Who among us has not been moved by the unspeakable tragedy that was inflicted upon the children of Newtown, our very home at the National Shooting Sports Foundation? What can possibly heal the wounds, silence the anguished outcries and make rational discourse out of such a horrific act? The answer is, we must come together and try.
To begin with, I submit that there are not two "sides" to this debate. There is only one side — the good people of Connecticut and America, on all points of the political spectrum, united in our common revulsion over this senseless attack on our most helpless. Yes — there is only one side — the good side — the "better angels of our nature," as Abraham Lincoln said, "opposing evil."
It was also Lincoln who said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." We all must recognize that those who don't agree with us do in fact share a common goal of a safer Connecticut and a safer America. We all must recognize that there are changes we can and should make now to prevent misuse of firearms in the future.
Also, we all must recognize, especially here in Connecticut, that firearms and the firearms/shooting sports industry is a vital part of our history, our economy and — yes — our culture. To deny or act in defiance of that fact will prevent us from achieving workable, meaningful and long-lasting change. As we come together to seek solutions, I think the one thing most of us can agree on is the need for more effective background checks.
The central issue involved in violence where a firearm is misused is the unauthorized access to the firearm. The National Shooting Sports Foundation believes it is critical to first focus on the unauthorized access to firearms by irresponsible persons and those not legally qualified to possess them. We support immediate improvements to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS. This would bring all appropriate mental health and other records, such as restraining orders, into the NICS system.
Fixing NICS must be among the highest priorities in order to help further prevent illegal purchases of firearms from federally licensed retailers.
It's also critically important to understand that the semi-automatic modern sporting rifle has been unfairly mischaracterized as an "assault rifle." An assault rifle by definition is a fully automatic firearm. Automatic firearms were severely restricted from civilian ownership under the 1934 National Firearms Act.
Semiautomatic firearms — one shot for each pull and release of the trigger — are the most popular types of firearms in America, and have been for many years. The most popular hunting and clay target shotguns are semi-automatics. So are the most popular target pistols, including those used in the Olympics. The most popular .22-caliber rifles used to hunt small game are semi-automatics.
The overwhelming choice of both law enforcement and civilians who wish to have a pistol for self-defense is a semi-automatic. Semiautomatic rifles came into widespread use after World War II, and they are overwhelmingly the most popular rifles being sold today — for hunting, target shooting and other lawful sporting purposes as well as home protection.
To arbitrarily ban the modern sporting rifle for essentially cosmetic reasons would be insulting and unfair to millions of Americans who have purchased them legally, use them responsibly and store them safely.
Finally, let me say that as Connecticut lawmakers search for answers, the firearms and sporting industries are committed to being a resource for enhanced gun safety and reviewing all reasonable proposals with an open mind. We want to be part of the solution for the shared goal of a safer Connecticut.
Our hope is that decisions will be made based on fact. But as I was quoted as saying in a recent Hartford Courant news article, " I think people make bad decisions when they are angry, when they are fearful and when they act in haste and I worry that this situation has the making of all three."
After all the pain and with all that is at stake, this time we have an obligation to come together, think it through and take the time to get it right.
Steve Sanetti is president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, based in Newtown.