At least take away guns when threat is obvious

Political and policy divisions remain deep on the issue of gun control. Many Second Amendment advocates pushed back on our Sunday editorial that again called for a federal ban on semi-automatic rifles, universal background checks and prohibiting those on the terror watch list from obtaining firearms.

But even if, as noted in the same editorial, significant changes in gun laws have to await a change in the control of Congress, many on both sides of the gun-control divide should be able to agree on one thing: getting firearms out of the hands of people who are a threat to themselves and others.

As has been well publicized, there were ample warning signs that Nikolas Cruz, 19, was a troubled and dangerous individual long before he walked into his former Parkland, Fla., high school and started firing his AR-15-style rifle at students and teachers, killing 17 and wounding many others.

His social media postings showed that weapons and their killing capacity captivated Cruz. Cruz filled his Instagram page with photos of dead animals and weapons. His repeated disciplinary problems led to his expulsion from school. He wrote racist symbols and comments on his belongings. Local police were well familiar with Cruz because of his school and domestic disruptions, but none of it led to criminal charges that would have landed Cruz in the FBI database.

So a year ago, having turned 18, Cruz walked into a Florida gun shop, passed an instant FBI background check, and walked out with the gun he would later use to carry out the slaughter.

The gun bought and used by Cruz cannot legally be sold in Connecticut.

Further, in Connecticut and a handful of other states family or police could have sought a court order to confiscate the weapons Cruz possessed. Citing Connecticut Judicial Branch records, the Associated Press reports that 178 such warrants were filed in Connecticut last year. The most recent FBI data shows the violent crime rate as 227 per 100,000 residents in Connecticut, compared with a rate of 397 per 100,000 nationwide.

An “extreme risk protection order” gives the police the power to temporarily seize an individual’s guns if a person makes threats, acts violently, abuses drugs or commits animal cruelty. Cruz hit on all marks, with perhaps the exception of drug abuse.

Yet Florida and most other states have no such provisions.

Congress could take the lead by passing federal legislation providing incentives by way of criminal enforcement funding (or by way of withholding it) to states that enact legislation allowing police and families to obtain gun-confiscation orders if they demonstrate to a judge a significant threat.

This is so sensible, one would think it would receive widespread support, yet anything that could in any way restrict access to gun purchases seems destined to be ignored by the current Republican Congress.

Last week House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he would not let a proposal made by Democrats to create a special committee to study gun-violence prevention move forward. Ryan has received $49,650 in direct contributions from the NRA during his time in Congress, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. That does not include money spent by gun advocacy groups to promote Ryan, without giving directly to him.

The Center estimates that during the 2016 election, the NRA and its affiliates spent $54 million in pursuit of Republican control of the White House and Congress, including at least $30 million to help elect Donald Trump president.

Unlike Congress, individual states may be open to taking the obvious step of preventing threatening people from getting guns, and giving courts the ability to temporarily seize guns from these individuals. More recently, the Connecticut legislature passed a law that bars people with temporary restraining orders in domestic disputes from possessing firearms, another example to follow.

What would seem to be commonsense to most still finds opposition from Second Amendment advocates, including the domestic violence provision. Some gun-rights advocates fear the abuse of such provisions will lead to unjustified and unfair seizures.

However, such confiscations are temporary and subject to appeal. Any inconvenience is well worth a life saved.

And lives are being saved. In a recent study, researchers at Duke, Yale and the University of Connecticut concluded that dozens of suicides have been prevented by Connecticut’s law, roughly one for every 10 gun seizures carried out. While homicides avoided are more difficult to estimate, researchers found such laws "could significantly mitigate the risk" posed by gun owners whose actions suggest a potential danger.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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