Inaction is killing our children

This editorial first appeared in The Republic of Columbus, Indiana, a sister AIM Media newspaper of the News Journal.

On Valentine’s Day, kids fell to the floor of a school classroom in Florida, terrorized by a 19-year-old with a weapon of war made to kill dozens of people in minutes and with mental health issues obvious to many. Near them, teachers and friends were dying in pools of blood.

This is a scene from America 2018.

Mass murder is no longer an anomaly in the United States, and our gun violence and mental health crises seem to be worsening.

A sort of slow-moving terrorism is rolling across our nation, turning movie theaters, churches and schools where educators are just trying to teach kids to read into killing fields.

In five months, 101 people have been slaughtered in the most deadly massacres — 26 at a Baptist church in Texas, 58 at a country music festival in Las Vegas and 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Well before those shootings, there was Orlando, San Bernardino, Charleston, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Aurora and Columbine.

Gun violence claims the lives of more than 35,000 a year, and that includes homicides, suicides and accidents.

The carnage is not normal. But it is uniquely American. These shootings happen in the United States far more than any other country in the world.

Sadly, our reaction to these nightmares has become hauntingly familiar. We all say it has to stop. We all say we are outraged.

We all say our thoughts are with the victims.

When it happens again, we hit repeat.

What we have not done is act, and that is shameful. Is it because the solutions are complicated and costly and require hard work?

Is it because we are scared of the vitriol that will come if we utter one word about changing gun laws? Is it because the muscle and money of the corporate gun lobby holds so much sway over elected officials? Is it because our mental health systems are underfunded, overwhelmed and expensive?

We allow people on terrorist watch lists to have guns. We can’t seem to adequately track serious criminal and mental health incidents across law enforcement and other agencies. And we don’t outlaw bump stocks, devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire faster, nearly like fully automatic guns.

These are the easiest of actions, and we can’t make even an inch of progress. Inaction is literally killing us, and our years-long descent into this madness is unacceptable.

With the utmost urgency, legislators must:

■ Enact universal background checks for anyone purchasing a gun, closing up loopholes that allow unlicensed dealers to sell guns without any checks so there’s a better chance violent criminals and people with mental health problems don’t get guns. Mandate that states submit all criminal, restraining orders and other pertinent records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), and enact penalties and/or incentives to get them to comply.

■ Restrict the sale and possession of high-capacity magazines that push large amounts of ammunition into firearms without reloading, giving shooters the equipment to kill dozens of people quickly and the ability to outshoot police.

■ Use Indiana’s law that allows a person’s guns to be taken away, with due process, if they are a danger to themselves or others as a national model. In these cases, law enforcement or family members can petition a court seeking an order if someone is determined to be an immediate risk and has a propensity for violent or unstable conduct. A study of a similar law in Connecticut indicated that it saved the lives of people contemplating suicide.

■ Prohibit the sale of assault weapons, rifles made to kill dozens of enemies in the shortest of time in war zones a world away. Beyond that, these weapons pose a threat to law enforcement officers who are often outgunned trying to keep us safe.

■ Get more money for and do more monitoring of mental health illnesses. Screen teens for depression.

■ Begin studies of gun violence, including firearms deaths and injuries and contributing factors, so we can accumulate data, understand the issues better and measure progress.

These common-sense steps, supported by an increasing number of Americans, are not at odds with the Second Amendment, which, in the strongest way possible, must be unassailable. Everyone has a right to protect themselves with a gun and to hunt.

In fact, it was U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Republican from Florida, who lost his legs serving the country in the U.S. Army, who said that rights under the Second Amendment are not unlimited.

Mast, who carries a gun and is a member of the National Rifle Association, wrote this post-Parkland: “I have fired tens of thousands of rounds through that rifle (similar to the AR-15), many in combat. We used it because it was the most lethal — the best for killing our enemies. And I know that my community, our schools and public gathering places are not made safer by any person having access to the best killing tool the Army could put in my hands. I cannot support the primary weapon I used to defend our people being used to kill children I swore to defend. The Second Amendment is unimpeachable. It guarantees the right of citizens to defend themselves. I accept, however, that it does not guarantee that every civilian can bear any and all arms.”

We are not naive in advocating for these sensible measures. None of these solutions will be perfect.

But we cannot let perfect be the enemy of good. Someone who should not have a gun will get one. Someone we report as having serious mental health issues may get treatment but can’t be locked up forever. And someone, among the millions of Americans who already own AR-15s and other assault-type weapons, will use one for slaughter.

It will take years to lessen the impact of those weapons.

But what’s the alternative? Throw our hands up, wallow in helplessness, send our thoughts to more victims, bury more teenagers.

For the students and teachers gunned down in schools, for our kids, for all of us, act now. #neveragain

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