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Looking Down the Barrel – the Peril of Gun Safety Compromise

     Our country has been long overdue in passing essential gun safety legislation.  Columbine was an early warning and then after the atrocity of Sandy Hook we would surely address rising gun violence.  So too would the Parkland murders be the final straw.  Instead, there has been an increase in mass shootings across the country in schools, places of worship, stores, movies, concerts, and other facets of everyday life.  Hundreds of innocent people have been senselessly and mercilessly slaughtered.  It is unconscionable and a violation of their responsibility in office that Congressional Republicans continue to block sensible gun safety legislation demanded by the overwhelming majority of Americans.  They remain wholly under the absolute control of the NRA, paralyzed with fear of losing NRA support, and displaying callous indifference to the safety of innocent civilians.  Nobody wants any more thoughts and prayers, they demand action.    

     Republicans continue to sound the cry of mental health.  This is their carefully crafted excuse for inaction on gun safety; simply a distraction from the real issues, a shiny ball off in the corner.  It is true that we have mental health components to our nation’s overall health care challenge and we need to address that.  That is not the solution for the epidemic of gun violence across the country.  Simply writing off gun violence as a mental health issue defies logic and reason.  It is safe to argue that overall these assailants would be mentally competent to stand trial.  Some may not have satisfactorily passed background checks, but that is fall from a real solution to the crisis. 

     The commonality in almost every case is that the assailant used a military assault style weapon with high capacity magazines.  Improved background checks may have hindered access to these weapons in some cases, but not in all.  Improved background checks, including closing the gun show loophole, are imperative to solving the gun violence crisis, but it is not enough by itself to make us safe.  Congress must address the issue of military assault weapons and high capacity magazines.  As a military veteran who has handled these weapons, I join the chorus of knowledgeable and credible individuals who inform this debate.  The sole purpose of these weapons is to wage war – to immediately and brutally kill human beings in large numbers.  They serve no purpose whatsoever in hunting or recreation.  They are not necessary for home defense; in fact, they may be too much firepower for that purpose.          

     The NRA and their Congressional Republican drones hide behind the Second Amendment to fool People into believing it provides an absolute right to possess any weapon without any restrictions.  Even though the framers wrote at the time they passed the Constitution and Bill of Rights that the Second Amendment pertained to state militias, not individual rights, we are bound by Supreme Court interpretation that provides for an individual right to possess firearms for the purposes of defending home and family.  As Justice Antonin Scalia, a gun rights champion, wrote, this right is not absolute and reasonable safety restrictions are permissible.  Military assault weapons bans are permissible under this analysis.         

     The NRA and Republicans stand alone in their extremism in stark contrast to the all-time high approval rating by the American people for gun safety legislation.  Most Americans, even NRA members, support improving the background check system.  That appears to be a limited area of safe space for the President and Congressional Republicans to support gun safety legislation.  However, they are purposefully vague in the exact provisions they would support.  For example, it is unclear whether they would support closing the gun show or private sale loophole.  Assuming the President and Congressional Republicans would agree to such legislation, it is not enough.  Anyone who cares to stop the scourge of gun violence across the country should not support this sorry excuse for a response.  It is little more than a pretext for Republicans to say they did something and escape the looming consequences of inaction on gun safety.  If this minimal measure passes, Republicans believe they can block any other provisions and effectively argue to voters they acted on gun violence.  Don’t give them an easy way out that effectively kills any meaningful effort on the remaining, critical issues. 

     Democrats must stand tall and demand to include military assault weapons and high capacity magazines in any legislation.  There is also the issue of high-volume ammunition purchases that could evidence intent for mass murder.  Most Americans, including Republican voters, support a ban on military assault weapons and high capacity magazines.  They recognize that while there is no recreational use for these weapons, they pose a substantial threat to our everyday safety, especially children in school and families out shopping.  These measures must be included with improved background checks in any gun safety legislation or the legislation should fail.  Red flag laws allow law enforcement to temporarily secure weapons from individuals that display certain behavior deemed to indicate they pose a threat to themselves or others.  These laws have proven effective in many communities, including in Florida, where they were enacted after the Parkland massacre.  Congress knows what must to be done – make them do it.  Lives depend on it.    

     The NRA tries to scare members and rally support by claiming for decades that Democrats plan to confiscate all personally owned firearms.  There has never been such legislative proposal by the Democratic leadership.  The courts would strike down any such plan in the unlikely event it passed.  However, if there were a ban on military assault weapons, would it apply only to new purchases or would it also require individuals to sell or properly dispose of previously owned military assault weapons?  In either case, a voluntary buy-back of these weapons by the government could be essential.  Many military assault weapons owners recognize the acute danger they pose, understand the vital safety interests we have in protecting society, and would support the ban in the interests of protecting children in school and innocent families going about their business.  Therefore, Congress needs to engage in a serious process to evaluate and ultimate enact reasonable gun safety measures.      

Compromise is often the key to success and that is how Congress works or works best.  Compromise allows the parties to build consensus behind legislation, which may prove critical when passing sweeping or controversial bills and bills with a huge impact on society.  Generally, I would not favor a “scorched earth” approach to legislating that demands 100% of one side’s goals while offering no concessions to get there.  It leads to stalemate and stagnation, not to mention resentment and a “tit for tat” sequence.  However, Democrats cannot accept a compromise on gun safety legislation that only includes background checks.  This will not have enough positive effect on the gun violence crisis plaguing the nation.  Any viable, impactful solution must include a ban on military assault weapons and high capacity magazines.  Banning them will have the greatest impact in reducing these mass shootings and deaths therein.  Democrats, along with Republicans who support gun safety, need to stand fast and reject the easy way out and demand a real solution.  Keep fighting to ban military assault weapons – nothing less will work.  Our lives, our children’s lives, depend on it.

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