“The more weapons you have, the less secure people will be.” Lao Tzu
It is often said that “now is not the time” to have this discussion. It’s often said because, well, frankly, there are so many tragedies that happen that there is a perpetual “cooling off” period of time that just keeps getting extend. Well, it’s been 4,996 days since the Columbine massacre. I pick that point in time because I was in high school, and could feel the impact of it in the days and weeks that followed. Calls for more security, which eventually faded as time passed on. Discussions on video games, movies, and music. When we don’t fully understand something, we come up with various ways to attempt to explain it. This manifests in multiple aspects of our lives. Our need to find answers.
Well, the plain and simple truth is that our society’s “culture problem” is the gun culture. Now, that’s not me saying we need to ban all guns. Few, if any, have made such a call. But as we get bombarded with diversions, let us remember some key points:
- only 4% of violence in America can be attributed to mental illness.
- Video games available in the U.S. are typically more censured than in Asia
- Germany has the largest goth and heavy metal music scene in the world
- The United Kingdom’s history includes the highest level of imperialism out of any current world power.
- Most other countries have mandatory service requirements among young men, which results in a high degree of gun ownership but also a high degree of advanced training.
- When Israel stopped allowing service members to take their pistols home with them, the suicide rate dropped 60%.
- God has not been taken out of our schools. For one, if you’re Christian, you know that God is omnipresent. It does not require prayer led by the teacher for Him to be present. For another, if anything, all faith’s are more welcome in schools now, rather than being limited to only Christians.
OK, I could go on, but you get the point. The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre is a horrible event that has sparked deep and emotional reactions from many. Some say that should be suppressed, and we should wait. I say, don’t let emotions cloud your judgment, but there is no reason to wait. I grew up in an area where the first day of hunting season is still a school holiday. One of my best friends growing up lived in a house with a gun shop attached to it, run by his father. I shot my first .22 Semi-automatic pistol before I could drive. I was taught to understand and respect a gun, because guns are designed to do one thing and do it well: kill.
In my teen years, there was a lot of hoopla over a law that was passed, the assault weapons ban. Let’s be honest – assault weapons is a term that was used arbitrarily, and there was no real ban, as all existing guns were permitted, and guns already being manufactured were permitted to be sold under the ban. Where those rules were effective, gun manufacturers made modest changes to design (remove a pistol grip), to skirt the law. So whether crime went up or down during that period was very difficult to correlate to the law.
So, let’s get to the point. We need a common sense discussion on gun control in this country. It’s common sense because nearly three quarters of NRA members support the most basic actions we can take. It’s common sense because it helps law abiding citizens have the access they want, while ensuring proper controls exist to prevent inappropriate access to such items.
We can throw around funny catch phrases like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” but that gets us no where. It shows either a lack of understanding of those calling for change, or a willful ignorance of the message being spoken. Yes, a gun is an inanimate object. It requires an operator, like many other objects. But unlike many other objects, it’s purpose is to kill – people or animals – or destroy property. It doesn’t transport people from point A to point B. It doesn’t cut steak or chop vegetables.
We can also throw around diversions, such as “drunk driving is illegal, but people still drive drunk and kill people, we don’t ban cars.” No, but we do ban drunk driving and have tight regulations around alcohol consumption and serving. Since the advent of MADD, drunk driving deaths have plummeted, even as more drivers are on the road today. Drugs are illegal, and people do drugs, but not all drugs are illegal. Prescription drugs are the #1 abused drugs in America, not drugs that are illegal. We have various levels of controls around both legal and illegal drugs. One could easily argue that those controls need to be improved. But that’s a different discussion – one that I would love to see happen.
Back to common sense. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) currently has no leader. Because of partisan actions on the Hill (both parties do this, so not pointing fingers), no one has been appointed since confirmations have been near impossible, and this position is seen as less important. It’s been more than 6 years since there’s been a Director of this office. For the rest, I’m simply going to point to words from Cory Booker’s recent post, which you can read in it’s entirety here, because it really says it all:
1.) Make background checks universal
There are fundamentally two ways to buy guns in this country: through a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL), such as a gun store, or through a private sale, which includes gun shows, many internet transactions, and private owners who wish to sell their guns. Federal law mandates that any purchase made from an FFL include a background check of the purchaser under the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Federal law, however, does not require NICS checks for private sales, allowing for an estimated 40% of all sales nationally to circumvent any background checks.
Even with criminals disproportionately seeking out private sale opportunities to avoid background checks — a DOJ survey concluded that 80% of inmates obtained their crime guns through private transfers — there were still 78,211 instances of NICS identifying and denying prohibited purchasers from buying one or more guns from an FFL in 2011.
And those 78,211 instances matter. For example, one in every two women killed with a gun is killed by an intimate partner. However, in states which require private sales to be subject to background checks, this number drops by 40 percent. This is in part because many with a history of domestic violence, even a misdemeanor, are identified as prohibited purchasers in the NICS system.
The idea here is quite simple and reasonable: every individual who wants to buy a gun in this country should have to undergo a comprehensive background check to ensure that they are not a criminal, mentally ill, or a member of another prohibited purchaser category. Note that contrary to the claims of many, these checks are not cumbersome or inefficient – last year, background check calls were answered in an average of 6.9 seconds and 91 percent immediately resulted in a proceed or deny order.
A poll conducted earlier this year by a Republican pollster found that 82 percent of U.S. gun owners — including 74% of NRA members — agree that we should implement background checks for all sales. These gun owners don’t want guns in the wrong hands for the same reasons as non-gun owners — they are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who care about the safety of family, friends and community — and they know their rights are made more secure by a sensible regulatory regime.
Existing law defines, quite reasonably, who should and should not be able to buy a gun. Let’s actually put ourselves in a position to enforce these basic standards by passing the Fix Gun Checks Act (H.R. 1781/S. 436), which is pending in Congress. Sign a petition here.
2.) Improve mental health and other prohibited purchaser sharing with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System
Providing for all sales to be screened for prohibited purchasers through NICS takes us a long way towards keeping guns only in the hands of the law abiding, mentally stable people who should be allowed to purchase them. The next step is ensuring that NICS has the mental health data — documentation of whether an individual has been, for example, involuntarily committed — it needs to make those determinations.
The Tenth Amendment restricts the federal government from compelling states to provide all necessary data, which has meant, for example, that 19 states have provided fewer than 100 records of individuals disqualified on mental health grounds since the implementation of NICS in the early 1990s. We can do a better job of inputting federal data into the system, and should start there, but the real gap exists because of several states’ failure to provide their data.
The federal government has employed a carrot and stick approach to improve state participation, but the current incentives and penalties need to be strengthened. The Fix Gun Checks Act, mentioned above, will go some of the way in addressing this issue. The best solution, though, is for citizens in states that do not provide robust data to demand more of their state government (visit http://www.demandaplan.org/FatalGaps for an interactive map that will give you a sense of how comprehensively your state is reporting mental health prohibited purchasers).
A bipartisan poll released in January of 2010 revealed that 90% of gun owners supported addressing such data gaps. NRA leadership has actually shown glimmers of support for this issue, as recently as this morning’s press conference, and should make it a real priority.
3.) Tighten anti-trafficking laws
With all legal sales now running through NICS, and NICS now filled with more data, we can turn to defeating trafficking tactics. There are several options available, but here are two examples:
First, we need to pass a law that makes gun trafficking a clear, substantial, and practically enforceable federal crime. Law enforcement currently uses federal provisions that prohibit engaging in the business of selling guns without a federal license, which, as recently noted by the bipartisan coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns, carries the same punishment as for the trafficking of chicken or livestock. The impact has been that federal prosecutors do not prosecute these cases as often as they do many other significant crimes. While polling data for this specific question is not available, 99 percent of non-NRA member gun owners and 95% of NRA members have expressed support for punishing traffickers to the maximum extent of the law.
Second, one of the most common excuses provided by straw purchasers when questioned by authorities after a crime gun trace leads to them is that their gun was lost or stolen. While retailers are required to report lost and stolen guns, individuals are not. Requiring this reporting will provide an enforcement mechanism against those suspected of assisting traffickers. A 2009 bipartisan poll found that 78 percent of NRA members and 88 percent of non-NRA gun owners supported such a measure.
These reforms, aimed squarely at keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, and aligned with the interests and preferences of law abiding gun owners, should be passed immediately by Congress and, where appropriate or necessary, the states. Congress and state governments have no excuse not to act: The majority of NRA members and non-NRA member gun owners support these measures because they are sensible and in no way threaten Second Amendment rights. You wouldn’t guess this from remarks made earlier today by NRA President Wayne LaPierre, whose underlying philosophy of a response to last week’s shooting was “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Most gun owners propose that we do all we can to stop “bad guys” from getting guns in the first place. The plan set forth by the NRA this morning — a woefully inadequate and misdirected response — simply does not venture to do that, and through that omission, fails its membership.
These reforms alone will save thousands upon thousands of Americans, and joined with other reasonable reforms, they can truly turn the tide on gun violence in this country. We owe no less to communities like mine, communities like Newtown, and to the next American community that will, within 45 minutes of you reading this, lose a citizen to gun violence.
Like Mr. Booker says above, comments from Mr LaPierre are woefully inadequate to address the problem. Not only are armed security guards not the only way to stop bad guys with guns, there are numerous instances where they have failed (Columbine being the most notable I can think of off the top of my head). We can spend billions of dollars beefing up security at schools (and why stop there?), but that won’t fix the problem. I’d love to go back to a time where the NRA’s primary purpose was education and training for gun owners and enthusiasts. I’d also love to see us take bolder actions, such as those taken by Australia and the U.K., among others. But I realize the latter is not likely to happen. In the meantime, we should pass the common sense reforms that do not harm law abiding citizens in any way, but would help law enforcement and would improve preventative measures that can be put in place.
Write your federal and state politicians, and demand action. The time to talk is now. Now is the time. “”Never put off tomorrow what you can do today”.
In the meantime, I’ve personally decided I will not be spending my money at Wal-Mart (which I’ve defended on a number of other topics) or Dick’s Sporting Goods as long as they continue to sell these weapons and ammunition. I also plan on writing letters frequently, multiple times per week, to my representatives, the NRA, and other organizations, to express my views.
As a parent now, I find anything less than the basic common sense reforms discussed to be a failure by us to those that come after us. Please share your thoughts and comments below.
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