Response to shooting requires different approach

In response to the senseless tragedy in Newtown, Conn., many elected officials and some people in the news media have proposed reinstituting a ban on some semiautomatic weapons.

While well-intentioned, this measure will do little more than satisfy the conscience of its backers, while again failing to protect innocent Americans from future tragedies. After all, let’s not forget that the previous semiautomatic ban failed to protect the victims of the Columbine tragedy, the North Hollywood shootout and other extreme acts of violence.

Further restricting the Second Amendment will only succeed in disarming law-abiding Americans, while doing nothing to further restrict firearm access to irrational individuals intent on carrying out heinous crimes such as the Newtown school murders.

By definition, criminals hold contempt for the law, and they certainly don’t care what kind of weapon they use to carry out their terror.

It is illegal for anyone to sell or provide firearms or ammunition to someone he suspects of being mentally incompetent. Yet despite such strong laws, the per capita rate of federal weapons prosecutions in 2011 was down 35 percent from its peak during the previous administration.

Instead of renewing the partial semiautomatic weapons ban that lawmakers permitted to expire in 2004, President Obama and his law enforcement agencies should enforce existing gun laws that a majority of Americans support.

At the same time, the administration should focus its time and funding on removing the stigma associated with, and improving, the identification and treatment of mentally ill individuals.

A weapons ban requires the cooperation of madmen intent on death and destruction, making it an ineffective step that misses the broader point. We must put aside the pandering to the American public and the easy short cuts that make people feel better, but in reality don’t make us any safer.

Instead, we should work toward a sound way to keep all firearms out of the hands of those whose mental illnesses make them a danger to themselves or others. To do anything less would be a failure that we, as a society, cannot continue to tolerate.

Congressman Don Young represents Alaska in the U.S. House of Representatives. This piece first appeared in USA Today.

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