Opinion: Partisan solutions on guns inadequate

Why did this happen? How can it be prevented from happening again?

These are the questions asked after gunfire erupted at the conclusion of the Kansas City Super Bowl parade that left one person dead and dozens injured — including 11 children.

Citizens turned to the government for answers.

Yet the solutions proposed by elected officials differed along partisan lines.

Most Democrats consider guns a primary threat to safety. They cite thousands of gun deaths and injuries as evidence, including horrific mass shootings. To mitigate risks, and to safeguard the well-being of everyone, stricter regulations that control gun ownership are required.

Most Republicans consider guns crucial for self-defense. Responsible gun owners can protect themselves and others from those who intend harm. Making access to firearms easier, not harder, empowers law-abiding citizens and contributes to a safer society.

These radically different approaches frustrate anxious citizens, fuel partisan discord and often result in legislative paralysis.

It’s in fact astonishing how few politicians grasp the value of collaboration after such traumatic events.

Party agendas come first.

If gun laws are modified, it’s typically due to the legislative dominance of one party.

For example, six months after a deadly mass shooting in Maine that resulted in the deaths of 18 people and injuries to 13 others, the Democrat-led legislature passed various guns measures, including 72-hour waiting periods for gun purchases, expanded background checks and a ban on devices that convert guns into rapid-fire weapons.

After a school shooting in Iowa, where a school principal and sixth grade student died and several more were injured, Republicans passed a bill allowing trained teachers and staff to carry guns on school property. It also required large districts to have an armed security officer at each high school, unless the school board opted out.

Polling in Kansas and Missouri suggests strong support for gun measures including criminal and mental health background checks and requiring people to be 21 or older to purchase a gun. There’s also modest support for teachers with proper training to carry firearms.

Both legislatures failed to give these measures serious consideration.

Now is the time for a new path forward.

Research shows most gun violence is spatially concentrated, arising from structural disadvantages such as poverty, densely crowded housing, high unemployment, lower educational attainment, as well as poor mental health, exposure to violence and drug/alcohol abuse.

Addressing these disadvantages requires improving economic opportunities, renovating environments such as dilapidated housing and vacant buildings, developing more parks and community centers, and strengthening civic infrastructures so people can learn ways to mitigate gun violence and establish organizations to partner with police and mental health professionals.

By focusing on structural factors, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle can embrace a politically viable and arguably more effective approach.

So, when the unsettling pattern repeats — gun violence, partisan squabbles and frequent stalemate — keep in mind gun violence has multiple causes, and existing gun laws are just one piece of a very large and complex puzzle.

— Mark Joslyn is a professor of political science at the University of Kansas.


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