Sensible restrictions on firearms won’t happen if absolutists – whether pro- or anti-gun – hijack the debate. Someone like Gabrielle Giffords might be what the cause needs.
The former congresswoman and her husband, Mark Kelly, announced a campaign Tuesday to balance the political influence of National Rifle Association, whose current leadership dogmatically opposes almost any measure that threatens the interests of gun manufacturers.
Giffords brings two crucial credentials to this argument: She’s a gun-owning supporter of the Second Amendment – and a survivor of a nearly fatal shooting. They noted Tuesday that they have two guns – locked safely at home – and say they aren’t interested in taking firearms away from responsible gun owners.
They do want to keep guns from criminals, the mentally ill and the harebrained.
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That approach reflects what should be Rule One of the gun debate: Don’t start by insulting honest gun owners. Roughly a third of all Americans say they own guns, according to multiple surveys, and nearly half of Americans live with firearms in their homes.
They don’t consider their own weapons to blame for Sandy Hook or other mass shootings. They won’t accept anything that looks like confiscation.
But most law-abiding Americans, gun owners or not, will support considerably tougher restrictions on who can get a firearm. Giffords and Kelly didn’t get specific, but several measures seem obvious.
• A measure requiring universal federal background checks for gun transfers would win wide support, for example.
• Those checks ought to flag the mentally disturbed much more effectively than they do now. California, for example, requires psychotherapists to notify police when a patient begins threatening specific individuals. There’s no such alert in the federal screening process.
• Safety training ought to be mandatory for first-time gun owners and concealed-weapon applicants. Training would reduce the number of poorly secured weapons – such as the gun that fell out of a man’s pocket, hit the floor and went off in a Silverdale store on Saturday.
• The country also appears ready for limits on high-capacity magazines, which play to a mass slaughter fetish that may be linked to ultra-violent video games.
None of these ideas would deny a gun to anyone who obeys the law and can safely handle a firearm. Each of them would save lives. After the series of bloodbaths this country has seen in the last 12 months, they’re also politically doable.