By Ken Trainor
One year after 20 first-graders were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.; two months after my twin grandsons were born (seven years before they enter first grade); and six months after my son became a gun-carrying police officer, I've been thinking about the recent failure of our Gun Rights and Responsibilities Committee to reach consensus on how to reduce gun violence in this country.
As you can see, I come at this issue from several angles.
I'm incredulous that 12 months after the latest "massacre of the innocents," we've done nothing as a nation to reduce the easy availability of guns by criminals and the dangerously mentally ill. I'm frightened (to death) that my grandsons someday might be mowed down by a madman who found it way too easy to access semi-automatic assault weapons with high-capacity magazines. I dearly hope my son never has to discharge his firearm because taking the life of another human being, no matter the circumstances, is personally traumatic. And I'm deeply disappointed that people who should know better (gun owners) seem to care so much more about their individual rights than the overall safety of our community.
I'm also shocked by their apparent indifference toward the rising number of mass-murder incidents nationwide. If they have feelings about it, they certainly aren't showing them. It's as if they're deathly afraid that acknowledging emotion about Newtown will make them "soft" and threaten the defense of their gun rights, which are more precious to them than anything else.
Gun-rights advocates, if probed, would probably say the Newtown massacre was "regrettable" and, if questioned, might even express discomfort about it. But their conclusion is that the only way to prevent such catastrophes is to arm the schools.
The gun-responsibilities side, on the other hand, believes the best way to prevent criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from getting guns in the first place is a strong, effective, universal background check system on all firearm sales and transfers.
But neither approach can absolutely guarantee our kids' safety, so the obvious compromise would be to do both. Their refusal to compromise, I suspect, comes from a deeply ingrained fear that opening the door a crack will inevitably lead to confiscation of their guns by an evil, oppressive government.
No amount of reassurance can breach that fear, even the obvious — that there are an estimated 300 million guns in private hands in this country. Even if some future authoritarian government-from-hell wanted to, they'd never be able to confiscate that many guns — however draconian their measures.
But the myth is firmly fixed, no matter how irrational it sounds to the rest of us.
Only one member of the gun-rights side, John Erickson, made an honest attempt to listen to what our side had to say over the course of 11 months. You can read his latest response to our final report — which ran in Viewpoints on Dec. 4 — on page 30 of this section.
It's hard to imagine that any compromise is possible with the gun-rights side, but I won't give up completely until we see the specific proposals for reducing gun violence that John Erickson has promised next week. To date, however, the gun-rights side has proven incapable of producing any specific proposals.
As of the week before Christmas, a year after Newtown, this country still has the same problem it had then: Guns are far too easy for criminals and the dangerously mentally ill to acquire.
I'm not the only one saying that, by the way. According to the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California Davis School of Medicine — cited in the January Harper's Index — 55% of U.S. gun retailers believe "it is too easy for criminals to get guns in this country."
If you agree with that statement, then the rest naturally follows. This country should do everything it can to reduce gun violence, and that obviously includes preventing the wrong people from obtaining guns in the first place — in addition to increased law enforcement efforts and licensed citizens carrying firearms. To not do everything possible, I think most people would agree, is foolish, and gun-rights advocates certainly do not consider themselves fools.
To prevent the wrong people from having easy access to guns, we need an effective background check system for all gun transfers and purchases nationwide. There is no other way to do it.
The gun-rights side, in 11 months, has yet to develop a persuasive argument against this line of reasoning.
What really frustrated them, I suspect, is that our side knew what we wanted from the beginning and we never wavered. When they realized we weren't about to budge, the discussions ended, and they went back to hiding behind their rhetorical smokescreen. Check out the online comments about our report at OakPark.com if you want to read some examples.
We presented our position in good faith. It's clear. It's even-handed. It's fair. Whenever gun owners want to engage us honestly, we're ready and waiting.
We owe it to those first-graders at Sandy Hook and to all the kids who will be bloodied in 2014 and beyond because of this nation's inability to take action And I owe it to my grandsons.
Newtown, newcountry. It's time for progress.
We're not going anywhere. We're right here.