A seemingly unbridgeable gap exists between gun-control supporters, who see a proliferation of firearms spreading death and destruction, and gun-rights advocates, who view gun ownership as a fundamental right essential to American freedom. Here's where we can find common ground on.
Some issues appear to defy compromise and negotiation. Abortion has been that kind of topic for years and immigration is becoming one. Another such issue is gun laws.
A seemingly unbridgeable gap exists between gun-control supporters, who see a proliferation of firearms spreading death and destruction, and gun-rights advocates, who view gun ownership as a fundamental right essential to American freedom.
There seems to be little room for agreement, but we sincerely believe there is potential for common ground. Especially in the wake of the Jan. 8 Tucson tragedy, the two sides can and should work together to find ways to reduce the chance that firearms fall into the hands of mentally disturbed individuals.
Gun-rights advocates have been in the ascendancy for more than a decade, winning a string of political and legal victories in both Washington and state capitals across the country. They’ve achieved success through a tough, no-compromise strategy backed by the ability to deliver both money and votes to politicians who side with them.
No one in Congress today would even try to reinstate the so-called “assault weapons” ban that expired in 2004 — it would stand no chance. Gun rights has become a popular issue with both parties; it was a Democratic-controlled Congress that voted last year to allow firearms in national parks.
But gun-control supporters can’t blame their setbacks merely on powerful lobbying groups, such as the National Rifle Association. The political change is backed by a cultural shift that has made many more Americans comfortable and supportive of gun ownership.
A Gallup poll in 1990 found that 78 percent of Americans said they favored stricter gun laws. When Gallup asked the same question last year, only 44 percent held the same position.
So it’s no surprise that after Jared Lee Loughner opened fire at a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket, killing six people and injuring 12, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, there was no serious call in Congress for new gun controls, other than a limited initiative to ban the extended magazine that gave Loughner 30 rather than 10 rounds to shoot.
However, we don’t believe that even the most ardent defenders of the Second Amendment want to see firearms easily purchased by people like Loughner. Operating from a position of strength, gun-rights groups should work to help find ways to keep guns out of the hands of demonstrably unbalanced individuals without restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens.
How to do so is, admittedly, a question that’s easier to ask than to answer. No system can be 100 percent effective — a determined person will always find some way to get a gun — but any measure that sets up obstacles to slaughters like the one in Tucson or the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre is worth examining.
One step worth pursuing is better identifying the mentally ill. Loughner was never ordered to receive psychological treatment, so it was legal for him under both Arizona and federal law to buy a gun. But a person who was suspended from college for intimidating behavior and rejected by the Army for habitual drug use should have set off alarms. Even when someone is ordered to get mental health treatment, such as Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho, not all jurisdictions enter the information into the federal database used for gun-purchase background checks.
The challenge: How to close these huge loopholes?
Gun-control groups say we’d be safer with fewer guns and more restrictions. Gun-rights advocates argue that if more people are armed to defend themselves, acts of mass violence are less likely and Americans will be freer and more secure. Those are viewpoints that are almost impossible to reconcile.
What the two sides should be able to agree on is that it shouldn’t be so easy for people with a history of mental illness to obtain a gun. We hope people on both sides can put aside their mutual suspicions and use the latest tragedy not as an occasion to argue again, but to find common ground and pursue reasonable goals that all Americans should be able to get behind.
-- The Holland Sentinel (Mich.)