There are few sights as poignant as an American flag flying at half staff.

In an era of vicious partisanship, this sight serves as a dark reminder that our country remains united. We unite in respect for our fallen countrymen, in sorrow for their loved ones and in a promise to work toward a better future. A flag should fly at half staff only a few times a year — on Memorial Day, the anniversaries of the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center and when a prominent statesman passes away.

Not this year. In the nation’s capital this summer, it seemed as though the ring of flags surrounding the Washington Monument lingered at perpetual half staff, weighed down by the mourning of a bloodied nation.

For all its greatness, the United States has a glaring weakness: Many consider unrestricted access to firearms to be one of our inalienable rights. Born from the need for a militia in the nation’s fledgling years, nurtured by the glorification of gun culture and refined by a powerful, ambitious lobby, this sentiment has achieved remarkable influence in modern political discourse.

Its influence results in laws that allow millions of law-abiding gun owners across the country to hunt, practice target shooting and collect antique weapons. Which is nice. But they also allowed James Holmes to legally purchase the AR-15 assault rifle that tore into a crowd of innocent moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., on July 20.

The government has a responsibility to protect its citizens, and today’s gun control laws aren’t doing an adequate job. Two weeks after the Aurora shooting, Wade Michael Page murdered six worshipers at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee. A week later, Thomas Caffall killed two and wounded four in College Station, Texas. In total, more than 30,000 people are killed by firearms in the United States each year.

Gun activists so often point out, “Guns don’t kill people — people kill people,” which is true. Stricter gun control laws won’t be able to prevent the occasional lunatic from committing a planned murder. What they can do is limit the scale of these events. Holmes and the others couldn’t have slaughtered nearly as many people as they did had they been equipped with knives or even hunting rifles.

This reform starts with renewing the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. The ban made weapons like Holmes’ illegal for purchase by civilians, but it expired in 2004. The truth is that the AR-15 isn’t a deer-hunting rifle, it’s an instrument of war. Police believe the rifle malfunctioned during the Aurora shooting, and Holmes still managed to rack up 70 casualties.

Why would any citizen of a politically stable first-world country with the world’s most powerful army need such a weapon? Yes, target shooting is a hobby for some, but the federal government has never had a problem restricting people’s hobbies for the good of society — just look at drug, alcohol and gambling laws.

And yes, murderers aren’t likely to care much about federal gun regulations any more than drug addicts care about drug regulations, but the more difficult you make it to obtain these kinds of weapons, the more likely it is that people will get caught before opening fire.

In their effort to crack down on guns, lawmakers must be careful not to infringe on the rights of reasonable, law-abiding gun owners. But that truly isn’t what most gun control advocates are after. In some states, it’s easier to buy an assault rifle at a gun show than it is to buy beer at a convenience store. That shouldn’t be the case.

As President Obama said at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, “Don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals.” Presentation of a valid ID isn’t unreasonable to ask of the nation’s law-abiding gun owners, and a mandatory background check and waiting period should be considered for legislation.

This isn’t a petition for the government to come banging on everyone’s door, nor is it meant to demonize gun owners. This is a call for a return to careful, reasonable policy regarding instruments meant to kill.

Snarky liberal pundits have been quick to point out the Republican Party’s simultaneous support of voter ID laws and opposition to gun purchase ID laws. According to Republicans, they quip, firearms should be more accessible to the public than the vote. The issues are obviously more complicated than that, but in a way, their criticism makes a good point. If you want to see change in this country, the vote is the greatest weapon you have.

Take note of where candidates during this election stand on gun control laws, and vote accordingly. Maybe — just maybe — the stars and stripes on the National Mall will spend a little more time flying as high as our forefathers intended.

PAT CURRAN is a junior in the College. He is a member of The Hoya’s Board of Directors.

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