National Press Club

Helmke urges Americans to find common ground between gun rights and gun control to curb gun violence

October 22, 2013 | By Monica Coleman |

Two recent mass shootings and dozens of daily homicides show the United States continues to have a gun violence problem despite drops nationwide in violent crime, Paul Helmke, former CEO of the Brady Campaign/Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said Friday, Oct. 18 at a National Press Club Newsmaker.

In the ten months since a gun-wielding man murdered 20 children and six adults at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, the country has not taken steps to address the gun violence issue, Helmke, the former Republic mayor of Ft. Wayne, Ind., said. Meanwhile, an average of 32 people are murdered each day by guns, he said.

"That's something we shouldn't tolerate in this country," he said.

Gun rights and gun control advocates can find common ground, he said. The 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case Heller v. the District of Columbia presents that opportunity because it defines Second Amendment rights, Helmke, a Yale-educated lawyer said.

“The Supreme Court ruled that an individual may own a gun for defensive purposes, at least in your home,” he said.

But he said Justice Antonin Scalia’s court opinion noted that gun rights "like other rights, are not unlimited.” Helmke also mentioned the restrictions enumerated by the court, which includes who may own a gun, how it is sold, stored and carried, and even what kind of guns may be owned.

The court’s defined rights and limitations can frame discussions on where to draw the lines within those categories, Helmke said.

Helmke said lawmakers should address a “broken” background check system and review state laws governing gun registration and permitting to find enough common ground to set minimum national standards that would ease reciprocity conflicts among states.

Issues where he thinks the parties may agree include limits on the types of guns and number of bullets that may be used without registration, and restrictions on who may own guns, such felons and those with established mental illness.

“We should be able to draw some lines,” Helmke said.

Helmke said negotiations must begin with groups like the National Rifle Association(NRA) so that Congress can act without fear of political pressure. Members of Congress think gun control is “radioactive” and fear criticism if they address it, he said.