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The nation needs to step up to end gun violence

As the father of three children under 6, I have tried to imagine the horror of a parent who has sent their child to a school or mall only to never have them return home due to gun violence. As an elected official, I am supposed to have words of comfort in the aftermath of disaster or tragedy, but no words can do justice to a parent’s grief over losses like these.Wyden

I have supported important public safety initiatives in the past including closing the gun show loophole, but I have concluded that these steps alone are not enough to protect public safety. I am committed to working for a number of policies that will help prevent these tragedies in the future.

First, my late brother Jeff suffered from a serious mental illness. My family and I were constantly aware of the potential for violence, both against himself and others that his condition presented. As a country, it is long past time to prioritize the awareness, diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues. Those with emotional and psychological disorders need our help. It is time to establish, once and for all, a system through which individuals who are found to be a potential threat to themselves or others can receive the treatment they need. It also means assisting family members, friends, teachers and other observers, including gun sellers and range owners, when they sense something is amiss and that an individual might need professional help. 

Second, as the Supreme Court has outlined limits to the First Amendment right of free speech, particularly involving the responsibility of the speaker not to promote panic or incite violence, the Second Amendment includes its own responsibilities for gun owners and gives our legislatures the mandate to promote and protect public safety to stop these tragedies from happening again and again.

Third, policies must be enacted that get military-style assault rifles out of the hands of individuals who would commit these heinous crimes. In addition, Congress should decide whether the most dangerous types of weapons and ammunition should be held to higher ownership, licensing and security standards than other firearms. There must be renewed attention to securing our schools through the COPS School Resource Officers program, and ensure that our rural communities have the resources to protect their children through funding programs like Secure Rural Schools.

Many gun owners already believe that gun rights include responsibilities. I believe there is a responsibility to secure your weapons and prevent the illegal use of your firearms. Gun owners should have the responsibility to demonstrate proficiency with their firearm and familiarity with laws regarding them. In households with unlicensed individuals, gun owners must keep their firearms under lock and key. All owners have the responsibility to ensure that their own sales and transfers are conducted within a system to prevents dangerous individuals from obtaining weapons sales or transfers of dangerous weapons should not be conducted outside a well regulated retail system that checks for detailed criminal and mental health history. The federal background check database must be made substantially more accurate and comprehensive. This system must also include legal protection for licensed dealers who refuse a questionable sale.

This is not simple problem with a single solution. Each of these steps would balance rights and responsibilities, limit access to the most dangerous weapons, promote responsible gun ownership and address the woeful lack of mental health services across the nation. I intend to do everything possible to move forward on a bipartisan basis before our nation loses more of our children to yet another tragedy.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, is the senior U.S. senator from the state of Oregon.