I’ve owned an assault rifle for 10 years. Fired it once. I planned on firing it more, specifically at whatever back-yard farm-field targets I could procure (watermelons, cans), but never got around to it. Ammo, in this day and age, is expensive, and so is time when you are a journalist with a full-time working wife and a 2-year-old child.
If handing that rifle over to some authority and banishing it to some scrapyard would put an end to mass violence, I would happily do it. I’m not in the current state of mind that our country is on the verge of some kind of totalitarian takeover, though I know people on the conservative side of things who do. Maybe there is a day and place that comes true, but it certainly isn’t now. Luckily, I’ve never lived in a neighborhood where I felt I need the protection. I did, however, feel the need to protect my 2-year-old. My rifle and revolver are now out of the house. Seeing as my little girl had no problem unlocking and using an iPhone at the tender age of one and a half, I figured a trigger-lock wouldn’t be much more difficult. Not everyone would make that choice, but it is the one I made.
That said, I don’t believe handing over that rifle would do much to stop another Sandy Hook, Aurora or Columbine. We’ve had an assault weapons ban, that didn’t stop the infamous L.A. AK-47 shootout and it certainly didn’t stop Columbine. State laws didn’t stop the Sandy Hook massacre, and federal age limits didn’t keep the shooter from taking a gun he couldn’t rightfully purchase. Every law and road block failed Sandy Hook. This is a country of 300 million firearms, a frontier country in some aspects still, and guns are part way of life and part tool for every day living. Even if confiscation were to occur, it wouldn’t be possible. And most people in Washington understand this as a fact of life and politically, even though they may say otherwise.
I didn’t agree with much at the NRA press conference last week. I find it hard to argue that we need a national data base of the mentally ill when one of the tenants of your organization is against any kind of similar data base of gun owners. I understand the difference, but does the average voter? It smells of hypocrisy and desperation. Blaming video games and movies from 15 years ago just makes one seem out of date and out of touch. Giving preference of one amendment over the other? Among other suggestions, I think arming teachers is a bad idea. Teachers have enough problems, and certainly from the many bad ones I had, I don’t think many were fit to teach let alone carry a hand gun.
That said, I’ve studied this issue for years, both in school and on the job, and I think there are meaningful changes that can be made, though you can’t stop a suicide-attacker if they are determined enough and if they don’t have a background of mental issues or criminality. That may be the hardest fact of all.
- Make everyone take a conceal-carry course. If you buy an assault rifle, black rifle or a handgun, you take the course. Bottom line. Gun crimes amongst those with conceal-carry permits is, percentage wise, similar to the number of law enforcement people who commit such crimes. Making the courses mandatory is a win all around. You give experience and education to the owner. Given everyone is taking that course, the crime number might rise, but it would be insignificant. Course instructors have an expert eye for who shouldn’t be carrying a firearm. I’ve interviewed for a job recently for a business that sold weapons, and it was clear from my experience the number-one blockade between the crazy and the armed crazy is the guy behind the counter, the guy doing the background check and the guy in charge of the conceal-carry course. Most of the time they do an excellent job.
- Close the gun show loophole. Most gun dealers, who operate at shows, do background checks anyway. I purchased my last gun at a gun show and took a background check over the phone that was similar to a credit check. It took 10 minutes. This would effect mainly private owners, but booths could be set up to run checks for individuals selling weapons. This would take a great burden off the mind of many people looking to sell a gun at shows. I know many who avoid doing so just because of this worry.
- More aggressive mental health treatment. Mental health funding has dropped in recent years, and it has changed. The field needs to be more adaptive, especially in treating individuals who show early warning signs. Rounding people up and hauling them off to the rubber room will never be an acceptable treatment, but identifying potential individuals with trouble and getting them more aggressive treatment (not just drugs) would be a welcome approach. As someone whose family has had dealings with our current mental health system, getting people help can be one of the most frustrating things a person can experience.
- More experience. I think the gun industry needs to do more to see that the average person gets some kind of experience handling a firearm. The number of journalists and professors I know who have never even shot a pellet gun is astounding, especially when many of these people are influential in creating policy. Experience and education would do a lot to clear up misconceptions about firearms, it would also lead to a more mature discussion of the issues.
- Recognize the trade-offs. If people want to move forward with a more complete weapons ban, one more complete than the 1994 law, we need to understand how this will affect society. Mass shootings may drop, as suicide-attackers may find it harder to get weapons (that’s a big maybe). But every-day crime would certainly increase, which has been the case in other countries where laws to limit handguns have taken place. Hot crimes, crimes that take place in the home while the owners are present, blew up exponentially after Britain tightened gun laws. The number one detriment to crime is an armed citizen, this can not be denied. These facts have led to protestations from the public in Britain, and for the understanding lawmakers to label their own voters barbarians. Still, this is a debate that needs to be discussed in the public venue. It’s a trade-off I doubt most American citizens would want to make.
- Increase police presence. This suggestion by the NRA was decried as some kind of new police state, though I believe the organization is wrong in how it went about it. I don’t believe in blowing billions on new security guards or making a database of armed volunteers. Instead, use the local police we already have to better patrol schools and to have a regular presence on the grounds. Where would a cop be more useful, protecting your children on an in-and-out basis at the school yard or sitting in the parking lot of your local gas station writing speeding tickets? Chances are, the largest concentration of people in your town will probably be at the local schools, it only makes sense to put police there first and foremost. This can be done without rattling students, without a feeling of armed enforcement. The question should be – why aren’t police more present at schools anyway?