Las Vegas Sun

February 12, 2016

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Sun Editorial:

The old gun debate

Nation needs to break inertia, address gun violence issues

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It has been a little more than a week since the horrific shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, and already much of the national discussion has returned to the bumper-sticker mentality about gun issues.

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

“You don’t hunt deer with an assault rifle.”

“When guns are outlawed, only criminals will have guns.”

“How many people have to die before there’s change?”

On their own, those statements raise valid points, but they mask serious and complex issues, ranging from gun use to the Second Amendment. For example, guns, by themselves, don’t kill people, but a person with a grudge and a gun, particularly a high-capacity weapon, can kill many people.

What do you do about that?

It’s difficult to discuss rationally because this nation has been locked in a vitriolic debate, filled with scare tactics on both sides, between pro- and anti-gun positions. You’re either for them or against them, and the gun lobby is strong. The result has been inertia on gun policy.

The National Rifle Association, which has led the pro-gun movement, once again proved that Friday. After summoning the media, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, let loose a tirade, essentially blaming gun violence on the media, politicians, movies and video games. His speech was political, intent on stemming criticism of his group and heading off proposed gun regulation. LaPierre even offered his own bumper-sticker thought: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

LaPierre proposed arming people on school campuses and pledged the NRA’s support. There was, however, no talk about any other issue regarding mass shootings, such as preventing “bad guys” or mentally ill people from getting guns, much less any regulations to improve safety. Essentially, the message was: more guns. That was a disappointment given that his group had promised to make “meaningful contributions to make sure this never happens again.”

The nation needs to move beyond this stilted debate and have a frank conversation about violence, particularly gun violence. Before anyone starts talking about regulations, can we at least concede that there’s a problem? The level of violence the nation has seen in recent years can’t be acceptable, can it?

So, instead of arguing about guns, let’s ask this question: How should America provide for the safety of its people, whether it’s shoppers at the mall or children at school?

As part of that discussion, the nation needs to consider the place of guns in society. For the record, we’re not opposed to guns, private gun ownership or concealed weapon permits, and LaPierre’s proposal should be honestly considered. Having a designated person who is well-trained and competent with a weapon on campus could be a good protection.

But let’s not think that simply adding a “good guy” with a gun is a panacea and leave it at that. Even the best good guy can make mistakes, have a bad day, be in the wrong place or be outgunned.

Rather than just proposing more guns, the nation should look at the root causes of mass shootings. A recent analysis of 62 recent mass shootings showed that more than half of the killers had their guns legally. How is it that the “bad guys” get these guns? Let’s address that, and let’s look at the screening process, background checks, training and regulations for gun ownership.

The issue of mental health, both in the gun debate and in society at large, also has to be considered. How is it that someone who is mentally disturbed goes through society unchecked, much less gets guns? How does the nation change that?

Political leaders and groups like the NRA need to find a way to move beyond the old talking points and start answering questions like these. It will take that type of honest discussion to move forward, curb violence and protect future generations.

Now that President Barack Obama has taken the lead on the issue, it would help if we all followed, but it would help more if we stood shoulder to shoulder to find and implement the answer.

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