Much of today’s news from Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Congress concerns the “Red Flag.”

Red Flag is the moniker given to potential laws concerning gun control, and specifically, controls concerning assault weapons. Much of this interest in gun control legislation seems to stem from the recent mass murders in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, where assault weapons were used in those murders, killing many.

These murders seemed to nudge Congress members out of their long slumber to address this decades-long problem. Suddenly, control of ownership of assault weapons is a key talking point, but the problem has existed for decades, and those we send to Congress have ignored the issue because it is too difficult to address.

How do members of Congress address a Second Amendment to the Constitution issue without potentially losing what is most important to them, the next election and their job? Any law passed must be both enforceable and enforced.

Admittedly, the issue is complex. If easy, the solutions would be obvious.

Maybe the first step is to address the need for civilians to own lightweight automatic weapons designed for soldiers to use when attacking the enemy. While they can be fired on automatic, as a general rule in the military, they are not fired on automatic, because it is a waste of ammunition.

Assault weapons are not hunting rifles. Assault weapons fired on automatic greatly reduce the ability to aim at the target and in fact is nothing more than spraying randomly.

During a recent discussion with a friend, he indicated that in the infantry units he was in during the Vietnam War, the rule was not to fire on automatic, and my experience was the same as his.

So the question continues: Why does an ordinary American citizen need an assault weapon?

Step one for Congress should be to ban the ownership, possession and sale of assault rifles to citizens. Create a way for current owners of assault rifles to turn in those they own and maybe have a buyback program.

As with any law, there must be enforcement. The law not only must give an incentive to turn in those weapons but also a reasonable time frame to turn them in and a stiff penalty for failure to comply.

As former Congressman Trey Gowdy recently indicated, the toughest part of any law is how to enforce it. In my opinion, strict enforcement is essential in this as it pertains to assault rifles.

The second half of the issue is far more complex. What background check should be accomplished before the purchase/transfer of any gun? This is a real can of worms, and how often do you reassess the status of the owner and the owner’s right to have a weapon? Can an owner’s status change over time? Obviously, it can and does.

Access to guns is also a critical issue. Sometimes the owner gives a weapon to a relative or allows access to others. Ownership is legally transferred via wills or as gifts, and how can that be managed. Just as important, should it be managed by our government? Sometimes the legal owner does not fully secure the weapon, and a relative gains control and kills others. Remember Sandy Hook?

The Second Amendment is very important and should be protected. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue, nor is it a liberal, progressive or conservative issue. This is a matter that politicians have sidestepped for decades.

Benjamin Franklin reportedly stated, “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” We and our Congress must protect both our security and our liberty.

I acknowledge there are numerous important issues ongoing in Washington that need to be addressed. This issue needs to move to the head of the list. Far too many members of Congress are sidetracked looking for a new job and are essentially missing in action.

Some of the declared presidential candidates have reportedly missed approximately 40% of the votes, and others more than 30%. This is one of many other areas where action is needed. If you want to run for another office, resign from the one you hold now.

In the meantime, reimburse the taxpayers for the time you missed work while out campaigning. That reimbursement needs to include not only your salary but also the cost for health care and security as well as other expenses on the taxpayer’s dime. We hired you to perform in Congress, not to campaign for another job.

A critical issue of any law is the enforcement of that law. Laws that are enacted but not enforced are nothing but ink on paper and do nothing to help provide for the safety and security of our citizens.

Numerous laws concerning ownership of guns have been passed by Congress, but have they in fact been enforced?

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Citizen Columnist Thomas J. Sheehy retired from the U.S. Army following 26 years on active duty. He and his wife of 47 years moved to Florence in 2009. They have two sons and four wonderful grandchildren. Contact Sheehy at

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