In light of the recent shootings across the country, the national debate on gun control has resurfaced.
Gun violence in Philadelphia is a perennial problem. Temple, nestled right in North Philadelphia, is no stranger to such violence. According to crime data from the Philadelphia Police Department, the city is on pace to have its highest number of homicides since 2007. A major disaster may have been averted, when in late July, police arrested a man riding the Broad Street Line who was carrying an AK-47, revolver and extra ammunition in his bag.
Despite the growing violence, I’m always amazed at the alacrity with which proponents of gun rights respond to calls for stricter regulation.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said after the Texas A&M shooting: “When it gets back to this issue of taking guns away from law-abiding citizens and somehow know that’s going to make our country safer, it’s just I don’t agree with that.”
Pennsylvania’s own state representative Daryl Metcalfe, one of the biggest proponents of gun rights in the state, wrote on his Facebook page: “Our communities are safer when law abiding citizens are able to bear arms in defense of themselves, their family, their friends, their neighbors and their property.”
The common theme in these statements, and similar statements by other gun rights advocates, is that there is a fear that the government will take guns away from law-abiding citizens. However conflicted you or I may feel about how much gun access should be restricted, this is not the debate we should be having right now.
The debate we should have and the legislation we need should be on the issue of restricting access to firearms for those who are not law-abiding citizens, namely people with the dangerous potential to go on shooting sprees.
We need to move beyond the polarizing political rhetoric that prevents us from having a serious discussion about reasonable gun control.
That means making it tougher for criminals, people with mental illness that may pose a public threat, or any individual not fit to safely own a firearm, from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.
How can we translate it into real, practical legislation? States like New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts have laws in which those seeking gun permits are first referred to their local police departments where a gun applicant undergoes a thorough vetting process. Measures like this, along with extensive background checks that screen for criminal activity and mental illness, can provide an extra layer of security for gun violence prevention.
Yes, this may mean longer waiting periods and a more thorough screening process that may reveal unsavory personal information. But isn’t that cost worth the extra layer of protection for public safety?
I’m not saying that any person who’s ever been depressed or been to a counselor should be banned from owning a firearm. But I think it’s a national debate we ought to be having. What kind of mental illnesses should or should not preclude someone from owning a firearm?
The fact is, the national statute of preventing “those adjudicated as mental defectives or incompetents or those committed to any mental institution” from owning a gun is simply not cutting it. People like James Holmes from Colorado and Thomas Caffall, the shooter from Texas A&M, prove that the system needs improvement.
After the A&M shooting, Caffall’s stepfather was reported calling his stepson like a “ticking time bomb.” Both the shooters from Virginia Tech and Tucson, Ariz., had warning signs and problems with their mental health. There needs to be an avenue for institutions or qualified professionals to raise flags about potentially dangerous people who may pose a risk if they come into possession of firearms.
Ever since 9/11, we’ve all had to endure more stringent airport security checks. If we realize the necessity to do it for commercial flight travel, shouldn’t we recognize the necessity to carefully check those who want to purchase a gun?
In response to the Colorado theater shooting, Mayor Michael Nutter called for “more reasonable gun regulations and procedures [that] need to be in place.” This means figuring out more effective ways to get guns out of the hands of those unfit to own a firearm, like those who are too mentally unstable.
That is the debate and the “soul searching” President Barack Obama has called for that the country needs to be having. The question of restricting access to firearms for law-abiding citizens isn’t the issue at hand here. That’s a discussion for another day.
Michael Chau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.