Twenty-Two Proposals for Reducing Gun Violence

20Dec12

I think we can all agree that too many people in the United States die at the hands of people with firearms. Our firearm death rate is not the highest in the world, but we do lead the developed world, with a rate over that of Canada’s (the second-highest in the developed world. A very few people see this as a reason to ban all guns, while others think that we would do better with more guns (with which law-abiding citizens might deter violent criminals). Most people think that there is something that we can do.

I’d like to start with a few facts, before getting to some of what we can do:

  • The Second Amendment guarantees a right to bear arms. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the right extends to the individual, beyond the ‘well regulated militia’ mentioned in the first clause of the amendment.
  • Even if a total ban on firearms were to pass and be upheld as Constitutional (neither of which is likely), criminals would still get guns.
  • Even the First Amendment rights have their limits (restrictions on where people can assemble, the classic case of shouting, “fire,” in a crowded theater).
  • Firearms are one of the rare products whose sole purpose is to provide potential lethal power.
  • We the people, the government of each of the fifty states and of the United States, can regulate firearm manufacture, sales, and even ownership — that would be part of it being a ‘well regulated militia.’
  • None of these proposals (either individually, or all together) will eliminate violence, or even all gun violence, but they may save some lives.

So, now, to my proposals:

Things We Can Do as Individuals that Can Become a Cultural Movement (if Enough of Us do Them):

  1. Arm Yourself with Facts: Know how many people live in your area, so when you hear end-of-year crime statistics, you can understand the crime rate. Realize that there are over 300,000,000 in the United States, so even something that happens at a 1% annual rate will happen over 3,000,000 times in this country. Thinking of getting a firearm for home protection or self defense? Recognize that there were 592 accidental firearm deaths in 2008, compared to an average of about 260 total justifiable homicides each year for the most recent five years for which the FBI has web-published statistics (265 in 2008, 278 in 2010). Think about whether the a firearm will actually make you safer. (Everyone’s case is different, so this has to be an individual assessment. Law enforcement officers, for example, deal with irrational, violent people regularly, and some may want revenge; and gun safety can reduce the risk of accidental firearm injury or death.)
  2. Stop Being So Afraid: Learn the facts that are relevant to your situation. Put risk in perspective. Stop watching local TV news (see below). Remember that if you are scared, you are more likely to act violently (classic fight or flight behavior). Never have truer words been spoken by a puppet than when Yoda told Luke, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
  3. Stop Watching Local TV News: TV news has an agenda… it wants your eyeballs glued to it. That’s why the quote came about, “if it bleeds, it leads.” If you watch your local TV news station, you are likely to think that the local violent crime rate is much higher than it is. Newspapers (and their websites), even though they want to sell papers, tend to be far less sensationalistic in their coverage. Don’t let sensationalized news make you think the world is a more violent place than it is. Violent crime is on the decrease in the United States, but if you watch the news, you would think otherwise.
  4. De-stigmatize Mental Illness: I’m suggesting that we drop phrases like, “that’s crazy,” from our vocabulary in some ‘politically correct’ way (though that wouldn’t hurt). What I am suggesting is that we live our lives as though people with mental illnesses have contributions to make to society, and that we recognize that mental illnesses, like diabetes or arthritis, are diseases that can be treated, managed, and lived with. So, don’t shy away from the person talking to himself coming toward you on the sidewalk, and don’t assume that if someone you know is diagnosed with a mental illness that they will necessarily become violent or erratic. If we do that, people with mental illnesses may be more likely to seek care (see number 3 in the next section and number 1 in the legislative section).
  5. Boycott Gratuitous Violence: I’ll admit that I’m not fully convinced with the argument that violence in movies and video games desensitizes people to violence in real life, certainly not for most people. However, if some people are affected by it, I don’t think we should support it. The best way to make change in Hollywood and the video game industry is to vote with your dollars. Both industries need to make a profit, and if they start to lose money on products with gratuitous violence, they will not make as many. Think about the movies and video games you watch and play. Read reviews before buying your ticket or game. If it looks like they include death that isn’t treated seriously, don’t spend your money on it. Parents — you have control over what comes into your house. Make sure that it reflects your values. Also, limit total screen time, so that you and your children are dealing with people rather than pixels.
  6. Practice and Teach Empathy: If people can recognize the impact that a violent act will have on the victim and their family, they are less likely to commit the act. Think about how your words and actions will make others feel, and help your children to do the same. It’s not a one-time thing, but part of your daily life. Children learn by their parents’ examples, to model the behavior you want to create.
  7. Secure your Guns: Responsible gun owners already know this. Use a gun safe. Keep ammunition locked separately from the weapons. These moves can help prevent accidents (keeping your family safe), and the theft of firearms (thus keeping them out of the illegal weapons stream).
  8. Practice and Teach Firearm Safety: This summer, I heard a neighbor boy yell out to his father, “is the shotgun loaded?” I cringed. Clearly, he didn’t know that if you have to ask, it is. (In fact, unless it’s disassembled or fully open for cleaning, it is.) Too many people are like my neighbor, and not aware enough of firearm safety. If you keep firearms, everyone who lives in the house (and frequent visitors) needs to fully appreciate the weapons, their uses, and their dangers. If you have an interest in firearms, take a class if you haven’t already, share the information with your family, and have them take the class if they’re old enough.
  9. Do Not Publicize the Names of Murderers, or Announce Mass Murders’ Historical Rank: There’s no way to know to what extent a desire for publicity drives some of these people, but it certainly appears that it does somewhat. Since my plea to discuss our gun culture, I have taken the attitude that publicizing the names only feeds the problem. Who knows how many potential murderers thought, after Sandy Hook, “27 dead is in second, I could probably beat that.” We need to memorialize the victims, and we should remember the events to help us prevent more. But we should let the perpetrators’ names slip into the mists of time. Write to those media outlets you use and ask them to do the same.

All of the suggestions above can be started individually, but will only gain true momentum if they are taken up by large numbers of people each on their own. But between us all, we can create a new cultural movement around violence.

Non-Legislative Government Action:

  1. Prosecute Gun Runners: Those who traffic in the illegal sale of weapons should be held fully accountable. Prosecutors need to do whatever is in their power to prosecute weapons traffickers to the fullest extent of the current law, and should petition their legislators to increase their ability to prosecute the traffickers, and to increase the penalties. (See number 2 in the section below.)
  2. Reinstate Buyback Programs: If people have weapons that they realize they cannot keep secure (either from accidents or theft), their surrender of the weapons should be compensated. I don’t think we should return to the ‘no questions asked’ buyback programs, though. We should be able to ensure that the firearms were not used in crimes, and follow up with the person returning them if they were. This should be a reward for the responsible, not a way to dispose of evidence.
  3. Make Mental Health Care More Accessible: I’ll mention this again in just a moment (number 1 below), but we need to do what we can to remove the roadblocks that keep people from seeking the care they clearly need. Money is not always the issue, public health departments could do more promotional campaigns for services that are already available.

Legislative:

  1. Make Mental Health Care More Accessible: It is shockingly sad that, by all appearances, many of these horrible events could be prevented with better, more accessible mental health care for the people who end up committing them. The case of Sandy Hook makes it clear that money is not the only issue. We should do what we can to remove the roadblocks (whatever they are) that keep people from seeking the mental health care that they need.
  2. Increase the Penalties for Trafficking of Illegal Guns: If we want criminals to not have guns, we need to get their sources of guns off the streets. To sell a firearm illegally is to become an accomplice to whatever use the gun is put to, and it should be treated as such. Allow prosecutors to prosecute the vendors of illegal firearms (if they can be traced) as accomplices in whatever crimes the guns are used for.
  3. Require Manufacturers to Develop and Universally Use ‘Smart Firing’ Technology: I can’t imagine that any gun owner would want their gun to fire accidentally or be stolen and used in committing a crime. The technology to create trigger locks that use either RFID chips or biometrics is near. Why not require that within three years all new guns sold to the public use RFID trigger locks, and that within ten years they all use biometric trigger locks? Not only would it prevent accidental shootings, but it would reduce the temptation for firearm theft.
  4. Require Magazine Safeties on all New Firearms: This would be another accident-preventing fix, keeping guns from firing without a magazine, even if a round were in the chamber. It would prevent accidents like the recent one in Mercer Pennsylvania (and too many more each year).
  5. Close the ‘Gun Show Loophole”: There is no reason to allow convicted felons or the mentally ill to buy firearms that they cannot legally own, just because of where they bought them. With modern technology, background checks should be able to be run on a smartphone or tablet computer in a matter of minutes, if not seconds, leaving the vendors with no reason to not run the check.
  6. Reinstate a (More Accurate) Assault Weapons Ban: I know, ‘Assault Weapons’ doesn’t technically describe any particular class of weapons, and the previous one had some pretty laughable standards in its definition. (Bayonet mounts? It’s an assault weapon because you can attach a knife?) The 1994 ban tried ban the weapons based on their appearance (I guess on the assumption that mass murderers were more interested in whether they looked like Rambo while killing people, than in how they did it). How about banning the public sale of weapons with faster than a specific rate of fire?
  7. Ban the Sale of High-Capacity Magazines: There is no need for a magazine holding 20 rounds or more in either hunting or competitive shooting. If you’re hunting game, it will often be spooked with the first shot, so a second would only be used in a wounded animal. The only need for 20 rounds in a firearm used for self-defense would be if you were defending yourself against a platoon.
    • If you think you will be defending yourself against a foreign platoon at any point, you have very little faith in the world’s greatest military.
    • If you think that you’ll be defending yourself against our own government, I have three words that may save your life: “don’t do it.” The smallest of the US armed services [the Coast Guard] has over 41,000 active personnel, and is exempt from the Posse Comitatus Act, as are the state guard units — which have Abrams Tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and F-22 Raptors at their disposal. You would be outgunned — and that’s been true since the Second Amendment passed in 1791, when individuals might possess muzzle-loading flintlocks, and the militias had cannon. If you think that the military would be deterred in using these weapons against you, remember, you’re assuming that the US military has turned on the citizenry.
  8. Require Liability Insurance for Gun Owners: Clearly, there are risks (to one’s self and to others) associated with owning firearms. Requiring that gun owners be insured against such risk would help ensure compensation for those families harmed. Rates set by insurance company actuaries would also create a financial incentive for responsibility in gun ownership.
  9. Tax or Regulate Bullets: Mass murderers buy bullets by the hundreds or thousands. Most recreational shooters, sportsmen, or people with guns for self defense — not so much. If we need Sudafed, we have to show ID and have our names put into a database, why not with bullets? Attempts at making large purchases could red-flag someone. Taxes could be dedicated to supporting firearm safety classes. There’s no Constitutional protection for ammunition (probably because at the time it could be home-made, in a way that it can’t be any more), so we don’t run into any Second Amendment issues, there.
  10. Require Firearm Safety Classes for Gun Owners: Obviously, owning a firearm has hazards, but we should make sure that we reduce the hazards for everyone. Whether a purchaser had completed a firearm safety class could be included in the background check for all new purchases. Classes could be conducted by accredited private organizations, like driving schools in many states. I understand that the NRA’s education wing is excellent at this. If the NRA doesn’t want to be involved, their classes could be used as a model.

So, there they are, my 22 proposals. They’re not necessarily simple, and they certainly aren’t comprehensive, but I don’t think that any of them are unreasonable. Some people may want something stronger, and some people would be unhappy with any moves that come close to threatening the completely unfettered access to firearms. However, there is nothing in what I propose that would take anyone’s weapons away from them, but it should ensure that fewer firearms make their way into irresponsible hands.

It is past time to start the discussion about our culture of gun violence. Let’s start here.

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5 Responses to “Twenty-Two Proposals for Reducing Gun Violence”

  1. This post sounds like a maniacal Wayne Lapierre NRA rant. Sure, a madman could still get their hands on a gun, and there will be less gun deaths. But drastically reducing the number of guns in this country will drastically reduce the number of gun deaths (it’s called “common sense”). Almost all mass murders were executed by those with no criminal history, or no documented mental illness — so stop with that hackneyed line, or the banal, “it’s not the guns that kill; it’s the people using them” … enough already! The NRA and Gun Owners of America have run their course.

    Today, a week after the Connecticut massacre, we had another mass murder via guns. This one was in Frankstown, Pennsylvania. The gunman was also shot, so 4 dead. But last week, 22 children were attacked at an elementary school. No, I’m not talking about Connecticut. 22 kids were attacked by a madman in China. But NOBODY died. Why? Because this madman couldn’t have access to a gun; he could only wield a knife. Had he been in the land of the free, the USA, he would have surely killed 22 and many more.

    Remember, the 2nd amendment wasn’t intended for this; “the right to bear arms” was really “the right to bear muskets”, which take 2 minutes to reload (if you’re good) and usually don’t kill. I’d love to abolish this antiquated amendment, but gun-loving America (91 guns per 100 households, twice as many as any other country in the nation) will never let that happen. So we have to GREATLY alter the 2nd amendment and GREATLY reduce the number of guns in this country. After all, there are twice as many gun dealers in this country as there are supermarkets and McDonalds — COMBINED!

    Lastly, in 1996, in Australia, a madman killed 33 people in a school. Conservative Aussie Prez John Howard said, “We cannot let this American disease penetrate our country” and immediately put severe restrictions on those who could own killing machines, and instituted a buy-back program.

    Australia hasn’t had a mass murder since. It’s time to do as much as we can possibly do to eliminate killing machines from this country. And if you don’t think I’m qualified to opine, consider that I come from the gun capital of America — Detroit.

    • Really, Jason, you think that Wayne LaPierre and the NRA would support a renewed assault weapons ban, a maximum magazine capacity, and the ‘gun show loophole’ being closed. I think there’s plenty here they wouldn’t like, but that the public would support enough to force them to cave. (And I don’t want to feed their “they’re coming after your guns” narrative.) But I also think that we need to look at the whole picture, and reduce the other causes of gun violence — and violence in general.

      I don’t think that any (or even all) of these steps will solve the problem entirely, but it’s a start.

  2. Nothing will stop gun violence completely. But *severely* restricting guns and drastically reducing them by, say, 90% or so would be a start. Personally, I’d like to abolish the 18th century 2nd amendment. That not being realistic, however, I’d like to not just see semi-automatic guns banned, but many more.

    Many mass murderers have no documented mental illness (I’d argue that ALL murderers are mentally ill), and no criminal history. So the background check thing doesn’t completely pass my litmus test.

    If you see this map of where mass murders have occurred, and what types of weapons have been used, etc., it’s informing: http://bit.ly/R4pQkf :
    – Most mass murderers obtained their guns legally
    – semiautomatic guns, assault weapons, revolvers, and shotguns were the weapons most-used

    Did you know that America has twice as many gun dealers than supermarkets and Mcdonalds — COMBINED???!! To me, it’s clear that we need to get a ton of guns off the streets and thrown away forever.

  3. The least we should do as a responsible nation is outlaw assault weapons in civilian hands, outlaw large magazines, close the gun show loophole and provide universal basic health care including mental. We could follow Australia’s example and buyback all the weapons we could to cut down on availability. They haven’t had a mass shooting in the ten years since they did this.


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