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June 2012
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Compromises necessary on gun control


More senseless, multiple-victim shootings marred the Memorial Day weekend. Such sickening slaughter has become numbingly commonplace in America.

Yet another troubled young man stabbed and killed three before going on a shooting rampage that killed three more and wounded others in Santa Barbara, Calif. Someone shot and killed three and wounded more in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

There was plenty of routine, single-victim gun killing, too. After a peaceful start to the weekend in Chicago, the country's capital of gun violence, two died and 10 others were wounded in shootings through Sunday. That tragic toll was at least an improvement over last year, when six were killed and 17 injured over the Memorial Day weekend there.

Once again America confronts the victimized families whose innocent and promising loved ones were taken. Richard Martinez, father of Chris Martinez, 20, one of those killed, emotionally and understandably asked, "Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA. They talk about gun rights, what about Chris' right to live?"

This new member of the ever growing group of grieving parents, continued, "When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, stop this madness, we don't have to live like this? Too many have died. We should say to ourselves - not one more."

Sadly, there is little reason to think his painful plea will produce reforms that will reduce the carnage. Previous, equally passionate ones by survivors of those murdered at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Fort Hood, the Washington Navy Yard, Binghamton or the many other modern American killing fields did not.

The two political sides continue to talk past each other while people continue to die. Surely there are some leaders who can claim the common ground and bridge the partisan divide to take us there.

Many conservatives worry, and not without reason given government lies on so many other subjects, that new gun laws will be the first step toward firearm confiscation that will leave them defenseless against violent criminals â ¦ and the government itself. Hence, their Second Amendment absolutism.

Many liberals denigrate or do not understand the legitimate desire of others to have guns for self-defense or how dear firearms are to so many good citizens and sportsmen. And many of their gun control ideas might make them feel better, but would meaningfully address the problem.

The National Rifle Association advocates tougher enforcement of existing gun laws, more mental health services, armed guards in schools, and less violent entertainment. These things are not unreasonable, but neither are they sufficient.

The Obama administration wants expanded criminal background checks, an assault weapon ban, capacity limits on ammunition magazines, and, of course, more spending on various programs. These things are not unreasonable, but neither are they sufficient.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens proposes amending the Second Amendment to make it read, "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed." This would allow more gun control, but gives no assurance to law-abiding citizens who own guns for self-defense or recreation.

First, both camps should more forcefully and often encourage everyone to better do their moral duty of caring for others. Providing more and better mental health services, especially for young men, seems a smart second step. A dedicated new tax on guns and ammunition is a possible way to pay for them.

Conservative commentator David Frum, a senior editor at The Atlantic, is among those who have pointed the way to commonsense and effective compromise that might actually help prevent future mass shooting tragedies. He prudently points out that it is possible to pay attention to both the problems in the American mental health system and the easy availability of guns to those who should not have them.

Frum argues that we can "enhance safety while upholding legitimate rights" by replicating how improvements were made in automobile safety and treating guns more like cars. He is right when says "moderate steps could achieve substantial results."

For example, gun owners "could be required to take safety courses and pass a test." Those who improperly store weapons could temporarily lose their ownership rights.

Also, "Persons convicted of drug offenses or drunk driving could be deprived of gun rights in their sentence, as felons now are deprived of the right to vote in many states. The classes of weapons associated with mass casualty shooting could be more strictly controlled."

These measures might raise constitutional concerns and would not completely solve the problem. But we, and especially pro-gun rights conservatives, must do more on this deadly issue. For far too many Memorial Day now carries with it a new and even sadder significance.

John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com.

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