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Most Americans and gun owners want to end firearms attacks like the one in Christiansburg last week.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
The public knows little about Neil Allan MacInnis, age 18, and nothing of what led him to court on Monday, facing charges of opening fire and wounding two women at the New River Community College satellite in Christiansburg.
A family spokesman said the people closest to him are “in the process of trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.”
Their nightmare is personal, as it is for the victims of Friday’s shootings and their loved ones. But the helpless, hand-wringing horror following an inexplicable attack by a gunman on people going about their daily lives — that has become a public nightmare grown too common.
So common that a growing portion of Americans, including most gun owners, find it intolerable and favor finding some legal strategy to contain the violence. Yet even as the Senate, shamed by parents of the children of Newtown, nears a vote on expanded background checks for gun sales, lawmakers remain divided over what policy change to make — or, indeed, whether to change anything.
This despite a broad consensus that it would be a most sensible idea to keep firearms out of the hands of people who seem to present the greatest risk to themselves or others. Legislatively, that translates to people with felony records and people who have been found to be dangerously mentally ill — hardly a complete defense against gun violence.
The bipartisan bill sponsored by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey compromises even on that. Rather than require background checks on all gun sales, it would expand checks to so-called private sales made online and at gun shows. Its fate is in doubt, though, because the National Rifle Association opposes it.
The NRA has undermined all efforts to bring rational policymaking to gun control by filling the campaign coffers of like-minded lawmakers, influencing the views of a large group of single-issue voters and, when faced with “the incomprehensible,” redirecting their outrage to other issues, like the nation’s disgracefully ineffective system of mental health care.
This is all about changing the subject, not improving treatment for people who, in most cases, are not violent.
Perhaps the best hope for change is an avenue the NRA has sought to cut off: research to pinpoint risk factors and craft policies that target them. The New Republic reports that President Obama’s budget plan calls for $20 million to expand the Centers for Disease Control’s National Violent Death Reporting System, a database in place in 18 states, including Virginia.
The NRA is good at saying what will not work to prevent gun violence. The country needs to know what will.
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