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A case for sensible gun control

| Monday, February 18, 2019

This past Thursday, we celebrated Valentine’s Day — the annual outlandish celebration of love and everything possibly pink and romantic. But, while many Americans spent the day drowning in chocolates, cards and carnations, there are those of us who spent the day overwhelmed in grief, anguish and regret.

Lest we forget, one year ago this past Thursday, 14 students and three educators were gunned down in a school shooting in Parkland, Fla. The assailant was a former student — one who had been expelled for disciplinary reasons. But, when the former student arrived to school that afternoon in an Uber, with a rifle bag slung over his chest, he went largely unnoticed until he pulled the fire alarm and aimed his AR-15 semi-rifle at his former peers as they shuffled out of their classrooms.

Today, Nikolas Cruz, the assailant, waits in prison while his court case drags on. There are just two possible outcomes to his case: the death penalty or a life sentence. But regardless of the punishment Cruz is given, the fact remains that nothing will ever bring back those precious 17 lives. Nothing will ever reverse the damage of this heinous crime. And to the families of the 17 victims, Valentine’s Day will never be the same again.

In the year since the Parkland school shooting, there has been a wave of activism rippling across America to get sensible gun control legislation. There have been protests, walk-outs, sit-ins, walks, marches, runs, fundraisers, benefit concerts, conferences, news specials, documentaries, flyers, posters and even political campaigns that ran on the issue of gun violence. It is clear that the survivors of the Parkland shooting, as well as the survivors and families of victims to prior incidents of gun violence, were determined to make Parkland the last of its kind.

But my friends, on the one year anniversary of the deadliest school shooting this nation has ever witnessed, I am deeply saddened to tell you that our world is no different from the one that claimed those 17 lives. I am disheartened to tell you that save for several blue states, which have since adopted more stringent gun control legislation, the vast majority of states remain at risk for another Parkland, another Sandy Hook, another Columbine. And yet, in spite of the fervor, despite the enthusiasm and in the face of the activism, our Congress has turned a blind eye to the epidemic of gun violence, leaving its constituents in constant danger.

My friends, there is something wrong here.

There is something wrong here if we sit idly by and say that it is out of our hands. There is something wrong here if we sit here hopeless that our incapable legislators will get to it eventually. There is something wrong here if we have to tell the families of the victims of gun violence that the world they live in is no different from the world their children had to be victims of. There is something wrong here if all we can give are our thoughts and our prayers.

This isn’t to discount the power of prayer. Like many of you, I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. Like many of you, I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ and I believe in the power of God’s grace. But I also believe that there is something morally reprehensible if we stay complacent in the power of prayer and do nothing ourselves when there are, in our limited human capacity, things that we can do. Just as we take the fight to preserve life in the womb to the streets — in the form of marches, protests and political activism — we should do the same to fight to preserve the lives that have come out of the womb.

And here’s what I propose that we do — I propose that we push our elected officials to pass sensible gun control legislation that will protect ourselves from one another.

First, we should mandate that all gun owners undergo a mental health evaluation.

Our society must acknowledge that mental health issues are not a form of weakness but a serious disability that can hinder an individual from making the right choices. If these individuals have access to guns, there is no telling what harm they may bring onto themselves or onto others. If we can prevent guns from getting into the hands of the mentally ill or victims of substance abuse, we can simultaneously lower the suicide rate — the leading cause of gun violence in the United States — and make school shootings like Parkland closer to impossible. Indeed, had this policy been in effect, Nikolas Cruz may never have been able to purchase his AK-15 semi-rifle. As an individual with documented mental health issues and a record of visits to mental health facilities, a mandatory mental health evaluation from a government-regulated facility may have kept the AK-15 semi-rifle away from Cruz before he killed seventeen people.

Second, all gun owners should be required to undergo a criminal background check regardless of location of purchase. There is currently a loophole in federal legislation whereby a background check is not required if the gun is purchased from private individuals at a gun show. Federal law only requires licensed dealers to conduct checks, but that leaves private individuals at their own volition. This is a recipe for disaster, and a federal mandate that all gun owners undergo a criminal background check regardless of location of purchase would ensure that those who have access to firearms are civil citizens.

And lastly, to ensure that the previous two measures are enforced, law enforcement officers should be able to charge individuals who have not satisfied the prior two requirements with unlawful possession of a firearm. A law is only as good as it is enforced, and this third provision is necessary to ensure that our civilians stick to them.

I realize there are those of you out there who are fervent Second Amendment advocates. To those of you, I would first like to thank you for reading this far — it is rare in our current state of political discourse for people to consider what others might have to say. So, thank you for being open-minded. Moreover, I wish to tell you that I value the fact that you value the Second Amendment. After all, it is your right, and everyone should fight for his or her right to keep and bear arms.

But my friend, I don’t think that what I’m proposing is mutually exclusive from what you believe. Any sensible gun control advocate would tell you that gun control policies are not meant to strip you of your right to bear a firearm, but rather to take away the guns from those who may put you in danger. In other words, gun control legislation is meant to protect you more than it is to hurt you. I believe most gun owners are responsible in their use of guns, and I will be the first to argue that these law-abiding gun owners should be able to keep their guns as they have the right to. But I also believe those individuals who are mentally unstable or who have criminal records should be stripped of a weapon that can be used to cause serious and massive destruction.

Still, there are those of you who would be quick to point out that it’s not the guns that kill people, but people who kill people. This is to say that because the assailant is responsible for gun violence — not their weapon of choice — that gun control would not stop the violence. But if this were true, then why do we treat the issue of drugs any differently? If the substance abuser is at fault, not the substance itself, then why do we go after the drug dealers? Why do we confiscate drugs at all if the drugs, in and of themselves, bear no responsibility? The fact is, the claim that it’s not guns that kill people, but people who kill people, is unfair because it undermines the role of the gun in the killing. Just as we are wary of the drugs that help substance abusers hurt themselves, we ought to be wary of the guns that help people kill people.

To conclude, I would like to say that this shouldn’t be a partisan fight. Gun violence does not discriminate. It doesn’t care if you’re black, white, gray or purple. It doesn’t care if you’re male or female, gay or straight, rich or poor, young or old, Republican or Democrat. When you look at the pictures of the victims to gun violence in America, you don’t see any of those labels — all you see are people: normal human beings no different from you and me.

To gun control advocates and Second Amendment advocates — we are not enemies. We both want a world where these school shootings stop happening and where the epidemic of gun violence is eradicated. We both want a world where responsible firearm holders are entitled to their firearms and our basic rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are truly our basic rights. But to get there, we have to take steps going forward not backward. Gun control legislation will always be imperfect, but there are policies that can thread the needle between our differences to patch over our problems. So let’s start there and work on where we can agree. Let’s start fixing our problems instead of leaving them be.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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