The nine days since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., have brought youth and energy to the debate over gun violence.
Classmates and students of the 17 people who died at Stoneman Douglas High School are brash, angry and unapologetic. They demand change. They’re not going away.
On Friday, they got a breakthrough. Florida Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers proposed a minimum age of 21 to buy any gun in Florida, raised from age 18. Here in Kansas, Sen. Pat Roberts — recipient of $1.58 million in National Rifle Association money over his career — said Thursday he’ll support a similar measure in Congress.
So there has been incremental progress. But there is cause to remain skeptical about structural, long-term change that can reduce gun violence.
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Too many times, mass shootings have occurred, and the nation has expressed its outrage. Universal background checks! More complete mental health assessments! Ban semi-automatic weapons!
Then Congress runs out the clock on the outrage. It wins again.
Conservatives in Congress often appear the bad guys in this drama. Many receive high-dollar political donations from the National Rifle Association, appearing to be in the pocket of the nation’s most powerful lobbying group.
But these conservatives, including the six in the Kansas delegation, also represent thousands of law-abiding, gun-owning voters who feel strongly about the right to own firearms provided in the Second Amendment.
This time, though, teenagers who weren’t alive for the Columbine school shooting, who aren’t old enough to remember Sept. 11, and who have grown up with smartphones in their hands, are leading with a voice we haven’t seen in generations.
So let’s say this time can be different. The vocal kids want their turn at outlasting Congress and their state legislatures.
Change won’t come wholesale. AR-15 semi-automatic weapons aren’t going away soon. Remember when bump stocks were a big deal after the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people? A possible ban was all but forgotten until the Florida shooting reminded everyone they were still legal.
Any common-sense approach to reducing the number of mass shootings has to focus on a solution to which most Americans can agree.
Here’s one small, yet important step to get started: It’s time to figure out the “why” of gun violence.
In 1996, an amendment was added to a House spending bill that forbade the Centers for Disease Control from advocating or promoting gun control. The NRA-backed Dickey Amendment passed and had the effect of telling the CDC to stop studying gun violence.
The amendment has been part of spending bills every year since. It’s time for that to end.
Reducing the number of mass shootings must begin somewhere. Congress and its constituents should be able to agree that studying the minds of mass shooters is a logical first step. The CDC is the government’s laboratory, where there should be a non-partisan study on every effect society has on people with mental illness and the propensity for violence.
America has a problem with guns and violence. Comparisons to other countries routinely show startling rates of U.S. gun deaths. A comprehensive look at why a few Americans – mostly men – decide to take lives is a necessary first step to answering the next questions of better background checks, more thorough treatment of mental illness and, yes, what to do about guns that can fire many more rounds than the framers of the Constitution possibly envisioned.
Future generations are watching. They’ll lead if this one doesn’t.