Our View: We need rational action on guns and violence

Guns and sense

Still missing: Rational debate about guns and violence

"Despair" was the word in an NPR report Thursday after a man with a history of mental illness shot and killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard before shooting himself.

Despair, in that the conventional wisdom now says nothing will change, that we cannot make ourselves safer and saner about guns and violence.

That won't work. A free society, one that claims the individual right to bear arms, cannot react to massacres with a fatalistic shrug, memorials and grieving. That individual right requires a corresponding responsibility.

We divide sharply over how to meet that responsibility, and that division comes with political and personal baggage, ideology and sense of identity -- not to mention a contradictory culture that both decries and glorifies violence and a population that owns hundreds of millions of firearms. We have opposing sides that often are ignorant about the other, preferring dark stereotypes to reality. In those views, gun control advocates won't be happy until they've confiscated every gun without regard to the law-abiding nature of most gun owners and the fundamental right to self-defense, and control foes are gun-totin' knuckle-draggers with an unhealthy obsession.

Gun control advocates tend to dismiss valid questions about the effectiveness and enforceability of restrictions. We had a 10-year ban on assault weapons that didn't seem to make much difference; at the same time the republic did not fall. Nor did the Second Amendment. Yet some gun control foes cast every restriction as an assault on liberty and a call to arms. Control advocates look at the Second Amendment and focus on "well-regulated militia." Foes lock and load on "shall not be infringed."

Then there's money. The firearms industry is powerful and lucrative.

So yes, it's tempting to despair. We should resist the temptation.

Instead we should step to common ground. There is some, for all but the most rabid. Most of us agree that we need more recognition of and treatment for the mentally ill. Alaska Sen. Mark Begich has co-sponsored legislation to provide that; his bill and others are at least starting points on which to build trust and kill fear of dealing with questions like expanded background checks and magazine limits.

Rational people cannot simply accept mass murder -- or the ease with which dangerous people can obtain guns -- and call it a price of freedom. Rather than despair, we need determination.

BOTTOM LINE: Americans must not give up the struggle over guns and violence.