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Commentary: Listen to the survivors

Our elected leaders should stop listening to the NRA and start listening to the survivors

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The murders of 17 people during a school shooting in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14 has renewed America's national debate over gun laws. After similar tragedies in recent years, that debate yielded nothing of substance, but this time things are different. This time, the surviving students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are giving us all a lesson in speaking truth to power. This is not a new phenomenon. Students also helped lead the civil rights movement several generations ago.

  Let's not lose this moment, because the forces behind the status quo are powerful, indeed.

  According to the Los Angeles Times, the National Rifle Association (NRA), which aggressively promotes the interests of gun manufacturers, spent $54.4 million on all political campaigns in the 2016 election cycle. That more than anything else explains why past mass shootings have not led to meaningful changes in America's gun laws.

  Many are calling for a ban on "assault weapons," a term which is ill-defined at best and often applied inconsistently. What's needed is a comprehensive approach — at the national and state levels — and we're not talking about banning all guns. The Second Amendment is perfectly compatible with laws that promote public safety and individual responsibility. Let's start with meaningful steps that Congress should take:

  • Require universal background checks for every gun purchase, including those at gun shows and between private parties. No sale should become effective until a background check is complete.

  • Limit all ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, as several states have done already. Standard 10-round clips are sufficient for personal safety. Larger, 30-round clips often are used in mass shootings.

  • Require gun manufacturers to modify semi-automatic firearms so they can't be fitted with devices that convert them into machine gun-like weapons.

  • Ban bump stocks and make possession of them a felony.

  • Require intensive gun safety training for all new gun owners.

  • Raise the minimum age for buying semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21.

  • Require all gun owners to carry at least $250,000 in firearms liability insurance, and require proof of insurance as part of all background checks.

  • Require gun owners to carry proof of insurance when possessing a firearm outside the home — similar to drivers of motor vehicles — and require law enforcement to confiscate weapons and arrest possessors when such proof is not produced. (Allow courts to return weapons to first offenders if they can prove they had insurance at the time but merely forgot to have it with them.)

  In addition to the above suggestions — none of which violates the Second Amendment — state lawmakers should toughen domestic violence laws to keep firearms out of the hands of abusers. Equally important, Louisiana should make sure law enforcement officers enforce gun safety laws already on the books.

  These steps won't eliminate the threat of mass shootings. However, over time, we believe they would significantly reduce the likelihood of such carnage. This much everyone should know by now: The NRA's default solution of "more guns" has not worked. Our elected leaders should stop listening to the NRA and start listening to the survivors.

The Second Amendment is perfectly compatible with laws that promote public safety and individual responsibility.

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