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Gun-rights debate going further in the wrong direction

Guns from a buyback program at Grace Cathedral

Guns from a buyback program at Grace Cathedral in Uniondale are shown in this 2013 photo. Credit: Jim Staubitser

The whole argument over Congress restoring gun rights to mentally ill people this week was surreal, but that’s in keeping with the way the entire gun-control conversation has descended into madness.

On Wednesday, the Senate joined the House of Representatives in striking down a rule from President Barack Obama that kept about 75,000 people, all mentally ill enough that they cannot manage their own affairs, from buying guns. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the reversal, supported mostly by Republicans in both chambers, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union.

Let’s face it, the Social Security Administration list of people on disability whose affairs must be managed by others isn’t a perfect tool for restricting gun ownership. Mental-health advocates say the rule reinforces stereotypes, and they argue that mentally ill people are not particularly likely to cause carnage that inspired the rule, like the mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. This is likely true, though it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to put guns in the hands of people with mental illnesses. But something is very wrong when gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association aren’t willing to consider any restrictions, no matter how obviously reasonable.

Gun ownership is a right, but possessing something so lethal is also a responsibility. Just as with operating cars, people who want guns should have to become educated on their safe use and prove that knowledge. And they should be required to be responsible in their gun ownership and storage. That would be a sensible standard for all of us, not just 75,000 people on a government list. But it would also require real action to control a dangerous problem while protecting an important right, something this nation cannot seem to undertake. — The editorial board