Keeping guns out of the wrong hands

Another shooting. More shock. More disbelief. More fumbling about for answers. But mostly there’s either an uncertainty of how to move forward or an unwillingness to do so.

Following Wednesday night’s massacre of nine people at Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley was asked if the shooting had changed her position as a supporter of gun rights.

“Anytime there is traumatic situation, people want something to blame. They always want something to go after,” she said in a New York Times report. “There is one person to blame here. We are going to focus on that one person,” she added, referring to Dylann Storm Roof, the suspect in mass shooting.

Of course you blame the gunman. Blame is fixed on James Holmes after Aurora, Colorado; on Adam Lanza after Newtown, Connecticut; on Jaylen Fryberg after Marysville Pilchuck High School. But stopping there does nothing to prevent the next massacre. Stopping there is to concede defeat, to say there is nothing to be done. Stopping there is to shrug.

After Newtown, the NRA offered up its solution: more “good guys” with guns. Some have suggested if one or more of those at the Charleston church had been armed, the tragedy would have been avoided or lessened. That’s doubtful. We didn’t escape a tragic loss of life in 2009 when four Lakewood police officers were gunned down in a coffeeshop by Maurice Clemmons. And the officers were highly trained to use the weapons that were at their sides.

These massacres happened because someone who shouldn’t have had access to a firearm was able to get a gun.

No, we won’t be able to make access to firearms impossible for those who shouldn’t have access. But we can make it more difficult for felons, those convicted of domestic violence and the mentally ill who pose a danger to themselves and others. And making it more difficult does make a difference.

A day before Wednesday’s shooting, we shared the findings of recent studies that found that Connecticut’s universal background check law, passed in 1994, resulted in a 40 percent reduction between 1996 and 2005 in firearm homicide deaths. Admittedly, the Connecticut law didn’t stop Adam Lanza; he used his mother’s rifle to kill 20 children and six adults. But the studies concluded that the law had saved the lives of an estimated 296 people during the decade studied.

While a slight majority of Americans want to protect the right to own firearms, majorities of Americans also are supportive of measured and reasonable gun laws. The Pew Research Center found that as of December, 52 percent of Americans said protecting the right to gun ownership was more important than controlling gun ownership. But ask about specific gun controls and the support shifts. A Pew poll in 2013 found that 85 percent favored closing background check loopholes; 67 percent supported a federal database of firearm purchases; 58 percent supported a ban on semi-automatic weapons.

The political will is there to take reasonable action that makes it more difficult for those who shouldn’t have access to guns to get that access. That is where our focus should be.

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