As a father of school-aged children, including one who loves concerts, the recent mass shootings in places like Las Vegas and Miami really trouble me. The fact that there are so many criminally — no, murderously insane people walking among us is scary. I think we are all nearly to the point of looking around and wondering who the next person might be who is capable of such violence. An ongoing Washington Post analysis has found that more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. Something HAS to change.
In the wake of these events, especially the Miami school shooting, many are calling for stricter laws on guns. Some are calling for outright bans. Some want to just ban the sale and/or ownership of so-called ‘military-style assault weapons’ (e.g. the AR-15). Some want stronger background checks. Some want longer waiting periods. Some want to stronger licensing requirements, rules around storage and safekeeping, or mandatory training.
Let me preface this by saying, I hate being able to see both sides of an argument. Some folks see things as all black or all white, and fail to see the gray areas. Sometimes I wish I could be that way. That would prevent me from having arguments with my own conscience.
In this case, I DO understand why some people desire the aforementioned bans, laws, or rules. I get it. Many of them make sense from a 1000-ft view. There are many assumptions being made:
– “Guns kill people, so guns are bad. Nobody should have this ability.” = ban guns
– “I don’t need a gun because my government will protect me.” = ban guns
– “Nobody needs an AR-15 military style gun. They should not be sold.” = ban guns
– “People who own guns should all pass mental evaluations, stronger background checks, etc.” = many gun owners are unstable
– “People who buy guns should have to wait longer to get them; they should not be sold online.” = all gun owners/buyers are unstable
– “People who own guns should be forced to store them safely.” = safe storage will prevent bad things from happening
– “People who own guns should complete mandatory training.” = gun owners are by default unsafe
Sadly, I have even seen on social media (looking at you, Twitter) where “all gun owners are racist, fascist, murderers-in-waiting.” Some people will swim a long way to get to the deep end, others just jump right in.
Looking at the opposite side of this coin:
– Guns don’t kill people — PEOPLE kill people. Guns are the tool of choice. In most cases, if someone who is willing to take violent action does not have the tool they want, they find a tool that works. Examples: Oklahoma City. New York City. Boston. Even in the events of 9/11, firearms were not used — it was box knives.
– There is a long, long history of governments rising up against their own people, including the Civil War (civilian deaths were inflicted by both sides), and in places like China, Russia/Syria, etc. Should we, the people, give up our individual right to defend our country, our property, or ourselves?
– Interestingly, the call to ban “military style” weapons is often called “FOBG” (Fear of Black Guns) by some. In terms of functional differences between an AR and a hunting rifle, there often are none. People are making assumptions based on appearance.
– The idea to require mental-health checks insinuates that many gun owners are unstable. This is at least somewhat true, as clearly SOME gun owners have been unstable. BUT, so are many automobile owners. Shall we ban cars? We can’t afford to over-generalize an entire populous based on the actions of a few.
– There may be value in requiring that people wait longer on the purchase of a firearm. However, in the case of most recent mass shootings, this has not been the case. The perpetrators have possessed their weapons for long periods in advance of their crimes.
– Requiring safer storage is interesting, and may work in theory. In the Miami high school shooting, however, the individuals caring for the shooter THOUGHT they had them secured and had the only key. Unfortunately, they were wrong. BUT, there is a lot to be gained from better rules around gun security.
– Many people who own guns have grown up handling them, and have been taught well to respect what they have. However, some certainly have not been. Is signing a waiver and form that lists the basic rules sufficient? Probably not.
Clearly, one can argue both ways and sound effectively informed. However, again, some folks only see one side or the other. The thing that many people do NOT seem to understand is the “how” of accomplishing many of the above-listed constraints.
– Given their pervasiveness (millions sold over many decades, many untraceable), HOW do you keep ANY gun out of the hands of mentally unstable people?
– HOW can people protect themselves in the event of civil unrest (ever watch The Walking Dead or other post-apocalyptic shows? We’re closer than you think. The outcome of an EMP-style attack on the US, or a global pandemic, would be devastating and would leave people fighting for food and resources. This includes protecting what you have.
– If there are no functional differences between an AR-15 and some hunting rifles, what is gained by banning them? HOW do you enforce this ban when there are already millions of them in circulation?
– The firearms and ammunition industry is a MAJOR player in our economy. It accounts for $51.3 BILLION (as of 2016!) and accounts for over 300k jobs! HOW do you replace this lost impact to the economy and jobs market?
– Requiring safer storage is noble and MAY help. Parents who do not safely store their weapons should be accountable. HOWEVER, keep in mind that gun safes are very expensive — often more so than the firearms themselves. HOW do you validate ownership? HOW can you make them more affordable?
– HOW do you better educate gun owners? Is it a mandatory course? A universal license? A test? And HOW do you validate their mental state? An evaluation? Who administers this? And if people take it and pass, does this reduce the number of gun-free zones since you are trusting owners to be mentally stable and well-trained?
Finally, many gun owners do not want to be “on anyone’s list”. People often do not trust the government because it has proven itself to be untrustworthy. If your name is on a list an an gun owner, or the owner of a certain type of firearm, etc., then you have essentially given up one of your core rights and freedoms. I don’t think anyone really wants to live in an Orwellian society. People do not want the military knocking on their door, demanding they hand over their firearms. That would be a nightmare.
In 1755, Ben Franklin wrote “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” While he was actually writing about finance, the idea fits. If you are willing to give up an essential liberty (right to bear arms, own firearms), in order to give up temporary safety, do you truly deserve either?
Some things I think CAN be done immediately that would perhaps provide an immediate impact, which are not related to a ban on guns:
– Better mental health evaluation of teenagers and processes for getting them effective help (not just expulsion from school)
– Increased security presence at ALL schools, by an ARMED guard. An unarmed guard is the same as no guard at all.
– Increased security processes at all elementary and secondary schools, including closed campuses, locked door rules, ballistic glass, etc.
– Increased governmental spending for the above (mental health evals, guards and processes) — this is more important than building walls.
– Tax breaks on the purchases of gun safes. They are extremely expensive, but might be more pervasive if they were more affordable.
– More oversight on what makes a gun safe actually effective (there are a lot of cheap metal boxes out there).
– Special requirements for purchasing and owning certain types of weapons or accessories. I do not advocate a ban on AR-15s, but if someone wants to own a silencer or a magazine that holds 50 rounds, I can agree that they should have to have some kind of stated need and/or qualification.
– Improved/enhanced NICS checks. The church shooting in Texas proved this was needed.
Why not a national licensing system for concealed carriers, or more making it more difficult to obtain licenses? Because, simply put, that only punishes those who are willing to comply with the laws. You are basically charging the “good guys”. Just like gang members who possess illegal weapons, the bad guys who are willing to inflict mass casualties aren’t likely to care whether they have been properly licensed.
So what is the real answer here… I think there are many, just as there remain many questions. The Prevention Institute has some interesting suggestions. Some can be answered, others are not so easy. But society needs to be careful what chips we are willing to bargain, lest we fold those we might need the most down the road.
(note: updated 2/20/18 to clarify and deepen some points)