The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 17, 2013

Perfectly American quandary


Daily Item

---- — The question for today is not what can we argue about, but rather what can we do together about gun violence?

In the month since the Newtown, Conn., elementary school murders, we have all had an opportunity to state and re-state ideas about gun rights and gun safety. Many voices have been heard.

According to a national poll conducted Jan. 9-13 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Americans by 51-45 percent say it is more important to control gun ownership than to protect the right of Americans to own guns.

At the same time gun rights advocates are twice as likely to have contacted a public official to advocate a position on gun policy.

So more safety regulation has the majority and protecting individual rights has the intensity. It is a perfectly American quandary, majority rule tempered by minority rights.

Still, two possible policy directions have emerged with a broad consensus from this national conversation: Universal background checks on gun buyers, including sales at gun shows (backed by 85 percent of Americans) and preventing people with mental illness from buying guns (80 percent).

We can see why President Obama's policy prescriptions focus on universal background checks and more anti-bullying efforts, training for teachers, counselors and principals and funding for school counselors and resource officers.

That is where opinions converge and a governing consensus is possible.

There is also apparently broader appeal for addressing military-style assault weapons and extended ammunition magazines than there has been in the past few decades. But that could pivot the conversation.

Let's acknowledge how far the pendulum has swung in the direction of extreme interpretations of gun rights. In pushing for greater safety too hard, too far, too quickly, there is more risk of pushback that will shatter a brittle emotional consensus that forms these majorities for background checks and professional analysis.

Remember, the goal is to achieve results, not score politically polarizing debating points. Politics is the art of the possible. In politics, the road to progress is paved in compromises.

Let's set aside our narrow, hardened differences and work with broad areas of agreement.

Greater acceptance founded on unity of opinion will move us forward and honor the lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary, a place where surely respect, kindness and cooperation were the lessons of the day, until that very last day.