Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 22, 2013

Gun violence discussion may prove helpful


— On Saturday a group of Mennonite pastors will meet in Goshen to study gun violence and trafficking. Later in the day the public will be invited to join the discussion. Their meeting here is an accident of geography, because Goshen is home to the Mennonite Central Committee Great Lakes office, which is hosting the event. That said, we welcome the pastors and their studies.

Gun violence is not prevalent in Elkhart County or Goshen, yet it does occur more often than anyone wants. Just this month John Eric Haitsma decided to use a gun to kill his former girlfriend Millicent Morros and then himself on a Fifth Street sidewalk. About a year ago two groups of young men were fighting along River Avenue when one combattant decided to call for reinforcements. Daniel Heflin answered that call and decided it was a good idea to take a handgun. He shot two men, killing John E. Staub. Then on Oct. 5, a Clinton Street resident who was in his backyard was shot multiple times by an armed man intent on robbery. Fortunately, the resident survived. The armed assailant is still at large.

These are just three recent gun incidents. Goshen police said they have made 17 arrests in the past five years involving guns. So, we are not swamped with gun violence. But how many such events does it take to cause alarm?

Gun advocates point out that the state and national Constitutions allow people to own guns. They are absolutely right. We have no qualms with gun ownership. We think the problems lie in the dark hearts of criminals who use guns to intimidate, to rob and to kill. The vast majority of gun owners are responsible citizens who have had background checks run on them by police before they purchase a gun at a store or obtain a concealed weapons permit. And we think most gun owners support the enforcement of the many gun laws on the books.

But there are gaps in the safety system. Private owners of guns can sell them without a background check being done on the purchaser. And the tracking of people with mental health issues is woefully inadequate to keep many of them from purchasing or owning firearms. There is also a need to stem the flow of guns to criminal gangs that use straw purchasers to supply them with weapons so they can control their drug turf. Those three areas of the gun safety net need improvement.

We don’t know what the pastors will study and find Saturday, but we think our community is open to suggestions and recommendations. A good discussion on this issue is a start at understanding if there is a problem, and what that problem is.