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Oct. 6, 2017

Condition precedent: The decision to act

We all need to buy into this increasingly existential gun control crisis.

Slomanson william

By William Slomanson

I am a gun owner. From a distance, I look much like the Las Vegas shooter: white, male, older and comfortable in just a T-shirt. Given that revelation, some left-leaning readers will not reach this third sentence. Some of my faculty colleagues may be stunned, upon learning that there is a gun owner in their midst. Some right-leaning readers will not proceed past this first paragraph, opting instead to shun another gun control plea. Reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel, there are now 59 sounds of silence at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas.

The reaction to the mass shooting in Las Vegas will become déjà vu all over again. A familiar trilogy of responses will reoccur. Today, we mourn the victims, pray for their shattered families, and thank the first responders. Tomorrow, we will momentarily rekindle the never-ending gun control debate. On the final day, we will return our national attention to health care, tax reform, and other important issues−which the living have the luxury to contemplate. But at the end of the day, families shattered by gun violence across the nation will once again remember that the silent majority has forgotten them.

One could read volumes about whether the Second Amendment is so fundamental, that it cannot be subjected to further limitations. Alternatively, one could Google all the failed gun control measures which could have been enacted. But an immobile cart seems to have come before the horse: a nation must first embrace the national resolve to facilitate a meaningful dialogue.
In the coming days, dueling banjo pundits will focus on the outer contours of the quarrel. On the one hand, we will be told that the constitutional right to bear arms is too fundamental to be diluted. On the other, headstrong insistence on zero tolerance for private gun ownership does nothing to advance a practical solution. Because society has become as polarized as ever in our lifetimes, nothing will come of failing to pursue life-saving centrist positions.

Mass shootings should not fade, once again, from our communal consciousness -- until the next mass shooting briefly jars our very core. State and federal political leaders, now more willing than ever to tackle populist issues, should be equally eager to engage in round-the-clock discussions aimed at ameliorating this bloody stain on the American landscape. The Gabby Gifford incident was apparently not enough to keep the gun control issue on a leading edge of the congressional table. To keep the memory of the deceased victims alive, more executive, congressional and judicial leaders should not have to be violently attacked. Nor should we citizens perpetually wonder whether attending a concert, game or any public gathering is too risky to enjoy it.

We all need to buy into this increasingly existential gun control crisis. We need to take personal responsibility for endowing these deaths with an enduring lifespan. I was an enlistee who never touched a rifle until my military service. I marched one weekend, while others were on liberty, as punishment for my inexperienced fear of picking up a pistol on the military firing range. I opted for the responsibility of becoming an expert military and NRA shooter in order to better serve my country. In civilian life, I took steps to be morally (not just legally) entitled to gun ownership, premised on the survivalist adage that it's better to be tried by twelve than carried by six. As of late, with the alarming increase in mass shootings, I have been writing op-ed pleas for more rational gun control regulations.

Assuming the pen is mightier than the sword, it is my hope that others will respond by doing something to ameliorate the pain that senseless gun violence has wrought upon Las Vegas, and many other comparable venues. What that something is begins with a condition precedent: the decision to act, rather than shrug. For example, have you ever sent a personal letter to your congressperson?

William Slomanson is professor emeritus and adjunct professor of law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.


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