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Revised Chapter 20: Guns, Freedom, Common Sense & Individual Responsibility

December 16, 2012

Jerry Oliver's gun photo

How to fix America’s gun problems


1.     Gun violence & our right to bear arms.

We’ll never be able to entirely eliminate gun violence — even if we entirely relinquish liberty in America and become a total police state.   But that doesn’t mean we can’t take some sensible steps to keep gun violence to a minimum.

Even though there are statistically fewer mass murders today than in years past, we hear more about them because of our fixation with 24/7 news coverage.  Every incident is heart-breaking and causes all of us to want to “do something”.

An emotional reaction is that we should ban guns.  But the toothpaste is already out of that tube.  It would be impossible to ban guns in a free country that already has millions of gun owners. 

As Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in December 2012 issue of The Atlantic magazine: “There are an estimated 280 million to 300 million guns in private hands in America—many legally owned, many not. Each year, more than 4 million new guns enter the market…Even if the Supreme Court suddenly reversed itself and ruled that the individual ownership of handguns was illegal, there would be no practical way for a democratic country to locate and seize those guns.”

Even if the government could do a decent job of banning guns, murderers will always find a way to commit murder, just as thieves will always find a way to steal. Once guns are banned, will government ban razor blades, bricks, hammers, stones, fists and kitchen knives?

As with so many other misguided government “solutions”, making guns illegal would not keep them out of the hands of criminals and terrorists.  The unintended consequence would be that the government would be disarming law-abiding citizens and making them “victim zones” for criminals.

A free people must have the right to bear firearms, just as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and upheld by the Supreme Court.

This can’t mean, however, that firearms can’t reasonably be denied to some individuals, such as those who have a record of felonies, substance abuse, or mental illness.

2.      Which weapons to ban is the wrong question.

But even if citizens must have the right to bear guns, can’t we at least ban semi-automatic and high-capacity weapons?

First, it would be impossible since there are already so many out there.  Columnist Charles Krauthammer observes that the 1994 ban on assault weapons failed partly because there were already 1.5 million assault weapons and 25 million large capacity weapons in circulation in the United States.  (There are surely a lot more now.)

Second, and most importantly, banning certain weapons would mean that only the bad guys would have them — giving them an unfair advantage over the rest of us.  The good guys would be outgunned.

3.     State regulations, not federal.  

Gun control is not a legitimate role for the federal government, however, and Congress should not attempt to impose a one-size-fits-all approach.

It’s at the federal level that the threat of a police state is most likely to emerge.  That’s one of the reasons the nation’s founders carefully limited the powers of the federal government and left everything else to the individual states or to the people themselves.

Besides, the feds generally don’t do anything very well, and local (closer to the people) solutions are generally better.

And since there are no easy answers when it comes to gun violence, the nation will be better served by allowing the states to learn from one another about what works and what doesn’t.

As John Malcolm and Jennifer Marshall put it in a Heritage Foundation report, “A national, one-size-fits-all prescription is not the answer. From school security to mental illness, these issues are best handled at the most local and personalized level possible.

4.     Better control of gun sales.

The Atlantic magazine reports that “about 40 percent of all legal gun sales take place at gun shows, on the Internet, or through more-informal sales between private sellers and buyers, where buyers are not subject to federal background checks.”

The states could make it illegal for any company or individual to provide a weapon to anybody without a background check and verification of the gun user’s license.

Suicides account for more than half of the gun deaths in the U.S., so some states might want to experiment with reasonable waiting periods along with background checks, to see if the waiting period might help prevent some impulse suicides.

A higher standard of licensing could be required for the sale or possession of so-called “assault weapons”.

5.     State licenses for gun users.

The states have adopted sensible standards for issuing driver’s licenses — which is entirely appropriate since motor vehicles in the wrong hands can be lethal weapons that put everybody else at risk.

The states could do the same with gun owners — with each state deciding what specific standards make sense — such as background checks, training requirements, and making it be illegal for felons, drug users, and the mentally ill (at least those who have displayed violent tendencies toward others) to possess firearms.

6.     Concealed weapon permits.

Would you post a sign in front of your house that says you don’t have a burglar alarm?  That’s essentially what we do when we declare schools, churches, temples, universities, theaters and public buildings as gun-free.   Is it any wonder that so many mass murderers target those places? 

The best deterrent to bad guys doing bad things with guns is the possibility that their intended victims or bystanders may be armed.  The states could adopt higher standards — such as fingerprinting, stronger background checks and more extensive training — for applicants to qualify for a concealed weapon permit.

John Lott, an economist and a gun-rights advocate, says: “You deter criminality by making it riskier for people to commit crimes. And one way to make it riskier is to create the impression among the criminal population that the law-abiding citizen they want to target may have a gun.”

Columnist Ann Coulter adds: “If what we care about is saving the lives of innocent human beings by reducing the number of mass public shootings and the deaths they cause, only one policy has ever been shown to work: concealed-carry laws.”

Some states — such as Arizona — allow anybody to carry a concealed deadly weapon without any permit, background check or training.  I suspect (and hope) those states will eventually conclude that some reasonable controls would be preferable.  

7.     Recruit more good guys willing to be armed

We don’t seem to be able to keep guns out of the hands of fanatics and the mentally ill.  When the good guys are unarmed, mass murders can easily be carried out in schools, shopping malls, and even military bases because there’s nobody in the crowd who can stop the murderer.  It may be a trite slogan, but it’s true that when it is seconds that count, the police are minutes away.

Places where large numbers of unarmed people gather —such as schools, malls and workplaces — have become a favorite target for mass murderers.  Even if we put an armed guard at every such location, it would be far too easy for a mass murderer to surprise and gun down the armed guard first and then proceed to kill the unarmed victims.

Besides, paying armed guards to provide 24/7 security at every school and gathering place would be incredibly expensive at a time when taxpayers are already overburdened and government resources are already overextended.

Carefully-screened and well-trained citizens, teachers, administrators and employees should be encouraged to apply for — and make use of — concealed weapons permits (just as some airline pilots are now armed).  It wouldn’t prevent all mass murderers, but it would limit the amount of innocent lives that are lost.

This should of course be voluntary, never required.  And some volunteers might prefer to be armed with Tasers or pepper spray (which can also be effective preventive weapons in some situations), instead of guns.

8.     Self-defense options for citizens who don’t want to carry a gun.

For many citizens, Tasers or pepper spray may provide an effective—and less lethal—alternative to using firearms for self-defense.

If more citizens carried them, some mass murders, thefts, and other assaults might be stopped without the risk of killing innocent bystanders.

9.     Involuntary commitment of the mentally imbalanced.

Have we (under the Fifth Amendment’s liberty clause and with well-intentioned help from the American Civil Liberties Union) made it too difficult to treat the truly insane?

Many mass murderers show severe personality disorders with the potential to reach murderous mental imbalance (such as extreme narcissism and sociopathy) from childhood into adulthood.   But the current clinical and legal definitions relating to severe antisocial behavior desperately need to be reworked because they are failing to provide the tools to protect society to an optimum extent.

In the past, the most unstable among us could be involuntarily committed to an institution for treatment….or at least kept isolated to protect the rest of society.  Today we’re more inclined to offer them drugs to control their insanity, release them into society, and hope that they’ll continue to take the right drugs in the right dosage.  Even when people — including the person’s own family — beg for help for an obviously unstable person, nothing tends to happen until the person snaps and starts killing innocent people.      

As columnist Charles Krauthammer writes: “Monsters shall always be with us, but in earlier days, they did not roam free. As a psychiatrist in Massachusetts in the 1970s, I committed people — often right out of the emergency room — as a danger to themselves or to others.  I never did so lightly, but I labored under none of the crushing bureaucratic and legal constraints that make involuntary commitment infinitely more difficult today… Just about everyone around Tucson-area shooter Jared Loughner sensed he was mentally ill and dangerous. But, in effect, he had to kill before he could be put away — and (forcibly) treated.”  He adds:  “It’s not hard for President Barack Obama to call out the NRA. But will he call out the ACLU?”

Dr. H. G. Whittington of Sun City West AZ offers a common sense idea:  “Most states require profession­als to report any suspicion of child abuse to Child Protective Services. Importantly, they are granted immunity from legal action if the report turns out to be erroneous.  A law requiring (mental health) profession­als to report potential danger­ousness…would result in a careful assessment of danger­ousness….Such an arrangement would require arrest authority and im­munity from civil litigation for false arrest.  Most public-sector re­sources… are now fo­cused on the severely and per­sistently mentally ill. This ap­proach would begin to focus re­sources on early recognition and prompt treatment.”

10.  Individual responsibility.

In times of tragedy, there’s no harm in wiping away our tears and then asking ourselves if we, as responsible individuals, could more effectively promote the values that could make ours a more civil and peaceful society.

a)  If you choose to own a gun, get training.  And take responsibility for making sure your weapon is secure and can’t be misused — such as using gun safes and trigger locks.

b) Could we do a better job — in our homes, churches, neighborhoods and places of work — of promoting respect for the rights, opinions and lives of others?

c)  Of protecting impressionable children and the mentally unstable from games and entertainment that devalue life and teach senseless violence?  The First Amendment may legally protect creation of the glorified extreme violence shown to children on TV, in movies, and in video games.  However, parents can vote with their dollars by not buying it or allowing their children to watch it.  They can protest against makers and sponsors since those things are primarily a matter of economics to the purveyors of violence (and if it doesn’t make them money, it won’t happen). And parents could ramp up their time and attention to actually parenting and keeping negative values out of the lives of their children — and not relinquishing their parenting role to the schools or anyone else but themselves.

d) Of celebrating people of worth and values — instead of people who lack values but become celebrities for reasons of fame alone?

e)  Of doing what we can to make sure people showing signs of mental illness with violent tendencies get the help they need?

“Gun bans disarm victims, putting them at the mercy of murderers or terrorists who think nothing of breaking the gun laws.” —Former radio talk show host Michael Badnarik

“Expecting a carjacker or rapist or drug pusher to care that his possession or use of a gun is unlawful is like expecting a terrorist to care that his car bomb is taking up two parking spaces.” —American author Joseph T. Chew

 “This battle for ‘common-sense’ gun control laws pits emotion and passion against logic and reason. All too often in such a contest, logic loses. So, expect more meaningless, if not harmful, ‘gun control’ legislation. Good news—if you’re a crook.” —Libertarian radio commentator Larry Elder

“The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” —Thomas Jefferson, principle author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and third president

  1. There seem to be academic experts on everything, including mass shootings. These authorities report that, despite the horror of Newtown, incidents of mass shootings in America are actually on the decline. Indeed, according to these professors and numbers crunchers, incidents of mass murder in America peaked in 1929! Felonious and accidental gun-related killings of the one- and two-at-a-time variety are a whole other sad, dangerous, and probably escalating trend.

    So, query: While there are arguably good — dare I say excellent — reasons to vigorously address anew ways to slow or stop the proliferation of guns of all sorts in America, is not the stemming of incidents of mass murder a somewhat secondary reason for doing so?

    Consider this snippet from an article (either in USA Today or The New York Times) that appeared yesterday:

    And yet those who study mass shootings say they are not becoming more common.
    “There is no pattern, there is no increase,” says criminologist James Allen Fox of Boston’s Northeastern University, who has been studying the subject since the 1980s, spurred by a rash of mass shootings in post offices.
    The random mass shootings that get the most media attention are the rarest, Fox says. Most people who die of bullet wounds knew the identity of their killer.
    Society moves on, he says, because of our ability to distance ourselves from the horror of the day, and because people believe that these tragedies are “one of the unfortunate prices we pay for our freedoms.”
    Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections who has written a history of mass murders in America, said that while mass shootings rose between the 1960s and the 1990s, they actually dropped in the 2000s. And mass killings actually reached their peak in 1929, according to his data. He estimates that there were 32 in the 1980s, 42 in the 1990s and 26 in the first decade of the century.
    Chances of being killed in a mass shooting, he says, are probably no greater than being struck by lightning.


  2. Mike Ruddell permalink

    I agree with your principles, but do want to make two comments. 1st an assault weapon is fully automatic, and cannot be legally purchased anywhere in the U.S. 2nd gun owners MUST be responsible for keeping their weapon in a safe secure place. A safe is the best solution. If you are not using the gun, or carrying it, lock it up in a place only you can get to it. It seems in the case of the recent shooting, the perpetrator had access to his mother’s guns. Yes, the mentally unstable should not be able to acquire a weapon, but after the government allows a citizen to purchase a gun, it is up to that person to follow all safety precautions. In the latest tragedy this apparently not the case.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Book chapters, with live links « Fixing America's Broken Politics
  2. More common sense about gun violence « Fixing America's Broken Politics
  3. Chapter 36: Action Plan to Save America « Fixing America's Broken Politics

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