Let’s Bring Common Sense Into Gun Debate
“We just need to get back to common sense.” That’s the phrase my friend and I agreed upon when returning from a shooting range in February. The news was still leading with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed and I had taken up his offer to learn more about firearms, which was on my to-do list.
My experience at the shooting range was brief, but I took away a good deal from the experience. My primary focus was on safely handling and firing a pistol. But I also observed a strong culture of respect and discipline from those around me. From the short session of personal instruction I received to the National Rifle Association pistol permit class I observed from afar, nobody was walking through the range looking intimidating with their firearm. They were there to learn basic safety protocols or practicing their shooting skills. I came away with a stronger appreciation for firearms owners and I sympathize, to an extent, when they feel their rights are being encroached upon when “ban all guns” ideas are proposed.
Americans should take seriously the March for Our Lives events that took place in Washington, D.C., Hartford and other cities and towns across the country March 24. The student survivors of the Florida shooting led the march and their message isn’t going away or being drowned out. Nor should it be. They are joined by other survivors, including families of those lost at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and other senseless shootings. They advocate for common sense laws so that nobody else endures their terrible pain.
They’re marching because doing nothing isn’t the answer. How do we know? Because it hasn’t worked so far. Unlike other debates that involved Americans dying, on this topic, one side says do nothing at all or “it’s only about mental health.”
After the terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, did we do nothing because it would curtail our rights? No, we adjusted how we travel by removing our shoes and belts, joining longer lines at the airport and following more stringent ID protocols. People will commit crimes, but we still invest in police, don’t we? It’s a ludicrous assertion that requiring ID and background checks to purchase firearms is taking rights away. It’s called due diligence. I have the right to vote (it’s the most American thing I do), but I still have to register, produce paperwork proving my residency and then show valid ID on voting day or incur a significant delay. Firearms in our society deserve the same due diligence. The National Rifle Association (the organization, not the individual members), obstructs all reasonable laws and its messaging can be radically dangerous. When their spokeswoman is on TV issuing veiled threats and threatening to burn newspapers, they’ve crossed a line and are wrong.
There are plenty of popular common sense solutions that don’t infringe on our rights but can make a difference. First, we must look at the data and what Americans want, including the responsible firearm owners I observed at the shooting range. In 2017, there were 346 mass shootings in the United States and there have been more than 57 so far in 2018, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. States with background checks have lower death rates, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research shows many inner-city shootings occur with handguns obtained in states with more lax regulations. Additionally, 94 percent of Americans and 92 percent of firearm owners favor a background check for anyone purchasing a firearm, according to a Quinnipiac Poll in 2017. It’s hard to get 94 percent of Americans to agree on much so this is a no-brainer, as is doing away with bump stocks. And certainly violent felons, someone on the terrorist watch list and the mentally unstable shouldn’t be able to purchase firearms. Finally, because some say it’s a mental health issue, then they should support better funding of mental health care.
These measures won’t end all inner-city shootings or all mass shootings in the country but they will prevent some of them. They preserve our right to protect ourselves and hunt, as they should. But doing nothing at the federal level hasn’t worked, so exercising some common sense by finding common ground is the key for moving forward, our children are worth it.
Benjamin Rodriguez lives in Suffield and is a member of The Courant’s Voices board of contributors.