Guest Commentary 

The mayor calls for a real conversation about gun violence

Another Jan. 8 has come and gone.

Tucsonans will never forget that day, two years ago, when we lost so many good people to an unspeakable act of violence.

In the days and weeks that followed, Tucsonans felt grief and outrage. Yet we were determined not to let this incident define us.

That determination fueled spontaneous memorials and vigils. It also founded an organization—The Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding—and launched an annual event, BEYOND.

Since Jan. 8, 2011, and before the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., there have been at least 11 mass shootings in the U.S. There have been countless other instances of gun violence, gun suicides and gun accidents.

Most of the guns involved in these tragedies are intended to kill people, not animals. Many are intended for war.

We are decades overdue for a conversation about passing common-sense gun laws. The long silence on this issue has brought us to a point where—even after Newtown—an NRA representative feels free to threaten to sue the city of Tucson for allowing gun owners voluntarily to turn in their guns to be destroyed.

I believe the people of Tucson don't care much for bullies, or threats. The right to bear arms is not a requirement to bear arms. Anyone with the right to carry a gun has the right to have that gun destroyed.

We require folks who drive a car to get a license, which means they have to pass two tests—written and driving—plus an eye exam, registration and insurance. We do this because cars have the potential to kill.

Guns also have the potential to kill.

We must, at the federal level, require background checks for all gun sales. We must fund the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System adequately. We must make sure that states submit records in a timely manner so that NICS has up-to-date information on who cannot and should not own a firearm. And no civilian needs an assault weapon or extended magazines for hunting or protection.

These are positions supported by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which represents the 63 largest police departments in the U.S. and Canada. As Tucson's police chief, Roberto Villaseñor, said in a guest editorial after Newtown, the Second Amendment "was not designed to prohibit any and all restrictions on gun ownership or gun production and sales, and it is past due for meaningful action to bring responsibility and common sense into the arena."

We need to talk about health care for the mentally ill and societal violence, too. But these conversations should not distract or divert us from passing common-sense gun laws. In fact, these other problems highlight the need for them.

In Tucson, we know this. As a number of the survivors of Jan. 8, 2011, have reminded us, we cannot wait any longer to have this conversation. As Mark Kelly, husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, said at the shooter's sentencing,

This horrific act warns us to hold our leaders and ourselves responsible for coming up short ... for not having the courage to act when it's hard, even for possessing the wrong values. ... We have a political class that is afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws and how they are being enforced. We have representatives who look at gun violence, not as a problem to solve, but as the white elephant in the room to ignore. As a nation we have repeatedly passed up the opportunity to address this issue. After Columbine, after Virginia Tech, after Tucson and after Aurora we have done nothing.

We cannot add Newtown to that list. We cannot do nothing.

We need to summon the determination we felt two years ago, on Jan. 8 and in the days, weeks and months that followed, to show that, "This is not who we are." We need to take that determination and say, finally, "Never again."

More by Jonathan Rothschild

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