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Forum Editorial: It’s time to bring sanity to our nation’s gun safety laws

Most Americans support gun safety laws including background checks and red flag laws. It's past time to take steps to save lives from gun violence. Here are places to start.

Editorial FSA
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One surprising irony of life today is that it’s easier to carry a gun in Tombstone, the legendary Wild West town in Arizona, than it was at the time of the famous shootout at the OK Corral.

As was the case in many rowdy frontier towns in the Old West, those in Tombstone had to surrender their firearms at a local hotel or with a local lawman. Today, however, it’s permissible to carry a concealed weapon in Tombstone.

The editor of the “Bad Lands Cowboy,” the newspaper in frontier Medora, in 1885 advocated a total ban on guns in the city limits and called “packing a gun” a “senseless custom” and “absolutely useless” as protection.

Today, a visitor in Medora can lawfully carry a concealed weapon. And it’s at least as senseless in 2022 as it was in the wild-and-wooly 1880s.

We are a nation awash in guns — and a country blood-spattered by gun violence — that in recent decades has made a fetish of gun rights.

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There were 120.5 guns for every 100 Americans in 2018, up from 88 in 2011, far surpassing any other country. Gun sales surge after a mass shooting, as people perceive they are less safe, and the spiral ratchets ever upward.

Americans love their guns. And the rifle they especially love is the AR-15, a lightweight semi-automatic. It’s the weapon of choice among mass shooters, including the disturbed young man who slaughtered 19 school children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas.

It’s important to know what one of America’s most popular rifles is capable of doing to a human body. The bullet leaves the muzzle at three times the speed of sound, making a relatively small entry wound, but leaving a ragged exit wound the size of an orange.

A bullet fired from an AR-15 can disintegrate several inches of leg bone; a bullet piercing the liver leaves a mess one surgeon compared to a Jell-O mold dropped on the floor.

What civilian possibly “needs” a killing machine like the AR-15?

We’re not advocating taking people’s guns away. But the time has come to require licenses for anyone who wants to own a lethal weapon like the AR-15. In order to obtain such a firearm, a person should be required to demonstrate the ability to safely handle the gun.

There’s nothing onerous about such a reasonable safeguard. We require a commercial driver’s license for truck drivers.

Why should anyone be able to buy an AR-15 without even a waiting period? We know that some mass shootings are impulsive acts, often by young, disturbed men. In some cases, a waiting period would save lives.

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There is no reason expanded background checks should not be a prerequisite for buying any firearm. One suggestion being considered in Washington is to open juvenile records to the background database, a step that would have flashed warnings about the 18-year-old who killed 19 school children and two teachers.

We have a better idea: ban the sale of assault-style weapons like the AR-15 to anyone younger than 21. There is no constitutional right for an 18-year-old to carry an AR-15. Already, a person must be 21 to buy a handgun — a weapon that kills more than even the AR-15.

High-capacity ammunition magazines, used in many of the bloodiest mass shootings, should be banned.

Many Republican politicians will howl at what they see as egregious restrictions on the Second Amendment right to bear arms. But the Supreme Court has long allowed restrictions to gun rights — something a party that bills itself as pro-life should embrace.

Even the First Amendment right to free speech, which we hold as sacrosanct, comes with limits. It is illegal to libel someone, for instance, or to shout fire in a crowded theater. With rights come responsibilities.

The time also has come for what are called red flag laws, which involve extreme risk protection orders. In a civil court proceeding with due process protections, a judge can temporarily restrict guns from someone shown to be a risk to self or others.

There is popular support for stricter gun laws. A clear majority, 53%, favored stricter gun laws in a Pew Research Center poll taken in April 2021.

Overwhelming majorities — 85% of Republicans and 90% of Democrats — supported preventing those with mental illness from purchasing guns. Super majorities — 70% of Republicans and 92% of Democrats — supported subjecting private gun sales and gun shows to background checks.

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And, despite the proliferation of permit-less “constitutional carry” laws, majorities of both parties opposed allowing people to carry firearms without a permit.

So far, unfortunately, solid public support hasn’t translated into political will. Each time there is a gun slaughter, there is public outrage and mourning. But in time we go on, numbed by the never-ending epidemic of gun violence.

We know that the vast majority of gun owners act responsibly and pose no safety risk. But our laws must go further to people from the devastating violence of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill.

Deeper down, this is a cultural and societal problem. Unfortunately, mass shootings and gun violence have become a meme. Better access to mental health is undoubtedly a key part of making our streets and schools safer.

Change will require sustained pressure from citizens clamoring for sanity to guide our gun safety laws. We shouldn’t have to live in a country with more lax gun controls than the Wild West.

Related Topics: GUNS
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