The gun conversation moves on to accountability

Perhaps last week you read the column of responses to my invitation to join the conversation. The conversation centers on solving the issues that lead to gun violence, particularly the kind that results in mass deaths. It began with the story, “Gun ownership 101,” that laid out what should happen in a responsible firearm transaction and subsequent responsible ownership.

But we all know that is the best case scenario.

In the worst cases, we, being the public, are forced to stand witness when people who should not have had access to weapons take it upon themselves to take many lives. We tend to focus on hindsight in those cases. But, of course, by then hindsight has minimal value.

Yet, if we are serious about solutions, we must visit the realm of hindsight. It is there, in the lead up to some of our worst moments, that we may find that crucial turning point where something could have changed the outcome.

So the conversation shifts.

I think we know that, at least in the foreseeable future, guns will remain a part of our lives. With that given in mind, we must look to those who shoulder the responsibility of gun ownership.

To that end, here is a comment from someone who carried the conversation further. Please keep in mind that this comment is part of a longer discourse between neighbors, some of whom are National Rifle Association supporters and some who are not.

“Because (our friend and neighbor) was brave enough, strong enough to cross the divide and initiate a conversation with us, and follow up by sharing this terrific article (referencing ‘Gun ownership 101’ that appeared in The Messenger on May 20), I want to move the ball along a little. I’ve been thinking along a different line since last week. 

“Focusing on school shootings, I’m thinking that:

“1 — Not one was committed with a weapon, no matter which state, that was purchased privately or from a private seller. Each involved a straw purchaser (non-prosecuted) or a weapon owned legally by a parent who SHOULDN’T or did know they were living with a mentally ill person or was purchased after passing the NIMS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System).

“In addition, at least six including FL. (Florida), happened after federal, state, military or local officials failed to heed warnings or enter data that would’ve stopped the legal purchase.

2 — So I think we need to consider severe penalties for any official who fails in his or her duty to enter data into the NIMS system in a timely manner. 

3 — I also think we need to hold relatives legally accountable who keep weapons in a home or accessible to an individual with mental issues. Families know when members are being counseled or are having mental issues. For instance, the Sandy Hook shooter’s mom had an arsenal of weapons, kept them under lock and key, but her son tortured her to obtain the key and then killed her. It was criminal for her to have had those weapons in a volatile situation.

 “I’m just trying to find some solutions that would actually PREVENT the next mentally ill person from obtaining a firearm.

“What do you all think about this?”

I don’t know about you, but I think this is an excellent segue into a word that is mandatory to this conversation: accountability.

We are all held accountable for our actions. If we rear-end the driver in front of us, we are held accountable. If we write a bad check, we are held accountable. Why, then, should we not task the owner of a firearm with perhaps one of the ultimate challenges to accountability, and by that I mean keeping the firearms they legally own out of the hands of someone who should not be trusted with a firearm?

Yes, this is a Medusa of a task. Target shooting with someone else’s gun with their permission is one side of Medusa. Giving a person who has, through their own behavior, caused themselves to be flagged as a risk, access to a firearm is on the other side.

The writer who commented above points out that too often there have been warning signals that are dismissed with tragic results.

So here’s this question of the week: Where do we draw the line?

And how.

How do we draw a line that isn’t crossed? In the case of Sandy Hook, that one seems perfectly clear. Mom, rest her soul, shouldn’t have had guns around a son who so obviously exhibited warning signs.

Easy hindsight, isn’t it. But, again, we can’t live for hindsight.

How do we get to accountability first?

Jane Curtis is editor of The Messenger.

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