Unconscionable violence demands we take action
It’s been nine days since the killing of 20 young children and six adults in Newtown, Conn. In the aftermath, there was the usual national handwringing about gun violence. But this time, it seems there is a resolve from the political center of the nation to actually do something.
Politicians of both parties began to talk openly of possible new gun laws, restrictions on violent video games and re-examination of how we identify and treat violent mental illness.
We applaud this sense of determination, even if we don’t agree with all the proposals. After Newtown, Aurora and Columbine, after Fort Hood, Tucson and too many others to mention, doing nothing would itself be almost criminal. So, we offer some ideas on what we believe should be done.
This is the most divisive issue. We need a multitude of tough new gun laws, some argue. Anything else is just a distraction. Others maintain, with equal vehemence, that guns aren’t the problems. Root causes are societal rot, mental illness and more.
There’s data to lend support to both sides. A New York Times article showed Thursday that America’s rate of gun ownership is nearly double the rate of any other high-income developed country. The number of gun homicides in the United States each year exceeds the annual total of all 30 of the other countries combined.
But, as a number of people have noted, gun violence in this country has actually decreased substantially over the past 30 years, even as gun ownership has increased. Only random mass killings, such as what occurred at Newtown, have increased.
There will be an effort in Congress next year to reinstate the so-called assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004. There’s nothing unconstitutional about such a ban. The Second Amendment doesn’t guarantee Americans the right to own any weapon in existence, and there have long been bans on various military weapons. The problem with the ban that was in effect from 1994 to 2004 was that it didn’t work. There were too many loopholes, too many such weapons already available and no good definition of what constituted an “assault weapon.” Such a ban seems even less likely to work now.
We think there is little need for clips of ammunition that hold more than 10 rounds. Congress could try to reinstate that limit, even though there are millions of such clips in circulation.
Additionally, the Justice Department should resurrect plans developed in the wake of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in early 2011. The aim was to decrease the risk of guns falling into the hands of mentally troubled people and criminals. Those plans were quietly shelved.
James Holmes, the accused shooter at last summer’s Aurora theater massacre, legally bought his guns at Denver-area sporting goods stores. It’s a safe bet that if there had been an effective means of tracking his mental health issues when he was buying guns, his purchases would have been rejected.
Holmes also purchased thousands of rounds of ammunition over the Internet, no questions asked. Congress should look at ways to regulate such sales.
Finally, we think there should be an inexpensive, effective, fingerprint trigger lock so that only the proper owner of a gun could fire it, but he or she could have quick access if needed. The United States should conduct an X-Prize-style competition of, say, $25 milion to anyone who develops such a trigger lock.
There is also talk by some members of Congress to try to regulate violent video games, television shows and movies, although support for such measures appears lukewarm.
It’s interesting that the arguments in support of violent video games mirror closely those for guns: “Responsible people can play the games without becoming homicidal,” proponents say. “The games pose problems only for the mentally unstable or people who are already violent.” But some studies have suggested that constant exposure to brutal games and TV and movie violence can inure young people to the real consequences of violence.
The First Amendment, like the Second, is a powerful statement of Americans’ rights. But neither is without limits. Congress may not be able to craft a bill to effectively limit violence in games, TV and films. But it has every right to raise questions about these forms of entertainment. We can only hope that, in doing so, it will cause more parents to look carefully at what their youngsters are viewing or gaming.
Proposals to arm every teacher in every school are wrong-headed. Not every teacher wants to carry a weapon. Also, it would require significant training, subtracting time from their duties to educate. And even well-trained New York City policemen hit their targets, when firing guns at suspects, less than a third of the time.
In this regard, the NRA’s call Friday to have armed police officers in every school in the United States is not unreasonable. We certainly would like to see the school-resource-officer program expanded locally to have officers in more schools most of the time.
We wholeheartedly support Gov. John Hickenlooper’s announcement last week to put another $18.5 million into mental health services in the state, improve checks for mental health issues with gun purchases and increase the number of mental health beds available in the state. Efforts such as this are needed nationwide.
But this is not a simple fix. It’s easy to discern the mental instability of mass murderers after the fact, but far more difficult before they resort to violence. Not every reclusive teenage boy is a potential killer. Still, more resources to identify people with serious problems are needed. New legal mechanisms may be required to allow mental health professionals to go to police earlier if they suspect a patient has violent tendencies.
All the ideas mentioned here are patches — partial fixes to what has become a broad societal problem that starts with parents. None of these ideas will heal the affliction by themselves. But we need to begin the effort. We cannot simply wait for the next horrendous attack.