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John Morse: We must fix the assault weapon problem 

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click to enlarge Sen. John Morse led the fight for new gun laws in Colorado after Newtown. - FILE PHOTO
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  • Sen. John Morse led the fight for new gun laws in Colorado after Newtown.

Keeping your wits about you during a mass shooting has to be one of the most difficult things to do. Sunday, hundreds of people in Orlando had to do just that. Now, it is our turn to keep our wits about us.

A deranged man committed this crime. He declared his allegiance to ISIS and was consumed with hatred toward gays. But our focus must be singular: How in the world did a guy this unhinged and filled with hate get a military-style assault weapon?

The answer is actually simple and disheartening: Our elected officials haven't exercised the leadership needed to keep this from happening — to keep all of us safe. What's worse, we elected them, and we continue to do so.

Our leaders aren't working hard enough to protect minority groups that we know are persecuted — whether gay or people of color. Our leaders lack the leadership to make sure ISIS can't strike in the United States just miles from Disney World using our own citizens against us.

Our leaders have failed to keep crazy, hateful, ignorant people from getting access to military-style weapons. So our citizens suffer death at the hands of these folks.

America can do so much better. You and I need America to do so much better.

Some will suggest more guns. Some will suggest we bomb people living in the Stone Age further back into the Stone Age. These same folks would offer a drowning man a glass of water and claim hero status.

We will hear that this isn't about guns. Actually, that is slightly misstated. We will be screamed at that this isn't about guns. And most of us will be intimidated into submission. Again. We will say a few prayers and move on. Again, because we have tried this in the past, restricting our response to prayers is at our own peril.

Young American men and women will continue to be corrupted by ISIS. Other Americans will continue to be consumed by hate. We can work to stop those things from happening, but it will not be quick enough nor thorough enough.

When we fall short, as even the best of people do, the person we miss can go to the local Cabela's, purchase an AR-15 and more ammunition than will ever be needed. He/she will be required to wait three days. Then he can head to a local mall, church, school or nightclub and martyr himself, in his own eyes, while killing dozens of strangers who happen to belong to a group he decided to target with his hate.

Or he can drive to Wyoming. There he can get the same gun at a gun show today, even if he has a prior criminal conviction or documented mental illness. They can purchase their guns to shoot whomever they choose in the name of the Second Amendment.

But that name is taken in vain. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the opinion that defines our current understanding of the Second Amendment: Americans have the right to a handgun in their home for their own protection. They don't have the "right" to military-style assault rifles. Scalia says so, right in the opinion. There is no right, but they can buy them anyway. Many a killer acquires his military-style assault weapon legally — and often just days before the assault.

That is so wrong. Gun sellers get to sell guns to people who have no business ever having a gun, and they get to do it without taking any responsibility. It's time to balance that legality with a bit of responsibility for the mayhem those military-style assault weapons inflict. Most of those guns will never be used nefariously — but every single time they are, take responsibility for the violence you have helped inflict on our society.

Can we hold bars responsible for drunk-driving accidents? Yes. Some people are stabbed with knives. Shall we outlaw knives? No, we shouldn't, nor do I suggest outlawing guns. I suggest adding responsibility. If your gun is never used perversely, you are never held accountable. But if it is, you are.

Knives serve many very useful purposes in everyday life. Military-style assault weapons don't. They belong on the battlefield, never in nightclubs. Never. If yours shows up there, whether you made it, sold it, bought it, used it — take responsibility as you watch others burying their children as a result of your choice to sell a gun to the wrong person.

It is illegal to sue a gun manufacturer or gun seller for any shooting involving their gun. It shouldn't be. They should be motivated, just like the rest of us, to keep guns out of the hands of would-be criminals and terrorists. And none of us should vote for a candidate seeking any public office who believes differently.

Former Colorado Senate President John Morse, who represented part of Colorado Springs until being recalled in 2013 for his gun-control activism, now works as a CPA in Denver.

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