Editorial: ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ don’t cut it. Students want action

The sign held by Addison County resident and student Griffin Louer at a gun-control rally in Montpelier (captured on the front page of this newspaper) says it all: In handwritten script were the words “thoughts and prayers” with a line drawn through them; below that in large type were the words “Policy and Change.”
That thought captures the frustration and anger these students, and many residents throughout the country, feel toward a Congress that has turned its back on gun-control time and time again, and opened their pockets to the campaign contributions of the pro-gun lobby. No longer, these students are saying, will they allow their elected congressmen and women to get by with the empty phrase, “our thoughts and prayers are with you,” while they fail to take any action to stop the horrific slaughter of school children across the nation.
“Do the math,” says another sign held by local student and resident Lily Isham, “more guns = more deaths.” And so it is. American has more guns per capita than any other country in the world (112.6 guns per 100 residents, compared to Number 4 Switzerland with 45.7 or No. 7 Iraq with 34.2 guns per person.) In high-income countries, America has three-times the number of gun-related deaths (102 per million people compared to the next highest: 36 in Finland) as noted in a worldwide 2010 report, while South Korea and Japan both posted zero deaths and the United Kingdom only two deaths.
America also leads the world in mass shootings. From 1996 to 2012, the U.S. had 90 mass shootings, compared to 18 in the Philippines, 15 in Russia, 11 in Yemen and 10 in France. And more recent years have seen mass shootings escalate in the U.S. Just since Jan. 1, 2018 through Feb. 14, America has already witnessed 30 mass shootings, according to data by Gun Violence Archive that defines a mass shooting as when four or more people are shot at and injured or killed, resulting in more than 60 deaths and more than 115 injured in the first 46 days of this year.
Nations around the civilized world look at our inability to stop this carnage with bewilderment. Why, they wonder, is one of the richest, strongest, most innovative countries in the world not able to do anything about such reckless gun violence?
There is one undeniable answer: Congressional Republicans have pledged allegiance to the NRA. It has been part of their political strategy that whatever the gun lobby wants, it gets, and in return the NRA delivers votes and money. With their blind allegiance to the NRA, they have increased the risk to the public — and that goes for a few Democrats, Independents and Progressives, who blindly support the NRA as well. But primarily, it has been Republicans who have steadfastly defeated sensible gun control laws in Congress. That history is well documented for all to see.
What the gun debate is not about is defending the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. That’s the God-and-Country rhetoric the NRA and far-right drape around this flag-weary issue, but their argument has little merit. In none of the gun restrictions most frequently cited are reasonable people being asked to give up their right to bear legitimate arms.
On the contrary, sensible gun laws include: banning assault rifles like the AR-15 that terrorists and mass murderers find so effective in mowing down hundreds of innocent people every year; tougher background checks to ensure terrorists, criminals and the mentally ill can’t just walk in and buy a gun off the shelf; and laws that would allow law enforcement officers to restrict the possession of guns in incidents of domestic abuse.
These are not ideas that intrude on the reasonable rights of law-abiding Americans to possess firearms for their use and protection.
But there is a key word in this debate that must be defined: “reasonable.”
Is it reasonable, for example, to be able to buy a tank-busting firearm used in military warfare, and capable of blasting through the walls of a school building from half a block away? No, it’s not. Nor is it reasonable for your average citizen to buy off-the-shelf hand grenades or other military weapons made for mass destruction. These restrictions are already in place. So, let’s agree that there is a “reasonable limit” on the types of military weapons that an individual should be able to buy.
On the flip side, is it reasonable to be able to buy a shotgun or any single-shot rifle? Absolutely it is — for sport and also for self-defense. The same is true for handguns and semi-automatic weapons.
But the AR-15s, or an AK-47 machine gun, were designed as a military weapon to kill high numbers of people in battle, but which are being used all too frequently in mass shootings in the United States. Is that a reasonable weapon to sell to any individual without at least a background check? Can’t we find some common ground to restrict such purchases?
And accessories like bump-stocks, large-capacity magazines for ammunition, and other means of creating weapons to kill large numbers of people should similarly be scrutinized under this same criteria: that is, what is “reasonable” for an individual to be able to freely buy versus what is the potential harm to the public, especially school children but also innocent people at a country western concert in Las Vegas, or a night club in Orlando, or a Sunday gathering at a church in rural Texas.
It’s a given that Americans will likely always have a culture far more accepting of gun ownership than other nations in the developed world, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a culture that has a moral responsibility with that privilege and right.
There are signs of hope. This current student-led revolution has a chance to enact some of these sensible gun control measures if the majority of Americans, who polls say support such measures, stand behind them and threaten to toss elected officials out of office if they don’t listen.
In Vermont, these students and other have brought fresh attention to several gun control measures, and we’re pleased to note that the Addison Central School District board adopted a resolution this week urging the state legislature and Gov. Phil Scott to adopt four specific measures: S.6, a bill in the Senate urging universal background checks; H.422, a bill allowing law enforcement to remove guns from the scene of domestic violence; S.221, removing guns when a person shows signs that threaten or endanger others (mental instability); and H.876, prohibiting bump-fire stocks that can make semi-automatic weapons perform like machine guns. The resolution also urges the Legislature to draft and pass a measure to prevent the possession, sale or manufacture of military-style assault weapons.
Gun control measures will help considerably, but they won’t solve the problem by themselves. Detecting mental illness and treating it must be part of the solution, as well as helping students and teachers identify troubled classmates and learn how and when to speak up — as one student recently did at Fair Haven Union High School — before it’s too late.
Nor are we opposed to increased security at our schools, whether that is in the form of more armed guards or allowing teachers with proper training to have firearms nearby. Today’s students are demanding action, and as Gov. Scott said the other day, all options should be on the table.
Angelo Lynn

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