An appreciable reduction in gun violence in this country requires cultural change, not constitutional amendment.
The right for U.S. citizens to bear arms through the Second Amendment was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2008. And it won’t be challenged by the Congressional Gun Violence Task Force, led by local Rep. Mike Thompson, which is set to make its legislative recommendations this week.
Nor should it be challenged.
This country’s problem of gun violence doesn’t come from the law. It is rooted within our culture.
Legislative action can help steer us toward a community safer from an individual’s evil intent, but ultimately it is up to us to decide such tyranny is no longer acceptable.
For example, a national ban on assault weapons could, in the short term, reduce gun violence incidents, but it doesn’t address our all-too pervasive appetite for these guns and the destruction they wield. Congress and the public should focus first on the factors that lead individuals toward execrable violence, such as the nation witnessed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 schoolchildren and six adults were shot and killed in December.
Limiting the availability and effectiveness of the instruments used in such mayhem is important, but secondary to quelling the motives behind them. Even a comprehensive assault weapon ban will leave four million such devices remaining on our nation’s streets.
Throughout the national conversation on gun violence that has followed the shooting at Sandy Hook, California has been held up as an example for having some of the strictest gun laws in the country. The state’s 10-round magazine limit is already in legislation before the U.S. Senate and will likely be part of the House task force’s recommendations as well. California’s “armed and prohibited” list, which identifies gun-owning individuals who have criminal histories or other factors that prohibit gun possession, has also been widely praised and may be present in future nationwide legislation.
We must also embrace a sophisticated and universal background check for the purchase of firearms — perhaps similar to the one used in California. Thompson, D-St. Helena, said last week he believes technology can improve systems already in place and can create a platform for new national standards.
But Congressional testimony last week showed that even in California where guns laws are considered tight, 600,000 guns were sold last year and nearly 20,000 individuals “prohibited” from owning guns still possess them.
New laws and better enforcement can help, but ultimately significant cultural change must address the root causes for violence. Getting rid of certain weapons or limiting their ammunition won’t rid us of the desire for either.
As a society, we must extinguish our thirst for stylized violence in what we consume as entertainment. We must identify those who have disengaged from society and connect troubled individuals with the help they need. We must better support our mental health care services. We must improve our education system to lower expulsion rates, keeping troubled youth connected to counseling services. We must foster communication within our neighborhoods, social circles, service clubs, public forums and government agencies.
Examples of effective community dialogue and prevention exist throughout the nation. They must be celebrated, exchanged and expanded.
We must step away from the extreme. More guns are no more the answer than no guns. Understanding opposing points of view will make us safer and create better opportunity for compromise.
Thompson, a Vietnam War veteran, hunter and gun owner, last week called assault weapons “ugly” and questioned why anyone would want to possess such a thing.
The answers to that question will prove most valuable in pursuit of fundamental change.