Guest Editorial: Something must be done about guns

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

America is good at knee-jerk reactions, but violence is a complicated issue.

Anyone who tells you they know for sure how to bring an end to mass shootings in America is being disingenuous, at best, and most likely for political gain. People on both sides of the gun control debate have good and bad ideas. But even the good ideas evoke extreme emotions, and most of the bad ideas are supported by political rhetoric that has become so entrenched it stymies any meaningful discussion.

The truth is, people on both sides boil the debate down to overly simplistic positions.

Mental illness is a global problem, but mass shootings are almost uniquely American. The vast majority of guns involved in mass shootings in this country in the past three decades have been obtained legally. Together, these two points indicate there is good reason to explore improving gun laws.

Some will argue it is the people and not the guns doing the killing. But we can’t outlaw people, and existing laws obviously aren’t good about keeping guns out of the hands of those with ill intent.

At the same time, even if the answer were fewer guns, or making them harder to get, is it a good idea to take away the opportunity at self-defense from a law-abiding person? Law-abiding gun owners often contend that more guns are the answer, that a good guy with a gun is all that can stop a bad guy with a gun. These are both good points.

There are points worth considering on all sides of the gun debate, but sharing them in a meaningful way that removes political posturing has proven impossible. American politics have become a zero-sum game, where reason and compromise is consistently thwarted by impassioned tribalism. With both sides firmly entrenched, the horrific prospect of more mass shootings is a certainty.

Hopelessness, mental illness, religion and a wide range of societal issues all play a role in this problem, and there is no easy fix. A plan to ban one model of gun or close a single loophole in background checks won’t stop the killing. We’ve seen lawmakers take flyswatters to jobs that needed a sledgehammer before.

It has been 19 years since the Columbine High School massacre. There have been 25 school shootings since. We need to at least try to make it stop, but that won’t happen as long as people cling to rhetoric instead of searching for real solutions.

At the recent mass shooting at a church in Texas, hindsight showed the shooter should have been flagged and refused a gun purchase because of his military discharge papers, but the system allowed him to slip through the cracks. Regarding the most recent shooting, the FBI failed to follow up on tips that the shooter might be dangerous.

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