Editorial: Congress, NM need to take reasonable steps on gun safety - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Congress, NM need to take reasonable steps on gun safety

Somewhere between the extremes of banning firearms and “doing nothing,” there are common-sense reforms lawmakers everywhere should start considering as a means of curbing gun violence in America.

We, too, are weary of the stale rhetoric that emerges after every mass shooting event in this country. Though there are valid points to be made on either side, America — and especially our children — deserve results.

Generally speaking, Democrats want to enact restrictions on who can possess a firearm and what type of weapons should be available, while Republicans maintain such laws target law-abiding citizens, not criminals, and infringe on the Second Amendment.

But after Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut (2012), Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida (2016), Mandalay Bay (2017), Pittsburgh synagogue (2018), Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, (2018), the El Paso Walmart (2019) — and recent mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, there’s a 10-year track record showing the status quo is not the answer. These heinous murder scenes are just the tip of the iceberg. Before Tuesday’s horror in Uvalde, there were at least 39 shootings in K-12 schools, colleges and universities in 2022 alone, resulting in at least 10 deaths and 51 injuries.

The numbers show guns aren’t just for grown-ups anymore. On the same day 19 kids were murdered in Uvalde by an 18-year-old, two high school students were found with guns on campus in separate incidents in the Metro area. And these are not one-offs; consider the recent fatal shootings at Albuquerque’s Washington Middle School and West Mesa High, and we all remember the school shootings in Aztec and Roswell. The shooters ranged in age from 12 to 21.

If we are to “do something” as a nation, then we need to understand that limits on personal liberty may be the cost we, as Americans, must pay to ensure public safety. Just as there are requirements to drive a vehicle, there should be requirements beyond age to own a firearm. And raising that age should be on the table.

Yet even something as basic as expanding background checks causes partisan posturing. Even though polls show the proposal has support from as many as 90% of Americans, including many GOP voters, Republicans in the U.S. Senate initially signaled their opposition. But Thursday, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell told CNN he encouraged Texas Sen. John Cornyn to begin discussions with Democrats to find middle ground on a legislative response to the Uvalde tragedy.

They need to seize the moment and not let another 10 years and countless innocent lives be lost.

Implementing a background check system is one of three major pieces of legislation commonly shared by countries that reduced gun violence, according to a study published in 2016 in the academic journal Epidemiologic Reviews. The others are banning powerful weapons, like automatic rifles, and requiring people to get permits and licenses before buying a gun.

If it were true unbridled gun ownership creates a safer society, America would be the safest nation on Earth. The Washington Post reports there are 1.2 guns for every person in America: “It’s the highest rate of gun ownership in the world — and it’s not even close. Yemen, in second place, has about 1 gun for every 2 people. In Britain, there is roughly 1 gun for every 20 people and in Japan, it’s 1 gun for every 334 people.”

If Congress once again fails to get beyond members’ empty thoughts and prayers, we need state lawmakers to do a better job of giving law enforcement a fighting chance to get guns and the criminals who use them off the streets. With the legislative and executive branches run by Democrats who will hold a special session solely to legalize recreational weed, this should not be a heavy lift. Democrats and Republicans should embrace efforts to crack down on the criminal use of firearms.

And yet this spring only a few reasonable reforms made it over the finish line, most in watered-down form:

• Criminalize mass threats as a fourth-degree felony. (House Bill 68 made it a misdemeanor.)

• Expand the prohibition of guns at schools to be in line with federal law. (Killed in committee.)

• Make a minor’s possession of a firearm a felony instead of a misdemeanor. (Killed in committee.)

• Increase penalties for possession of a firearm by a felon when the prior felony is a serious violent offense. (HB 68 changed the proposed second-degree felony with a potential nine years in prison to a third-degree felony with a possible six years in prison.)

• Provide for the forfeiture of firearms used to commit a felony. (Section 30 of HB 68.)

• Target violent offenses and drug trafficking with a firearm by instituting mandatory, graduated penalties based on the degree of dangerousness similar to federal law. (HB 68 made penalties discretionary, not mandatory and removed “buyer or purported buyer” from the definition of a drug transaction, limiting applicability.)

• Establish misdemeanor and felony penalties for recklessly making a firearm available to a minor. (House Appropriations and Finance tabled HB 9.)

Of course laws only work if enforced, and Journal columnist Joline Gutierrez Krueger points out it’s not happening with the 2019 law requiring those subject to an order of protection to relinquish firearms to law enforcement within 48 hours. And how many firearms have been seized under 2020’s extreme risk protection order legislation? We bet few to none.

While mental health services and security measures are important, data shows a key piece to solving gun violence is keeping them out of the wrong people’s hands. Will our state and national leaders step up, compromise and pass legislation with that target in mind?

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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