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Last updateThu, 19 Nov 2015 8pm

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Enough

The numbers are grim.  For instance, during the past 30 years there have been over 60 mass murders committed with guns.  The recent history is bad enough.  Their names spark instant recognition.  There is Columbine, Virginia Tech, and now Sandy Hook.  Then there was the attack on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords that resulted in six people being killed, and the Colorado movie theater slayings, which cost the lives of twelve people while wounding a staggering 71 others.  Add to that, an overall statistic that since 1960, over one million Americans have died in crimes committed with guns.  That’s the entire population of our state capital in Richmond.  This begs the question, just when do we say, “enough.”

After each attack there is some kind of call for more reasonable limitations on gun ownership. However, even saying those words opens up a political mine field.  The passion that any discussion of gun ownership evokes is overwhelming.  For instance, last week, just on the prospect that there may be some changes in our gun laws, gun sales in Virginia hit a record level. As one sporting store owner told me, he has trouble keeping stocks of ammunition.  All of this is worrying.  However, maybe, in spite of such silly reactions, there are signs of a sea change.  

I have to admit, I enjoy gun shows.  The range of weapons from black powder to semi-automatic weapons, both pistols and rifles, is fascinating.  But, it also prompts some worry.  Gun shows have a special loophole.  If you buy a weapon at a gun show there is no need for a background check.  If you have a history of mental disorders, or have a criminal record, no one is going to know.  That’s also when it occurred to me, that in the military, you wouldn’t be allowed to touch a weapon until you had been briefed on it, taken a written test or two, and not until you had demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the safety protocols. Then, at a range, under supervision, you would be taught how to use it.  Alas, I was a terrible shot and I think the poor chief wondered how a prospective officer managed to miss so much.  But, at least I knew how to use the weapon properly and understood the safety rules. Remarkably, at a gun show, I can buy an equally powerful weapon and no one will give a hoot about whether I know how to use it or not.

Gun shows are just one aspect of this discussion.  Another is a reconsideration of the so called “assault weapons” ban.  This was unpopular with gun owners, and the ban, enacted in 1994 was allowed to expire in 2004.  That’s a shame.  It would probably have helped prevent some of these tragedies.  That’s why it’s time to consider some common sense limitations on just how powerful privately owned weapons should be.  For instance, should it be legal to sell semi-automatic weapons that with an internet purchased kit can be turned into fully automatic weapons?  Just who needs such a powerful weapon?  Not hunters and as a tool for household defense it’s not that effective.   Of course, they’re fun to shoot, that’s hard to deny, but really, is it good idea to have so many such powerful weapons in civilian hands?  Also, the fact that several of these crimes, such as Sandy Hook, were committed by persons with serious mental disorders, with access to these powerful weapons, is proof that we need that hard to find dose of common sense.

Unfortunately, while there are responsible voices finally being heard, not everyone falls into that category. Virginia Delegate Robert Marshall introduced a bill to arm teachers.  Yes, you heard that correctly.  He wants to arm teachers.  This is a notion that’s even endorsed by some Members of Congress.  To which I can say, as a former school board member, “that’s nuts.”  That’s not an answer it’s just wacky.

The answer, if there is one, is to look at gun violence, much like the President has suggested, with a broad view.  Some rational, reasoned common sense limitations on just how much firepower a civilian should be able to own is a good place to start.  And then, just as important, we need to consider mental health.  First and foremost, none of these disturbed individuals should have had access to these weapons in the first place. Also, if even one of these crimes could have been prevented by better access to mental health care, it would have been worth the investment.  

But, there is another lesson to consider.  The history of these crimes, is that after the initial shock wears off, the calls for common sense fade, and nothing happens.  But, maybe this time, the crime was so terrible and the pain so deep, that maybe we can finally, as a nation say, “enough.”

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