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Opinion

To prevent a 'Washington Navy Yard' mass shooting, require gun permits

The NRA is right. Many mass shooters have mental problems such as those that apparently drove Aaron Alexis to start shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. But the US cannot lock up every person who struggles with such problems. It is more useful to license gun holders.

By Walter C. Clemens Jr.Op-ed contributor / September 19, 2013

Roses rest on an anchor at an entrance to the Washington Navy Yard as security personnel stand watch in Washington Sept. 19. Op-ed contributor Walter C. Clemens Jr. writes: Licensing gun holders 'would be no more onerous than the requirement to register every motorized vehicle and license every driver.'

Charles Dharapak/AP

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Four US presidents have been assassinated while in office. Two others were wounded. There have been at least 20 attempts to assassinate sitting and former presidents. Now, 13 persons, including gunman Arron Alexis, are dead after a mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard near the US Capitol Sept. 16. Not only politicians but, in recent years, school children and moviegoers have been shot and killed.

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How can America reduce gun violence? Possessing a gun does not necessarily improve one’s chances of survival. Residents of states with higher levels of gun ownership have disproportionately higher rates of gun-related deaths, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health.

The National Rifle Association is correct: Many if not most mass shooters have mental and emotional problems such as those that apparently drove Aaron Alexis to start shooting at the navy yard in Washington, D.C. But the United States cannot lock up every person who has mental or emotional problems that might later result in a violent act. It would be far more useful and feasible to register every gun, large and small, and to require that every gun holder be licensed to use and/or own a firearm. A national registration and licensing system could be mandated under the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution.

These proposals may appear utopian and out-of-touch with political reality. But they offer a clear and relatively simple response to a severe challenge to public health. Defenders of gun rights will say that registration and licensing would intrude and infringe on their individual freedom and Second Amendment rights. But such obligations would be no more onerous than the requirement to register every motorized vehicle and license every driver. 

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