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Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Enforce the laws already on the books. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Most of us have probably heard at least one of these phrases recently. They are common refrains often used to justify inaction on America’s gun violence problem.
If we allow ourselves to step out of the gun debate echo chamber, however, to stop hurling the same talking points in this seemingly stagnant conversation, these phrases can actually lead us to taking tangible action that can help address America’s very real gun violence problem while also continuing to respect the rights of lawful gun owners.
Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. OK, so let’s focus on the people. Red and yellow flag laws, like one passed on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis here in Maine in 2019, allow authorities to petition a court to temporarily seize weapons from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. This process focuses on the people and the risks they have demonstrated, not the guns themselves. Nearly 20 states have already figured out how to balance public safety, Second Amendment rights and due process through these laws. Congress can figure out how to promote this idea at the federal level, too.
Enforce the laws on the books. Again, OK. For decades, people like convicted felons, fugitives, illegal immigrants, those “adjudicated as a mental defective” (language that should be updated, by the way), people subject to a restraining order, and those convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence have already been prohibited from possessing guns. But too many avenues still exist for them to easily sidestep existing law.
Strengthening and expanding the current background check system, including closing the loopholes that allow guns to be bought online or at gun shows without a background check, would require new legislation. But it really is all about enforcing the laws already on the books, and making it less likely that the people already prohibited from possessing firearms gain access to them.
This isn’t about penalizing law-abiding gun owners; it’s about trying to keep guns out of the hands of the people who Americans, through our elected representatives, have already agreed should not have them. Sounds fairly straightforward, right? That might be why a survey from Pew Research Center in 2021 indicated 70 percent of Republicans and over 90 percent of Democrats support expanding background checks.
Now to the good guys with the guns. Horrifically, we’ve seen in Uvalde how a bunch of good guys with guns still weren’t able to save 19 elementary school students and two teachers. This points again to the imperative of, when possible, keeping guns out of the hands of the bad guys in the first place. In addition to expanded background checks and red flag laws, safe storage laws also have a role to play here.
A bipartisan group of senators, including Sen. Susan Collins, has been working to find a path forward on gun legislation that could clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate. These talks reportedly include measures like expanding background checks, incentivizing red flag laws, funding mental health services and bolstering school security, as reported by NBC News.
“We are making rapid progress toward a common sense package that could garner support from both Republicans and Democrats,” Collins said this week.
It feels like we have been here before. This must be the time to change the script. Congress’ inaction on gun violence has been a shame that carries a shared responsibility to work through differences, and as President Joe Biden said in a Thursday evening address, to “do something.”
Lawmakers should pay close attention to a note the grandmother of a victim of the Texas school shooting apparently handed to Biden at a recent church service: “Erase the invisible line that is dividing our nation. Come up with a solution and fix what’s broken and make the changes that are necessary to prevent this from happening again.”
The Manchin-Toomey background check compromise, authored after the Sandy Hook school shooting, has been sitting on a shelf for nearly a decade. That or something similar, along with red flag legislation, should be at the top of the list of actionable steps. To borrow again from the slogans mentioned above, these are things that can focus on the people and not the guns, help enforce the laws already on the books and help prevent the bad guys from getting guns in the first place.