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Firearms, fatalities, but finally a discussion

by Heidi Moeller / Beacon Staff • January 17, 2013

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The country continues to mourn with Newtown as the gun control debate enters the media.
The country continues to mourn with Newtown as the gun control debate enters the media.

Growing up in a house with a dad whose hobby is World War II re-enacting can be entertaining, to say the least.

His office is filled with antique WWII memorabilia — my favorite being a field radio from the 1940s — including soldiers’ helmets and mannequins in full uniform.

Also in his house, locked up, are four guns: three historic WWII rifles used for re-enactments, but still capable of shooting, and a semi-automatic pistol for my dad’s own carrying.

From the time my dad received his license to carry a semi-automatic gun two years ago, I’ve always hated the presence of the weapon. I’ve never understood why he felt the need to own it, to obtain his gun permit for it, or to have a license to carry it. As you can imagine, dinner table conversations about keeping this item in our house can get heated.

When the lives of 20 children and six adults were taken during the second deadliest shooting in the country at Sandy Hook Elementary school on Dec. 14, my belief in tougher gun regulation was amplified. It’s more obvious to me than ever before that with proper, measured reform, massacres like this would not happen in the future.

The facts are clear: Preliminary data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed there were 32,163 deaths caused by firearms in 2011, only a slight increase of 413 from the 2010 numbers, but still an increase.

In 37 states, residents above the age of 21 can purchase a handgun without a permit, but depending on the state, they may need a license to carry it. Not having a permit to purchase a gun means that the buyer might not have any training in how to use it. Some states require safety courses and training on gun use, while others require that an individual firearm be registered with the police. Additionally, there are laws in some states that compel gun owners to lock their weapons.

The differences in firearm laws across borders are vast, forcing the topic of gun control into one of federal rights versus states’ rights.

To purchase a gun in Connecticut, a prospective owner must complete a handgun safety course and pass a background check prior to course completion. The laws in the state are among the strongest in the country, and yet the weapons purchased by Adam Lanza’s mother were bought legally. It was making them accessible to her son that is illegal in the state. In this case, a law was broken and innocent children and teachers suffered for it.

Tragedies like the one that took place in Newtown can happen anywhere in the country, and they have. The Virginia Tech and Aurora shooters both purchased their guns legally. After tragedies like these, it’s common for gun owners to strengthen their arguments for carrying the weapons. Some of these owners claim they need guns for protection, or security, while others simply say that it is their Second Amendment right to bear arms.

While it’s true that the Constitution protects peoples’ right to carry a gun, the regulations on such purchases are weak. The Second Amendment was adopted in 1791 when the quality and abilities of the weapons it protects today were vastly different. The Newtown tragedy was the 23rd mass killing with a firearm in the United States since the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, which proves in itself that Congress missed the mark on gun control.

It’s clear that the conversation on gun reform in America is one with a deep emotional connection. Grief and emotion are at the root of the debate, but these emotions shouldn’t get in the way of reforming public policy. In my own home, my dad and I have differing views on carrying guns. And while our opinions may contrast, we both acknowledge that change is necessary.

The regulations proposed by President Barack Obama on Jan. 16th are the first step in the uniform gun control the United States needs. They address the need for stronger background checks on individuals purchasing firearms and focus on keeping guns out of the wrong hands. The President called for a tougher ban on military-style assault weapons, requested a limit on the number of rounds that can be in a magazine, and addressed legal barriers that have kept some mental health records out of the database used for background checks.

Yes, my dad is a gun owner. But he took multiple classes and passed tests to obtain his license to carry. He has no mental illness. He keeps his guns locked up in a safe. He’s not a risk to the community and he advocates for extensive background checks and training for anyone who owns a semiautomatic weapon. While I’m uncomfortable around his firearms, I understand it is his right to own them.

Sensible gun laws are possible, and the time for debate and action on these laws is now, as initiated by President Obama and other members of Congress in the past month. There is no simple solution, but everyone can agree that the losses suffered in the innocent Newtown community should be the last.