Americans can hardly be categorized as typically this or typically that, but qualities like ambitious, hard-working and freedom-loving would be frequently used descriptions. Similarly, most Americans have acquired the understanding that protecting our valued freedoms requires responsibility and reasonable compromise.
Our democratic institutions are products of this principle. With the rancor and divisiveness so prevalent in our legislative bodies today, it’s easy to forget how well representative government has worked for most of our 225-year history. Often slowly, sometimes painfully, public-backed legislation has moved Americans progressively forward where our rights and privileges are protected within the desired framework of commonsense laws. Along the way, history is pockmarked with illustrations of the battles fought and won — slavery and civil rights among the major ones — to keep Americans on this progressive path.
Just as other difficult chasms have divided Americans in the past, we are facing yet another challenge now, a tipping point that has to be faced and resolved. Gun control is an issue that Americans eventually must resolve in a manner consistent with our collective common sense and vision.
Today, however, it is not resolved. And the price of it not being resolved was once again, vividly and horribly illustrated last month at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The deaths of 20 elementary school children along with six teachers and staff at the hands of a mentally-deranged man with access to assault-type, automatic weapons is a benchmark — as if other mass killings in other venues had not already proven the point — that the time has come. It’s in everyone’s interest that America do a better job of controlling the dispensing of these weapons that guarantee such massive killing power and human suffering.
As it turns out, the public already broadly endorses that objective, according to research and many national polls. In a recent poll, for instance, the public’s sentiments demonstrate once again the desire for a sane approach to gun control. That poll, by The Associated Press and GfK, the international data research and analysis firm, reports an overwhelming 84 percent of Americans support stringent background checks for potential gun-owners. In addition, the poll shows six in 10 Americans support stricter gun laws, and a majority backs a nationwide ban on military-style weapons.
These responses certainly reflect Americans’ reaction to tragedies like Sandy Hook. They, go deeper, however, revealing Americans’ perception of who we are as a nation and what our priorities should be. The great majority of Americans don’t want this country armed to the teeth with the latest assault weapons that can inflict incredible pain, massive death and carnage. Gun-toting and aggressive are not words most Americans would use to describe themselves. They’re also not words Americans use to describe the nation’s character. Unfortunately, that’s exactly who we are in the eyes of many nations, and, in fact, some Americans like it that way. But it’s not the way of the future.
Last week, President Barack Obama announced plans aimed at gaining control over the spread of guns and gun violence, including the key provisions for universal background checks on potential gun-buyers and a ban on assault weapons. Other provisions include limiting the number of bullets that can be carried in ammunition clips to under 10 — a minor restriction, but one that can save lives simply by preventing continuous firing.
Congress must now get down to the work of creating legislation around these objectives. That’s where the contentious views for and against gun control will engage on the political battlefield. Of course, both sides must be heard, but the matter of whether Congress adopts steps to curb gun violence should be — and eventually will be decided — by average Americans. We would urge citizens to tell Congress to adopt some form of Obama’s plans for gun control.
The consensus among Americans is that unchecked availability of automatic, assault-type weapons is a contributor to the horrors such as that seen last month. Most Americans already believe these weapons harm our national image and threaten our safety and our future.
Background checks by the weapons-buying public is a wise and reasonable expectation. Law-abiding citizens who want guns for their personal protection, hobby, sport or as collectors should have them. Our officials must act — not to remove the right of gun-ownership — but to remove the harmful applications of gun ownership. That’s just common sense.