Columbine. Virginia Tech. Gabby Giffords. The Aurora, Colo. movie theater. And now Sandy Hook Elementary School. This latest intolerable tragedy in Newtown, Conn. — the carnage wrought by all-too-easy access to guns — should be the last straw.
I dislike having to address gun violence in these columns so often. Unfortunately, it is unavoidable in 21st century America, when we are currently experiencing an epidemic of mass murder and reckless behavior concerning firearms.
Columbine. Virginia Tech. Gabby Giffords. The Aurora, Colo. movie theater. And now Sandy Hook Elementary School. This latest intolerable tragedy in Newtown, Conn. — the carnage wrought by all-too-easy access to guns — should be the last straw. It is time for politicians of both parties to step up to the plate and do something about the terrible nexus between our children’s safety and the gun culture that pervades America, cows politicians, and enables the unstable, the unbalanced and the just plain angry to commit horrific acts of violence that leave loved ones dead or maimed, and devastated families in their wake.
What can be done?
First and most important and immediate, secure every school in the nation with the personnel and technology necessary to protect our children. Anything less is inexcusable and unacceptable. Nothing is too costly where our kids’ safety is concerned. This initiative must apply to all schools, public, private, charter and parochial. There are more than 132,000 K-12 schools and 4,500 post-secondary institutions in the U.S. Arranging for adequate security for them would provide this country a huge benefit in addition to a safe and secure educational environment: a major job creation program at a time when jobs are sorely needed.
Second, mental health assessments and early intervention must be substantially upgraded, with consensus-written guidelines and standards established that would trigger rehabilitative services and public safety measures before tipping points are reached. The current system of gut-check evaluations by individual mental health professionals acting on instinct is not sufficient. I understand that there are civil rights and civil-liberty issues associated with this suggestion, and I don’t have a pat answer for where the balance should be struck, but given the risk, it needs to be skewed toward public safety.
Third, our politicians need to adjust their near-mindless deference to the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms and enact the legislation necessary to exert strict safety controls on gun availability and severe penalties for violations thereof. The assault weapons ban that Congress shamefully let expire needs to be reenacted. Moreover, unlike Senator Diane Feinstein’s current bill grandfathering in possession of such weapons, we need to make possession illegal and offer owners an opportunity to turn in their assault weapons and obtain some compensation for so doing. If someone wants the thrill of firing one of these weapons of mass destruction, they should go to a firing range and rent one. The right to bear arms, like free speech, requires reasonable regulations and constraints.
A Congress in thrall to the National Rifle Association and its absolutist views on the Second Amendment is as bad as one that pledges never to raise taxes, regardless of any national requirement to fund essential government activities and wars. Politicians that recoil from calling out the NRA and who continue to accept its massive campaign contributions or knuckle under to its threats to contest them in primary elections need to man up and, for once, put the national interest ahead of their own singular obsession with getting re-elected.
Page 2 of 2 - It is not enough to throw up our hands and say that nothing can be done to restrict gun ownership to “responsible” citizens, whoever they may be. While this can never, practically speaking, be achieved, that does not mean that we should not make the attempt. Other countries have found ways to come much closer to this goal than we have.
America cannot tolerate further tragedies like Newtown and the litany of other horrors that preceded it and will surely continue if nothing is done. Without preventive measures, it is certain to continue and to escalate, as demented or angry copycats come forward in order to secure their pathetic place in the sun.
The primary mission of government is to protect its citizens, especially its youngest citizens so that they have the opportunity to grow, learn and live full lives. Everything else about government pales in comparison. Fear of the NRA’s financial clout and ability to run and fund candidates in primaries against those who either fall off the gun wagon or are not zealous enough in their weapons worship pervades both political parties. This can no longer be allowed to detract from government’s most important duty.
“Rants” is a series of political and social observations written by part-time Canandaigua resident and Canandaigua Academy graduate Richard Hermann.