The Times West Virginian

April 11, 2013

Proposed gun control bill is good way to start dialogue

Times West Virginian

— Proponents for gun control legislation point to a tragic case that could have been prevented had a complete background check been implemented on gun purchases.

Had information about the mental health hearings of Seung-Hui Cho been included in the NCIS database, the senior Virginia Tech student may not have been able to purchase firearms and ammunition and subsequently shoot and kill 32 people and wound 17 others in 2007.

We would point to another, more recent case that hits closer to home.

Tennis Melvin Maynard shouldn’t have been allowed to purchase or own a gun. Yet while a gun dealer performed the legal and necessary background check, Maynard bought a weapon that police say was used to kill Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum on April 3.

“It appears the local dealer did what was legally required under the law,” Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks said. “The breakdown happened somewhere else. There was a delay in the reporting of the necessary information. Really, an inexcusable delay.”

That kind of inexcusable delay might not happen in the future if the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act passes, a bipartisan bill introduced by the two most conservative members of their respective parties in the Senate — U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

The deal announced Wednesday aims to expand background checks to more gun buyers, a move that could build support for gun control legislation intended to curb firearms violence. The proposed legislation expands existing background checks to gun shows and online sales, bans the federal government from creating a gun registry, offers an appeals process before veterans lose their rights to bear arms, and creates a panel of non-elected experts to study the causes of mass violence in our society. The legislation also assists states with future grant money to be put toward creating systems to send records to NCIS.

“While the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, Conn., has elevated the gun safety conversation, we cannot sacrifice our Constitutional rights out of fear. It is our obligation to keep our children safe and to protect our Second Amendment rights and I truly believe we can and must do both,” Manchin said Wednesday following the announcement. “As I have said from the beginning, this is not simply a gun issue. We need to keep guns out of the hands of convicted criminals and the mentally ill while also bringing together a group of experts to look at all aspects of our culture of mass violence.

“Violence destroys the dignity, hopes and lives of millions of Americans. We have a unique opportunity to stop this epidemic here and now — but only if we can put politics aside and take a look at all aspects of our culture of mass violence.”

According to information provided by Manchin’s office, the bill does not infringe upon anyone’s Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms; take away anyone’s guns; ban any type of firearm; or ban or restrict the use of any kind of bullet or any size clip or magazine.

Despite the bipartisan development, the fate of any gun control legislation is quite unclear. There is strong opposition from the National Rifle Association for expanded background checks. Many conservatives within the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-run House have expressed displeasure, too, including an effort by Republican senators to block even the consideration of the measure.

We’re not saying Manchin and Toomey’s deal is the be-all, end-all legislation that will curb gun violence in the United States. But it represents a place to start the dialogue. It represents putting party politics aside to move toward the greater good, something we’ve seen seriously lacking in Washington, D.C., for four years. It starts the debate, instead of using procedural tricks to prevent it from happening.

We see hope in this bill for those reasons. And we hope the debate starts today.

“People should listen to what we have to say and move the debate forward,” said Mark Barden, who lost his 7-year-old son, Daniel, in the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “It’s not just about our tragedy. Lots of kids are killed every day in this nation. We have to help lead the change.”