Many people are capable of being responsible gun owners. But there are also far more people than it is comfortable to think about who are not. By following systems similar to those we already have in place for licensing people to handle tasks that put others’ lives in their hands, we could ensure that guns end up in the possession of far fewer people who should not carry them. Owning a gun should be an avenue that is open to anyone, but it should be challenging enough to weed out those who cannot prove they are qualified.
It would be nice if we didn’t need such standards, which to many represent more unwanted restrictions on our freedoms, but the tragedy last Friday in Newtown — and all those that came before it — have made it clear that we do. Unfettered gun ownership is a test this country has taken and failed. The time for a nationwide conversation about guns is now, while we are still grieving, and just beginning to heal. If we wait to begin this debate until there is a week, or a month, when no gun violence occurs, we might be waiting a very long time.