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October 23, 2015


Prayers aren’t enough

Gun violence is rare in our towns. Yet we are no less shocked and saddened by the loss of life from yet another mass shooting, the killings at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, Oct. 1.

We find ourselves once again questioning whether any solutions can be found to prevent similar tragedies. We asked similar questions after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and after Aurora, Colo., and Virginia Tech and Charleston, S.C. Our ability as a nation to reach a consensus on answers, however, has never seemed further away. In fact, it seems to wane with each passing election cycle. After the latest fatal shootings, which resulted in 10 deaths and numerous injuries, it was rare to find a single member of Congress who would dare offer substantive policy recommendations of any kind, for fear of suffering immediate and harsh political backlash from constituents and financial supporters.

Taking a stance on gun violence has become tantamount to political suicide, setting off alarms about curbing constitutional freedoms and advocating for “more government.” So, in place of speeches, there is silence. In place of advancing policies that might save lives, our leaders offer prayers for the victims and their families. We don’t need another tragedy to remind us this response simply isn’t enough.

To be clear, the problem of mass shootings is growing dramatically. According to an FBI study of national crime statistics released a year ago, there were, on average, 16.4 such shootings a year from 2007 to 2013, compared with an average of 6.4 shootings annually from 2000 to 2006. The study, the first of its kind, measured “active” shootings, which the FBI defined as committed by “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”

Some states have passed measures aimed at curbing gun violence. In New York, for example, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a gun control bill in January 2013 shortly after the Sandy Hook shootings, which claimed 20 lives. Some measures included in the law, such as background checks on ammunition sales, are still not implemented. In fact, the state quietly pushed back the deadline this summer, saying more time was needed to upgrade the state police tracking database that will monitor the retail ammunition purchases. 

Even if states like New York do take action, guns and people easily cross borders, nullifying the potential benefits of state legislation. "It's not enough for New York state to pass a gun law and close the front door when the guns are coming in the back door, when the guns can come up from Virginia or South Carolina for anyone willing to take a car ride," Cuomo said at a eulogy in late September for Carey Gabay, a 43-year-old senior aide who was gunned down on a Brooklyn street, caught in gang crossfire.

For the past 20 years, the Pew Research Center has been tracking attitudes toward gun rights and gun control. Its August report found that 50 percent of Americans thought it was more important to control gun ownership, while 47 percent thought protecting the right to own guns should be a priority. Pew also found that nearly three-fourths of Democrats favor gun control, while 71 percent of Republicans feel gun rights are most important.

We’re a country divided on these issues, and Congress can’t find a way out of a deep partisan hole. Yet, also according to Pew, some common ground appears to be forming, at least among the broader public, if not for our legislators, around support for expanding background checks for private gun sales. Among people who want gun ownership rights, there also is broad support for legislation preventing the mentally ill from buying guns. Maybe these widely held opinions will give members of Congress enough political cover to act. If the past is any indication of that likelihood, the outlook is dim. After Sandy Hook, no measures even came to a vote. What happens after the shootings in Oregon is likely to be more silence and inaction — which might be exactly the outcome favored by constituents who are seen as too powerful to cross.

— Guest editorial by The Record-Review interim editor Ed Baum

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of The Scarsdale Inquirer. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

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