Cleaveland: U.S. needs a 28th Amendment

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The toll of victims of gun violence increases weekly.

Last Wednesday, TV newscaster Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were murdered and Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, was injured when shot during a live telecast from a mall in Roanoke, Va.

photo Clif Cleaveland

The gunman, who would subsequently kill himself, video-recorded and transmitted his sadistic act for millions to see worldwide. The gunman, who had a history of angry outbursts and paranoid behavior, had purchased his weapon legally soon after the murders of nine church members in Charleston, S.C., in June. The Virginia gunman had neither police record nor history of psychiatric evaluation or treatment.

The publicity of the crime raises the risk of copycat killers who may seek similar notoriety, which is what the gunman in Virginia seemingly was seeking because he immediately posted his video of the killings on the Internet and faxed a 23-page manifesto to ABC News, detailing why he did it. On the international scene, ISIS executioners have repeatedly used televised murders to raise their profile.

Families and friends of the murder victims are scarred for life; the rest of us will experience shock and grief for an interval and then move on. A debate on limiting access to guns may be renewed but will be unlikely to alter national patterns of gun violence.

The Constitution of the United States includes 27 amendments; we designate the first 10 as our Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment states, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

Any discussion of limiting access to firearms always triggers an angry recoil by groups and individuals who cite the Second Amendment as sacrosanct.

Until Congress and state legislators engage in serious discussion of reducing gun violence, let us consider a 28th amendment to the Constitution: "The right of Americans to go about their lives in peace without fear of victimization by gun violence shall not be abridged."

When a mass murder occurs, legislators typically call for restricting access to guns by people with criminal records or a history of psychiatric illness. But gun shows, with their absence of background checks, are a ready source of weapons for both groups.

Medical records are guarded by strict regulations of confidentiality. These would have to be rewritten if persons with serious mental illness are to be tagged in publicly available databases. Many individuals with serious mental illness or drug-driven violent behavior never come to the attention of mental-health professionals.

While accounting for 5 percent of the world's population, Americans own 35 percent of the world's guns. Yemen is in second place. The U.S. leads the world in homicides by firearms. In the U.S. in 2012, there were 29.7 homicides by firearms per 1 million residents. Switzerland was in second place with 7.7; Canada's rate was 5.1.

The overwhelming majority of American gun owners are responsible people who enjoy hunting, skeet shooting and other target sports. These gun owners secure their weapons, teach gun safety to their children and would never consider firing at another person except in response to a home invasion or other violent threat.

It is this group of gun owners who can lead a nationwide dialog on firearms. They can pose questions and facilitate open, threat-free discussion:

* Should all gun purchases require a waiting period for a detailed background check?

* Are certain firearms, such as assault weapons and guns with expanded magazines, inappropriate for private ownership?

* What would an adequately funded, public mental health system look like?

* How can confidentiality of medical records be balanced with a need to identify potentially violent offenders?

* Can state and local governments declare gun-free zones, such as parks, malls and other public spaces?

Until the epidemic of gun violence is curtailed, ratification of the 28th Amendment should proceed.

Contact Clif Cleaveland at