If we actually want to get anything done about the problem of firearm use in mass shootings, we need to look at the problem with compromise in mind. The traditional divide between Democrats who want gun control and Republicans who fear rights being taken away from the public has been to form ranks to stand against each other using Facebook memes as ammunition. Even now, less than a week after the Orlando shootings, my Facebook feed is full of memes from both sides.
Collectively, we need to face the truth that neither position is viable in the long run. If we want a solution before the death rates become so high that we are forced to react instead of act, we will end up with laws that not only work poorly for their intended purpose, but also cost people more rights than they should have to lose.
But now is a good time to look into making changes. A sizable percentage of the United States population is looking at the tragedy in Orlando with the determination to do something to prevent these types of attacks in the future. While the cold, hard reality is that we will never completely decrease the threat to mass attacks to zero, we can reduce the risk that all of us face.
On Wednesday, Trump said he would schedule a meeting soon with the National Rifle Association to discuss proposals to ban people on certain federal watch lists from buying firearms. Trump was renewing a position he first expressed last year after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. But on Wednesday he took it to a new level, via Twitter, by calling for a meeting with the NRA.
Three Republican senators took similar stands. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who is locked in a closely watched re-election battle, told Ohio reporters that he is ready to back a federal ban on weapons sales to anyone on a terrorist watch list if a compromise can be reached. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said much the same. And Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who has worked on bipartisan gun-control legislation in the past and is also facing a tough re-election challenge, announced plans late Wednesday to introduce new legislation after a day of talks with members of both parties as well as gun-control groups.
I would argue that it is irrelevant the reasons why the three Republican senators reached their conclusion. What matters is that they are willing to pass gun control if reasonable gun control is put forward.
So what is reasonable? I think that it should be readily agreeable that people on watch lists — that must be specified in advance — are prevented from purchasing firearms. The reason that the watch lists must be specified in advance is so that it is impossible to create a watch list that simply adds people for reasons other than they are a danger to society. And yes, that means that I believe that the current no-fly list is a good place to start. I would also consider using the various FBI watch lists on the condition that we know more about them.
So where is the need to compromise?
But other GOP senators voted against the measure, citing the concerns of gun rights advocates including Richard Feldman, head of the Independent Firearms Owners Association. He noted that even the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., labored for years to remove himself from the “no-fly” list and that other, lesser known Americans have battled even longer.
That is, in my opinion, a very real reason that we need to find a compromise. If we can be put on a watch list, then we need a way to clear our names and be removed from that watch list. At some point the list needs to be more than just a random person putting people on the list “just to be on the safe side”. At the very least, it needs to be spelled out in the law the procedures necessary to remove yourself from the watch list if you find yourself on it.
If we intend to use the various watch lists that are available to us as a means to deny someone the ability to purchase a firearm, then we owe it to the public to ensure that the list remains as accurate as possible while allowing for corrections when that accuracy fails.
Will that stop all the shootings? No. What it will do is decrease the odds that the next shooter doesn’t have the arsenal to turn the shooting into a mini war zone.