Seventeen students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School won’t ever come home again. How would I feel if one of them was my son? It’s one of the most gritty, cold realities a parent could ever imagine, let alone experience. Schools ought to be safe places where our children learn and grow.
We are capable of improving our gun laws, making schools safer and retaining our right to keep and bear arms. The real question is whether we’ll stop attacking each other long enough to make some progress.
The cultural and political dynamics attached to gun ownership are deeply ingrained in our society. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center Survey, roughly 30 percent of Americans own guns. By comparison, the largest religious denomination in America, Evangelical Protestants, only accounts for 25.4 percent of the population. At the other end of the spectrum is the 33 percent of the country that doesn’t own a gun and couldn’t ever envision owning one.
When we have these horrible shootings, two-thirds of the country runs to their respective ideological corners. Progressives push for gun control that extends all the way to repealing the Second Amendment. Conservative gun owners resist any policy changes that involve guns. Neither side is willing to budge because each feels threatened by the other.
That can’t be the end of the discussion.
First, we need to keep schools secure. Nobody should be able to enter or exit a school without checking in and out. This isn’t foolproof–it didn’t stop the shooter in Parkland–but we need to take it seriously. Having trained, armed officers at each school isn’t cheap, but the presence of law enforcement is worthwhile. The real challenge is increasing school security without unintentionally turning schools into prisons for kids.
Second, we must repair the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The federal government can’t force states to participate, but NICS is the database that federally licensed gun dealers must use to determine if someone is eligible to purchase a firearm. At a minimum, we should expect states to actively and accurately submit information to NICS. If not, Congress should use its authority to withhold funding in areas like justice assistance grants until they do.
While we’re at it, we should allow private citizens to query the NICS database in gun sales that don’t involve a federal firearms licensee. It doesn’t take that long, and it’s a clear way to prevent guns from falling into the hands of people who aren’t eligible to own them. Even allowing such private queries on a voluntary basis is better than nothing.
Finally, states should provide law enforcement with tools to engage mentally ill persons with firearms. Texas, a particularly gun-friendly state, has laws on the books permitting police officers to seize guns from people taken into custody as a result of a severe mental crisis. Texas also outlines detailed procedures for returning seized guns to the owner, their designee or disposing of them depending on a judicial determination of the gun owner’s mental state. Law enforcement officers can’t confiscate guns on a whim, but the law does give them an option to react to dangerous situations.
None of these changes are an affront to the Second Amendment, but they don’t really address America’s culture of violence either. That’s perhaps the biggest challenge we face.
Our nation is awash with horrific depictions of gun use. Whether it’s murder on the news, the indiscriminate spray of bullets in the movies, or video games glorifying the most extreme kinds of mayhem, we’re more desensitized to violence than we’ve ever been. Combine that with isolation and anger, and the result may well have lethal consequences regardless of any adjudicated mental illness or gun restriction. It’s the height of hypocrisy to call for an end to gun violence when we’re literally paying to see more of it.
None of this is easy, but we shouldn’t simply throw up our hands because our nation is so polarized about guns. Most of us agree on improving school safety and making investments to that end. Responsible gun owners shouldn’t bristle at policy measures designed to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them as a matter of law. Those calling for an end to gun violence need to consider whether they’re simultaneously promoting it with their entertainment dollars.
I don’t want to see the names of more fallen students on my television screen, the ensuing vitriolic exchanges on social media, and the exasperation of politicians who can’t seem to reach any consensus. It’s a cycle that needs to end. Unfortunately, we’ll only develop reasonable solutions to gun violence when we start being reasonable people first.