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Our Opinion: Seek compromise to secure schools, prevent shootings

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Seventeen people lost their lives, and before the bodies were cold, partisans were mining the tragedy that unfolded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for political talking points.

Opportunists on the left seized on the mass shooting as prima facie evidence that the United States needs strict new gun control laws, and their reactionary counterparts on the right predictably bleated that bureaucrats were coming to confiscate hunting rifles from proud patriots’ gun safes.

The debate’s reignited after each mass shooting and the warring factions trade high-caliber hyperbole until they shout each other to an uneasy stalemate.

While levelheaded folks may find some room for compromise, we caution against formulating public policy on the basis of raw emotion and knee-jerk reaction. As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted, hard cases can make bad law.

Banning the manufacture and sale of the AR-15, the semiautomatic rifle used in the Parkland, Florida massacre and other school shootings, would be one such hysterical overreaction. ArmaLite-platform weapons are not the military-grade monsters they’re made out to be. Their prevalence in mass shootings is due not to ballistics, but to the copycat phenomenon.

Gun shop owner and master firearms instructor Dean Hazen tells USA Today that most mass shooters are novices who choose the AR-15 because of its inflated and reviled reputation. “There are rifles that are more powerful and more dangerous than that, but they’re not being used,” Hazen explains.

That said, there are commonsense, middle-of-the-road reforms that could reduce the potential for another deadly school shooting.

BETTER BACKGROUND CHECKS

President Donald Trump on Monday expressed support for strengthening the federal background check system to keep guns from buyers who are already legally barred from obtaining them.

White House officials said Republican Sen. John Cornryn had received the president’s backing for a bipartisan bill to beef up the FBI’s database of individuals prohibited from buying guns.

“The president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Even Second Amendment stalwarts can agree that felons and domestic abusers shouldn’t be able to slip through the cracks and buy guns by exploiting faulty reporting systems.

MENTAL HEALTH ASSESSMENTS

Procedures to restrict the sale of firearms to individuals suffering from mental illnesses should be enacted as a safety measure, but the process must balance public safety with due process. If combat veterans battling PTSD fear they’ll have their homes raided and weapons seized the moment they seek treatment, many may avoid asking for the help they desperately need.

Patients who have not committed any violent crimes must have the opportunity to petition for the restoration of their rights after undergoing treatment. Courts of competent jurisdiction should have the final say with consideration given to the expert opinions of mental health professionals.

Access to firearms should be restricted to ensure patients’ and others’ safety, but the process must be handled compassionately. Being mentally ill isn’t a crime, and a precaution shouldn’t be treated like a punishment.

SECURING OUR SCHOOLS

Whether guns are legally purchased, bought on the black market or stolen, some will always find their way into criminals’ hands. Preventing another Parkland requires enhanced security measures that will stop would-be killers from gaining access to innocent children and teachers.

Metal detectors and armed guards have been in the headlines, but there are vital physical safety upgrades that should be considered first. They include bulletproof glass, steel roll-down doors and external locking mechanisms that can frustrate efforts to force open classroom doors.

Using sworn law enforcement personnel rather than non-sworn guards as school resource officers, as is common in North Carolina, drafting emergency plans and holding lockdown drills are essential to reducing the risk of a deadly attack.

Allowing teachers to carry firearms after completing safety and marksmanship training is a controversial proposal, but it must be investigated, along with the installation of metal detectors. If such extreme measures foiled one attacker and saved one life, most would consider them worthwhile.

School security should be at the forefront of the debate, not merely an afterthought or counterproposal. Whether or not gun laws change, mass shooters are criminals and criminals break the law. Those who would harm our children and teachers must be met with stout defenses up to and including deadly force.

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