There were pools of tears and screams that filled the air over the last week as the nation and the world suffered through a series of horrific shootings. From Charlotte, N.C. to New York City's Time Square to the Navy Yards in the nation's capitol to the bloody streets of Chicago, grief and sorrow were felt as loved ones were lost or wounded in these shooting incidents. Then there were the shootings in the Kenyan shopping mall on the other side of the world. All of these incidents have the gun debates raging once again. There are some who argued that having the gun control debate is a knee jerk reaction and unlikely to produce any results. The nation's experience with gun control makes those arguments compelling. However, just because viruses are hard to battle, that does not mean that we should stop our efforts to find cures or at least new treatments that help to heal the illness of gun violence.
There is no question that gun control efforts that seek to expand background checks on gun purchases, that create mechanisms to check for mental illnesses before allowing individuals to purchase weapons or regulations aimed at controlling the sale and distribution of high capacity magazines, can have protective effects on the extent of gun violence in this nation. We must change the paradigm of the gun control debate. If we are to move forward and make any progress, the gun debate must focus on anti-violence and the illegal distribution of guns. We also must bring the NRA into the debate as allies.
The debate, if you will, should not be focused on the constitutionality of the right of possession. That debate has been well determined by the United States Supreme Court. The Second Amendment is not the issue. The NRA should be convinced to join the discussion of how to enhance the mental health laws of this nation and be encouraged to work with inner city groups that are fighting desperately to stem the tide of illegal gun possession and the violence that is associated with it. These efforts should also include working with Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
To do this, we must get past the Willie Horton syndrome. That is using the face of gangs and inner city youth as the primary argument for why citizens should be armed to the teeth, including possessing assault weapons with high capacity magazines. If we were working with urban groups, if we were seeking how to support with both charitable dollars and government monies programs that can engage our youth and provide real alternatives to just a life on the streets, then we could go a long way towards ridding our communities of illegal weapons and the need to prove oneself through the use of gun violence.
In other communities the issues do revolve around expanded background checks and mental health. Shootings such as the one at the Washington D.C. Navy Yard this week or in Aurora, CO or Sandy Hook, CT; were done by individuals that appeared to have mental health issues, but possessed legally obtained weapons.
This begs the question of how is it that communities that are improvised such as inner city Chicago or nations like Somalia have access to an abundance of weapons. We must bring common sense and common decency to the effort to secure our communities against the worst of gun violence. It is often said by the likes of the NRA that guns don't kill, people do. Fewer illegal weapons on our streets and fewer legal weapons in the hands of those not medically fit to possess them will increase the use of roses for something other than gun related funerals.
Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation's highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network's crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City's House of Justice.