Fighting crime means taking guns off the street, the Editorial Board writes

Salt Lake City Police chief gets to the core of the matter: There are too many guns on the street.

Conservatives in America say Democrats are soft on crime.

Liberals in America say that Republicans are soft on guns.

The truth is a major cause of crime — violent crime — in our streets, stores, theaters, offices and schools is the flood of guns in the hands of too many people who have no businesses owning them.

Even though one may often see an AR-15 strapped over the shoulder of someone who also has a “Blue Lives Matter” sticker on his truck, the fact is that it is our society’s unwillingness to control firearms that puts our police officers in the greatest danger.

Even when our officers are not being shot at themselves, they are called upon to put their lives at risk, to be forced into split-second shoot/don’t shoot decisions and left to clean up the horrifying mess left behind.

The impact on the psyche of officers who live in such a world, not to mention the tension it creates between them and the communities they are sworn to serve, is immense.

That’s something that, among developed nations, only happens in America. British bobbies and French gendarmes do not go into every encounter with every individual assuming that the other person is armed and that they must be ready to shoot first and ask questions later.

That is what Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown was telling us the other day when, in the wake of yet another violent crime that left one dead and others injured, he called on the community to do something to reduce the number of guns on our streets.

The chief wisely avoided any partisan or ideological finger-pointing. But he stated the facts as they are when he said that Salt Lake City is facing an “epidemic” of gun violence that individuals, the city and state must deal with.

Specifically, he called for a change in state law that would make it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to own any kind of firearm. Given that a great many of the perpetrators of violent crime — from drug deals gone bad to massacres of fourth graders — are in that age cohort, such a law should be the least we can do.

It would also be a step in support of law and order, backing what some call the Thin Blue Line, to ban semi-automatic rifles, the kind that fire a rapid stream of explosive rounds that leave human bodies not just beyond saving but also unrecognizable.

Congress, specifically the filibuster-bound Senate, is going to be no help. The latest attempt at passing some common-sense gun reform barely got through the House the other day, with all four Utah members voting no, but stands no chance of passing the Senate.

Thus would Utah be well advised to act on its own, to reverse its recent course concerning gun laws. It was a bad idea, for example, to end the requirement of minimal training and licensing in order to carry a concealed firearm. The state should pass its own background check and red flag laws or, at the very least, allow counties and cities to set their own standards for civil life.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall is taking a positive step, announcing a gun buy-back event that will offer a no-questions-asked $50 — $100 for an assault weapon — for every gun handed over. It’s worth a try, though it is possible that the offered payments may be too low to attract attention.

No law or combination of laws is going to rid our world of violence. We’ve seen that as long as laws have existed. But laws do set limits and declare the values of our society. They give us a tool to use to make our lives and our ability to go about our peaceful business, not in absolute safety, but safer.

Gun limits won’t stop every person determined to commit an act of violence. But they will put some obstacles in their path, deterring some altogether, cutting back on the firepower that one person, often determined to give up his own life in the process, has at his fingertips. Twenty deaths may become two. One death may become none.

In calling for the community to make our streets safer, Chief Brown called on citizens to report crime as it is imminent.

“You could be the voice that prevents the next gun tragedy in our community,” he said.

That’s true of individuals calling 911. It is also true of our elected officials, and of our voters, who should join the chief in calling for steps to make our communities safer, for police officers and, in the process, for the rest of us.