BY STATE REP. RON WATERS/ Much has been said and written in favor and in opposition of gun control since the Sandy Hook tragedy unfolded. The heinous crime has cracked the half-century-long gun debate wide open. Vice President Joe Biden has issued a set of gun-control recommendations to the President, and I hope, simply, that common sense prevails.
Newtown, Conn., is just one of many communities that have experienced gun violence and its carnage. Furthermore, Aurora, Col., is but one of hundreds of communities across this great nation that has seen firsthand the terror an individual can cause in mere seconds when wielding a firearm equipped with high-capacity magazines. Philadelphia has been a war zone for years, so my colleagues and I in the Pennsylvania legislature cannot allow this conversation to subside without first addressing the issues through legislation.
Guns don’t kill people, people do; therefore, “people” should be at the heart of any gun debate. As a public servant, it is my duty to be inclusive and to address any issue from a position that encompasses the interests of many, so it is clear to me the “people” at the heart of this gun debate must include both the victim and the criminal; the individual and the public.
A constitutional argument over gun rights limits the scope of the debate to ownership and ownership alone, while focusing the discourse on public safety allows us to address what responsible gun ownership should look like in a society made up of “people.”
There are responsible gun owners out there. These are the people who have clean bills of health, visit doctors for yearly examinations, adhere to safety requirements when firing and store their weapons in childproof locations that are fully secured and locked. These people are also mindful of others who may attempt to access their weapons and are honest and concerned about any security threat to their firearms. These people realize situations and environments change and it is not enough simply to assess the threat to public safety at the time a weapon is purchased; rather, they understand gun ownership is a daily responsibility.
There is no denying that irresponsible gun ownership leads to the type of reckless violence seen in Colorado and Connecticut last year and in the city of Philadelphia on a nightly basis.
Gun-crime numbers are staggering. With over 600,000 firearms being purchased or privately transferred each year in the Commonwealth, it is in the best interest of all of our citizens, including those responsible gun owners, to have gun laws that are sensible. This includes: improved, thorough background checks; detailed, regular mental-health evaluations for gun owners and potential gun buyers and similar evaluations for family members that share residency; improved methods of documenting private gun transfers; and, perhaps the most controversial, restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
As I prepare to introduce a military-style assault-weapons bill in the coming legislative session, I understand these types of restrictions may not be popular amongst some gun owners. But a sensible approach to gun laws dictates that firearms with reasonable recreational, self-defense and sporting uses be protected, while military-style guns are nothing more than killing machines in the hands of irresponsible civilians.
Addressing mental health and criminal behavior are the next logical steps and will require the assistance of every law-abiding citizen if we wish to cultivate an environment where innocent children, women and men are safe in their homes and in the public sphere.