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Business Casual: Targeting Safety

There was a time when the word safety brought to mind the white-belted boys (and it was always boys, never girls) in my elementary school who ascended to the lofty rank of Safety Patrol members. It was their job to assist fellow students with after-school street crossings and carpool departures, supplementing the work of the police officer stationed in front of our yellow-brick building.

They got to leave class five minutes before dismissal time to don the prized belt and an aura of responsibility and prepare to keep the rest of us safe. I don’t know that the 12 year olds selected for safety patrol duty inspired confidence individually – they lobbed their share of spitballs and made faces behind the teachers’ backs like most grade schoolers – but collectively they stood as a symbol of the community’s commitment to the well-being of its members.

Of course such communities were different back in the day – certainly not all Norman Rockwell-style innocence as we are tempted to tell ourselves. But different, nonetheless.

For one thing, they were largely undisturbed by mass murders as everyday occurrences and the likelihood of a sick creature in Las Vegas with an arsenal of weapons used to assassinate 59 human beings or a crazy man in Texas with an assault weapon used to slaughter worshippers in church.

No matter how familiar rampant violence and random acts of evil have become, these stand out. The sheer ordinariness of the settings – a concert, a Sunday service – as backdrops to such horror is hard to wrap your head around.

And yet. Violence occurs on college campuses, at daycare facilities, in office buildings, in tree-lined suburban neighborhoods, on city streets. There really is no place to hide.

But what to do? And surely we must do something. The familiar gun control debate is raging, with advocates pleading for checks on the availability of semi-automatic weapons and opponents reciting all the reasons they cannot support such checks.

How quickly we have incorporated “bump stock” into our vocabularies – a reference to devices that increase and intensify the speed of semi-automatic rifles – a fairly arcane phrase until the Las Vegas shootings.

Still, I keep coming back to that word safety and wondering if using it instead of the word control would have any effect on the debate.

I’ve often been struck by the fact that both advocates and opponents of more stringent regulation of firearms invoke the safety rationale. Advocates want the deadliest of weapons made illegal so they will feel safe from the dangerous people who procure them and wield them. Opponents of gun control want to be able to carry their own weaponry as protection against the same dangerous people.

Is it completely Pollyanna-ish of me to wonder if there might be some common ground? Could we put the focus on safety rather than control – make it harder to purchase guns, since apparently it is not hard enough already to prevent crazy folks from getting them.

Can we find the loopholes and the cracks that mentally unbalanced gun buyers keep falling through, without infringing on the rights of responsible purchasers?

Can we look at regulating the secondary markets – gun shows, private sales – or even standardizing requirements among states?

Can we require gun safety training for certain kinds of weapons – jointly monitored by, say, the National Rifle Association (NRA), retired law enforcement, ex-military and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence? Could fees for such training go to shooting victims or their survivors?

Is there any point on which the two sides of the gun issue could agree?

I pretty much gave up on anything resembling gun sanity when the slaughter of six year olds at Sandy Hook Elementary School did not produce any kind of bipartisan, passable legislation. But I am wondering whether the post-tragedy words from the NRA signaling a possible willingness to consider some bump stock regulation might indicate a sense that public sentiment is continuing to move toward some deterrents.

Sadly, there is no cadre of responsible young people with white belts and a touchingly sincere commitment to keep us from harm, but I long for the comforting sense of someone looking out for the communal welfare.

There has to be a solution that will move us in the direction of safety, and I hope our leaders will find it. I wish I were more confident.

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