Editorial: Uncomfortable truths about stopping gun violence

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Last Monday, three days after a mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., and two days before the slaughter in San Bernardino, Calif., Worcester Mayor Joseph M. Petty called on fellow mayors to make Dec. 14 a yearly statewide gun buyback day.

Mayor Petty


Mayor Petty

Dec. 14 is the third anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It bears noting that there have been at least 1,044 mass shootings since Sandy Hook.

Emotive language, like “slaughter” and “massacre,” and referring to those who carry out mass shootings as “terrorists,” underscores the raw emotions of coming to grips with the needless killing of innocents.

Those emotions, unfortunately, make it difficult if not impossible to engage in a practical, worthwhile and much-needed national discourse on the issue of gun violence.

To engage in this type of discussion, hard truths would have to be acknowledged. Such hard truths would be:

  • The guns used in the 15 most recent mass shootings were purchased legally;
  • There are approximately 270 million guns in United States owned by civilians, and only 897,000 carried by police;
  • There is no pending legislation, nor will there likely ever be, to remove those 270 million guns from circulation;
  • Proposals for expanding background checks would not affect guns in circulation;
  • In 2015, it is near absolute certainty there will be no gun control efforts passed by Congress after the Senate on Thursday voted down a proposal for additional background checks;
  • Statistically speaking, it is a near absolute certainty there will be more mass shootings that result in the killing of innocents. Indeed, America has averaged more than one mass shooting a day through 2015, using the metric of four or more people killed or injured in a single incident.

So what are we as a nation, and as a community, to do? Here are three things to consider.

First, President Obama is contemplating using an Executive Order “to close the so-called gun show loophole that allows thousands of people to buy firearms each year without a background check.”

This approach mirrors that of President Clinton, who, after passing the Brady Bill and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban with a Democratic Congress, took to issuing Executive Orders later in his presidency when legislation was a practical impossibility.

Second, Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisc.) said he will advance legislation to overhaul the nation’s mental health delivery systems.

“What we have seen — and a common theme among many of these mass shootings — is a theme of mental illness,” Ryan told “CBS This Morning” on Thursday, Dec. 3. “And we need to fix our mental-illness laws, our policies. They’re outdated. And that is something that we are working on right now.

“A lot of these people are getting guns who are mentally unstable, who should not be getting guns. And this is a gap in our laws that we feel needs to be filled,” he said.

Third, Mayor Petty’s advocacy of an annual statewide gun buyback.

“There have been so many mass shootings: Aurora, Virginia Tech, Charleston, Umpqua, Littleton, Fort Hood and so many more. The list just keeps growing. I can think of no better way to remember this and every other tragedy than by honoring it with a day dedicated to gun safety,” Petty said in a statement. “This is not just about getting guns off the streets, it’s about making sure that if you have a gun in your home, that it’s secured. It’s about safer streets and healthier homes and making sure that the violence we saw in Newtown doesn’t happen here.”

The common thread is each person is doing what they can do and trying to achieve that which is possible.

The continual focus on that which is not possible in the current political climate, such as expanded background checks and other meaningful gun-control measures, should not stop us as individuals or as a community from doing what can be done.

Donate your time or money to a group lobbying for gun control, write letters, send emails, make phone calls, attend rallies. Do whatever you like, but do something. Do what you can do.

The political climate will change and gun-control advocates will have their moment. However, this will not happen soon. The question for all of us is, What will we do until that day comes: something or nothing?

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