Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gun Control

Gun control is too important a topic for a one liner or a pithy image. These are my thoughts on gun control.
As soon as I heard about the shooting in Newtown, CT, I knew it wouldn't be long before the self-righteous rage of liberals would be heard on the social networks. Sure enough, within an hour of the first report, people were posting little images comparing gun deaths in US against those in Europe. These are a vocal minority and a special breed of hypocrite.
Let's, for now, forget the fact that the US is not Europe. We are not part of the European Union. We have a constitution and a bill of rights that govern us. The right to bear arms is protected. What Europe does with their own laws has very little to do with what we should do.
It is incredibly hypocritical of anyone who waits until someone murders a group of children before they get on Facebook screaming, "something must be done." Where is your humanity when that many or more die every day in hand gun violence around the US? Assault weapons are, statistically, a minimal source of gun deaths in the US.
The far left liberals are using this tragedy to push their own agendas. They don't care about people, they just want guns banned. If you are one of these people and you want to ban guns, repeal the second amendment. Don't try to backdoor your way in.
Would banning "assault weapons" and magazines over 10 rounds have stopped the Newtown shooter? Not at all. Forensic investigation showed that he left many rounds in his spent magazines. That means he was changing magazines more frequently than needed.
Would a revolver have slowed him down? Some, most likely, but then he did have multiple weapons and didn't even bring all of them into the school. If he had only hand guns at his disposal, how many could he have hidden on his person?
On the flip side of the coin, are the far right conservatives who say that any legislation affecting guns is unconstitutional. What reasonable person would argue that mentally deranged people must not get their hands on any kind of weapon? I hear daily from people who agree with that, but are vehemently opposed to universal background checks. How do you reconcile that?
As long as violent sociopaths have access to weapons, they will kill people. A lack of socialization, genetics, and abuse are just some of the things that can warp a person. Guns don't warp people, violent games don't warp people and violent movies don't warp people.
People, who want to kill, will kill. If they don't have access to semi-automatic rifles, they will use semi-automatic hand guns. Or shot guns. Or revolvers. Or home-made bombs. Or hammers, axes and knives.
Banning any particular kind of gun (beyond the fully automatic that are already banned) is destined to fail. There four main reasons why banning weapons is a bad idea:
1.      As I started above, banning a rifle will do very little to halt gun violence. The majority of murders in the US, as well as the majority of suicides, are by hand gun. Statistically (USDOJ figures), less than 10% of violent crime involves any kind of firearm.
2.      The Second Amendment - If you are against private gun ownership,  i.e. you believe that guns should be banned, then repeal the amendment. The constitution is the rule of the land. It's not "just a law". It is the basis of all of our laws. There is a very detailed process for repealing any amendment.
3.      Tradition - The US has a tradition of gun ownership. Guns are used for hunting, self-defense and as collectors' items. Parents pass weapons down to their children. It is an American tradition not to be tossed aside lightly. As is obvious, this is a topic that divides the nation.
4.      Inertia - There are more than 300 million guns in the US. Unless you confiscate every privately owned weapon, these 300 million weapons will continually recycle. Eventually, the number of privately owned weapons will decline as the police and other organizations legally confiscate them from criminals. Waiting 10s of years (or will it be hundreds of years) to have any affect is quite stupid when there things we can do now that will have an impact.
According to DOJ statistics, 80% of all weapons used in violent criminal activity were acquired from relatives, friends or were illegally acquired. Only 2% were acquired via flea markets and gun shows. These statistics fly in the face of those who blame weapons legally acquired via those routes. Slowing down or blocking sales via new laws is not helpful and impact the financial health of those who sell via these means.
Another idea that keeps surfacing, even though federal law bans it, is a mandatory national weapons registration database. Citizens who own a gun would have to register it and report any transfer of ownership. This is onerous and offensive to those who support the US constitution. It is an egregious violation of privacy, not to mention that it is probably a violation of the fourth amendment (guarding against unreasonable search and seizure). A state database would be constitutional but has the same possibilities of abuse that led to its prohibition by the federal government.
Having said that, a universal background check would prevent those with violent backgrounds, or who have identified mental conditions, from acquiring weapons. We must not allow any new laws or executive orders to violate the constitution, especially when we are not properly enforcing those laws we do have. How do we accommodate what is needed for gun control with the protections inherent in the constitution?
We need to start licensing US Citizens who own and use firearms. There is no reason the government needs to know what particular weapons a citizen owns. A licensing program would provide background checks. Licenses could be renewable every four or five years. Anyone buying a weapon via any means would be required to show a valid weapon license. It would be sort of like using a driver's license to buy liquor. If a gun were purchased at a gun show, flea market, or gun store, the purchaser would be required to provide a valid, non-expired firearms license.
Requirements to get a license could include mandatory weapons training, gun safety, conflict resolution, non-lethal self-defense training, and even include testing for knowledge of gun laws. This kind of a license would be unfair to no one. Legal authorities would verify that a licensee was not a felon, had not participated in any violent crimes and was not being treated (or needing to be treated) for any mental conditions.
Would firearm licensing have stopped the Newtown shooter? Possibly. He had gone shooting with his mother at gun ranges. If he had been required to be licensed to shoot there, he would have been turned down for his mental issues. If he hadn't been turned down for a license (for whatever reason), he would have had additional education such as conflict resolution. No one can truly say what would have happened under other circumstances. At a minimum, the additional education may have made his mother more aware of her responsibility in protecting access to her weapons.
Congress should follow at least one of Obama's executive orders and fund the CDC's investigation of gun violence. More data is never bad. That research could lead to fixes that we can't currently imagine but would be supported by everyone. And if it doesn't? At least we tried.
Congress also needs to step up and provide funding for mental health. We're stuck with Obamacare, might as well roll in mental health with it. Will it cost? Of course, but it won't cost anything compared to Obamacare.
Another idea that could help is for the ATF to track sales volumes by weapon type from manufacturers and distributors. The ATF should track gun and ammunition purchases. Records would be anonymous, but the government would run data mining operations to find possible supply points to the black-market.
We need gun control. Not just to stop the tragedy of the occasional mass shooting, but to stop the daily violence that takes so many lives across the US. Banning the evil weapon du jour is not the answer. Violating an individual's privacy is not the answer. Better training, licensing, and tracking, along with a more consistent enforcement of existing laws, is the answer to gun violence.