Wednesday, President Barack Obama offered almost two dozen executive orders and unveiled a list of proposals he is asking Congress to pass. All, he said, were aimed at reducing gun violence in the United States. They include more thorough and sweeping background checks for gun purchasers, an assault weapons ban, more police officers to patrol schools and a strong network of care for the mentally ill.
The response from gun-rights advocates was quick and almost universally negative. The rhetoric is reaching a fevered pitch already. In a statement released Wednesday, the National Rifle Association said, “Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation. Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”
For their part, congressional leaders from both political parties are dialing back expectations for what of the president’s agenda has a reasonable chance of passage.
Before the debate turns even uglier, there ought to be a set of points that most Americans can agree on. They include:
• Incidents of U.S. gun violence outpace any other developed nation. By one analysis, the United States has 30 times more gun homicides per capita than Britain.
• No law or set of laws and executive orders will completely fix the nation’s gun-violence epidemic. The best we should expect is a lessening of the bloodshed.
• Recent polls show that in the wake of Newtown, a majority of Americans want action from their government to curb mass shootings. According to the Associated Press-GfK poll, 84 percent want a better background-check system on gun sales and 58 percent want tougher laws regulating who can purchase a gun.
• Despite the polling, a significant and vocal portion of the nation sees something sinister coming out of the White House. All sides of the debate can do themselves a favor by rejecting conspiracy theories, name-calling and scare tactics.
• The nation needs better enforcement of current gun laws, particularly the law barring felons, non-citizens, ex-members of the military who were dishonorably discharged and those judged mentally incompetent from purchasing weapons.
• Until the federal ban on studying gun violence is lifted, Americans and their elected leaders will be denied a serious analysis of the scope of the problem.
Nothing under consideration should infringe on responsible gun ownership. Many Americans own firearms for personal protection, hunting and other recreational uses. The vast majority are law-abiding citizens who practice best safety practices when handling and storing their weapons. Whether a gun-owner or not, everyone should agree on keeping firearms out of the wrong hands as already defined by U.S. law.