Guns are part of life in Eastern Oregon, and that won’t be changing anytime soon.
But President Barack Obama will try to change some narrow and considered regulations about guns in the time he has remaining in office. This executive action will certainly set off the paranoid, as well as the haters of the president, of which there are many. But perhaps we should take a deep breath before expelling vitriol, pointing our muzzles defensively at the door and denouncing the tyranny of our federal government.
Is it possible there is a way to respect our country’s long and important tradition of firearms, yet make this a safer place to live?
We would argue: Yes.
The stark reality of America’s tide of gun violence is easily understood from the vantage point of our northern neighbor, Canada, or our industrialized ally, Japan. To people living in those countries, America appears barbaric in its willingness to tolerate massacre after massacre, knowing that children are prey in many of them.
The president stated his case in a column published recently by The New York Times.
“Gun deaths and injuries constitute one of the greatest threats to public health and to the safety of the American people,” wrote Obama. “Every year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns. Suicides. Domestic violence. Gang shootouts. Accidents. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost brothers and sisters, or buried their own children. We’re the only advanced nation on earth that sees this kind of mass violence with this frequency.”
For decades, we could have no national conversation about guns. Our government was forbidden from studying their effects and the frequency at which they were involved in American deaths.
Any politician who dared to say anything about guns — especially moderate Republicans — were overthrown by a well-funded and cutthroat gun lobby.
Yet during that time, the Pew Research Center has been polling Americans, asking if they are in favor of protecting gun rights or controlling gun ownership. The result has been reliably against gun control (not only because “protecting” and “rights” are words with positive connotations).
Just in the last year, however, the tables have turned. Roughly 50 percent of responders said it is more important to control gun ownership, compared to 47 percent who said it is more important to protect the right of Americans who own guns.
But drill down farther, and a large majority of Americans agree on some narrow, responsible gun legislation.
Should there be universal background checks before buying a gun?
Nearly 86 percent of Americans said yes.
Should you be banned from buying a gun if you’re on the terrorist watch list?
More than 90 percent of Americans say yes.
Should people with a history of mental health problems, or domestic abuse be banned from owning a gun?
More than half of Americans say yes.
Should there be a waiting list to buy a gun?
Nearly 80 percent of Americans say yes.
Should the U.S. reinstate and strengthen the ban on assault rifles?
Roughly 60 percent said yes, in 2013.
(These poll results are all according to Gallup.)
The key is to try think anew about this vexing problem. Guns are an inexorable part of American culture, and our ability to keep them is written into our Constitution. That can’t be messed with. Gun owners of Eastern Oregon will be able to continue to own and enjoy firearms to hunt, to target shoot, to protect against crime. They can continue to showcase their family heirloom shotgun.
But there are ways to be smarter and safer, and we’d be crazy not to at least start to study those possibilities, especially with the advent of new technologies that our founding fathers could never imagine. That starts with overturning the Dickey Amendment, which even Rep. Jay Dickey agrees should be nixed. That would restore funding for the Center for Disease Control, who could then again study guns and their effects, and make recommendations for making them safer. That is what this country does with automobiles and children’s toys and out nation’s food supply, so why should guns be different?
It won’t solve the problem — terrorists will still terrorize, murderers will still murder, accidents will still happen. But it will likely save lives, perhaps one in Eastern Oregon. That by itself makes executive action worth considering.