OPED: Inaction on gun violence not an option
Americans are fed up with this nation’s gun violence epidemic. It is intolerable.
Horrific accounts of deranged mass murderers using military-grade assault weapons to indiscriminately spray bullets into crowds of innocent people has become part of the regular news cycle. Lives are lost, families are destroyed and communities paralyzed.
It’s time for reasonable people to find reasonable solutions.
We must take strong steps to prevent gun violence and mass shootings by banning combat-grade semi-automatic weapons from civilians. We need to get guns away from criminals and mentally ill people who are bent on violence.
During my years as co-chair of the state Senate Game and Fisheries Committee, I had the opportunity to meet often with law-abiding hunters, sportsmen and gun enthusiasts. Very few believe that assault weapons have any practical or rational use. Most also support limited efforts to keep firearms away from criminals and the mentally ill. In fact, around 90 percent of Americans favor reasonable gun control approaches.
Politics and entrenched extremist views must be put aside. Lawmakers must come together and find reasonable and workable solutions. Not next week, next month or after the next election. Now!
I have introduced two bills that would help prevent gun violence and mass shooting tragedies — without infringing on the rights of people who hunt or use firearms for protection.
My bills would:
- ban the sale and use of 150 different models of military grade semi-automatic assault weapons -- as well as gun magazines that have a capacity of more than 10 rounds; and
- empower family members to petition a court to temporarily suspend an individual’s access to firearms if they can prove that the person is threatening harm to themselves or others.
My assault weapon ban proposal would mirror a law enacted in Connecticut after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In the case of last week’s Lakeland, Florida tragedy, the teen suspect used an AR-15 semi-automatic style weapon during the massacre. While it’s true that semi-automatic weaponry comes in many shapes and sizes, there are certain military-inspired semi-automatic rifles that have been the weapon of choice for mass shooters.
These military-grade weapons have no legitimate place in civilian life. They have no useful purpose for hunting or self-defense. They are designed to slaughter masses of people quickly. It sickens me that an 18-year-old teenager was able to legally obtain such a deadly weapon with ease.
My other bill is in response to family members and police officers who have been frustrated by how difficult it is to get firearms away from loved ones in crisis. When someone is telegraphing their plans to lash out with a firearm, our courts need the authority to temporarily suspend their access to guns.
My bill would enable family members to ask a court to implement an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) in cases where an individual has threatened harm to themselves or others. Modeled after domestic and sexual assault protection orders, a court could require an individual to surrender their firearms to the police during the suspension period — which could last for up to a year. The individual would have the right to request a hearing to have the ERPO order rescinded.
Around 42 percent of mass shooters exhibit warning signs or concerning behaviors before they commit a crime.
We cannot hope to prevent the next mass shooting by acting as though an assailant carrying a military-style weapon and shooting masses of innocent people is somehow a tolerable price to pay to preserve gun rights. It is not acceptable to shrug our shoulders and attribute these sickening episodes to some vague modern “cultural” breakdown in American society. We must take reasonable steps to do what we can, right now — before the next troubled mass killer with an axe to grind takes aim.
This opinion essay was submitted by state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny.