As Murray State students finished finals and headed home for winter break, tragedy unfolded in Newtown, Conn. A disturbed young man entered the school and took the lives of 27 individuals, among them himself, 21 of them were students aged 6 or 7 years old.
We would like to express our sincere condolences for the deaths of these children and the school personnel that bravely sacrificed their own lives to save the children they welcomed into their school every day.
In sending our sympathies to the families and those victimized by this terrible crime, we would also like to make heard our voice on the critical issue belying this tragedy – the ease of access to firearms in this great union of ours. Yes, one might argue the shooter did not purchase the weapons used in the commission of the crime himself – and one would be correct to argue it in this case.
The trouble is Sandy Hook is not an isolated incident, but an incident among others that stretches some 20 years back in time. Mass killings are no longer the exception – they seem to come and go with a regularity that should frankly scare the hell out of every one of us.
Part of this discussion, it should be noted, should be a legitimate discussion on the status of mental health care in the United States and that should not be overlooked. The bulk of this discussion, however, lies in the area of gun ownership, and that is what members of Congress, the president and the Supreme Court need to address going forward to prevent another Sandy Hook, another Aurora, another Columbine, another Hazard Community and Technical College and another Heath High School. Too many innocent people have been hurt for this discussion to be silenced by the dollars of the gun-manufacturing lobby and its political arm, the National Rifle Association.
What should be done to address who is allowed to own firearms and what firearms are allowed to be owned?
As this goes to print, Congress is discussing whether or not to reintroduce a ban on assault weapons that was first enacted in the 1990s and then allowed to expire in 2004.
We feel this ban is a common-sense measure that will do much to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of individuals like Adam Lanza, James Holmes or Michael Carneal (the three mass killers mentioned here did not purchase the weapons used in their respective crimes, but preventing access to such weapons surely would have made collecting them a much more difficult affair). It’s a solution that 45 percent of gun owners, according to a new poll conducted by the Washington Post, support.
Beyond restricting access to weapons that are specifically designed for the battlefield, Congress could ban high capacity clips that allow shooters to fire more rounds at a time – in turn potentially reducing the number of casualties should another shooting occur.
There are a number of ways that Congress could regulate gun ownership that protect the right of Americans to keep and bear arms while keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and criminally insane.
The president has consistently talked a big game, but has done little to follow up on fighting for an assault weapons ban or any amount of increased regulation on guns.
In fact, Obama has been the “best” president on gun ownership rights in recent memory, signing legislation that allows the carrying of firearms into national parks and other expansions of gun ownership rights as legislated by Congress. Obama has given his support to the Supreme Court’s D.C. v. Heller ruling, which overturned a ban on handguns enacted in Washington.
If the president is serious about making Sandy Hook the last straw, the last mass killing under his watch, he has to be serious about using his bully pulpit to push Congress to get something done.
The president can no longer allow himself to be bullied by the NRA or the congressional gun lobby – he has nothing to lose for the next four years. Now is the time to pick fights, and now is the time to win them if the president wants his legacy to be that of the man who stood up to the gun lobby in the interests of American children and families.
The president’s initial actions in responding to the tragedy have been suspect at best, and too little, too late at the worst. We should not, however, let the blame lie entirely with the president, who faces off against a hostile Congress in bed with the NRA in this battle. The NRA is a formidable foe, with billions upon billions to spend against the president and his agenda – but this does not mean that his agenda – an agenda of tighter gun regulation – should not be fought for. The president has stood up to the health insurers, Wall Street executives and the executives of BP. He should not buckle in the face of opposition from the NRA. If he wants to be a truly transformational president, he must govern in a truly transformational way – he must move to restrict the ability of criminals and the mentally ill to access these weapons.
The Supreme Court too, should not be ignored in this call to arms. The second amendment protects the right to bear arms, but the language of the amendment, over two centuries old, is needlessly complex and vague to even the most distinguished of constitutional scholars.
What defines a well regulated militia? What does the right to keep and bear arms actually mean? It is high time that the highest court in the land weighed in on these issues and clearly defined the meaning of the second amendment.
Whatever happens going forward, it should be made clear that continual massacres and the murder of innocent people is not acceptable in the land of the free. Those who are found guilty of such crimes should be given no quarter and should be held accountable for their actions. We respect the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns for hunting and for sport, but we should not allow this right to be morphed into a defense for those who slaughter children and fire upon teachers in the line of duty.
We have had to bury too many children, too many mothers, too many fathers and too many friends. Enough is enough.
The staff editorial is the majority opinion of The Murray State News Editorial Board.