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What can really be done about gun control?

Gun control legislation remains a hot topic at both the national and state levels, despite being overshadowed by impeachment proceedings and tax reform

Several initiatives around the country are sidestepping the polarized legal debate about gun control and bringing together gun retailers and health professionals to prevent firearm suicides. Kristin Murphy, Desert News

Gun control legislation remains a hot topic at both the national and state levels, despite being overshadowed by impeachment proceedings and tax reform. Polls show increasing support among Utahns and citizens nationwide for action. Keep your hand away from your holster as we explain and explore.

A representative sample consisting of more than 1,000 Utah registered voters were surveyed in Analytics poll showing that some 88% of respondents support requiring background checks on all gun sales; 87% wish to prevent sales to those deemed dangerous by a mental health professional. Other gun control provisions like three-day waiting periods and age restrictions were supported by a majority of respondents. Why is there now a shift in public opinion in favor of gun control?

Pignanelli: “I have a love interest in every one of my films: a gun.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger

Books and television programs with the dystopian theme of Soviet or Axis Power domination of North America (i.e. “Amerika,” “Man in High Castle,” etc.) are very different but do share one common theme — the Rocky Mountain region is labeled “neutral” or “autonomous” or “unoccupied” zones. Even in these fantasies, the authors clearly understand that westerners — with guns they love — can repel any foreign invaders.

Utahns are a peaceful, well-armed people steeped with deep basic common sense. They are troubled and alarmed by the dangerous mentally deranged with high-powered weapons. So recent mass shootings compel expressions of their concerns to pollsters with recognition of background checks and other measures to enhance safety.

But such statements to a series of questions are not a departure from customary views. The use and care of guns for traditional activities (i.e. hunting, sports shooting, etc.) are a legacy for many Utah families, including mine. Thus, a substantial majority of respondents concurred in the poll, “It is the responsibility of families and communities to solve the problem of mass shooting in the United States”. While some measures are acceptable, overreaching attempts to regulate gun ownership that interfere with our local heritage will be resisted.

Whether in tales of fact or fiction, Utahns’ relationship with guns demands understanding by advocates on all sides of the issue.

Webb: We have all seen too many mass shootings not to be concerned about gun violence, even though, overall, gun-related crimes are declining in our country. Citizens obviously want action — even, apparently, symbolic action that won’t really have much impact. Pervasive and unrelenting news coverage of innocent people being killed have understandably created a furor to “do something.”

I own guns, but I favor reasonable gun legislation. I’m fine with background checks, “red flag” laws and I certainly support better mental health assistance and better identification of potentially dangerous people. I oppose bans or confiscation of semi-automatic rifles.

But I question whether many of these measures will really do much to reduce gun violence. Law-abiding people, me included, will obey reasonable gun laws. Trouble is, criminals, by definition, won’t. It’s criminals who murder people. With 300 million firearms out there in America (and 55% of Utah households have guns), with more sold every day, not many practical ways exist to control guns.

One area where some gun control measures could be effective is with suicides. Easy access to a gun can be deadly for someone contemplating suicide. Even regarding suicide, however, the answers are complex and difficult.

Because a strong majority of Utahns want some action, will gun control legislation be passed in the upcoming Utah legislative session?

Pignanelli: Because 2020 is an election year, enactment of legislation is unlikely. Outrageous comments by national politicians (“Yes, we are coming to get your guns!”) are spooking voters and creating obstacles for productive discussions. However, there is potential of a task force or some committee study to review and develop modifications, along with proper messaging, for legislative deliberations in the future.

Webb: A variety of gun laws will be introduced. I’d like to see a reasonable “red flag” law passed. But it’s doubtful that much of substance will be enacted. Human nature being what it is, action might depend on how fresh the horror of a mass shooting is.

Will Congress do anything on gun control, especially in the midst of impeachment?

Pignanelli: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly declared he would not consider gun legislation until President Donald Trump requested such. Trump, and much of Congress, will distracted on other matters for many months. Anything soon is unlikely.

Webb: Politicians will try to convince us they’re working hard in Washington, solving the problems of America. Don’t believe it. Anything they do will be small potatoes.

When something bad happens they will, as usual, express outrage, demand investigations and find someone to blame. Otherwise, it will be all charges and countercharges over impeachment, and little else will be accomplished. Dysfunction and gridlock prevail.