WASHINGTON – As pressures mount for Congress to “just do something” about mass shootings, Americans would do well to seek solutions closer to home.
City by city, state by state, people have every right and reason to enact their own strict gun laws rather than wait for federal lawmakers to abandon their preferred pretzel poses.
Some states and cities have already taken the lead with varying degrees of success. Exhibit A is Connecticut, where legislators passed stricter laws following the horrific 2012 shooting in Newtown. The state expanded its existing assault weapons ban, restricted magazines to 10 rounds and required extensive background checks for firearms sales. People who already owned assault weapons were required to register them with the state police.
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Coincidentally – or not – gun deaths in the state have decreased since the new restrictions took effect. Although this decrease may correspond to a national decline in violent crime, Connecticut’s rate has dropped more than any other state’s over the last four years.
And then there’s Chicago. I can’t count the number of emails from readers who, every time the gun debate comes up, write to remind me that though Chicago has among the strictest gun laws, the city also has the highest number of gun deaths – and these are by handguns, not assault rifles. This is explained partly by a thriving black market, which flourishes among gangs, as well as other factors that may be unique to Chicago.
While true that existing Florida gun laws would not have prevented the Parkland shooting, Connecticut laws probably would have. For one thing, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz wouldn’t have been able to buy the AR-15 he allegedly used to kill 17 and wound 14 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Might he have bought one in another state, such as neighboring Georgia, or found one on the black market? Maybe, but such logic means that any potentially preventive measure is negated by all hypothetical possibilities. In other words, we do nothing.
Also, had Florida required mental health checks and a waiting period, then Cruz might have been identified as someone who shouldn’t be buying weapons, period. Although Cruz passed a cursory background check, he obviously deserved a deeper review. Medical privacy is deservedly sacrosanct in this country – but it shouldn’t be when it comes to guns. In New York, where strict laws also were enacted after Sandy Hook, mental health professionals have to notify the state when a patient presents as someone who shouldn’t buy a gun.
Wouldn’t everyone sleep better knowing that a person with serious mental problems could be identified before he shoots up a school, office party or night club?
Obviously, such additional scrutiny would require extra time, which, in addition to allowing for “cooling off,” is why waiting periods are necessary. This wouldn’t be to inconvenience deer hunters but to save human lives. The exhausted argument that “guns don’t kill, people do” is unassailable. But cars don’t kill people, either, and we seem to recognize the need for restrictions and permitting regulations for drivers.
Lastly, as we search for ways to end these massacres, we must acknowledge that our culture is sick. Violence is everywhere on television, in movies and, most perniciously, in the video games our children play. War seems to like us – and each generation creates a fresh market for the latest war’s favorite weapon. The AR-15, though created in the 1950s, was Vietnam’s weapon of choice.
Cruz, an archetypal lone shooter, seems to have stepped right out of the book of warning signs for future mass murderers. Not only did teachers flag his disruptive behavior as far back as middle school, but Cruz had posted messages on social media, including an announcement that he intended to become a “professional school shooter.”
Even the FBI had been warned about this young man, although it failed to act upon the information. How many dots were hanging out there like bright, blinking stars waiting for someone to connect them? The brightest of all was Cruz himself, a long-ago lost soul who all but wore a sign begging for help. Until we figure out how to repair our troubled world and recognize the outcasts among us, we can at least minimize the likelihood that someone like him gets his hands on a weapon of war. We can’t prevent every horror, but we damn sure ought to try.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.