by Ross Bishop
This may not go down easily, but let’s accept one thing, whether for protection or as a threat, the purpose of a gun is to kill another human being. It has no other purpose.* Guns have become the focal point of a perfect storm in society. No other technology in human history has received the resources and attention as the gun. It is an incredibly sophisticated technology, attracting collectors, serious adherents and also those who would do harm to themselves or others. The gun is also the ultimate macho (power trip). Admittedly, guns are not the problem as the NRA constantly reminds us. But although guns may not not kill people, a gun makes killing so easy as to make the distinction academic. A distinction the NRA refuses to admit.
Another factor contributing to the storm over guns is our refusal to provide meaningful help to the many angry, depressed and otherwise troubled people who live amongst us. They range from depressed housewives, troubled students and business executives to ghetto kids who feel they have no future. Easy access to guns make the 33,636 lost lives each year (21,175 suicides and 11,208 homicides), a truly tragic loss.
The only way to ultimately solve the problem is to ban guns, as every other civilized nation has done. The facts are incontestable – homicides and suicides drop dramatically wherever guns are banned. It isn’t that suicidal people, for example, just find other ways, those suicides just don’t happen. Same with homicides. Homicide rates in domestic violence cases escalates dramatically when a gun is present. Guns simply make the taking of a life, your own or someone else’s, too easy.
Given the present tenor of the (dominantly) male gun population, an outright ban on guns is unlikely. But, short of that, there are several things that could be done to mitigate the lethality of the situation. Gun control itself is not an expensive or overly complicated proposition.
Attempting to identify and help prospective suicides, murderers and mass shooters is more problematic, from several perspectives. It would mean going to the person and saying in effect, “We think there is a high probability you might hurt yourself or others. Therefore we must . . . “ Although not unheard of in law, that approach is contrary to our basic approach to civil liberties, but given the increasing lethality of assault weapons and the tremendous number of gun suicides, we may have little choice but to change. It can be argued that we should be providing help to these people anyway, especially considering the $230 billion economic loss to society each year caused by depression alone, plus the $50 billion loss due to guns. Unfortunately, those costs don’t show up on the government’s budget.
Probably the most significant change is that gun ownership needs to become a privilege rather than a right. Gun ownership needs to become more like having a car, where the owner must be trained and qualified for skill and safety and the vehicle insured to compensate for accidents. But because of the special lethality of the gun, the mental stability of the gun owner must also be a consideration.
Although representing a small fraction (5%) of gun owners, the radical stranglehold on the legislative process held by the NRA (the mouthpiece for gun manufacturers, a $6 billion industry and the 131,806 gun dealers (4 times more than grocery stores) must be challenged. “Under (Wayne) LaPierre’s leadership, the NRA has not only dramatically expanded its ties to the gun manufacturers, but has also linked the NRA to the far right, including the Tea Party. LaPierre is a regular presence at gatherings of extreme right-wing groups, whose paranoid warnings about the threat of tyranny and Obama’s secret plan to confiscate all guns are meant to scare Americans into buying more guns and joining the NRA.
A 2013 Pew Research Center poll found that 85 percent of Americans support background checks for private gun sales, 80 percent support preventing people with mental illness from purchasing guns, 67 percent support the creation of a federal database to track gun sales, 58% percent supported a ban on semi-automatic weapons, and 54 percent support a ban on the sale of assault-style weapons. Pew also found that even 74 percent of households with NRA members supported stiffer background checks for private gun sales.
In addition, to the paranoid and irrational NRA, the limitations forced upon society by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the name of personal civil rights, severely restricts the ability of the psychological community and teachers, ministers, the police and other public officials from identifying troubled individuals for treatment and care. The ACLU’s zealotry concerning the involuntary confinement of the mentally ill, has simply gone overboard, and as a result, puts many of these people and society at risk. Today the only reason a person can be legally detained is if they pose an imminent threat to themselves or to others. The other “ticking time bombs” cannot legally be touched.
In order to address the problem of gun violence we must address three problems. They must be dealt with individually because they are not related – suicides, homicides and mass shootings. There is a fourth issue, the paranoia of gun owners, which ends up affecting the entire discussion.
Having easy access to guns in the home is a recipe for suicides, domestic violence, conflict with neighbors, accidents involving children, etc. Allowing guns on the street is simply asking for trouble from street gangs, criminals and self styled vigilantes. In order to deal with these problems, long standing myths about guns and gun ownership will have to be changed.
The first myth is that a gun provides protection. This is the psychological benefit that gun owners claim, but it is not born out by the facts. Although most research has been effectively blocked by the NRA, what research we do have, tells us conclusively that having a gun in the home does not provide protection against burglars or other intruders and it creates an incredibly unsafe environment for wives, children, neighbors and other family members.
Then there is the myth of concealed carry - that civilians – even trained ones – will be competent to fire weapons in a crisis situation. This is simply not borne out by the facts. Witness the recent grandmother vigilante who shot up a Home Depot parking lot trying to apprehend a couple of shoplifters, or the off duty policeman who couldn’t stop the Pulse shooter. Even the police, who are trained to deal with these situations, are not particularly effective when it comes to really doing it. Gun range practice doesn’t provide the training for the stress of a live shooter situation or what it takes to actually kill another.
Mass murders present a unique set of dilemmas. It is literally impossible to single out even the prospective shooters, from the millions of angry and frustrated people who fit the profile perfectly but who will never pick up a gun. One must keep in mind that we are trying to pick out twenty guys from several million prospects.
If we are to do anything in this regard, and this will be hotly contested, we will have to sweep through society with a fairly wide net looking for troubled people. Along with the merely depressed and angry we would identify prospective suicides, homicides and shooters. From one point of view this would be a good thing, because you could then provide help to many troubled and hurting individuals, but as I said earlier, it raises a host of civil rights and cost issues. And more importantly, it raises questions about our social infrastructure, which thus far, we have been unwilling to address.
Given these considerations, I wish to propose a set of compromises. These will not present a significant inconvenience to law abiding gun owners and will reduce (not eliminate) gun violence. However, it must be recognized that once a gun as allowed into the home, it is very difficult to prevent suicides or domestic violence. And as these are significant considerations, these are risks that society will have to accept. Otherwise gun owners face the prospect of an outright weapons ban. The compromise is that owners get to keep their guns but must accept some restrictions on their use and sale. Gun ownership will not be a right per. se., but rather a privilege, which will be regulated.
There is no right or privilege that is absolute. We have freedom of speech, but you still cannot yell “Fire,” in a crowded theater. We set restrictions on who can drive a car, regulate drinking, cell phone use, speeding, reckless driving. We set manufacturing safety standards on cars and require the use of seat belts. Drivers must pass competency tests, have good eyesight and know the rules of the road. Driving under the influence is forbidden.
Let’s take that last point because it directly relates to the guns discussion. DWI laws have not eliminated drunk driving. If a drunk wants to drive, he can (although technology to prevent this is easily available, the liquor lobby has strongly opposed it.) But, in any case, the DWI laws send a strong message to the society. The form the foundation of a set of values that have significantly reduced drunk driving. So i would argue, just because a measure is not perfect is not reason enough to reject it.
A few vocal gun owners are going to howl. These are the paranoids. The problem really isn’t about guns but on any restriction to, “their freedoms.” These people live in “a never-never land” of no restrictions, and given the increasing lethality of guns, society can simply no longer tolerate their unrestricted access and use.
1. Guns Will NOT Be Licensed.
Licensing will not prevent gun problems and is an unwelcome intrusion into the lives of 99% of gun owners who are otherwise responsible people.
2. Gun Owners Will Be Licensed.
In order to have a gun, just like driving a car, the owner can either demonstrate proficiency or take a gun safety class. In addition, all gun owners will be required to pass an examination for mental stability (see below). Fees for this license will be used to offset any costs of the program. There will be fingerprint verification.
3. No Civilian Guns Will Be Allowed On The Street.
(Hunting, target practice areas and gun stores to be excepted.)
This an attempt to reduce homicides. All civilian guns are to be kept at home, not in cars. There will no longer be concealed or open carry. Guns may only be transported under secure lock and key (not just a carry case). There will be extremely harsh punishment for any person found in violation of this regulation.
3. Guns Kept At Home Will Be Unloaded and Stored In A Gun Safe.
This is to reduce suicides and accidents. If you are going to have a gun, you buy a safe to keep it in. Period. Proof of safe could be made a requirement of a gun sale. The present designs of trigger locks are inadequate and can actually be dangerous when a gun is loaded. More effective locks, (perhaps built in at manufacture), need to be developed.
4. Gun Owners Will Be Required To Have Liability Insurance.
This is to provide compensation to victims of accidents and homicides. It is also wise for gun owner’s in order to reduce their liability.
5. All Gun Sales Are To Be Registered And Reported Through A Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL).
We must control the flow of guns to both potential felons and the mentally troubled. That is done in part through the regulation of all sales. The logical place to do this would through FFL (gun stores), but that industry will have to be cleaned up first. There are some stores who make a huge profit selling guns illegally. Undercover investigators in NY reported that 62% of gun stores would have made illegal sales to unqualified buyers under even the present regulations, which are insipid, to say the least. There would be HUGE penalties (felony) for unlicensed sales and for “straw man” third party sales.
The role of the FFL would be to verify the conditions at the time of sale or transfer. This could easily be done at gun shows and gun shops for individual sales. The FFL would be responsible to verify the weapon’s authenticity, and certify that the buyer has liability insurance, safety training and background verification as well as administer the mental proficiency test (see below). Some states already do this with car registrations and sales. A transfer fee could be charged to offset any costs.
6. All Gun Buyers (Or Recipients) Would Be Required To Pass A Background Check.
Background checks would be comprehensive. The present NICS system (managed by the FBI) would be enhanced. States and municipalities would be required to report convictions for violent crime, domestic violence, drug and alcohol violations, animal cruelty, gang conviction, DUI, property crime and other felony convictions. The results of mental stability tests (below) would also be recorded.
In addition, therapists, psychiatrists, ministers, teachers, police officers social workers and other public officials would be required to report individuals that could potentially represent a danger to themselves or to others, cases of serious depression, anti-social behavior, violence and gang activity.
7. Anti-Depressants and Guns Will Not Be Allowed To Coexist.
Proscribers of any anti-depressant would be required to report the prescription to the F.B.I. and to inquire as to the availability of guns in the home. Potential proscribers would withhold prescription until all weapons were surrendered to the police or to a secure facility outside the home.
8. Test For Mental Stability.
All owners of guns would be required to pass a test of mental stability, under the auspices of the NICS and administered by the FFL. The instrument, available over the internet would be designed to identify high risk people (homicide, suicide, shooters) to disqualify them from gun ownership. Cost would be covered by a nominal transfer fee. This would not be 100% effective, but would serve as a partial solution.
This is going to raise significant civil rights issues because many people who would be disqualified would never resort to violence, but under the circumstances, given the increasing lethality of guns, would seem a reasonable precaution. Whether or not this information should be funneled into the mental health system is another matter for debate. There would be an appeals process.
7. All Gun Thefts Must Be Reported.
8. Institute For Gun Safety
A national organization, under the authority of the NICS would be created to conduct gun safety classes and to promote gun safety generally. A research institute would also be created to study and disseminate technological enhancements to gun manufacturers and recommend gun safety legislation in order to make guns safer. This group would be responsible for the development of the mental stability test.
*For the purposes of this proposal I am separating guns from rifles, especially rifles intended and designed for hunting. Because assault weapons are intended for killing people, I am arbitrarily categorizing them as guns. I will leave it to someone else to develop a better definition.
copyright © Blue Lotus Press 2016