Editor’s Note: Alice Stewart is a CNN political commentator and former communications director for Ted Cruz for President. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion at CNN.
They met in a college bookstore in rural Arkansas over a $10 used book transaction nearly three decades ago. Mitch Wright soon married Shannon Williams. They had a son, and Shannon became a devoted schoolteacher. Their storybook tale came to a tragic end on March 24, 1998, when Shannon Wright and four students were gunned down at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, by two young students in possession of more than a dozen fully loaded firearms.
Fast forward 21 years: Americans experienced a weekend full of violence in which a gunman killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas, and another shooter killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio.
Decades of gun violence, hundreds of lives senselessly cut short. Like so many other victims of mass shootings, Mitch Wright wanted action then, and he wants it now. He believes many elected officials don’t understand the urgency for action because they have not experienced the loss of a loved one, a child, a spouse. Wright told me Shannon was his “one,” adding “heaven forbid it happen to anyone else.”
I am a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and a fierce advocate for the right to bear arms. In the aftermath of every mass shooting, I have opposed knee-jerk reactions from gun control advocates. I have opposed proposals from the left to restrict gun ownership, which encroach on personal security and Second Amendment rights. I have opposed the attempts by Democrats to “not let a crisis go to waste.”
No more – it’s time for action. It’s time to turn safety rhetoric into reality.
This past weekend was my “one,” the final straw, the time for a serious look at common sense, reasonable solutions to violent crime and gun violence. Not just talk – I mean action. Bear in mind, I emphasize reasonable solutions. In this emotionally charged debate, we must balance the rights under the Constitution as well as the responsibilities that go along with them.
Let’s look at the facts of the top three proposals being discussed: red-flag laws, universal background checks, and a ban on assault weapons.
“Red-flag” laws would be a good first step and have bipartisan backing, as well as that of President Donald Trump. This can and should be done in short order. The measure allows police and family members to appeal to the courts to temporarily restrict access to firearms for people who appear to pose an imminent threat to themselves or others. The NRA has also voiced support for “red-flag” laws, provided due process protections are in place.
More than 9 out of 10 Americans support background checks for all gun buyers. President Trump has expressed support for such checks, but so far, there has been no action. I believe this is another area where we need to make change: it’s time for universal background checks for gun purchases. It is also critical that accurate information is reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Some may argue that background checks would do little good, as criminals don’t comply with the law, but this safeguard could prevent those who are not fit for gun ownership from purchasing a gun, without hindering legal purchases.
More than 60% of Americans support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons.
President Bill Clinton’s assault weapons ban expired it 2004. It prohibited the manufacture of semi-automatic firearms and large-capacity ammunition magazines for civilian use. The recent mass shootings have led me to support a ban on certain high-capacity magazines – but not an across-the-board ban on assault weapons. It’s important to keep in mind that the AR 15 is the most popular rifle in the US and many law-abiding citizens use it for self-defense. The political reality is that an all-out ban at the federal level would not sit well with many single-issue Second Amendment voters. They would stay home on Election Day.
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With public sentiment surrounding curbing gun violence at a fever pitch, we must not let emotion drive the issue. We need to focus on crime control, not just gun control. This means addressing all aspects of gun violence, including mental illness. I believe, as President Trump said, “America will rise to the challenge.”
We can’t have any more stories like Mitch and Shannon Wright’s. We can’t endure another El Paso or Dayton. We can’t allow another person to lose their “one” to senseless violence. Heaven forbid it happen to anyone else while we have done nothing to stop it.