Tribune editorial: Time to take firearms seriously

It would in no way offend the Second Amendment or any person’s right to self-defense were Utah to start treating the misuse and sloppy handling of firearms as the serious and often deadly matter it is.

Too much of American culture, aping movies and video games that are supposed to be fantasy rather than reality, now pretends that it is a basic human right to possess whatever implement of death one chooses. That there are no accompanying responsibilities, no need to show cause that one does not pose a clear and present danger to themselves and their communities.

Though some gun-rights advocates like to pretend the words are written in invisible ink, the Founders based the preservation of the right to bear arms on the need to maintain “a well-regulated militia.” Militias — armies — in civilized nations are not known to distribute rifles and expect soldiers to wander off on their own and make responsible use of them. Soldiers train, and practice, and train some more. Armies teach respect for the damage weapons can do, lock them up when not in use, and take them away from those who have shown a physical or emotional inability to handle them safely.

There is no reason that civil society should not do the same.

Two examples of how our current approach is inadequate have recently come before us.

We are told that the gun used to kill University of Utah athlete Lauren McCluskey was borrowed by her killer — a convicted felon who had no legal right to possess a firearm — from a friend of his. The friend, apparently, had no knowledge of either the killer’s legal status or his intent. Thus the possibility that the friend might be held responsible by the criminal justice system is, the experts say, remote.

McCluskey’s mother thinks that is wrong. And she has a point.

A gun is not something that should be lent out as though it were a hedge clipper or phone charger. Those who do so, when tragedy results, should have to suffer some penalty. Not prison, at least for a first offense, but the kind of criminal record that would prohibit them from legally owning another gun or getting a concealed carry license, as they have demonstrated they don’t know how to properly care for their weapons.

Then came a report to the Utah Legislature from the Harvard School of Public Health that blamed our state’s appallingly high suicide rate, in part, on easy access to guns. And by easy access, the experts don’t just mean too easy to buy or otherwise obtain, but also too easily found lying around the house, as though they were no more hazardous than another TV remote.

The official response to that situation would involve the adoption of what’s called a “Red Flag” law. That’s a process that would make it easier for concerned relatives or others to approach a court and seek an order to take firearms away from anyone seen to pose a danger to themselves or others. It would also include a more aggressive educational campaign to encourage lawful gun owners — which is nearly all of them — to understand the horrible possibilities of not properly securing their weapons.

Universal background checks or prohibitions of semi-automatic weapons, reasonable though they would be, may remain beyond the realm of political reality. But more limited measures designed to impress upon gun owners that they have responsibilities, not just rights, are clearly in order.