This week, we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. The best homage we could pay Him right now would be to dedicate ourselves to building a more peaceful nation — one less stained by gun violence.
Yes, I’m using a religious holiday to promote a secular agenda. The massacre of 20 children in Connecticut obliges us to take every opportunity to demand a renewed public conversation about sane regulation of firearms sales and ownership in this country.
And maybe this time, we’ll expect not just talk, but real change. Maybe we won’t allow ourselves to be shouted down by the defenders of the indefensible status quo. Maybe we won’t accept the same old double talk and excuses for inaction from the politicians we elect to represent our interests.
Maybe we’ll hold President Obama to his pledge to send meaningful gun-control proposals to Congress next month, and to spend his political capital to get them passed quickly. Maybe we’ll become a model of balanced reform for the rest of the world, rather than a source of perpetual ridicule and bewilderment among other nations.
The holidays are a time of hope. I’m hopeful, even optimistic, that Americans will pull together, as we did after 9/11, to address another insidious threat to our way of life and our personal freedom: the out-of-control availability of death-dealing firearms to people who surely shouldn’t have them.
Or we can allow the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary School to fade from memory, like so many lethal rampages before it. We can sit back and wait for the next Aurora, or Chardon, or Tucson, or Virginia Tech, or Columbine. But we owe the victims of this carnage, and our own children and neighbors, more than that.
Several of the six adults who died in the school slaughter heroically lost their lives trying to protect the children in their care. If only they had been armed instead of in a “gun-free zone,” some firearms enthusiasts assert, teachers could have taken down a deranged young man with nothing left to lose, clad in body armor and armed with a Bushmaster .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle, a Glock pistol, and 30-round ammo clips. Right.
Too much of what has passed for debate on gun issues in recent years has consisted of similar exercises in ignoring the evident. Such as: No civilian needs to own a semi-automatic, military-style assault weapon for self-defense or sport shooting or hunting or collecting.
No one needs a high-capacity magazine unless — like the school gunman — your goal is to kill a lot of people quickly without the bother of having to reload. No one needs to buy more than one weapon a month, unless you’re running guns.
We don’t need to expand the list of places — churches? schools? — where concealed weapons can be brought. Police, not politicians, should dictate who gets a gun permit.
No one should be able to buy a used weapon from an unlicensed dealer at a gun show and evade the sort of background check required for other gun purchases. Those checks supposedly review evidence of mental illness as well as criminal records, and help track guns that are subsequently used in crimes. But to do that, the federal databases on which they rely need to be kept up to date.
Opponents of gun control argue that laws mean nothing to criminals and crazy people. But we don’t have to make it as easy for them to get guns as it is now. On the day of the Connecticut mass murder, a madman in China slashed 22 young children with a knife outside their school. None of them died. What if he had a semi-automatic rifle?
The constitutional right to keep and bear arms deserves due deference from our courts; no one reasonably disputes that. Responsible, law-abiding gun owners deserve our respect as well.
But the Second Amendment is no more an absolute than the First Amendment, as the Supreme Court has made clear, and it surely isn’t a suicide note. When firearms proliferation becomes a threat to, rather than a guarantor of, public safety, it’s time to act. And the time is now.
Otherwise, time will prove the greatest ally of inaction. Let enough time elapse, and the horror of Newtown will recede in public consciousness. Politicians will find other issues to address.
Even if the Senate passes an assault-weapons ban or other legislation, and President Obama supports it, the dreary political wisdom predicts, it will die in the Republican-dominated House.
Not if their constituents force lawmakers to confront the issue. Let the politicians offer their sophistries and rationalizations for doing nothing — not in the echo chamber in which they habitually operate, but to a nation that wants to watch no more funerals of innocent victims of violence from weapons of warfare.
I can’t believe — and opinion polls refute — that most gun owners accept the absolutist agenda of the gun industry lobby and the craven politicians in Washington and Columbus and Lansing it controls or intimidates. I can’t believe they subscribe to the paranoid fantasies about Big Bad Government (or maybe the United Nations) coming to take away our guns.
Some pro-gun lawmakers of both parties appear ready to stand up to the extremists. They’re still outnumbered by fearful Democrats and ideologically rigid Republicans, but it’s a start.
Of course gun control can’t be the only topic of the national conversation. We need to look carefully at whether our mental-health laws are striking an appropriate balance between individual freedom and necessary treatment or even commitment. We ought to talk about school security too, and the effects of violent expressions of popular culture on young people.
But none of these issues provides an excuse to change the subject. If sensible firearms regulation is not in itself a sufficient condition for a safer nation, it surely is a necessary one. And now, it’s a moral obligation.
Have a blessed, and peaceful, holiday.
David Kushma is editor of The Blade. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org