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Gun Violence is a Safety Issue, Not an Infringement on our Rights

by Dave Arnold

When the lives of 20 young students and several educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School ended in a hail of bullets, we were all affected. Deeply. The loss of life at Sandy Hook shook us all to our bones.

The incident also stirred the long-simmering controversy over the scope of the Second Amendment and an individual’s right to keep and bear arms. Since the massacre at Newtown, Connecticut, I have witnessed a definite change in America. Nearly everyone I know has been drawn or dragged into the debate on what legislation should be introduced in Congress and state legislatures.

Gun control legislation is now being debated with a new fervor. So, I think it is a good time to not only discuss the Second Amendment, self-defense, and the right to keep and bear arms, but also how to make it harder for criminals and people with violent mental illnesses to get their hands on deadly firearms.

I’m a sportsman who loves hunting and target shooting. I’m also a school custodian who loves children to no end. As you might expect from an education support professional (ESP) like me, or from a teacher or anyone who works at a school — we would never compromise the safety of students.

There hasn’t been much proposed gun legislation that I would be in full agreement with, but I do see merit in legislation on background checks and other commonsense measures to help prevent more tragedies like Sandy Hook. It’s a safety issue.

Being from Illinois, I adhere to provisions of gun ownership. Every gun owner in Illinois must file for and carry with them a Firearm Owners Identification card (FOID). In Illinois, residents must have the card with them when they have a firearm in their possession and when they purchase a firearm or ammunition.

Whenever a firearm purchase is made, they are then subjected to a background check by the Illinois state police. They must then go through a mandatory waiting period: 24 hours for a rifle or shotgun, three days for a handgun. No one under age 18 can purchase a firearm or ammunition and no one under 21 can purchase a handgun. Anyone underage can only use a firearm while under the direct supervision of an adult who has a FOID card.

I’m in favor of expanding background checks, though some people argue that the FOID card is an invasion of privacy since a background check must be done before the card is issued and each time a firearm is purchased. After tragedies like those in Newtown, Aurora, Colorado, Blacksburg, Virginia, and other communities, we can’t take any chances.

The FOID card also contains a chip that permits the owner to be tracked by the state police computers. Yes, Big Brother is watching, but my thinking is: If you’re legal and honest then you don’t have anything to hide.

If you read newspapers, watch TV, and listen to the radio, you know how complicated gun control legislation is these days. You might also know that there are preventative measures that can be taken which involve schools. 

When the U.S. Senate failed to pass common sense background checks for gun purchases (the vote was 54 — 46, just short of the needed 60 votes to pass), National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel explained the need for preventative measures and commonsense gun legislation.

“We must dramatically expand our investment in mental health services,” Van Roekel says in a press release. “Proper diagnosis can and often starts in our schools, yet we continue to cut funding for school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists.”

Safety and prevention. That’s key. Newtown gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, had been beaten and taunted by classmates while a student at Sandy Hook Elementary. There are media accounts on how his mother had considered filing a lawsuit against the school because her son would come home from school with bruises over his body. Now, put that next to news about states cutting at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.

“It is well past time to reverse this trend and ensure that these services are available and accessible to those who need our support,” Van Roekel says. “We must also continue to do more to prevent bullying in our schools, an epidemic that can often precede violence.”

I think whether you are on the right or left or in the middle of gun control issues, it should be clear after Newtown, Columbine, the Boston Marathon bombing, and other tragedies, that legislation requiring a simple background check for commercial gun purchases would be a crucial first step toward reducing gun violence in America.

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, writes the online column, Dave’s View. He can be contacted at darnoldjanitor@yahoo.com.)

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of NEA or its affiliates.

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Dave Arnold: This school custodian and former Illinois Education Association ESP of the Year is a published poet. But most Association members know him best from the editorials -- Dave's View --