The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 28, 2013

Other Views: Difficult debate ahead

The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.

— On the same day President Obama was proposing a package of gun control measures, Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken stated his support for limiting high-capacity ammunition clips and expanding background checks.

But he omitted any reference to a ban on military-style weapons. When a reporter asked a Franken spokesman what gun restrictions the senator might support, the aide said, “I guess I don’t have an answer for you.” Franken, who faces re-election in 2014, later said he wants to see the specifics in any legislation but supports a ban “on principle.”

And there’s the rub on how any of these initiatives will fare going forward. On some issues, Americans are somewhat in agreement. Even the president of the National Rifle Association on Thursday said the group was generally supportive of strong background checks on firearm purchases.

But overall, we are a divided nation with roughly half believing in more controls on gun ownership with the other half wanting greater protection on gun ownership.

In determining how we should advance we found little concern — and some encouragement — in the 23 executive orders issued by the president.

The encouraging signs were those that addressed mental health issues. The order called for finalizing regulations “clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements with the ACA exchanges and committing to finalizing parity regulations.” Those regulations have been long ignored.

Sadly what was omitted in the directives is any study or review on the effects of violent movies or computer games that may be contributing to the violent nature of our young society. This has been cited by many but is a woefully understudied aspect in the debate.

The challenge has been thrown down by the president to our legislators to develop the proper measures needed to curb of gun violence. There are many that will argue banning certain weapons or ammunition is merely punishing those who had nothing to do with gun violence while ignoring measures that clearly prevent criminal actions.

On the flip side, there are credible arguments that restrictions on certain weapons is no more onerous on the Second Amendment than preventing people from falsely shouting “Fire!” in crowded theater impinges on the First Amendment. We just need to define more carefully what those acceptable restrictions are in today’s society.

But debate we must, for in our representative form of government, the U.S. Senate should begin this debate using the directives of those they represent to fashion such laws that make up the kind of society in which we want to live. Citizens should add their voice to this debate. It’s not an easy one and will require the Senate to listen to reasonable, rationale citizens — not lobbyists — to fashion an acceptable answer.

— The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.