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Editorial: Wringing hands not answer for gun violence

The pop-pop-pop of gunfire headlines continues. Two more school tragedies – one at a Portland-area high school, one at a Seattle university. Two Las Vegas police officers are slain execution-style in a restaurant shooting reminiscent of the Lakewood, Washington, assassinations that claimed four police officers five years ago.

Meanwhile, the public can’t decide what it wants done, and our leaders are frozen by the debate. Is this good enough? Is it acceptable? Apparently, it is, because not much has happened since 20 schoolchildren were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. Many thought the massacre was so horrific it would galvanize the nation. Instead, it has created divisions.

Since Sandy Hook, there have been at least 74 more school shootings, USA Today reports. Some were accidental; some were suicides. Some, like the six students killed at UC-Santa Barbara, were homicides. After each school shooting, the hand-wringing has commenced, but little action has been taken.

Schools have improved locks, ramped up lockdown drills and limited entryways into buildings. Some districts have armed school resource officers. Some, like Spokane Public Schools, still are trying to achieve that goal.

These are all sensible moves, but access to weapons hasn’t been limited. And despite widespread support, the Washington Legislature could not muster the will to pass a background check bill for private gun sales. So, two competing measures will be on the ballot this fall to confuse voters.

In Idaho, the Legislature passed a bill to allow people with concealed carry permits to bring guns onto college campuses. This wasn’t in response to a specific event, and it was adopted over the objection of college presidents and campus law enforcement. In Washington, the number of people with concealed carry permits tripled between 2005 and 2012, according to the Seattle Times, with women leading the surge. The state’s rate for hidden handguns is now fifth in the nation and outpaces Texas. The Lone Star State requires training before it issues a permit. Washington does not.

Fear has filled the leadership vacuum. If the government won’t protect people, they’ll protect themselves. Or try. The Las Vegas shootings had a third victim, a man with a concealed pistol who told a friend he was going to confront one of the cop killers. Instead, he was fatally wounded.

The most common deaths by handgun are suicides, which don’t draw any media coverage unless they punctuate homicides. In 2010, a total of 19,392 people committed suicide by firearm, while 11,078 people died in gun homicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Easy access to guns is a factor and sales have boomed in recent years.

American entertainment comes in for some of the blame, but we’re not the only country with violent video games and gory movies. Ours is not the only country with mental health issues. However, we do stand out when it comes to the volume of guns and how frequently they’re used.

The connection is unavoidable, but what isn’t clear is what people want done about it. One thing is for certain: hand-wringing alone doesn’t work.


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