We thought that Newtown would be a wake-up call. We thought that Las Vegas would be a wake-up call. Now we have Parkland — 17 people murdered, five of them Jewish, and most of them children, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on Feb. 14.
The killer, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, had been expelled from the school and was known for having “strange” but not criminal behavior, and a fixation with guns. He may have made a YouTube post with the message, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” He was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, using an AR-15 assault-style rifle that he purchased legally in Coral Springs, Fla., about a year ago.
We hope that Parkland is a wake-up call, but we’re not naive. Year after year of horrific mass murders, some ideologically motivated, some whose motivation is a mystery — most of them perpetrated with the same model of weapon — and nothing changes in the law or in the debate over this societal scourge practically unknown in other developed countries.
But no matter how deep and how gut-wrenching the hurt of these horrible mass murders, none of the wake-up calls seems to wake up our policy-changers. Instead, the debate always devolves to Second Amendment rights versus gun control, with mental health raised as a sidebar.
Only sensible laws that, in keeping with Supreme Court precedent, restrict purchases to purely defensive arms will protect our children.
This much is clear: Rampant mass shootings are a security problem — although school security stands to lose under the president’s budget. An element of mass shootings is plainly a mental-health problem. But the killing spree epidemic is also a gun ownership problem — although Congress, with huge NRA influence, still has not brought back the 1994 federal assault weapons ban. Data shows that during the 10 years the ban was in place, the number of people murdered during mass shootings fell by 43 percent.
Mental-health care is a serious issue in this country. But no amount of mental-health awareness or care will keep rapid-fire assault weapons — whose sole purpose is to strike down multiple targets in little time — off America’s streets. Only sensible laws that, in keeping with Supreme Court precedent, restrict purchases to purely defensive arms will protect our children.
Progress in the debate only will be made when both sides cease looking at the issue of gun control as an all or nothing proposition — when Second Amendment advocates recognize that reasonable restrictions on guns need not turn into a slippery slope leading to the ultimate abolishment of one’s right to bear arms for self-defense.
Some pro-gun Americans point to Israel as an example of a gun-dependent society that does not have school shootings. They’ve been posting to Facebook and elsewhere familiar pictures of people walking down streets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, their rifles strapped to their backs, as a way to “prove” that arming the masses “works.” But that’s a misdirection. Indeed, Israel has so many restrictions on civilian gun ownership that many security guards don’t even carry a gun.
The right to bear arms is not a license to kill. Anyone who tells you that Parkland, Las Vegas and Newtown are the unfortunate price we have to pay in order to live in a “free” society doesn’t deserve to hold elective office. PJC