Ruth Bass: Mother Nature and gunmen create call for action

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RICHMOND — Thoughts and prayers let people struck by tragedy know that we're aware, that we're thinking about them. But with tragedies, man-made and natural, engulfing Americans for days, that's not enough. We need action, not only in Texas and Florida but in Puerto Rico, to clean up and restore the life that preceded these hurricanes. And action on gun control.

A wise person once said, when a friend had just been diagnosed with a crippling disease, "Don't say you're sorry or that he/she should call you if there's anything you can do. Just say, `What do you need?'" Puerto Rico needs electricity, more troops and lots of cash to get at the rubble, ensure order and re-establish daily living for a population that is hungry, thirsty, homeless and frustrated.

Americans are also acing photos of a parking lot in Las Vegas that will hang onto its ghosts for decades. We don't need to spend an inordinate amount of time pondering why the gunman did it. We certainly need time to mourn, fly flags at half mast and leave notes and flowers on the site.

But for those who were not there and did not know anyone who was killed or wounded, the only whys are why we're not doing something about the future, why we did too little in the past. We have Newtown and Orlando and Las Vegas and quite a few other places in the history books. What we need now is to find a way to stop someone from taking a gun off the wall of the family room and heading out to fire away. We need to stop a person from buying 30 or 40 killer weapons in about a year. We need to persuade Americans that they don't need a gun under the bed to protect them, that their fear of whatever they fear is overblown, and that they run the risk of shooting someone they know.

Are we impotent, incapable of anything beyond talk? The National Rifle Association wields such power over our elected officials that it seems impossible to make progress with our need for gun sanity. The elected are more concerned with NRA approval and re-election than with our safety at a concert, a school, a night club. But Las Vegas seems to have made an impact on the NRA and its faithful subjects. Conservatives indicate they might pass something outlawing the gadget, available on the Internet, that turns a semiautomatic gun into one that shoots endlessly. So, let's begin there. Now.

Most Americans — possibly as many as 90 percent — also support background checks on anyone who buys a gun, so make it a federal law, with provisions that automatically exclude convicted felons, domestic abusers and people with diagnosed mental health problems. It's also suggested that no one under the age of 21 be allowed to buy a gun, an age requirement older than that for voting but the same as the minimum for buying alcoholic beverages. And let's insist that guns be locked up when not in use. Too many children have died because of unsecured guns.

Another need is a nationwide ban on semi-automatic assault rifles except for members of a "well-regulated militia." No civilian needs one. But, what do we need? Sensible rules that let people hunt and feel protected without the general public feeling hunted and unprotected.

Ruth Bass writes from Richmond. Her website is www.ruthbass.com.

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