As schools opened last month we heard about bulletproof backpacks for our kids. It’s appalling that we have sunk so low that our children not only practice active shooter drills, but now they need protective backpacks. It’s time we take as many steps as we can to change our gun culture.

With minimal effort, I learned that the U.S. does not have more crime than other western industrialized countries; we just have more lethal violence. We are the outlier only on homicidal gun violence. I found there is a tie between the number of guns and the rate of suicide — more guns in a state, more suicides. Author Richard Florida, in “The Geography of Gun Deaths,” found that higher populations, more stress, more immigrants and more mental illness did not correlate with more deaths. He did find, though, that states with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths.

While still respecting the Second Amendment, what can we do to make us safer? It’s about where we draw the line. I am sure the writers of the Bill of Rights did not anticipate individuals owning weapons of mass destruction able to kill dozens of people in seconds. We also have the right to feel safe as we go about our business every day.

I don’t want to worry every time my grandsons go to class, a concert or a game. I don’t want to take a deep breath every time I go shopping or to a movie; nor do I want to have to eye everyone around me with suspicion. I’m already extremely uncomfortable with people openly carrying guns in public. I don’t know their intentions. I have no idea how stable they are or if they are competent with their guns.

There are a number of policy changes that make sense. We need to close the loopholes on background checks. If those clearances are required to buy from a retail gun dealer, shouldn’t the same requirements apply at gun shows and online? Then we need to raise the age to purchase handguns to 21. Again, the age should be the same for retail dealers, gun shows and online outlets. It makes sense to restrict AR-15 type weapons for nonmilitary buyers under 21. Or better yet, we should ban large-capacity magazines completely.

It only makes sense to pass red flag laws to give courts authority to confiscate weapons from people who are considered a threat to themselves or others.

While all of these together won’t eliminate gun violence, they reduce access by immature, violent and irrational people, and make it less likely that large numbers of victims can be shot in a matter of seconds, as at the Las Vegas concert or at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

We have all heard the statistics — this year we’ve already lost many more Americans to mass shootings by guns than we have in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mass Shooting Tracker reports there have been 347 incidents of mass shooting (3+ victims) through Monday; with 410 killed and 1,358 injured. U.S. fatalities in 2019 through August in Iraq and Afghanistan total 31. The U.S. is now more dangerous than our battlefields against terrorism.

We don’t have to be held hostage by the bullying of the gun lobby. Polls show that even gun owners agree we need to take more steps to regulate gun purchases. We need to demand that Congress and our Legislature take the logical steps to ensure that people who are more likely to commit mass murder should not have easy access to guns. We need to let them know that weapons of mass murder are military weapons; not for protection of our lives and property or for hunting. We can make sensible changes while still allowing gun owners and hunters to purchase appropriate weapons for their protection and to pursue their hobbies. We all have the right to feel safe.

We can do better. We do not have to accept the growing incidence of gun violence. The proliferation of guns has most certainly not made us safer. We can take steps to protect ourselves and our children. We need to demand action by Congress and our state government; we should demand they stand up to the bullies for us. It’s as important as building storm shelters in our schools, installing air bags in our cars and restricting access to opioids. This is no different.

Susan Harris is a community volunteer and a member of the Tulsa World Community Advisory Board. Opinion pieces by board members appear in this space most weeks.

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