Let the discussion begin

Let the discussion begin

The school shooting incident in Connecticut on Friday should prompt a serious discussion of gun violence.

In the aftermath of the shooting massacre at a school in Connecticut last Friday, we are once again left trying to make sense of a senseless event.

It is hard to find words to describe the horror of the incident at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. It is hard to accept that a human being could be capable of the kind of violence that would take the lives of 20 schoolchildren 6 or 7 years old, and six of their teachers. But 20-year-old Adam Lanza did commit those murders at the school after killing his mother in her home, then took his own life.

Newtown is left with unimaginable grief as funerals for the victims are conducted this week, and the country is left searching for answers for how to stanch the gun violence that has become all too pervasive — not only in such highly publicized random incidents, but also regularly in inner cities throughout the country.

President Obama was eloquent as he spoke at a vigil for the victims of the shooting in Newtown on Sunday night.

"Can we say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? ... If we're honest with ourselves, the answer is no. And we will have to change."

He said he would use "whatever power this office holds" to engage with law enforcement, mental health professionals, parents and educators in an effort to prevent more tragedies like Newtown.

But what can he — and we — do to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future?

"We need to sit down and have a quiet and calm conversation on the Second Amendment," Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said on Fox News Sunday.

We agree — a conversation that's free of the posturing and arguing hard-line positions that have marked the debate over guns in the past and that will allow us to search for constructive ways to address a serious public safety issue. A conversation that will include all viewpoints in the gun debate since no one, not the staunchest gun-rights advocate or the most ardent gun-control supporter, wants to see a repeat of what happened Friday.

It is the function of government to reconcile competing interests and to balance rights, and the conversation should begin in Congress.

Here's what that conversation should focus on:

— The lack of data on gun ownership, crime and other related gun issues. If we're going to try to get answers about limiting gun violence, we're going to need research-based information on such factors as the effectiveness of firearms violence prevention programs, how and how often guns are used for self-defense, how many guns disappear illegally into the black market and other issues.

— Assault-style weapons such as the Bushmaster .223 semiautomatic rifle used by Adam Lanza and in the Beltway sniping incidents in 2002. Gun foes focus on them because they have been used in such high-profile incidents, but some are popular with gun owners for self-defense reasons. California Sen. Diane Feinstein and others have promised to introduce a bill to reinstate a federal ban on assault-type weapons that expired in 2004, and Gov. Pat Quinn has pushed for such a ban in Illinois. But again, a lack of information hampers the discussion because we don't have data about what the effect of the expiration of the ban in 2004 has been.

— Limits on sales of high-capacity magazines. Is a 30-round magazine on a semiautomatic rifle really necessary?

— Mental health services. In almost every mass killing incident, the shooters have been alienated, disaffected, mentally ill young men who have somehow managed to slip through the cracks.

Undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues are a problem in this community and elsewhere and need to be addressed.

— The effectiveness of gun education and safety programs.

The country is awash in guns of all types — an estimated 310 million in a country of 314 million people, according to the Congressional Research Service in 2009. But the vast majority of them are legally owned by law-abiding citizens (many of them own more than one), and that ownership is protected by the Second Amendment. At the same time, and probably contrary to public perception, the rate of gun violence has decreased markedly in recent years. In 2011, the rate of firearm homicides was 3.2 per 100,000 people, a sharp drop from 6.3 in 1993.

But there's no denying that gun violence is a scourge of inner cities, and the fact that the rate of gun violence is decreasing is of scant comfort to grieving parents and relatives of victims in Newtown or Aurora or other mass shootings.

President Obama said that no set of laws can protect people from senseless violence. He's right. But in our nation of laws, it's not too much to expect government to work to reduce such violence for the common good.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
Categories (2):Editorials, Opinions

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jimdrotto wrote on December 20, 2012 at 10:12 am

Unfortunately, one of the problems is mental health information does not get to the background check system, and people with problems slip through the cracks.  Until we catch up with the problems of our shifing culture (lack of moral and ethics), the only way to stop the mass shooter in CT would have been a pistol in the competent hands of that building principal.  Sad but true. 

Citizen1 wrote on December 20, 2012 at 11:12 am

You are so right.  We are so concerned about making every kid feel included and at the same time protecting their rights that we ignore the truely disturbed for fear of what -- not being politically correct or harming their little mind sets.  We let many slip through the cracks, we don't deal with them, and then keep pushing them through school.  By the time they are twenty, they are angery, have no hope and are even worse off but thanks to privacy rights, they have no background to check.  Stricter gun laws and more involved background checks will not solve the problem of people not being in the system to check.

Sid Saltfork wrote on December 20, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Wow...  What a poster child for supporting mental health.  Maybe, "making every kid feel included" would reduce mental illness? 

Comprehensive background checks with mental health evaluations of prospective gun owners would cut down on the mass murders.  A ban on assault rifles, and high capacity magazines would cut down the mass murders also.  Include gun show sales with gun store sales laws at the same time.  If you have to have a driver's license to drive a car, you should have to have a license to own a gun.  A license that is certification of your gun safety, lack of criminal past, and current mental health.

Of course, that would be a restriction on those who are unbalanced.  They would complain about it.

jimdrotto wrote on December 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Comprehensive backgroung cheks HAVE NOT HELPED.  They have been in place for YEARS--they don't get into the data base--more laws don't help if we can't enforce the ones we have on the books.

Sid Saltfork wrote on December 20, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Like I said; the unbalanced would complain about it.

billbtri5 wrote on December 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm

after shooting his mother do you imagine he could care about how many rounds the clip had in it?...

Sid Saltfork wrote on December 20, 2012 at 5:12 pm

I am sure the parents of the children, and relatives of the adults murdered cared about how many rounds the clip had in it.  There is no excuse for high capacity magazines.  No mob is going to attack you in your house.  You cannot shoot that many deer.  It is an a Rambo obsession that drives the ownership of assault rifles, and high capacity magazines.  A self esteem problem that some gun owners have keeps causing mass murder.  The tightening of laws, better background checks, and improved access to mental health would at least lessen the mass murders committed by the gun nuts.  Those opposed to tightening gun ownership are aiding the murderers.  Of course, birds of a feather flock together.

82sage wrote on December 26, 2012 at 5:12 pm

  Interesting discussion. There are valid points from both views. It is NOT  presently legal for a person with a history of mental illness to own a gun. Are they falsifying the document to apply for a foid card here in Illinois? Without the ability to check their mental health or lack thereof perhaps they can get away with lying. Us gun owners have to be responsible in a way in which troubled individuals can NOT have access to them. Certainly both sides can agree that to assure responsible people are the ones buying guns this (mental health)has to be included on the background checks? If our present laws were enforced most of the people committing these crimes would NOT have them. Trouble abounds however perhaps caused by careless gun owners. We can NOT risk criminals nor the mental unstable to gain access to our guns. I for one do NOT believe more laws are necessary nor would necessarily help. I will state if you force the argument of why I may need an assault rifle with 30 round clips I can't give you a valid good answer. I use to own more than 1 assault rifle that is no longer the case as I do not feel the need. Here is where the trouble begins as both sides seem to not want to compromise. Instead of just going after "assault" rifles why does my semi-auto shotgun become a "bad gun?" It has 3 shots of which I do not have to pump to rechamber a round. This helps a lot while duck hunting, goose hunting, pheasant hunting and or deer hunting. Keep my Ruger 10/22 that has a 10 round clip off the list of banned guns. This is the rifle I most often practice with as the cartridges are cheap comparativley. Great for hunting tree rats.... I would argue all day for my right to own the described guns keep those out of that list of assault rifles and I would support it. When can common sense rule?