Guns don't kill people; mentally disturbed people with easy access to guns kill people. The problem is simple and obvious. The solutions are anything but that.
After every senseless mass murder — Paducah, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and so many others — a predictable pattern emerges:
Gun-control advocates call for more gun control. Mental health advocates call for more diagnosis and treatment. Religious people say these tragedies wouldn't happen if (their) religion were taught in public schools.
Then, this happens:
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The gun lobby stirs up fear that any restrictions are a first step toward government confiscation of all firearms. That fear, plus a lot of money, allows the National Rifle Association to cow politicians into complacency.
Insurance companies and taxpayers decide that effective mental health care is too pricey.
Religious people decide it is too much trouble to work with other denominations and faiths — and those who profess no faith — to oppose elements in society that glorify violence. Many of them pay to see Hollywood's shoot 'em up blockbusters, or turn a blind eye as their children play violent video games or listen to gangsta rap.
Will this time be different? Maybe.
The gun lobby's response to the killing spree in Newtown, Conn., has been predictable: blame everything except guns. The NRA called Friday for armed guards in schools. The gun lobby has always argued that America would be safer if more people carried guns — as if anyone wants to live in a society where everyone is armed to the teeth and any dispute can end in gunfire.
But other responses were different. Several pro-gun members of Congress and other conservatives acknowledged that some common-sense gun-control is needed. President Barack Obama said he would propose legislation early next year to curb gun violence, which killed more than 11,000 Americans last year.
The politics may have shifted because of the circumstances of this atrocity — 20 first-graders, six brave educators and the shooter's mother murdered in cold blood in an affluent New England village.
Timing may be a factor, too. Newtown happened 11 days before Christmas. Members of Congress won't stand for re-election for almost two years. The president just began his second and final term.
Here's the challenge, though: finding sensible middle ground on gun control. The NRA has been wrong to oppose any gun restrictions. But those who want to ban most or all guns are wrong, too.
A sweeping gun ban wouldn't solve the problem, any more than Prohibition stopped drunkenness or the "war on drugs" has stopped drug abuse. It would only punish and could even endanger law-abiding citizens. Still, limiting access to the most lethal weapons is essential to any solution.
That is why law-abiding gun owners must step up now and help figure out the sensible middle ground. That includes thousands of gun owners in Kentucky, which a recent study indicates may be the nation's most heavily armed state.
I come from a family with many guns, none of which have ever hurt anyone. I have enjoyed hunting and target shooting. I'm a good shot, and I'm proud of it. I understand why people want guns for sport, collecting and protection.
But I don't understand why anyone but soldiers and police officers should have combat-style weapons with high-capacity magazines like those used repeatedly to inflict mass carnage on innocent people.
I also don't understand why all people owning semi-automatic weapons should not be screened to see if they or members of their household pose an obvious risk to public safety.
I don't understand why guns should not be subject to licensing requirements at least as stringent as motor vehicles. (Spare me the anti-government paranoia.)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to own guns. But the ruling was clear that gun rights are balanced against public safety rights, and lawmakers can impose restrictions.
"Like most rights," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, "the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited."
The time for stonewalling is over. Gun enthusiasts must stop hiding behind the Second Amendment, just as media moguls who pedal carnage as entertainment must stop hiding behind the First Amendment.
Responsible gun owners must engage in an honest public discussion about public safety and sensible gun control if they are to have any hope that the results will be sensible. Freedom isn't free; it comes with responsibility.