Needed: sensible firearm regulation

There was a time — about two weeks ago — when no one but a few had heard of bump stocks, the “accessory” that makes a semi-automatic weapon work like an automatic weapon. So when returning to the debate over the role of firearms in the United States following the murder of 58 people in Las Vegas, it would be wise not to focus on that specific issue.

But we wonder, why does the issue of gun violence only arise when a horrific crime is committed — the 26 children and teachers murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School; the 12 people gunned down in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.; the nine worshipers murdered in a Charleston, S.C., church; the 14 people shot to death at a Christmas party in San Bernardino, Calif. — and why does nothing ever change?

And then, are guns an issue in which the Jewish community should involve itself? We say yes. Firearm regulation is one of the most vexing and deadly issues facing our country, and we need to confront it.

As a minority group, with a long history of subjugation at the hands of hostile governments, our community understands the intent of the framers of the Constitution to enable the people to have a final check on an oppressive government. But our community is also intimately knowledgeable about what happens when the wrong weaponry gets into the hands of the wrong people.

We don’t view the issue as forcing a choice between the Second Amendment and no gun ownership. Rather, we see the need to craft a sensible balance between the public’s right to bear arms and its right to be safe in their daily lives. That communal protection is paramount — and the massacre in Las Vegas this month was a failure of our society’s promise to protect ordinary people doing ordinary things.

The number of mass shootings has grown since Congress failed to renew the assault weapons ban in 2004. And the Trump administration has been quietly undoing Obama-era gun regulations, including the removal of the requirement that the Social Security Administration report mentally impaired recipients to a national background-check database.

Disturbingly common themes that run through instances of mass killings are stories of poverty, disaffection and mental illness. These are societal ills that must be treated, even if not a single gun is removed from circulation. And that’s also why it is foolish to focus on bump stocks as the issue, and to fall for the fig leaf of cover the National Rifle Association sought to give its legislative supporters last week by supporting a ban of bump stocks.

We need more. While we are not calling for the government to take weapons out of the hands of civilians who have a legitimate purpose in owning them, we are urging the development of sensible regulation of highly lethal firearms. We know we need that, because what we have now is not working.

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