The victims of mass shootings deserve our condolences and prayers, but they also deserve action.
The recent wave of mass shootings got us thinking about the modest steps we as a community can take to prevent gun violence. These aren’t radical cure-alls – just sensible precautions.
First, some historical context. Today’s kids are the first generation who have gone to school in the morning fully aware that they might not make it back home alive. Social media and student activism following shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida have made it impossible for kids to ignore the issue of gun violence – and we shouldn’t ignore it either.
The problem is that, unlike in other developed countries where mass shootings are rare, guns are an intrinsic ingredient in the American experiment. Banning guns altogether wouldn’t be practical, effective, or compatible with one of our Constitution’s most fundamental rights.
It also wouldn’t be fair to responsible gun owners, who deserve credit for being just that: responsible. Those who use their guns for hunting and target practice; who go to the rifle range to practice their skills; who lock their guns in a gun safe and keep ammunition in a separate place; who teach their youngsters gun safety and how to use guns responsibly. Putting down that foundation of knowledge and use will help these youngsters become teenagers and adults who know how to use guns safely, whether they be handguns or rifles.
However, the Second Amendment was written in an era of single-shot, muzzle-loaded, smoothbore flintlock muskets and pistols – weapons that were difficult and time-consuming to reload and incapable of inflicting mass casualties.
The framers weren’t envisioning the large-capacity, high-velocity, semi-automatic rifles that are commonly used in mass shootings – weapons of war designed not to hunt game, but to maim and kill as many humans as possible as quickly as possible.
Just as the freedom of speech doesn’t give us the right to broadcast our views over the public airwaves without a federal license or to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, the right to bear arms needn’t prevent the government from imposing limits on who can own which sorts of guns.
That brings us to our first recommendation: Urge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on H.R. 8 and H.R. 1112, which would require background checks for all gun sales.
St. Helena Congressman Mike Thompson, chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and an enthusiastic gun owner himself, spent years getting those bills through the House. Now they deserve an up-or-down vote in the Senate.
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We applaud Mayor Geoff Ellsworth for signing onto a letter from the U.S. Conference of Mayors – also signed by Napa Mayor Jill Techel and Yountville Mayor John Dunbar – urging the Senate leadership to take action on the bills. Ellsworth also read a proclamation in July supporting the Mayors Against Illegal Guns. We urge the rest of the City Council to take similar public stances.
Next, push for Congress to reinstate the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. Weapons of war belong in the hands of our military, not criminals or the mentally ill.
Those are federal-level political solutions, but we can also take action here in St. Helena.
We can support Aldea, Mentis and other organizations that deal with the mentally ill. California’s public mental health system doesn’t have the capacity to treat all of the state’s most troubled residents, so we need to support and fund nonprofit organizations that fill that void.
Similarly, we should ensure that local police, teachers and clergy are trained to recognize the warning signs that could lead to violence.
We should applaud and support school programs that prioritize student safety. Those include active shooter drills, school counseling services, and the new school resource officer position, which should remain fully funded.
The last recommendation is totally on us. As parents, we should take responsibility to know our kids and watch for warning signs that they might be the victims of bullying or be struggling with feelings of depression, rage, alienation or powerlessness.
If our kids are unusually withdrawn, angry or obsessed with violent media, we should help them form positive social ties and, if necessary, get professional help.
Nobody should have to suffer from mental anguish, and none of us – especially not our kids – should have to live in fear any longer.