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The Journal Gazette

  • Helmke

Tuesday, June 18, 2019 1:00 am

Editorial

Threat of inaction

Weekend shootings drive home urgency

Gun death rates by State

Indiana had the nation's 20th-highest firearm death rate in 2017, based on deaths per 100,000 people. 

Kentucky.......................................................16.39

Indiana...................................................15.24

Ohio...............................................................13.63 Illinois............................................................12.05 Michigan.......................................................11.42

Source: Violence Policy Center, based on figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

When gun violence rocks a neighborhood miles from your own or a business you don't patronize, it's easy to dismiss it as not a threat. But it can't be dismissed when the gunshots break out in a shopping plaza on a quiet summer evening, at a busy intersection or at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo on a sunny afternoon.

Two gun-related incidents in three days – one deadly – drive home the growing danger of guns in our midst. Either one could have resulted in tragic consequences for bystanders. What level of risk must we reach before elected officials act?

Friday afternoon, the threat was to families visiting the zoo and to anyone near the busy Lima Road-Fernhill Avenue intersection. That's when two vehicles were involved in a chase, with passengers exchanging gunfire. Police said a driver in a stolen vehicle crashed into a pole on Wells Street, near Franke Park Drive, and two men jumped from the car and climbed the zoo fence. One of the men was hit with a Taser next to the sea lion and penguin area, according to a woman visiting the zoo with her children. Thankfully, no one else was hurt. Three men were arrested on multiple charges, including criminal recklessness.

Sunday evening, shoppers at ColdwaterCrossing Shopping Center were at risk when 20-year-old Andre Paris Leslie was shot to death in the parking lot of the Walmart store. A witness told The Journal Gazette her car, about 50 feet from where Leslie fell, was struck by a bullet. No arrests have been made.

“The stories are very disturbing. I think it should be obvious that there are too many guns out there in the hands of people who should not have them,” writes Paul Helmke, former president and CEO of the Brady Center/Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, in an email. “Solutions to the problem are not easy, but we need to be debating the issue and the different proposals that have been made (such as universal background checks; restrictions on 'assault-style' weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines; increased use of “red flag” laws; licensing and registration; safe-storage laws; tougher laws against gun trafficking; allowing lawsuits and stronger enforcement steps against negligent and 'bad apple' gun sellers; etc.).”

Helmke, now director of the Civic Leaders Center at the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington, noted the U.S. House recently passed legislation to expand the background-check window from three days to 10, and to require the checks for sales at gun shows. U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, and all other Republican members of the Indiana delegation voted no on the bills. The legislation is going nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate, Helmke noted. 

“The Indiana Legislature has preempted local governments from doing anything directly on guns,” wrote the former three-term Fort Wayne mayor. “What do our local candidates think of that? Are they willing to push for more local control, or at least stronger state gun laws?”

Helmke noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that stronger gun regulations do not run afoul of the Second Amendment. Justice Antonin Scalia, in the Heller decision 11 years ago this month, wrote that the right to bear arms is “not unlimited.”

“Failure to act is a political choice by our elected officials, not a constitutional requirement,” Helmke wrote. “Failure to debate and discuss the proposals that have been suggested means that those candidates/officials either feel that gun violence is not a problem, or they don't want to do anything about it for one reason or another.”

If elected officials won't act, voters must choose candidates prepared to take on the gun lobby. The threat is no longer distant.