Citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Wednesday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place.
— The Onion
That statement barely qualifies as satire anymore. Truth is Americans are more likely to be shot and killed by gunfire than citizens in any other developed nation. On average, 96 Americans die every day from gunshots, including homicides, suicides and accidents.
The Valentine’s Day tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has the U.S. flag at half-staff again. Before this mass shooting, the nation was shaken by a Sunday morning massacre at a Texas church, and before that the slaying of dozens of people at a country music concert in Las Vegas. Between those horrible headlines, thousands of Americans were shot.
There’s no simple fix for America’s pervasive gun violence. Firearms, including semiautomatic rifles like the one that Nikolas Cruz fired Wednesday, are so commonplace in our nation, and possession of guns is revered as an absolute right by so many Americans that no single change will stem the flow of blood on our streets, in our homes, schools, churches, concert venues and every other place where Americans carry guns.
Cruz, a troubled teen, purchased the gun legally. In America, there’s no law against selling an assault rifle to an 18-year-old who was expelled from high school.
“These acts of violence are far too prevalent and they are occurring in places where folks ought to feel the safest - where we learn, where we work, where we worship. Thoughts and prayers aren’t solutions. We must reflect on both our mental healthcare system and gun safety laws and start the conversation about how we find solutions that save lives,” Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said in a statement that ordered flags lowered through Monday.
When Gazette reporter Tom Lutey asked the state’s congressional delegation and candidates for U.S. Senate and House about the Parkland shooting, they all spoke in favor of better mental health care, saying that the shooter was mentally disturbed. President Donald Trump also said the school shooting was a “mental problem.”
Yes, all Americans, especially rural residents, need better access to timely, effective mental health care. However, Montana is in the process of unraveling its mental health safety net to balance the state budget revenue shortfall. If better access to mental health is a solution to gun violence, Montana is going backwards.
Americans have to stop arguing about whether it’s a mental health problem or a problem of too many guns, a lack of consistently using background checks, or failure to report and deny gun sales to people who are unstable or dangerous. America’s gun violence toll is the result of all these factors and more. Americans must take action on multiple fronts to increase safety for everyone.
Some ideas that could help include:
- Red Flag laws that allow law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily restrain an individual from possession guns because that person is proven to be a danger to himself or others. Such laws also allow immediate family to initiate such petitions, and provide that the ill individual has the right to be heard in court. California, Connecticut, Indiana and Washington have laws providing for gun violence restraining orders.
- Closing the “boyfriend loophole” as proposed by S.1539 and HR 3207 in the U.S. Senate and House. Federal law prohibits gun possession by spouses convicted of domestic abuse, the law does not apply when the abuser is dating the victim. The law should bar gun possession by abusive dating partners, as well as spouses.
- Consistent reporting of people who shouldn’t have guns to the national background check database. The Texas church gunman should have been in the database, but wasn’t because the U.S. military failed to report his conviction for attacking his wife and child. Montana historically hasn’t reported people who have been involuntarily committed by a court for psychiatric care due to danger to themselves or others.
These reporting gaps need to be closed.
The registry won’t work well, unless it is checked before all sales, including gun shows.
Nobody wants to see headlines for another mass shooting in America. But without changes, we can expect the worst will happen again. There’s no silver bullet for America’s gun violence epidemic. Lawmakers and concerned citizens must confront the reasons for the violence with multiple, proven changes to keep all of us safer.