Violence is an issue mankind has been wrestling with since Cain slew Abel. We are certainly not as violent a people as we were even a short time ago, but developments in technology have given today’s individual a killing power unknown in human history. We must, if we are to remain a civilized society, take steps to control the public exposure to this threat.
There are several issues contained in the gun violence issue. Homicides, suicides, mass shootings, personal protection, gang or criminal related and accidental shootings being the major categories. This article deals broadly with most of them, focusing on the availability of assault style semi-automatic weapons because of their extraordinary lethality.
We already deny people access to other weapons of mass destruction like hand grenades, bombs and chemical weapons. Semi-automatic assault style weapons are as lethal as these other threats and need to be treated as such. Citizens and sportsmen have no use for them. They are not very good for personal or home protection and they are lousy target shooting weapons. The only purpose of assault style weapons is to cause mass mayhem. That’s what they were designed for. And just like grenades or bombs, they have no place in civil society. As we have seen over and over, when these weapons are legalized, it leads inevitably to catastrophe.
Aircraft were turned into weapons of mass destruction on 9/11 and our response has been massive – a whole government department has been created to conduct body searches, inspect carry on luggage and laptop computers, restrict carry on items, inspect shoes – you can’t even take a bottle of water or a homemade sandwich on a plane today! In 1988 3 children died from lawn darts and these were immediately made illegal. Yet 33,000 people die each year from guns – and we have done nothing to manage the ongoing and continuing slaughter.
Restaurants are possible sources of food poisoning, and the licensing, regulation and inspection process we insist restaurants undergo – because of the possible threat of poisoning from tainted food – is nothing short of extraordinary. You cannot even hold a bake sale today because of the possible risk of food contamination. Yet guns, which are not only a potential, but a proven, lethal threat to the health and safety of the public, remain unregulated.
There are some reasonable steps that society could take that would reduce the risk of the many deaths that occur each year from mass shootings, gun suicides, gang violence and gun accidents. The task before us is daunting, but if we find the courage to persevere, it could be done.
The entire civilized world looks us with befuddlement and wonders what is wrong with our ability to manage this situation? Every other nation with strict gun control experiences gun deaths that are a tiny fraction of our own. But America, the global leader in so many other things, is notable for its seeming inability to address this issue. There is no reason that America could not do as other nations have done. Australia banned assault style weapons, and their homicide rate dropped by 64%, almost overnight. We need to follow their example.
Legitimate gun owners are not the problem. One half of all guns are owned by these people – 3% of the population. The great majority of them have respect for guns and understand their lethality. You could stack gun owners homes with weapons and in 99.9% of the cases there would be no trouble, except for suicides and accidents – which are serious problems themselves. There are about 25,000 gun suicides each year, a uniquely white male (80% of suicides) problem. In addition, there are 80,000 accidental shootings every year.
Although, as I say, the vast majority of gun owners are responsible, there is the .01% that when given access to weapons, especially weapons of mass destruction, wether stored in the home, purchased legally or stolen; whether they be criminals, domestic abusers or citizen terrorists – these relatively few men, present threat to public safety.
Irrespective of the smokescreen promulgated by the NRA, mentally ill people are not the problem. Mental illness is a disease that can be identified and diagnosed. Regardless of Hollywood stereotypes and NRA spin, only a tiny percentage of mentally ill people are violent. You could lock all the mentally ill people up in jail, and it wouldn’t affect the gun violence problem one iota.
The threat posed by shooters comes from the population of men who are angry and exhibit a tendency toward violence, and unfortunately there are a great many of them. One can argue after the fact that anyone who commits a mass murder is “mentally troubled” or “disturbed,” but trying to distinguish the 5 or 10 likely shooters from the population of angry and potentially violent men, even using modern screening methods, is simply impossible.
We can skim the cream from the top by identifying animal abusers, domestic violence perpetrators, violent felons and men who are rageful at their life circumstances or their upbringing, because these are likely candidates, even if they never use a gun, to cause a host of other social problems. But only a minuscule few will ever chose to shoot up a school, nightclub or rock concert.
Complicating this situation is the matter of denying civil rights to people who neither have or will do anything illegal, even though they may fall within the profile. Suppose that we could hypothetically even winnow down the mass of potentially violent men to a more manageable say, multi-thousand population and then deny those men access to firearms. Well meaning organizations like the ACLU get upset about denying civil liberties to citizens based on the possible behavior of a few. These are addressable problems, we have dealt with them regarding airline travel, but they do pose obstacles, nonetheless.
THE DINOSAUR IN THE LIVING ROOM
The 20,000 pound dinosaur in the living room is the population of angry, frustrated and depressed young men in the population. (Women get depressed too, and do commit suicide, but they don’t go around shooting up schools or movie theaters.) It would be good for society to address this problem, because regardless of mass shootings and suicides, these people are a serious drain on the society, but the cost of dealing with them would be significant, which is why you don’t hear politicians speaking about it. It is true, that to call out the twenty prospective shooters from population of perhaps a million angry young men would be an impossible task, but I have to believe that if we were to address the entire group, at least some of these people would get sorted out. Other things we could do would be to require all young men identified as angry to attend group therapy sessions, with mandatory individual therapy for identified problem cases. These men should be denied access to weapons, drugs or alcohol. Police should be given the power to more actively intervene in potentially difficult situations. Presently their hands are largely tied unless there is an imminent threat.
One of the first things that needs to happen, whether by amendment or legislation, is to clarify the intention of the Founders in the Second Amendment to the Constitution regarding the “right” to “bear arms:” “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” The Supreme Court’s opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller that sanctioned individual gun rights, needs to be overturned.
This is certain to be a highly contentious debate, but clarifying the issue would set the moral tone for the society. It is important for Congress and the White House to do so. As opponents point out, laws will be broken, but the creation of a strong moral prohibition in the society will go a long way toward setting prohibitions regarding what is right and wrong. The Bushmaster assault rifle used in the Columbine murders sells for about $1,000. In Australia, where it is banned, the same rifle sells on the black market for $34,000. That is a deterrent!
Since today there is no solution to the problem of social violence, the steps that follow are intended to minimize the risk from the senseless use of firearms, homicides, suicides and accidents. These are to manage the dangers that we can identify and deal with. They will not solve the problems of gun violence but could go a long way to reducing it.
1. Make the possession, use and sale of military style automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons illegal, along with large magazines, cop killer bullets and conversion kits (bump stocks) to convert semi-automatic weapons fire automatically.
2. It would be ideal to ban the manufacture of assault style weapons, etc., but since America has a very large investment in global weapons manufacturing ($11.7 billion a year), such a ban might impose a hardship on both jobs and the trade balance.
3. The ownership of guns should be regulated as we do with automobiles. Require the licensing of gun owners that would entail firearms use and storage, safety training and mental health testing. Require liability insurance for all gun owners. Substantial penalties would be imposed for violators.
4. Establish requirements for the safe storage of weapons, i.e. under strict lock and key. Require ammunition to be stored separately from weapons. Proof of proper storage would be required prior to any weapons purchase.
5. All weapons sales would be subjected to rigorous background checks. States would be required to share data with a national database. Access to guns would be denied to convicted felons, domestic abusers, animal abusers, gang members and a category of “high risk” persons identified by psychotherapists, ministers, teachers, law enforcement officers, the courts, parole officers and social workers. These “high risk” individuals would be required to undergo anger management training and counseling.
6. Strictly restrict the transportation of any weapon except under tightly controlled conditions. Civilians would be forbidden to carry weapons, concealed or otherwise, in public. The “defend yourself” mentality has been shown to be a false assumption over and over. It significantly increases the risk of harm to the armed citizen and bystanders.
7. Fund research into gun violence by the CDC (and others) so that we might gain a better understanding of the problem.
8. Encourage the development of “owner use” identification technology so that a weapon could be discharged only by registered users. The technology exists today but needs refinement and industry support.