gun lobby, many political leaders are quick to push the issue aside and not even have a debate on the issue.
For all the talk among conservatives about how President Obama was going to “take your guns” — fear used to push gun and ammo sales to record numbers — nothing has happened.
If we want to prevent more campus shootings, perhaps we need to use President Trump’s likely brief term as a window for action.
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Since 1968, at least 1.4 million Americans have been killed by guns — more than the total war dead for the U.S. in all wars fought during that time period.
Our country has become immune to the nightly news and the ever-present stories about shootings and death. But school shootings strike a nerve, as they should when the most vulnerable of us are targeted.
Virginia Tech in 2007, 33 people killed. Columbine, Colorado, 1999, 13 dead. Red Lake High, Minnesota, 2005, eight dead. Oikos University, California, 2012, seven dead.
Newtown, Connecticut, 2013, 27 dead.
This isn’t even counting other mass shootings not involving schools, such as the 12 dead and 62 injured in Aurora, Colo., in 2012, or the six dead and 13 injured in Tucson, Ariz., the year before.
The rate of school shootings is on the rise, which stands in conflict with society as a whole. More people own guns today than 10 years ago, and many own multiple guns. But violent gun-related crime is on the decline. Gun proponents argue that the increase in gun ownership is the reason that violence is down.
There is a debate that this country should have over the role of guns in America, about our entire gun culture. But there should not be a debate over the need to keep guns out of schools. When the Secretary of Education supports having a gun at school to protect students from bears, you know there’s a serious problem.
Adding more guns — in the hands of poorly trained teachers or volunteer parents — surely isn’t the answer.
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In most of the recent mass shootings, the shooter was not legally eligible to own a firearm. Often, in fact, the shooters get the guns from a legal gun owner. It is plain, then, that mere enforcement of current law isn’t enough.
How do we address irresponsible gun owners whose weapons are being taken by others and used to commit violence?
The first step, despite the numerous protests it will bring, is to require guns to be registered. Gun advocates argue that the government will use a “national gun registry” to take away firearms, but this is an absurd proposition. We are still a nation of laws, and anyone who fears a sudden government suspension of basic liberties or a military junta is, quite simply, deluded. We should not base policy or law on the fears of the ignorant. And if they were worried about Obama taking their guns, maybe they would be less concerned today with President Trump.
And besides, the NRA has already built a registry of more than 10 million gun owners — 10 times the number of actual NRA members — by requesting or buying public records. The foundation of a registry already exists.
As to the second amendment argument that guns are a national right, so is voting, but we are required to register to vote. We put greater restrictions on buying allergy medicine than we do on buying a gun. You can buy guns from individuals or at gun shows with virtually no restrictions.
Under President Trump, restrictions have been relaxed even more, with people previously diagnosed with serious mental health issues now able to buy guns. Given the expanded list of those who CAN buy a gun, is it that unreasonable to keep a registry?
Borrow a page from Trump’s playbook — use fear to push your agenda. Want to stop the violence along the border? Gun registry would curb legal sales to drug runners.
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Once we have that registration information, we can track down owners whose guns are used in crimes and demand answers. Too often in school shootings, the guns were left unsecured by a relative or friend, and taken by the shooter. Holding gun owners responsible for such actions is the only way to ensure owners will make some effort at securing guns.
Gun rights advocates argue that we should focus on mental health as a whole, rather than access to guns. That’s an incredibly feeble argument, akin to saying that we should limit drunk driving only by encouraging responsible drinking rather than any punitive measures.
We should require at least as much documentation when you sell a gun as we do when you sell a car. By holding gun owners liable for these weapons, gun owners will be more likely to insist on title transfers when selling a gun, even to an individual.
At this point, we can add another safety layer — all guns sold must come with a trigger lock. These are simple, cheap devices that, if widely used, could prevent most of the hundreds of accidental shootings involving children each year. It would also make it much less likely that a disturbed teen could grab a parent’s gun and start shooting.
These proposed changes would not make it illegal to own guns, keeping Trump’s promise to limit gun control. It would not take away any guns. It merely adds responsibility to gun ownership. These changes would save lives and prevent many of the incidents involving children and guns — accidental and deliberate.
It is not a tax, not an infringement on anyone’s rights. It’s just common sense.
And in the end, common sense is what is needed most in the gun debate.