Time to have a difficult conversation about guns
It's another week in America, and another mass shooting at an American school.
Once again, we have been flooded with images of unthinkable violence, this time at a high school in Parkland, Fla., where 17 students and staff were killed and more than a dozen injured last Wednesday.
And once again, amid the shock and horror, it was impossible to ignore the same statement, which presented itself over and over again across news channels and social media: "We offer our thoughts and prayers."
It's a statement we hear every time something like this has happens. It's a statement we're tired of hearing.
Oregonians know, too well, what it means to be in the national spotlight when someone with a gun opens fire in a public place. We know what it feels like because we've been there.
We were there when it happened in 1977 in Klamath Falls. It happened again in 1981 in Salem, and again in Eugene in 1984. It happened at Thurston High School in 1998 and at Springwater Trail High School in Gresham in 2007. It happened outside a Portland club in 2009 and at Clackamas Town Center in 2012. It happened on June 10, 2014, at Reynolds High School in Troutdale. It happened on Oct. 1, 2015, at Umpqua Community College near Roseburg.
After each of these incidents, people asked whether now was the time to have that "serious conversation" we've been needing about gun violence and gun safety. Each time we were told not to let our emotions get in the way. We were told that "now is not the time."
We were told that lawmakers were keeping us in their thoughts and prayers.
If we were hoping the Trump adminstration would offer anything different in the wake of last week's shooting in Florida, the president's speech on Thursday doubled down on those platitudes.
"Our entire nation, with one heavy heart, is praying for the victims and their families," President Donald Trump told the nation in a televised statement on Thursday.
More thoughts, more prayers.
After years of burying our children, we're sick of hearing that. And so is Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway, who tweeted his feelings last week after hearing the news the Florida death toll had jumped to more than a dozen.
"I'm tired of rote responses," the mayor posted Feb. 14. "Maybe our responses need to be the answer to each other's prayers. I think it's time."
The following day, U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici told federal lawmakers that more is needed than thinking and prayer.
"Kids are still being murdered in schools," she said. "The prayers are not enough. We must act."
We agree. Lives have been ruined. Families have been torn apart. Children have died. Let's stop offering thoughts and prayers and start focusing on real, tangible results.
There was one part of the president's speech we did find promising:
"To every parent, teacher, and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you — whatever you need, whatever we can do, to ease your pain," Trump assured us. "We are all joined together as one American family, and your suffering is our burden also."
"Whatever we can do," the president said. Let's put that to the test.
Coincidentally, last week, Oregon lawmakers voted on a bill that would bar people convicted of domestic violence and stalking from owning guns.
The bill aims to close the so-called "boyfriend loophole." Under the current law, only people convicted of domestic violence against their spouses are barred from owning guns. This new legislation, which passed the Oregon House of Representatives and is headed to the Senate, expands the number of domestic violence abusers prohibited from owning firearms.
That bill wouldn't have stopped the school shootings we've seen, but it might have kept Kate Armand alive.
Armand reportedly left her husband, James Tylka, after multiple incidents of domestic violence — corroborated by police investigations, according to the Washington County District Attorney's Office, although charges were never filed. She received dozens of threatening text messages from Tylka following their separation.
Tylka purchased a semi-automatic Springfield XD Mod.2 handgun on Christmas Eve 2016. The following night, he shot and killed Armand after she dropped off their daughter at Tylka's mother's home in King City. He then shot Oregon State Trooper Nic Cederberg a dozen times after being chased to Sherwood.
Cederberg, a law enforcement veteran stationed at the Oregon State Police's North Plains work site, spent weeks in the hospital but survived the ordeal.
There are other bills at the federal level which could also help.
The weapon used in last week's massacre in Florida was a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle, the same type of weapon used at the shootings in Las Vegas, Orlando, Fla., and Newtown, Conn.
President Bill Clinton tried to outlaw AR-15s back in 1994, but loopholes in the law allowed the guns to continue, and when the ban expired under President George W. Bush, sales surged. Today, the AR-15 is the nation's "most popular rifle," according to the National Rifle Association.
Several Democratic lawmakers in Congress introduced a bill last November to reinstate the assault weapons ban, expanding it to include 205 "military-style assault weapons," including the AR-15. The bill would ban firearms that contain detachable magazines.
That bill is opposed by the NRA and other gun advocacy groups, who say that not everyone who owns an AR-15 is a criminal. They're right about that. The alleged shooter in last week's massacre, Nikolas Cruz, 19, purchased the weapon used in the attack legally, too. He passed a background check. Nothing about Cruz raised red flags, under Florida law.
But Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie was right when he told reporters last Thursday that "a real conversation on sensible gun control laws" is needed in this country.
"Our students are asking for that conversation," said Runcie, a day after yet another American massacre unfolded on one of his school district's campuses. "I hope we can get it done in this generation — but if we don't, they will."
Because the horrifying truth is that until change happens, we will continue to put our children at risk every time they go to school, or to the mall, or to the movies, or to a baseball game.
Maybe these laws are the right answer, and maybe they aren't. But we must put everything on the table if we're going to stop the violence.
Otherwise, we have to live with the knowledge that the next time we put our children on the school bus, or drop them off at school, we could be kissing them goodbye for the last time.
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