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We could save some lives with reforms that gun owners would support

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Debates about gun violence often devolve into abstract, ideological arguments or exercises in constitutional semantics, with people holding violently opposing opinions unable to find common ground. What if, instead, we just began with a simple goal: saving lives?

More Americans have died from gun violence in the past 50 years — more than 1.5 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — than have died from all wars in U.S. history. Beyond the physical toll, the psychological toll on our lives is enormous.

{mosads}Lately, we have seen some shocking losses of life from gun violence: 58 people at a Las Vegas concert; 49 in an Orlando nightclub; 32 in a Virginia college; 26 in a Connecticut elementary school; 26 in a Texas church; 17 in a Florida high school; 14 in a California government office; 10 in a Texas high school; and nine in a South Carolina church.


Let’s not forget the 650 murdered in Chicago and about 37,000 nationwide last year, including 15,000 homicides and 22,000 suicides and accidents.

Since 2009, according to CNN, the United States has had 288 school shootings, while the other G7 countries — Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and England — had a combined total of five. Other countries have mental health challenges like the United States. They have violent video games and movies. Presumably, they also have troubled teenagers who have been slighted or bullied. What their citizens don’t have is unlimited access to guns.

Since the Parkland, Florida, shooting on Feb. 14, several states have passed limited restrictions on guns. President Trump and others have proposed arming teachers, to the dismay of some survivors of school shootings. Shockingly, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told Congress her school safety commission is not looking at the role of firearms in school shootings.

Schools are beefing up security — so-called “hardening.” It’s unclear to me how we harden school dismissal, recess, a soccer game, or a field trip, let alone all the other soft targets in our lives, from churches and shopping malls to parks and transit nodes.

Notably, the high schools in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, had armed off-duty or retired police on campus when the recent school shootings occurred. In Florida, an off-duty Broward County deputy working at the school chose to stay outside the building where the shootings were taking place until backup arrived. In Santa Fe, a retired police officer working at the school confronted the teenage shooter and was severely wounded.

Student activists from Parkland and other places are planning a national bus tour this summer to register young people to vote on this issue. I recently floated the idea of a school boycott to force Congress to act, and former Education Secretary Arne Duncan and a parent activist joined the call. Meanwhile, homeschooling is spiking because of fear among parents.

So, if our goal is to save lives, what kind of gun safety reforms could we adopt that most responsible gun owners would support?

First off, we could require safe storage of guns, which might have prevented the Santa Fe shooter from using his father’s legally acquired pistol and shotgun. Today, safe storage laws vary wildly across states. Texas has none.

Since 1994, background checks are required for gun sales from dealerships and they have denied guns to more than 2.8 million people who should not have them. But the law does not cover private gun sales, which account for at least 20 percent of all sales.

We could require permits, which could reduce deaths by delaying impulse shooters. We can pass “red flag laws” allowing confiscation of guns from high-risk individuals such as domestic abuse suspects. One study suggests firearm seizures can reduce suicides. Congress also could fund gun violence research that might tell us which laws work best. All of these proposals preserve Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners, yet could save lives.

To save even more lives, we could reduce firepower by restoring the ban on assault-style weapons, which reduced mass shooting casualties before it expired in 2004. We could at least deny assault-style weapons to young people, which might have saved lives in Parkland.

One year before he killed 17 people and wounded 17 others in Parkland, the 18-year old shooter bought an assault-style weapon after an instant background check and no waiting period. Florida has now raised the age for rifle purchases to 21 and passed a three-day waiting period — one of about a dozen states with one.

We also could limit high-capacity magazines, which would have reduced the death toll in Orlando and Virginia. We could ban bump stocks that simulate machine guns (automatic weapons) and were used by the shooter in Las Vegas. Given the national ban on machine guns since 1934, we should ask why gun manufacturers could so easily skirt the law.

Consumers can direct their buying power to responsible retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, which stopped selling assault weapons after the Parkland shooting and is lobbying for measures to reduce gun violence. Investors can disinvest in publicly traded gun manufacturers.

The universe of gun victims is broad: among them, abused spouses, curious toddlers, terrified students, dedicated police officers, low-level criminals trapped in dead-end lives, innocent bystanders, careless hunters and seriously depressed people of all ages. Gun safety laws won’t save all of these lives, but they might save some — maybe someone you love.

Peter Cunningham is the executive director of Education Post, a national network of education advocates, and a former assistant secretary of education in the Obama administration (2009-2012).

Tags Arne Duncan Betsy DeVos Donald Trump gun violence Mass shooting School shooting

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