We’ve now seen President Obama’s proposals to curb gun violence, and like every other issue we face, they bitterly divide us.
But perhaps there is one thing we can all agree upon — the need for law-abiding gun owners to handle their weapons safely.
The president’s plan includes universal background checks for all gun sales as well as a ban on the sale of military-style semiautomatic weapons, ammunition clips that hold more than 10 rounds, and civilian possession of armor-piercing bullets. Those initiatives all require congressional approval, and in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, they deserve a full hearing — even if fierce opposition by Republicans and silence from moderate Democrats make them unlikely to survive.
Other parts of the proposal would strengthen mental health services; encourage police departments to hire school resource officers; pay for additional school psychologists, social workers and counselors; and expand federal research on illegal gun usage. Those ideas reflect the belief that we must take practical steps to protect our children but also start addressing the underlying causes of violence.
All of those initiatives become meaningless unless we improve gun safety.
The president wants a review of safety standards for gun locks and storage, as well as a federal review of firearms safety technology. Most important of all, he plans to launch a national campaign to promote gun safety.
President Obama is not popular in Elkhart County, where concerns about his gun-control plan led nearly 175 people to apply for handgun permits in the first 11 days of the month — long before the president announced his proposals Wednesday. That’s more permits than the sheriff’s department processed in all of January 2011.
Steve Evans, who owns Granger Guns, told an Elkhart Truth reporter that business started picking up when lawmakers “started making noise about regulating guns.”
Other gun shops report increased sales as well. At ZX Gun in Goshen, owner Ryan Stoy estimated that business had increased six-fold since the Newtown, Conn., shootings.
Some of those buyers already own guns. Some are buying their first weapons. But in either case, owners must place firearms safety before all else.
Sheriff’s Capt. Jim Bradberry explained the point simply.
“If you decide to carry a firearm or have one in your home,” he told a Truth reporter, “you really need to make sure that you pay a little extra money to get training if you’ve never handled a firearm before, and make sure you’re up to date on the laws as far as what to do for protection. Most of the time, people get a handgun permit because they want to protect themselves, so they need to make sure they are aware of what they can and cannot do.”
No matter how the debate turns out in Congress, we can at least agree on this — as a nation of gun owners, we must place a priority on firearm safety. All of us.