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A timeline
October 1988: Congress passes the Undetectable Firearms Act, which outlaws guns undetectable by X-ray machines and metal detectors.
September 1994: Congress bans making and selling some newly made semi-automatic firearms and magazines.
April 1999: Two youths clad in ski masks and black coats opened fire at Columbine High School in Littleton , Colo. , killing 13 students and teachers, wounding dozens of others and then killing themselves.
September 2004: The 1994 assault-weapons ban expires.
April 2007: A gunman at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg , Va. , kills at least 33 people at a dormitory and in a classroom building.
January 2011: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is wounded at an event in Tucson, Ariz. Six people were killed and 13 injured.
July 2012: A gunman opens fire at an Aurora , Colo. , movie theater, killing at least 12 and wounding at least 59.
December 2012: A man killed his mother at their home and then opened fire inside a Newtown , Conn. , elementary school, massacring 26 people, including 20 children, before killing himself.
April 2013: The U.S. Senate does not approve a bipartisan compromise to expand background checks for gun buyers. The vote was 54-46 in favor, but needed 60 votes to advance.
December 2013: The U.S. House passes by voice vote a new 10-year ban on firearms that that can evade metal detectors and X-ray machines.
– Researched by Tom Pellegrene
Associated Press photo, photo illustration by Greg
A year after children were led from a Connecticut school massacre, gun access nationally is unchanged.

Lessons not learned

Thinking must shift to reduce gun violence

It has been one year since 20 young children and six of the adults at their school were senselessly massacred, most riddled with at least 10 bullets each from the killer’s high-powered guns. While some states have taken steps reducing easy access to such weapons, as a nation we’ve done nothing.

At least the U.S. Senate had a rare debate on what to do to reduce gun violence for a few hours in April. And there was majority support for requiring most gun sellers to do background checks, since about 40 percent of all gun sales are completed legally without anyone checking to see whether the purchaser is a felon or has been found to be mentally dangerous.

But this provision and others, like putting restrictions on access to many semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, failed to get the 60-vote super-majority that the Senate requires to take action. Similarly, efforts by gun rights advocates to require nationwide reciprocity for concealed carry gun permits also fell short.

The political reality is that nothing is going to be done nationally on the gun violence issue until our elected officials work to find common ground. This shouldn’t be as hard as we’ve made it.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2008, which declared that the Second Amendment provided an individual right unconnected to a “well-regulated militia,” also made it clear that this right, in the words of Justice Antonin Scalia, “was not unlimited” and that some restrictions on who can get guns, how guns are sold, where guns can be taken, how guns are stored, and what kinds of guns are available are all “presumptively lawful.”

Using this framework, we could review the current list of prohibited purchasers initially outlined in the Gun Control Act of 1968 to see whether there should be additions or clarifications (Add violent misdemeanants? Eliminate non-violent felons? Better define “mentally defective” or “drug user”?). If there are some people who we have a pretty good idea are predisposed to violence, let’s work together to tighten up that list.

Of course, it doesn’t do any good to have a better list of people we don’t want to have guns if those names aren’t put into a database that can be accessed by gun sellers and if many of those who sell guns aren’t required to check whom they’re selling to.

These are primarily operational, not policy, issues. If there is a strong argument that some sales shouldn’t require a background check because of a family relationship, or should have a different type of check because of the database is not readily accessible in some parts of the country, let’s work out those specific issues and keep moving on overall improvements to the background check system.

The fights over an “assault weapon ban” show that it may be harder to reach an agreement on which guns should not be readily available to the general public. Here, the example of what we did in the 1934 National Firearms Act to deal with machine guns should be instructive. Fully automatic weapons were not banned, but access to them is strictly regulated.

Firearms have come a long way in the last 90 years, but our laws haven’t been updated to reflect the lethality of modern weapons. Let’s see whether we can figure out what should be regulated more like machine guns and what doesn’t need special restrictions.

How we treat those with state-issued permits to carry loaded weapons in public is another area that has generated a lot of conflict.

The U.S. Senate has narrowly blocked attempts by gun-rights advocates to get national reciprocity for these permits. The concern of many people has been that this would gut some existing state and local restrictions.

However, if gun enthusiasts were willing to agree to some minimal national standards for who gets to carry concealed weapons, maybe a broad compromise could be reached on national reciprocity in exchange for agreements on what kinds of guns are available and how to strengthen background checks.

While common ground shouldn’t be that hard to find, the political reality is that this won’t happen until our elected officials feel the pressure from the public, and the NRA feels the pressure from its supporters, to be willing to compromise.

There are a lot of things that need to be done to help stop the all-too-frequent killings – and no single thing is going to make the difference.

Coming together to find common-ground decisions that reflect gun responsibilities and risks, as well as gun rights, is the first step.

Former Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke was president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.