We can’t just do nothing

Published 10:38 am Saturday, June 18, 2016

Growing up in the rural, agrarian community that is Southampton County, I have a healthy respect for guns. Most of my relatives and neighbors are avid hunters, and, for as long as I can remember, I have known that my parents have handguns for protection (stored out of my reach even today).

I will state emphatically that I am not anti-gun. I believe that anyone who uses their weapon responsibly, for sport or for protection, has the constitutional right to do so. But while I understand the motivations of, and sympathize with those who chose to exercise their Second Amendment rights, I, among many others, have become increasingly uneasy with the epidemic of gun violence in America, particularly the mass shooting incidents that seem to dominate the news cycle all too often.

The Congressional Research Service defines a mass shooting as an event in which four or more people have been killed or injured by a single shooter.

There have been 81 mass shootings in the United States since February 1982, resulting in a total of 668 fatalities and approximately 647 injuries, according to a database compiled by Mother Jones.

This past weekend, the politicization of the catastrophe began even before the dead had been counted and identified. Republicans shouted that the solution to the problem was to ban all Muslims or anyone who came from a terror-prone region from entering that country. Democrats cried that an automatic or semiautomatic weapons ban would have saved the 49 lives lost on June 12.

The answer, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle.

Millions upon millions of dollars spent by National Rifle Association lobbyists to buy off politicians, a Republican majority in Congress, and the Second Amendment stand in the way of an all out weapons ban, or even attempting to restrict the flow of weapons into civilian’s hands.

But, after an emotional 15-hour filibuster on the Senate floor, in which Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) neither sat down nor stopped talking about the issue of gun control, Republicans in Congress agreed to vote on two measures meant to prevent future mass shootings.

As I’ve said above, I fail to see how a flat-out ban of weapons will prevent gun violence. Those who wish to obtain a gun for nefarious purposes will do so, by any means. But does that mean the our politicians should take no action whatsoever to try to prevent this epidemic?

Many, but not all, of the 81 perpetrators in the past 34 years have been diagnosed or have been suspected to suffer from mental health issues. Those who endure schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or other manic-depressive conditions would have difficulty acquiring a weapon through illegal means. Organized crime, such as acquiring assault weapons through the black market or other back channels, takes a clear head and a sure hand to see through without getting caught. Throwing obstacles in the way of potential mass shooters, and forcing them to go through these back channels could give law enforcement officials more opportunity to learn about attacks before they happen and take action to prevent them.

The fact of the matter is that in 65 of the massacres since 1982, the shooters acquired their weapons legally. While Republicans, along with many other Americans, adamantly oppose gun control, they fail to suggest any policy that could help curb the gun violence problem in America.

The legislation being voted on in the Senate next Monday due to Sen. Murphy’s filibuster will, if passed, close the loophole that weapons bought online or at a gun show will not be subject to the requisite background checks. The fact that anyone. regardless of their mental health or criminal history, can purchase a gun legally online or at a gun show with no background check is an egregious oversight that must be closed immediately. It’s unconscionable that we allow guns to be sold willy-nilly just because the NRA promises us that everyone buying from gun shows is a responsible gun owner. It’s outrageous that any old Joe on the street can go online to buy an assault weapon capable of firing 50-plus rounds of ammunition in a minute, no questions asked.

Additionally, the legislation will stipulate that anyone who has been placed on a terror-watch list or the no-fly list within the past five years would fail a background check when attempting to purchase a weapon. This is unlikely to be passed due to its infringement on our Fifth Amendment rights of due process of law (“innocent until proven guilty”), but it is a step in the right direction.

I understand that many fear for their Second Amendment rights. I understand that the vast majority of gun owners are not mass murderers.

But the sad fact is that too frequently, people that have no business having a weapon are slaughtering American citizens. In fact, on average, a mass shooting occurs every six weeks.

We can’t just sit back and do nothing. We can’t just say, “Well, oh well, that’s the price we pay for freedom.”

We must work together as a nation to find a way to curb gun violence. Whether that solution is in gun control or mental health reform or a ban on immigration I cannot say.

But the solution is not for our politicians to offer their thoughts, prayers and condolences, while failing to suggest any substantive policy initiatives to save American lives.

I encourage you all to write your representatives about this issue. Pressure our Congress, regardless of partisan ties, to offer a plan to prevent future massacres.

Otherwise, in six weeks, we’ll be offering our thoughts, prayers and condolences to a new group of victims.

WALTER FRANCIS is an intern for The Tidewater News. Contact him at 562-3187 or walter.francis@tidewaternews.com.