The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Opinion

January 20, 2013

Law won't stop the gun violence

— On Wednesday, President Barack Obama signed off on 23 executive orders he believes will curb gun violence in America.

He did so in the presence of young school children who the president said had written letters asking for tougher gun laws. It was a touching gesture, considering many of the children looked as innocent as those gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14.

Before the ink was dry, however, the National Rifle Association claimed Obama’s executive orders and a $500 million proposal sent to Congress for approval would infringe on the Second Amendment rights of Americans.

Obama’s executive orders included nominating B. Todd Jones to head the ATF, which has been without a permanent director since 2006. Other steps included requiring federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations, ordering a review of safety standards for gun locks and gun safes and ordering tougher penalties for people who lie on background checks.

The proposal he sent to Congress includes a ban on armor-piercing ammunition by civilians, stiffer penalties for gun trafficking and training first responders on how to respond to shootings.

None of the orders signed by the president, nor the proposal he sent to Congress, calls for the government to come and confiscate the guns of millions of law-abiding Americans. But still, law-abiding gun owners are worried, and the worry seems to be largely unwarranted.

It was inevitable, however, that after mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., a hard and fast look would be taken at the nation’s gun laws. It’s true that it was a knee-jerk reaction, but one that may be warranted to some degree.

On the other hand, there is no simple solution to the problem. Gun-rights advocates argue that it’s the shooter, not the gun, who are responsible for the carnage. And they’re right. James Holmes and Adam Lanza were both mentally unstable when they pulled their respective triggers. Perhaps if they had gotten the mental health help they desperately needed, 38 people would be alive today.

Gun control advocates believe that Holmes and Lanza were able to kill and maim so many because they employed guns that used high-capacity magazines. It’s a fair argument. Had they used only handguns or shotguns, perhaps the shooter may have been disarmed between reloading.

Gun-rights advocates believe had their been an armed person in the theater or school, the shooter could have been taken out before so many lives were lost. Perhaps they are right.

Gun-control advocates believe that arming teachers perpetuates an environment of fear in the classroom — a place where children should feel at ease to learn. Perhaps they are also right.

To put it mildly, the gun debate is not new. Guns have been used to fight wars and keep the peace. They are a means of protection, recreation and sport. They helped “tame the west,” but also wiped out an untold numbers of our true “founding fathers” — the Native Americans.

A gun under the bed or in a bedside drawer offers a sense of protection to a homeowner. They are often the first line of defense for a police officer in harm’s way.

Guns are also used to rob, intimidate and murder. They’ve killed mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, sons and daughters. They’ve silenced political leaders, activists and heads of state.

But, above all else, gun ownership is one of our guaranteed freedoms as Americans. It’s a right given to us by men who were unfamiliar with anything other than black-powder muskets and flint-lock pistols. We wonder how the authors of our Constitution would have felt about AK-47s and AR-15s.

The fact of the matter is, guns —big and small — are here to stay. They are an ingrained part of our culture. They were here before President Obama took office, and they will be here long after his presidency is over.

While we don’t believe the president’s actions represent an effort to disarm law-abiding Americans, we believe that no federal legislation will put an end to the threat of violence in every American community.

The government may believe that changing the law will keep us safer, but it’s going to take changing evil hearts and mentally ill minds to truly protect us. And that, sadly, may be an impossibility.

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