For too long, politicians have sat back and ignored the reality facing our nation. Gun violence has become a widespread public health crisis. Everyone deserves to feel safe in their communities and it is beyond time we talked about guns in a different way. Unfortunately, this issue has divided our nation to the extent that meaningful discussions of gun control are seemingly impossible.
I submit that we must change the culture concerning guns in America.
We know that the United States is the only advanced country in the world that sees these mass shootings on a perpetual basis. This wasn’t always the case. Other nations have faced shootings like those we have seen here, and they have tackled the issue head on to stop these tragedies from happening again.
After a 1996 mass shooting in Australia that killed 35 people and wounded 23 others with a semiautomatic rifle and another semiautomatic assault weapon, they enacted some of the largest gun reforms in recent history. Then-Prime Minister John Howard wrote in an op-ed after their reforms took place that, "The fundamental problem...was the ready availability of high-powered weapons, which enabled people to convert their murderous impulses into mass killing. It is easier to kill 10 people with a gun than with a knife."
These reforms, which included banning certain semiautomatic and self-loading rifles and shotguns as well a large-scale gun buy-back program, led to the firearm homicide rate falling by 59 percent and the firearm suicide rate falling by 65 percent. Australia hasn't experienced a massacre similar to the 1996 shooting since.
The political will exhibited in Australia led to a palpable shift in public opinion. The people accepted the fact that safety had to take precedent over the ability to own an assault rifle. This is the shift in thinking we must seek in our own country.
Gun rights advocates aren't wrong when they say that gun control measures such as background checks and waiting periods won't directly prevent mass shootings. What they will do, however, is stop the sense of inevitability towards gun violence. Common sense gun reforms will move us toward a more rational conversation about the epidemic of shootings plaguing our country. With 74 percent of NRA members supporting background checks, I know there is common ground to be reached.
Gun owner or not, who among us believes that 20 children shot and killed at Sandy Hook is an acceptable consequence of our gun laws?
Gun owner or not, who among us believes that 6,800 Americans killed by gun violence in just the first half of 2015 is an acceptable consequence of our refusal to address this crisis?
It is time that we stop discussing guns in America as simply a two-sided coin: unlimited guns versus no guns whatsoever. This is not, nor ever will be, a reality here. My family owns guns. Many of my friends and neighbors are responsible gun owners and hunters. I believe that the Second Amendment affords them this right. Despite this, no right is unlimited and immune from reasonable regulation for public safety. With each right, there must be a corresponding sense of civic obligation.
Until we are ready to address the culture of guns in America, we will continue to see tragedy after tragedy on the evening news. That is something we simply cannot accept as inevitable.
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