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Common Ground, Common Good

Mark Kelly: After Navy Yard shooting, gun laws will protect people and gun rights

In the wake of the Washington Navy Yard shooting, Gabby and I ask lawmakers to back broadly accepted ideas – such as expanding background checks – that address gun violence and still protect gun owners. The two aims are not mutually exclusive.

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Here’s what a map of this middle ground would look like: People who do not own guns would understand that law-abiding citizens have a constitutional right in this country to possess them. There are roughly 300 million guns in America. They’re not going away. Gun ownership is as ingrained in American tradition as apple pie and baseball.

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People who do own guns would stand up and tell lawmakers that Second Amendment rights are not the strongest when gun laws are the weakest – but the opposite. Responsible gun owners should feel outraged when criminals and the dangerously mentally ill can get their hands on guns and use them to harm children and families. Popular, sensible gun safety laws keep everyone safer and protect gun rights.

Too often, gun safety and gun rights are pitted against each other because special interests on either side have the incentive not to compromise, but to yell louder. Most Americans want consensus and civility. This might seem like a pipe dream, but Gabby and I have witnessed the walking of this middle ground all over America.

In early July we embarked on a seven-state, seven-day Rights and Responsibilities Tour to hear from a diverse group of Americans – gun owners and non-gun owners, Republicans and Democrats – who reject the prevailing wisdom among Beltway pundits that the gun lobby is too powerful, that Americans don’t agree on this issue, and that it’s a lost cause.

Nonsense. When Gabby and I visited places like Alaska and North Carolina, whether at shooting ranges or around kitchen tables, we only encountered people who supported Gabby’s middle-road approach. We witnessed firsthand what repeated polling has shown: While Congress may be divided on the issue of expanded background checks, Americans simply aren’t. Even in Arizona, 78 percent of gun owners support expanding background checks to all gun sales. Yet Congress was not able to pass an expanded background-check bill this year.

More than 130 years ago, the Tombstone town council passed far-reaching measures to keep citizens safe. Today, we would merely expand background checks and empower law enforcement to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people while respecting the rights of the responsible. I hope Congress and state legislators will walk in Gabby’s shoes, like hundreds of thousands of Americans have, to forge a reasonable path to reduce gun violence. It’s the only way to keep America safe.

Capt. Mark Kelly and his wife, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, are co-founders of the gun violence prevention organization Americans for Responsible Solutions. Kelly is a retired NASA space shuttle commander and Navy combat pilot.

Readers: This is one of a new series by guest writers who offer ways to soften many of the polarizing debates over issues that sharply divide people. Are you working with others who don’t share your views in order to solve a problem in your community or beyond? E-mail us about it at commonground@csmonitor.com.

Editor's Note: The original version of this commentary incorrectly identified the state where the Oak Creek, Wisc., shooting took place.

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