Let’s have a reasonable discussion about guns and mental-health services

Guest Editorial
There are some basics on which we can agree:

• Our children deserve a quality education.

• Their learning environment should be safe.

• People with mental illness should have access to the care they need.

The issues of guns in our society as well as the mentally ill were thrust into the national spotlight earlier this month when Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Our initial shock and national mourning over such a horrific act has unfortunately morphed into largely predictable talking points and extreme arguments, on both sides, over gun control.

One week after the tragedy, the top lobbyist for the National Rifle Association called for armed security in every school in America. While the idea can be debated, Wayne LaPierre presented the NRA’s position in such a defiant manner and with such loaded language that it is difficult to accept the position as a serious attempt at dialogue.

LaPierre’s statement was littered with comments not conducive to a reasonable discussion, such as: “The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters.”

He then went on to blame the makers of violent video games and accused the media of failing to point the finger at that industry.

On the other end of the spectrum, gun-control advocate and filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted that he favors repealing the 2nd Amendment. “We repealed the Prohibition amendment. The 2nd amendment is not relevant today unless you use a musket,” Moore tweeted on Dec. 21, the same day as LaPierre’s press conference.

Were LaPierre and Moore provocative? Of course they were. But neither was terribly constructive and won’t likely contribute to a meaningful national conversation about guns in our society.

President Barack Obama has asked his administration to investigate and bring forward proposals for ways to reduce gun violence. He has also tasked the team, which is being led by Vice President Joe Biden, to look at ways mental health services can be improved in this country. An examination of the mental-health system, and finding ways to make it better, should be an important outcome of the task force — but so far passions have been focused on arguments over guns. And so it is there that we must make the loudest call for reasonable, constructive debate.

It is important to note that President Obama made a point of saying he believes in the 2nd Amendment and that the “vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible.” In showing respect to gun owners while calling for tighter controls, President Obama was appealing to the common-sense middle of America. Let’s keep the conversation there instead of allowing it to be hijacked by the special interests and harsh advocates on either side.

Let’s face it: the 2nd Amendment isn’t going anywhere. Nor is it reasonable to think we will, even if we could afford it, put an armed guard in every school in America.

The Obama administration’s task force is a serious one and it should be taken seriously by all sides. Let’s allow the administration to do its work and bring its proposals forward. And once it does, let’s have a respectful, productive debate on the merits.