The time to talk about guns is now


We share the nation’s overwhelming grief in the wake of the senseless murder of innocents in Newtown. The loss of children and heroic teachers to mindless violence is an agony that is almost too much to bear.

While some will say that there is plenty of time ahead for discussion of guns in our society and the effectiveness of our mental health services system, we believe that if the past is any indication, waiting for some “appropriate” time to address these issues will only lead to inaction. That time is now.

Controlling guns in this country is a thorny problem. But there are models that we could follow that would go a long way toward solving it. Americans do amazing things every day. Get on a train or a plane, visit a hospital or head out on the road and you will encounter hundreds of people who are licensed to perform incredibly difficult tasks — tasks that involve the safety of hundreds or thousands of people — and who virtually never fail. They drive trucks containing hazardous chemicals. They administer vaccinations that prevent deadly diseases. They build bridges and tunnels, conduct trains, fly airplanes and helicopters.

We encounter these people so often that we seldom think about how remarkable those tasks are. And we rarely wonder whether the person at the switch is going to lose his or her mind and kill us all. That’s because we know that the people who have those jobs are thoroughly vetted, trained and retrained. We have systems in place to ensure that they are qualified for these highly responsible jobs, and we trust those systems to disqualify the incapable and the unstable.

Shouldn’t we follow the same guidelines when it comes to gun ownership? We are not so wide-eyed as to suggest that we ban all guns. They are useful — and, yes, even fun — in a variety of settings and situations. And of no small importance is the fact that there is a constitutional protection of citizens’ right to own them. But rights can be regulated for the protection of society. Shouldn’t it be much harder to get guns, especially assault weapons? And shouldn’t the difficulty of obtaining them rise in proportion to their potential to kill?

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