Saturday, September 28, 2013

The gun control debate is over

The great American gun debate has ended. The NRA won. It’s best for the country if those of us on the other side accept that reality and move on.

President Obama and others mistakenly thought the Sandy Hook tragedy opened the door to a new era of gun safety laws. Instead the deaths of those twenty-six children and adults were the denouement. In theater, “denouement” refers to the final part of a drama in which everything becomes clear. It’s the climax to a series of events. No questions or surprises remain.

It goes without saying how tragic was the shooting at that elementary school in Connecticut. But there’ve been thousands of gun deaths since. The chorus of crickets following the slaughter of twelve more at the Washington Navy Yard confirms what we should have recognized in the political aftermath of Sandy Hook.

If those tiny coffins could not overcome the NRA power base, the coffins of twelve adults won’t do it either.

The President spoke of the Navy Yard victims saying, “So the question now is not whether as Americans we care in moments of tragedy. Clearly, we care. The question is do we care enough to keep standing up for the country that we know is possible even though it's hard and even if it's politically uncomfortable?”

Whether a gun rights advocate or a gun control activist, we all care. The political reality demands a confession that those of us who’d like to see gun control measures enacted are a diminishing minority. We had the debate. They won.

Polls show voter support for gun control has dropped from 58% in the aftermath of Sandy Hook to below 50% after the Navy Yard killings. Public support mattered not at all following Sandy Hook. Congress didn’t have to witness the recall elections in Colorado to ignore those polls. They knew better than to ignore the intensity of single-issue gun owners.

Part of it is money. The NRA has a budget of more than 200 million dollars, likely the largest of any American lobby. But it isn’t just the money. It’s also the intensity of their believers.

So for all of us on all sides of this issue the real question becomes, “What’s next?” If those on the left will accept the fact that there will be no new gun regulation, can the NRA and its supporters accept the fact that gun deaths in America are an issue demanding some solution?

Is it conceivable that people of good faith on both sides could put the harshness of the gun control debate behind us, lower our voices, and combine our considerable resources to find the places where our mutual concern and caring for the victims and their families intersect?

Memo to Wayne LaPierre: It’s probably not your proposal to arm teachers. But, what about an honest effort to improve mental health services? Not more money but demanding research-based practices that actually identity people with serious mental illness and addresses those problems earlier?

How about criminal court reforms that demand the judges use their considerable authority not just to punish, but to rehabilitate? 

The Navy Yard massacre might have been prevented if Aaron Alexis’s prior gun crime had been addressed with something other than a plea bargain. Gun crimes, particularly when committed by youthful offenders could be addressed in “gun courts.” Gun Courts are designed for juveniles and young adults who have committed gun offenses not resulting in serious physical injury. They focus on intense supervision, educating defendants about gun safety, and providing immediate responses to violations of court orders. Just as drug and DUI courts get to the heart of the offender’s problems, so do gun courts.

Another point of agreement could be corrections reform. Giving probation officers the resources they need to adequately supervise probationers would make a huge difference. Current unmanageable caseloads are a part of the problem preventing a promising practice from fulfilling that promise.

It’s time for a debate that generates more light and less heat. 

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