Again and again the United States mourns a mass shooting, most recently in Texas. Before that, Las Vegas, Orlando, Virginia Tech. Street violence in cities like Oakland, Detroit and Chicago is alarmingly familiar. Many in the media, government and social media have called for change, asking when will we stop sending thoughts and prayers and do something about gun violence.
There is a bipartisan bill moving through the U.S. Senate currently that may help improve one important aspect of gun violence in our nation. Crafted by Sen. Chris Murphy, the Murphy-Cornyn bill ― S. 2009 ― is co-sponsored by 32 colleagues and supported on both sides of the aisle, would require all gun sales to include a background check, including sales at gun shows and over the internet.
At a time when once again the country seems hopelessly divided on the question of gun ownership, the bipartisan Murphy-Cornyn bill is a fig branch.
Passions run high on both sides of the gun debate, Second Amendment rights vs. gun control. The ability to protect oneself and loved ones from violent crime vs. the option of removing weapons from the public domain to protect everyone from gun violence. Safety is the bottom line for both sides. The Murphy-Cornyn bill represents a compromise within this debate.
Because of my doctoral work in population health, I consider gun violence a health problem just like diabetes or obesity. This lens allows me to see the problem of gun violence both on the individual and community levels. I am able to listen to both sides of the argument and find the commonalities. As a nurse practitioner in Chicago, I have known many people directly affected by gun violence in their lives, and have seen the devastation it causes to those left behind. And as a person working and living in the city of Chicago the discussion is personal. The seemingly unfettered violence in some areas of our city is devastating.
But is the answer to gun violence to remove personal protection from law-abiding citizens to prevent crime?
A common sense approach to agreement should include elements from both sides of the opinion. These could include a limited number of lawfully permitted handguns or rifles for personal use, perhaps including a requirement for training and licensure on each weapon class prior to permit issuance. Safe storage of weapons as recommended by most firearms organizations including the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, could be mandated by law rather than suggested.
Automatic weapons and assault weapons would be illegal to own for private citizens, including collectors, allowing only law enforcement and military possession of these weapons. Many states have legislation pending which would do this already, but many, like Illinois, have significant opposition. One argument is that these legally owned guns would become illegal to own, which may cause government interference in the matters of a private citizen. This argument is difficult to overcome for some.
Additionally, despite states rights, transport and sales of firearms over state lines has to be more tightly controlled. As recently shown by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s Gun Trace Report, guns in many cities with tough gun laws can be traced back to areas with lax gun control.
These elements are not a part of the current legislation, but every journey begins with a first step. Every worthwhile journey includes difficult bumps in the road. Gun violence certainly has these. To ensure the measures are achieving the intended goal, Thom Dunn in Upworthy suggests we study trends and make adjustments as needed in order to continue down the road toward improvements in violence rates.
Although I grew up in a rural environment and around guns, I was strongly anti-gun when I moved to Chicago in the mid-’90s. Then a respected colleague shared his thoughts about the Second Amendment with me. He spoke logically and thoughtfully about self-protection, and was the first to describe a handgun as a tool. He was also the first person that said to me that a person in your home without your permission is not there for any altruistic reason, and it is okay to protect your family. It took me a few years of working side by side with him, and after having a family of my own, to understand his words completely.
The Pew Research Center in 2014 studied the relationship between political compromise and policy. They found that the vast majority of Americans prefer compromise, specifically in relation to gun policy. Since the majority of Americans want compromise, it is necessary to come up with a compromise that will work for the majority of Americans. Congress should continue to work together towards a common goal as outlined above. The gun lobby’s funding will have to take a backseat to public safety. Similarly, gun control groups will have to take a step towards the middle, and attempt to hear the average gun owner discussing what their needs are. This is not a time to take sides but to listen to each other and find a sensible compromise.
Raechel Ferry-Rooney DNP, APRN, is an assistant professor at Rush University College of Nursing, and an adult nurse practitioner at the University of Illinois Medical Center. She is a Rush Public Voices Fellow.