Friday, December 14, 2012

Is Now Too Soon or Too Late?

My heart breaks for the people of Newtown, Connecticut.  I picked up my vivacious kindergartner this afternoon, admittedly more attentive to her account of the day.  She is anxious for Monday morning to arrive so she can wear her pajamas to school for a holiday party.  I think she is most excited to see what pajamas her teacher wears, with cookie decorating being a close second.  My heart won't let me venture too far on the thought that I would be having a much different conversation with my kindergartner this afternoon if I lived in Newtown, Connecticut, or worse, wouldn't be having a conversation at all.  The grief I feel for those families and teachers cannot be overstated.

I can think of no better time to discuss gun control legislation in this country than this moment though.  I think it is more of a disservice to the victims and their loved ones to refrain from meaningful discussion on gun violence prevention.  For them, the conversation is happening too late.  There is a generation of young Americans that has never known a time without school gun violence.  It is time we come to terms with the fact that the events at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and now Sandy Hook Elementary are not isolated instances, they are symptoms of a larger, growing cancer in our country.  We cannot put off meaningful dialogue for another day.  Bodies cool and it happens again.  

Some of my fondest childhood memories come from time spent with my family at a hunt camp in Ocala.  My dad taught me to shoot a rifle when I was in the second or third grade.  I am not one to challenge a hunter's second amendment rights, but show me a hunter who dismisses the need for gun control overhaul at this moment, and I'll show you a hunter who hugs his guns harder than his kids.  Why should gun ownership not be regulated as rigidly as a driver's license?  There are common sense changes that can be made, like reinstating the Assault Weapons Ban, which Congress allowed to expire in 2004.  Effective legislation could ban all military-style semi-automatic assault weapons along with high capacity ammunition magazines, like the AR-15 used in last week's Oregon mall shooting and the 100-round drum magazine used in July's Aurora movie theater shooting.  Equally important is the requirement for criminal background checks for every gun sale, even at gun shows.  Most people think this is already the law, but in actuality unlicensed gun sellers proffer guns at gun shows with zero background checks.  The 4 guns used in the Columbine massacre were all purchased at gun shows.  Likewise, problems with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System must be addressed.  States should be required to share pertinent mental health and domestic violence records with the national database.  Currently about 80-90% of disqualifying mental health records, and 25% of felony convictions are absent in the NICS database. Ten states do not provide relevant domestic violence records that indicate prohibited gun purchasers.  A background check is only as good as the records database it is privy to.  

Someone is bound to suggest that we arm teachers or principals in response to this tragedy.  More guns are not the answer, unless your interest is in profits for the NRA and gun manufacturers.  My interest is currently riding her bike in the driveway, blissfully anxious about which jammies to wear to kindergarten Monday morning.  I pray for solace for the bereaved in Connecticut, and clarity for the people who feel powerless to stop the recent surge in gun violence.