Commentary: The debate is about public safety

A reflection on the assault weapons debate:

This debate is not really about gun ownership. Guns will always be available for protection of hearth and home. A strong democracy, not an assault weapon, is our best weapon against tyranny.

This debate is not about the National Rifle Association, though it lobbies and threatens our elected officials with political ruin. The Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms. It does not guarantee our right to own a particular weapon.

This debate is not about enforcement of existing gun laws. We do not have agencies or interconnected databases in place that can close all the loopholes or track every internet, retail, private, or gun show sale. Congress is not interested in expanding bureaucracy. There is no perfect background check that can screen for criminality, sociopathy, amorality, personal grievances, depression or suicidal ideation.

This debate is not about mental illness. Our society has yet to destigmatizing mental illness and a shameful track record of taking care of the mentally ill. We fail to fund adequate psychiatric hospital beds. We relegate responsibilities to the emergency rooms and police departments, which are ill-equipped to handle psychiatric patients. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act laws complicate these matters, too. Privacy, like gun ownership, is as American as apple pie.

This assault gun debate is about a lack of moral and ethical leadership in government and our churches. It is about resisting the voices who threaten your jobs or your funding; of having the courage to stand against those who could ruin you politically, or to those who would arm and fortify our community centers, schools, and churches. It is about taking back our communities. Our leaders need to say clearly that weapons of mass destruction and high capacity magazines have no place in our civilian society.

This debate is about patriotism, a national identity that looks beyond self and recognizes that the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness must be preserved for all people. Patriotism is about sacrifice.

The debate is about doing what is right, sane and just at a time where fear, anger, grievances, and selfishness prevail. It is about militarizing a generally fallible, undisciplined and unpredictable citizenry.  If that assault weapon is stolen from your vehicle, left out of your gun safe, or falls into the hands of a family member with an uncontrollable grievance, owning that assault rifle puts innocent lives at risk and that makes you selfish, without heart, and perhaps, amoral.

Bottom line, this debate is about public safety. Take them off the market, turn them into the police. Get them out of our communities.

C. Westbrook Nanna and Dr. Richard T. Nanna reside in Maurertown.