WOODY BASSETT: Nation can’t afford continued cowardice, inaction in dealing with gun violence


I’ve never owned a gun and probably never will. But that doesn’t mean I’m against law-abiding American citizens owning guns and using them for appropriate purposes. To the contrary, I want responsible people to be able to own a gun for self-defense and for the protection of their families and property and want hunters to have their preferred firearm for use in the deer woods or the duck blinds.

I respect the Second Amendment and the rights conferred by it but also understand those rights are subject to reasonable limitations under prevailing American law established by the United States Supreme Court in the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller. In the majority opinion authored by a conservative judicial icon, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia wrote: “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

Americans need common-sense gun reform at the national and state levels of government. And we need it today, not tomorrow.

Guns are now the No. 1 cause of death for children and teenagers in the United States, surpassing car accidents in 2020. That fact alone should be enough to spur action by elected leaders who were supposedly put in office to solve our biggest problems. Yet nothing happens, even though a substantial majority of American citizens strongly support gun reform legislation that would make our communities safer for everyone.

Incessant gun violence in the United States is creating fear, anger and heartache among the body politic. So far in 2023 there have been 225 mass shootings in America, senselessly snuffing out the life of innocent people and leaving their families devastated. People aren’t safe anywhere: schools, churches, places of business, entertainment venues, the streets or wherever else people gather in their daily lives.

Regardless, the gun lobby continues to vehemently resist every attempt to impose modest and common-sense gun regulation, framing it instead as a menace to private gun ownership. And cowardly politicians repeatedly cave to the gun lobby, refusing to take any steps to address escalating gun violence, caring only about campaign contributions and getting re-elected.

Our broken politics are failing us. Rather than serving their constituents, many politicians these days seem far more willing to protect guns than kids. They eagerly pass legislation to ban books but cower in fear at the thought of banning military-style assault weapons specifically intended for the battlefield and capable of slaughtering multiple people in a matter of seconds.

Shameful politicians in leadership positions, especially a large number of federal and state legislators, are bought off by sizable monetary contributions from the gun manufacturers, much of which is funneled through pro-gun groups, most notably the National Rifle Association, which does the bidding for the manufacturers while mostly ignoring the wishes of its rank-and-file members, many of whom favor non-confiscatory gun reform measures.

In the face of the human carnage caused by the gun violence sweeping our country, merely offering one’s “thoughts and prayers” to victims and their families is woefully inadequate. We need action. Among the proposed gun reforms up for debate, here are three of the most worthy that are broadly supported and would save many lives:

Universal background checks on all gun sales by eliminating all loopholes, including those for gun shows. A vast majority of Americans favor this vital reform. Why doesn’t Congress?

Raise the age for someone to be eligible to buy semi-automatic weapons. It’s alarming that currently in most places in the United States an 18-year-old can legally purchase AR-15 style rifles.

Implement “red flag”/extreme risk laws in states throughout the country, creating a legal process for a family member, law enforcement or school officials to petition a court to order a person to temporarily relinquish the guns in their possession if the evidence shows that person poses an extreme risk to themselves or others.

Opponents of gun reform often proclaim, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Well, red flag laws are designed to prevent proven violent and dangerous people or those suffering from a severe mental health issue or in emotional distress from killing themselves or other people with a gun. Even among gun owners, there’s wide support for laws intended to keep guns out of the hands of people who are at high risk for violence.

Gun violence plagues our country’s society and is taking a measurable toll on the everyday life of the American people. It’s critical we do something about it, but the interplay between a prevalent gun culture, individual rights, special interest groups and bitterly partisan politics makes it a very steep climb.

Still, we must try. Because continuing to do nothing should not and cannot be an option.

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