Monday, December 17, 2012

What will we do about gun massacres?

President Obama, speaking before a grieving crowd at Newtown, Conn., said America is not doing enough to protect its children, and that must change. He received a standing ovation after his speech.

But talk is cheap. What will change? What will we do about the easy access to deadly firearms with nearly unlimited firepower? What will we do about the mentally ill who suddenly flash before our collective eyes in tragic rages?

The massacre of 20 first-graders at idyllic Newtown could be a tipping point. It could move the needle of public opinion. It could shame the members of Congress who have sold themselves and their integrity to the gun lobby. It could bring about sensible restrictions on gun purchases and the types of firearms and ammunition available to the general public.

It is not necessary to repeal or revise the Second Amendment, which guarantees a "right to bear arms." But no right is absolute. Free speech and free press do not ban legal protections of privacy and recourse for defamation or libel. Religious freedom does not permit the sacrifice of human life. Gun ownership cannot be banned, but sensible restrictions can be imposed on gun purchases and the types of weaponry available to private citizens.

National and state sovereignty — and civilized society — require that government holds a monopoly on the use of deadly force. Weapons available to private citizens must not equal or exceed the power of those held by the army or police. Private citizens' right to bear arms does not extend to anti-aircraft missiles, heavy artillery or attack helicopters. As part of our contract with the government we elect, we expect the government to protect us from "all enemies, foreign and domestic." We do not have to rely on our own six-shooter or Glock or AR-15. The police have superior firepower and are authorized to use it to protect the public.

Congress should consider again an assault weapons ban, including a ban on high-capacity magazines, such as those used by Adam Lanza. Armor-piercing bullets and body armor, which would give individuals an advantage over police, should be banned. Combat weapons should likewise be restricted. And no firearms should be sold to anyone with a history of mental illness or violent actions.

And America must do something about its mental health system that allows people with violent rages to walk the streets and unleash their fury against the innocents, even little children. Not all mental patients are violent — only a minuscule number are dangerous to others — but everyone with mental illness should get the help he needs to live a non-disruptive and, if possible, productive life. Until we do a better job in treating the mentally ill, we will all suffer.

The Second Amendment absolutists will rage against sensible limits on gun ownership and sales, but when they do, let them explain to the parents of Newtown why their right to buy and use guns is worth more than the life of even one 6-year-old.

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