I generally try to abstain from gun discussions in the wake of tragedies…but between them seeming to come one after another these days there doesn’t seem to be a cooling off window available. And frankly, I’ve read a few too many of the gun rights tweets and blog posts that esplode like diaharrea every time one of these events occurs saying not to politicize the issue, and then, going off full tilt to do just that. Or worse, the “it’s all part of a gun control conspiracy”… posts to be silent- as these tend to come from the very people who should NOT own guns if our minimal “gun control” system worked.
I’ll admit- I enjoy guns. I have been a gun owner virtually my entire life. I have had a concealed carry permit. But a few years ago I sold all my guns (for reasons I have blogged on previously). I do miss shooting, or I should say, shooting as much as I once did. But I really don’t miss owning guns. And I certainly do not miss carrying a gun, something that, admittedly, I did very rarely even when licensed to do so.
So…where to start? I guess with one of my pet-peeve lines from some pro-gun folks- Guns don’t kill people- people kill people. Of course, guns make it one **** of a lot easier to kill people. And of course- there is a rather unique power that many, if not most feel when they hold a gun. There is something about the power of a gun. It’s takedown ability. the distance it can offer. It is something wholly different then the reality of a knife, a bat, of any other weapon that would be used for assault or for defense. I’m reminded of Woody Harrelson in “Natural Born Killers” talking in jail about that power you feel when you hold a gun, and the camera panning around to both guards and prisoners- and you can see they all know exactly what he is talking about.
And of course the other big talking point- if more people carried guns someone might be able to stop the shooters in these situations. Which has at least some validity. It has happened in at least a few incidences. But, and it’s a big but- there is little to no evidence that there weren’t armed people who, for one reason or another, have chosen not to act in such circumstances. Ask any police officer, any soldier- no amount of range training can prepare someone for the reality of being in a live fire situation. And ask any police officer, EMT, or other first responders and they will tell you that the vast majority of people freeze in far less dangerous situations.
And quite frankly- Americans have made it very clear by their actions that by and large they do not want to carry a weapon at all times. And while a case can certainly be made that maybe, just maybe, we would see a decrease in violence and crime if more people were armed it does not seem that is a realistic possibility. And it ignores the reality that too many of those that do want to carry a gun probably shouldn’t be…and that our system of gun control, as minimal as it is, has failed.
Clearly there are many issues. First and foremost is the basic system of background checks that are supposed to be in place. First- it only applies to Gun Stores- Federally licensed dealers. It does not apply to gun shows, private sales, and in many states, pawn shops. Some 40% of gun sales are outside of licensed shops- and background checks.
Likewise, there is the loophole of the “straw man” purchase. Someone buying guns and passing them off to someone else. The evidence is strong that a small handful of shops in a handful of states with very lax gun laws are responsible for the vast majority of guns used in crimes- and being moved to the mexican cartels. These are stores that willingly, and with a “wink, wink” sell 5, 10, 50 weapons at a time- often as many as state laws allow, to the same individduals often as regularly as their state laws allow. And despite the majority of these stores- and the problems they are causing being known to law enforcement- there is nothing that can legally be done except go after the straw purcharcers. Which is a game of whack-a-mole not unlike busting low level street drug dealers- pointless as there is always someone ready to take their place (and the profits to be made).
Another serious failing is the background checks themselves. Only those convicted of a felony or who have been diagnosed or confined with a serious mental illness are barred. (and then can easily buy at gun shows, private sellers, or from straw men). And there are many, many americans who have been convicted of felonies who there is no real reason to bar gun sales to- and millions and millions more who have never been convicted who should not have the right to a gun. Likewise mental illness- many, if not most of these americans will avoid doctors to prevent being diagnosed- for a multitude of reasons. The relatively few who are generally have gotten involved with “the system” in one way or another- whether through a public episode, a violent or other episode that got the police involved, through “self-medicating” with drugs or some other “behavior” that brought them into contact with the authorities.
I’ll digress here- and say that for more then a decade I lived in a VERY rural, and VERY conservative area next door to a heavily armed (with numerous illegally full-auto converted weapons)- someone who the police had to deal with on a semi-regular basis. And who several Sheriff deputies told me they were scared of. But- despite their own admissions that they wished they could take all his guns before he killed someone, there was nothing they could legally do.
I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. And I kind of doubt anyone fully does. But I’d like to point out the situation with fully automatic weapons. They have been under a federal ban, of sorts, since 1986. But many states allow them- with very heavy restrictions. I lved in Oregon for awhile- where you had to have both a federal license, which required a much more exhaustive background check, and the approval of your local sheriff- who could deny it for any (or no) reason. As far as I know (and this may be outdated- not an issue I follow too closely) only one legally purchased automatic weapon has ever been found to have been used in a crime ( a bank robbery on the west coast if memory serves). Surely their scaricty- and their cost as opposed to much easier obtainable weapons plays a role- but I do think it presents some evidence that the issues are not insurmountable. That a combination of more freedom combined with more controls can work.
And while I think simple long guns- long barreled shotguns and (low capcity) rifles common for hunting need to remain more loosely restricted, it is clear that so called assault weapons (which were banned, albeit poorly, for many years) and handguns need to be re-examined for how we can better deal with the issues.
And we need to admit- that our society has become very, very complex. Few people really know their neighbors, know the people in their communities. The police are over stretched and only come in contact with those that put themselves in their sights by blatant actions. A simple background check is no longer sufficient, nor effective.
And if we don’t actually come together and honestly discuss these myriad issues once and for all- we will continue to see these tragedies on a regular basis. And those of us not intimately affected by them, will move in days or weeks, giving it no thought until the next one.