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Living with Guns author Craig Whitney spoke about his novel and stance on gun violence Wednesday at a CATO panel
(Audrey Cheng/Medill)

WASHINGTON – In light of tragedies like December’s Newtown school shootings, the U.S. should work to control gun violence rather than restrict ownership of guns, a former New York Times reporter said Wednesday.

“This long stalemate has to end,” said Living with Guns author and former New York Times reporter Craig Whitney of the need for debate and action over regulating firearms. “If not the members of the 113th Congress, then who? If not now after Newtown, then when? The important thing is starting the conversation on what we can agree with, then harp on what you disagree on.”

Whitney and two Second Amendment legal experts were part of a panel discussion on gun violence in the U.S. hosted by the libertarian Cato Institute.

Alan Gura, the lead counsel in a 2008 Supreme Court case involving individuals’ right to own guns, and Alan Morrison, the opposing counsel, also were panelists. In that case, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment “protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia,” according to a case summary from Cornell University’s law school.

Two days after the Newtown shooting, President Barack Obama said the nation had not done enough to protect young children from violence. The president said there is “no excuse for inaction” and hinted for a push to limit gun access.

To counter gun violence, Whitney proposed strengthening regulations on semiautomatics and handguns, not banning them.

“If you had to ban something, maybe ban the high-capacity magazines at shooting ranges,” Whitney said. “There’s no earthly reason why any civilian needs to own a magazine capable of shooting 100 rounds.”

Morrison agreed with Whitney’s point, but went further by questioning Adam Lanza’s access to a legally owned gun.

“Would it have deterred him if he could only fire six rounds at a time?” Morrison asked. “I doubt it. And if he had killed 13 people, instead of 26, would we have felt any better?”

Whitney suggested that there should be mandatory background checks to prevent people with criminal records, addiction to drugs or mental illness from coming into possession of guns.

He also suggested that in order to obtain long-term, sustainable school safety, there needs to be a commitment to prevent bullying in schools and to increase spending on improving mental health.

Morrison said curbing the problem by countering mental health issues is not plausible.

“We surely are not going to go out and have everybody in the country be determined if they’re a little odd, which is what people describe (Lanza) as, and lock them up or take their guns away or make other determinations based on that,” Morrison said.

Gura said it is important for both sides of the gun control argument to understand the concerns of the other side.

“Many hardcore (National Rifle Association) members and other people who support gun rights legitimately feel like they are besieged,” Gura said. “These people are horrified as anyone else is by the mass shootings.”

However, he also opposed as unhealthy suggestions by the NRA to turn schools into security zones and armed camps.

“Firearms do improve the quality of life for people by allowing them to defend themselves,” Gura said. “The police are not going to do it. But civilian gun ownership in the United States symbolizes freedom. We like to live in a country where individuals are trusted with a great deal of freedom, and with that comes responsibility.”