Honor the victims — with action (CNN)

Editor’s note: David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been an adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

(CNN) — Yet again we are struggling to bear the unbearable. How can we find meaning in the massacre of so many innocent children, savagely cut down in a hail of bullets?
Abraham Lincoln is much on our minds these days and, fortunately, there is much his life teaches us about giving meaning to human horror. Eleven months from now, we will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of his journey to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he consecrated a national cemetery in honor of the thousands slaughtered in the Civil War battle there.
In the most eloquent address in American history, Lincoln told us, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to (their) great unfinished work.” In their honor, he concluded, “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”

These were not idle words; he devoted himself to action. In the final months of his life, as the new film on Lincoln shows, he threw himself into the enactment of the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery in the entire nation. After his death, the nation continued to act as he had asked, passing the 14th Amendment and quickening its progress toward realizing the dream of the Declaration: that all are created equal.
The shootings in Connecticut are not Gettysburg, but surely the long, unending string of killings that we have endured must do more than touch our hearts. As Lincoln saw, we must find meaning in the madness of life — and we do that by honoring the dead through action.

The moment to act is now upon us, not to be lost as we rush headlong into the holiday season and more twists and turns ahead. We are better than that.
There is a common thread running through most of the mass killings we have seen in recent years: A deranged gunman gets his hands on a gun, usually a semi-automatic, and rapidly cuts down innocents before anyone can stop him.
Clearly, we must find better answers for the mentally unstable. We have the ability to recognize the characteristics of those more likely to commit such acts of violence, and we must do more to provide long-term treatment.

But just as clearly, we need to change our culture of guns. There is something terribly wrong in a nation that has some 300 million guns floating around, easily accessible to the mentally ill. Of the 62 mass shootings in the U.S. over the past three decades, more than three-quarters of the guns used were obtained legally.
Obama: ‘These tragedies must end’

Unless we act to change our laws as well as our culture, we will all be enablers when the next loner strikes. The blood will be on our hands, too.

Experts can come up with precise policy prescriptions that will allow us to maintain the constitutional freedoms of the 2nd Amendment while also changing our gun culture. Contrary to what the National Rifle Association says, it is very possible to do both. What is needed immediately is a conversation determining what principles we want to establish — and then action to realize them. From my perspective, there should be at least three basic principles:

FIRST: To own a gun, you must first have a license — and it shouldn’t be easy to get. The right parallel is to cars: Everyone over a prescribed age is entitled to drive. But cars are dangerous, so we first require a license — determining that you are fit to drive. Citizens have a right to bear arms, but guns are dangerous, too. So, get a license.
There are a number of issues with our current system of state-based permits. First, variation in gun regulations from state to state deeply complicates enforcement efforts. Arizona, for instance, allows concealed carry without any permit, while its neighbor California has implemented the strongest gun laws in the country. We must design a sensible federal gun control policy to address the current legal chaos.

As we construct a federal licensing system, we should look to California. The state requires all gun sales to be processed through a licensed dealer, mandating background checks and a ten-day waiting period; bans most assault weapons and all large-capacity magazines; closes the nonsensical gun-show loophole; and maintains a permanent record of all sales.

SECOND: If you are a civilian, you can’t buy an assault gun. Hunters don’t need military style weapons, nor do homeowners who want to be able to protect their families. They are far too popular among people who shouldn’t have access to guns in the first place.

We should restore the federal ban that has expired.

THIRD: Parents should be heavily advised to keep guns out of their houses and out of the hands of kids. No one wants to blame the poor mother of the Connecticut shooter, but everyone wonders why she kept so many military-style guns in the house, so accessible to her son. It’s hard to believe, but roughly a third of households with children younger than 18 contain at least one gun. In too many neighborhoods in America — not just in big cities — parents who don’t allow guns in their homes are apprehensive, even frightened, by their kids playing at homes where they are kept.

Some years ago, no one thought that we could change our tobacco culture. We did. No one thought that we could reduce drunk driving by teenagers. We did — thanks in large part to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Years from now, no one will note what we say after this latest massacre. But they will hold us morally accountable for what we do. To honor all of those who have been slain in recent years — starting with the first-graders in Connecticut — we should highly resolve to change our culture of guns.

9 Responses to Honor the victims — with action (CNN)

  1. Bert Kaplowitz says:

    You stated so much of what most Americans are thinking and feeling. Your editorial should be mandatory reading for all members of Congress.
    Thank you.

  2. Gary says:

    I grew up in Portland, OR in the 50′s. I’m 68. We were hunters, we had guns and I still own hunting guns. These days all the emphasis is high capacity pistols and assault rifles. These aren’t “guns”, they are killing machines. The Republican party has turned something pleasant (at least for me) into something monstrously evil

  3. Kirk Lyman-Barner says:

    Thank you for your great article. I would expand the closing though to beyond the culture of guns, for they are just a tool. We need to change the culture of violence as a means of solving our problems.

  4. Linda Reeves, M.D. says:

    I totally agree with you! This is the best commentary I have seen, as far as practical solutions. I’m a pediatrician with 30 years experience in primary care, public health, and teaching. Here’s my take on this…which I wrote the day before I saw your article!

    ALERT…Public Health Emergency! Death by violence, officially known in statistics as Assault/Homicide ranks #2 as the cause of death in young people!

    As a physician, I have wondered for years why this cause of death is not dealt with in the same way as other leading causes of death. Granted, the numbers for heart disease and cancer look higher, but all of us have to die eventually, and if we live to get old, we will probably die of heart disease. It is time for us to think sensibly about what is killing YOUNG PEOPLE. For all age groups aged 1 through 44, Homicide is in the top 5 causes of death. It’s #2 for ages 15 – 24. (Cancer ranks just below homicide in these age groups.) This is true for all US citizens combined, regardless of race or gender.

    This week, our entire nation is devastated, and rightly so, by the deaths of 20 innocent children in one town. What we fail to realize, is that on any AVERAGE day in the US, 34 people die by assault/homicide. EVERY DAY, just not always in the same town. These people are aged 1 to 44, most of them are 15 to 34.

    (Based on 12,527 people aged 44 and younger killed by homicide in 2009. Reference: Heron, Melanie. October 26, 2012. “Deaths: Leading Causes for 2009.” National Vital Statistics Reports Vol. 61, Number 7, retrieved 12/16/2012 from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_07.pdf)

    What is our normal response to public health emergencies? It varies, but usually we manage to get something done. In most cases, the “something” involves changing the vector of the problem in some way. We develop vaccines against nasty infectious diseases. We put seat belts in cars. We subject car bodies to rigorous crash tests, with public reports of how safe the various cars are. We put childproof caps on pill bottles. We put up barriers to keep cars from crossing the median. We know from vast experience that simply telling people not to drive their cars into other peoples’ cars DOES NOT WORK!

    Yes, these types of solutions are a bit inconvenient. Many people don’t like seatbelts. People are inconvenienced by childproof lids, and some people have to get exceptions. We pay more for safer cars. The results: less dead kids, less dead and disabled young adults. Most rational people think it’s worth it.

    What am I getting at here? Well….it’s about GUNS. They aren’t safe. Maybe things would be better if we told 500 million people every single day…do not point this at someone else and pull the trigger. But I doubt it. And instead of doing that, people sit down every day in front of the media and in front of video games and watch people pointing at other people and pulling triggers and nothing bad actually happens. Plus, people can go out and legally buy guns capable of “pulling the trigger” over 100 times in just a few minutes. Maybe people need to be inconvenienced by not having such devices. Then maybe there would be less dead kids, less dead and disabled young adults. Maybe we have a “teachable moment” and people will say, “It’s worth it.”

  5. Ken in Seattle says:

    One thing that might help the effort is to change the way in which surveys ask the question about gun control. There are likely far more people who support controlling guns that are not made specifically for hunting, than support all encompassing gun control. Lumping hunters in with everyone else creates more opposition to control than might otherwise be the case. Also, most commentary does not do enough to emphasize that no one is proposing going after hunting rifles. It tends to be a qualifying comment made after hunters have the all encompassing “gun control” firmly planted in their minds.

  6. Richard Risden says:

    America has enabled permissive and illogical behavior. For my 21st birthday and a college student in Arizona, a friend went to the local liquor store and bought me a six-pack of beer and a Winchester deer hunting rifle- same store. Today in California you can gas up your car and go inside and buy a six-pack of beer-yet we hear all the DUI’s that are killing innocent people. Illogical and senseless as are all these mass shootings.I was drafted into the Army in the late 60′s and went to basic training at Fort Lewis in Washington which is quite wooded. When we went to the firing range with our M-16′s, we were reminded to not shoot any deer that might be roaming about on the range and if you did so “You will be court-martialed” and that ” these guns are for killing people and not deer”. The Army had it right. Yet, our lawmakers continue to espouse permissiveness and the illogical and we as citizens must pay the price as a result. Indeed, Now is the time for the lawmakers to take the moral responsibility and make the changes necessary to make America more safe.

  7. Melinda says:

    Thank you for your inspirational message. It has stayed with me. Just seeing all the petitions being signed regarding gun control and legislation illustrates how deeply so many of us feel regarding this tragedy. Together we can make a difference and in agreement – the time is now. We can all help everyday in simple and subtle ways by just being more aware of people’s behavior, alerting others involved when possible and showing more kindness. Thank you again for your eloquent commentary.

  8. Gary says:

    Civilian ammo is much more dangerous than military ammo. Military ammo has a full metal jacket that just pokes a hole in a human body. Civilian ammo is built to expand and explode in your body. That kind of ammo was outlawed in the 20′s Geneva Conv after the carnage in WW1. They should start by outlawing that kind of ammo including stocks that now exist. Civilian guns are really more deadly that the military. What a nice idea!

  9. forex says:

    Fuck you all Forex bustards

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