Ten years ago this spring, two teenagers in Colorado gunned down fellow students and teachers in a killing spree that left 15 dead, 24 injured, and a nation horrified that such carnage could unfold at an American high school.
In the decade since, there have been a million gun casualties in the United States.
After the Columbine tragedy, I issued a report, "A Farewell to Arms," calling for the country finally to address gun violence head on. I recommended a number of measures: closing the gun show loophole, harnessing new technologies to make guns safer, allowing law enforcement to use body wires to catch straw purchasers, to name a few.
I further proposed that while hunting and other recreational uses of firearms should remain unfettered, our long-term goal should be an end to unrestricted handgun ownership. Sportsmen do not typically use handguns, and studies on self-defense make clear that people in households with handguns are more likely to be victims of gun violence than those in homes without them. I argued that handguns exact too high a price.
Fast forward 10 years, and dueling Baltimore Sun columnists reflect on the state of gun ownership and gun violence on the anniversary of Columbine. One taunts, "proponents of gun control [are] shooting blanks." He claims the country has finally seen the light and rejected gun control. Deriding my 1999 report, he calls me a "prime example of someone swimming against the tide of public opinion."
The second columnist's rejoinder is a lament, not that most Americans have rejected sensible gun control but that resignation has replaced outrage. We are sorry, even momentarily traumatized, when the nightly news reports another gunman cutting short more lives at a school, a church, or whatever the latest venue. But we have essentially given up and given in.
This cannot stand. While I may have been bucking the tide in my call to end handgun ownership, I am certain all Americans share my desire to see the violence stop.
I am also convinced this collective desire can be channeled. It can be a powerful, animating force behind a serious effort to find common ground. Gun ownership need not be an all-or-nothing proposition. It should not be this hard to find reasonable, common-sense ways to allow people to own and use guns safely.
Indeed, there is evidence that this is happening - in defiance of the conventional wisdom that the gun-control debate is over. Just look at Colorado, Oregon and California, which closed their gun-show loopholes, reducing the number of straw purchases in those states while still allowing gun shows to flourish. Recently, the legislature in Minnesota (a state with a strong tradition of gun ownership) overwhelmingly passed a bill to upload state records to the National Instant Check System to block gun sales to those adjudicated mentally ill.
We can build on these efforts. Legislation to close the gun show loophole nationally is pending in Congress. Childproofing handguns so only owners and authorized users can fire them would save many lives. The notion that guns in our national parks will make vacationing families safer should not carry the day. And surely we can agree that civilian ownership of military-style assault weapons, which make mass slaughters possible, serves no positive purpose.
Guns have killed 300,000 and maimed another 700,000 in the past decade - a million victims since Columbine. Had we done more 10 years ago, how many of those million might we have saved? Ten years from now, do we want to be asking ourselves the same question?
We have not achieved so much in this country by giving up. We are capable of compromise. Let us summon the strong, courageous leadership to put in place sensible laws that will protect against violence while still allowing responsible gun ownership. Let us come together so that 10 years from now, we can say many fewer died because we got it done.
J. Joseph Curran Jr. is the former attorney general of Maryland. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.