I’ve been avoiding clicking on articles about shootings lately because the last one in Oregon hit me so hard.
I don’t even know why.
Maybe it was because my family had just been out there, and it was close to the town we lived in and had our children in – or maybe it was because it happened while I was starting to take active steps toward becoming a teacher and it happened on a college campus – making me face the fact that not only is no where safe from gun violence in this country, we’ve all accepted that, but that keeping students safe from gun violence is now part of every teacher’s job.
What to do when you find a gun at your school.
And yet… As I look through my course catalog and plan my next couple of school years… There is no class on student safety, or gun safety, or violence in and around schools. We just have to follow district policy and hope that our school isn’t the next school. And there will be a next school because we still aren’t really allowed to talk about it, or take steps to make this madness stop.
When I start thinking about it, I fall into a wee puddle of despair. The intractable nature of this issue depresses me. The fact that we can’t even seem to start a conversation about it – not when kids are shot and killed in their classrooms, not when kids get a hold of guns and accidentally (or not accidentally – but, I believe, without fully realizing the permanence of the consequences) shoot a parent, sibling, friend or neighbor, not when open carry becomes open season…
The closest we’ve been able to come to a conversation about this is being led by #BlackLivesMatter about our nation’s latent (and sometimes overt) racism and the militarization of our police forces.
But in order for that conversation to be truly productive, we need it to join a larger conversation about gun violence, gun ownership, the 2nd amendment, FREEDOM and responsibility.
It is that last piece that I want to seize on – responsibility, because in all the shouting and finger-pointing and “from my cold dead hands” rhetoric… one of the things I keep hearing is that we can’t trample on the rights of “responsible gun owners” and that 30,000+ senseless deaths per year and the associated daily mayhem is simply the price we have to pay for those people’s rights, and I disagree.
I think that if you are a responsible gun owner, you should want to ensure that other people who own and use guns are also responsible. I feel like you should have a vested interest in making sure that irresponsible gun owners, along with violent people who wish to cause harm, destruction and mayhem are prevented from owning, acquiring and using guns. Or at least greatly hindered in their attempts.
I don’t want to take all the guns. (Well… That’s not strictly true. In my perfect world – sure, fuck guns. In my perfect world we wouldn’t need them, no one would need them – not the military, not the cops, not the criminals. Give all the hunters the new high powered, awesome compound bows. But, we don’t live in that world. That world is long gone. So… Working within the realms of reality – I’m not coming for your guns. No one is.)
That said… I do think we can talk about regulation.
I think we can talk about responsibility.
I think we can talk about safety and making it harder for a toddler to accidentally shoot their mom dead at the store.
I think we can talk about making it harder for people with known violent tendencies and violent intent to purchase/acquire guns. (One of the things that has been making me laugh that cold, dry, dusty laugh of despair lately is how often when there is another mass shooting, the Guns Everywhere crowd – which is distinct from the “responsible gun rights” crowd – will crow, “But he bought his guns legally!” as if this is an argument AGAINST having a conversation about gun regulation. I’m always like, “Exactly! And he shouldn’t have been able to! Thank you for pointing out that our current laws and regulations are inadequate!”)
I think we can talk about what a responsible response to a 911 call about a person brandishing a weapon should be. To my mind it is not automatically shoot to kill (See Tamir Rice and John Crawford III – both black males with toy guns in an open carry state), nor is it “Can’t help you. But call back if he opens fire.” (Response to calls about numerous white males with ACTUAL GUNS in numerous open carry states.)
I feel like we can talk about a reasonable response, perhaps one that focuses on “keeping the peace,” that starts by assessing a situation with the primary goal of de-escalation, that focuses on everyone’s rights – a responsible gun owner’s legal right to own a gun as well as everyone else’s legal right to life.
I think we can talk about requiring gun owners to be licensed, and for those licenses to require that gun owners take a gun safety class and pass a test to show their knowledge and proficiency. In my perfect world, those licenses would need to be renewed periodically – just like a driver’s license. And in my perfect world, an officer responding to a call about a person brandishing a weapon would have the legal obligation to request that license and verify it, just like an officer responding to a call of reckless driving is required to run the driver’s license and check their insurance and registration.
Further, just as a motorcycle license dos not qualify you to drive a car, and a car license does not qualify you to drive a large truck – a rifle license should be different from a handgun license should be different from an assault rifle license. Being competent with one type of gun does not make you competent with all guns. I believe there are levels that could be distinguished and delineated.
Just a thought.
I think we can talk about liability.
If gun owners were liable for damage caused by their unsecured guns, like the woman who left her assault rifle leaning against her house to take a call and returned to find that her gun had “wandered off” without her… Or the many, many, many people who have left loaded guns unsecured in spaces where children could access them… Perhaps we would see an increase in actual responsible gun ownership. The kind that keeps guns locked up and out of reach of underage, or untrained, unqualified, dare I hope, unlicensed people – not to mention people who the law has determined should not have access to firearms.
And what about gun manufacturers? Where is their liability? Not for every death caused by their guns, but for making guns with safety features so loose that a toddler is able to disable them and shoot someone on accident. For not using and incorporating the latest safety technology to ensure less accidental deaths occur as a result of their product’s use.
Cars are not designed specifically to kill. But sometimes they do. Not all cars kill people, not all drivers kill people – but car manufacturers are still required to include certain safety features in all cars – just in case.
Why aren’t gun manufacturers required to do the same?
I think we can talk about reasonable regulation. A friend of mine once asked what that meant. He claims it is just a liberal buzz phrase trotted out to make ourselves feel better. I have to say, it doesn’t make me feel better at all, because as much as I think these things make sense without infringing on FREEDOM!, and survey after survey has shown that a majority of Americans, including gun owners, also think these things are reasonable and make sense without infringing on FREEDOM! – nothing is being done to actually enact these things. So no, I don’t feel better talking about this, I feel depressed and hopeless and powerless.
I feel like Jon Stewart toward the end of his run.
So what are these “reasonable, common sense” regulations and reforms that the majority of people agree we should enact?
Universal background checks – enacting laws that make it so everyone who purchases a gun must pass a background check – and making sure that the data included in those background checks is kept up to date.
Laws greatly limiting the accessibility of semi-automatic, high-capacity assault rifles.
Laws greatly limiting the accessibility of high-capacity magazines for all styles of guns.
Laws allowing the CDC to research gun violence as a public health issue.
Laws requiring gun registration and/or licensing. (As stated above, I believe this should also require gun safety classes and both a written and a practical test to prove competency.)
I think we can, and should, have a conversation about what kind of nation we would like to live in in regards to guns and violence. I think we should be able to have a conversation about the costs of a mostly unfettered individual right to bear arms vs the costs of a more regulated individual right to bear arms. After all, we already limit people’s right to bear arms. Private citizens don’t get to own tanks, make bombs, etc. which leads me to…
I think we need to simultaneously have a conversation about the use of weapons by law enforcement. Because this is all connected. We declared a war on drugs and began to militarize our police forces to fight this war, which led to people arming themselves against the police, which led to… Well, it’s a giant snake eating its own tail isn’t it?
More guns lead to more guns lead to more guns.
But wait! Statistics show that less people own guns now than in past decades – so why all the violence? Why regulate? Clearly less gun owners doesn’t equal less gun violence. (And yet… homicide, including gun homicide is declining, so maybe there is some correlation…? And no, it isn’t declining so fast that we can skip the conversation. 30,000+ gun deaths per year is not something we should be ignoring.)
So, let’s look at who owns guns AND who is using them inappropriately and have a conversation about what that data could mean for policy.
Oh wait, we kind of can’t.
The CDC isn’t allowed to conduct that kind of research, and the government isn’t allowed to keep track of guns in our country – no registry, no licensing, nothing because they might maybe someday use that information to take all the guns because Hitler (or something. I’ve never really understood this argument and I admit, at this point I’m done trying to pretend to be nice to conspiracy theorists. No one wants to take your guns unless you are a violent a-hole who shouldn’t have them in the first place – so stop waving your arms in my face and acting like a violent a-hole who should be disarmed!!)
What we do know is that less people own guns. BUT the people who do own guns tend to own more of them. So we have less gun owners, but more owned guns.
We also know a thing or two about the people using guns for violence against others.
Mass shooters, with exactly one exception, are male. They tend to be white. They tend to feel slighted by society, many post their grievances – as well as their violent intentions – before they act. Those are often ignored until after the bullets have flown and the blood has pooled.
Based on this, if we want to stop mass shootings, perhaps we should pay attention to angry men who say they the world has slighted them and want to hurt others as a result – and not let them purchase guns or ammo. Perhaps we should be allowed to take their pre-existing owned guns from them. Perhaps we should be allowed to put them on a “No guns, no bullets” list, like the no fly lists we’ve been allowed to create even though most passengers don’t crash planes into buildings full of people…
Since mental health is clearly a factor in these mass shootings, perhaps we should also be able to get them some mental health services! Wouldn’t that be nice!
But mass shootings, while dramatic and headline grabbing, are a small percentage of all the shootings in America. What about all the rest of them – the many, many, many handgun deaths that don’t involve high-capacity guns? The many, many shootings that the new laws outlined above wouldn’t touch? What do we do about all the day to day casual gun violence that doesn’t make the news?
If we knew who owned guns, or at least who was licensed to own a gun and what types they were licensed to own, we would also know who shouldn’t/wasn’t allowed/licensed to own guns. That might make it easier for police to confiscate illegal guns. Once confiscated, illegally owned guns should be melted down into some sort of non-weapon. This has the effect of eventually reducing the total number of guns in circulation.
Likewise any gun used in the commission of a crime should be destroyed once the case is settled (including appeals) and it is no longer needed as evidence.
Voluntary gun buyback programs should be available in more municipalities and those guns too should be permanently removed from circulation.
I keep hearing that the gun problem in America is intractable because we already have too many guns and there’s no way to get them off the street short of mass confiscation. But then I hear about gun buyback programs being shut down, or being forced to sell the guns back into the community they were just removed from and I realize that the real problem is that we keep shooting ourselves in the foot. Once guns are removed from circulation, let’s keep them out.
Now, I can already hear the panicked chorus of, “But what’s to keep The Government from taking everyone’s guns and, and, HITLER!”
We the people, and our representatives are smart enough to solve this.
First, we are already largely protected from this by the 4th Amendment, you know, the one that protects against illegal search and seizure. Now, I know this right has been eroded significantly by the war on drugs and asset forfeiture laws, not to mention the war on terror and Homeland security so – let’s use our power and strengthen it back up. (And maybe stop declaring war on everything?)
We can write the laws in such a way that if police confiscate weapons, the person they were taken from has the right, and the time, to challenge that and to prove that they were legally allowed to own and possess those weapons. If the weapons were wrongfully confiscated, the person who was wronged gets them back and is reimbursed for any legal/court fees. (See the marijuana industry as an example of this – police who raid a Colorado marijuana business are required to keep alive any plants they find until the case is closed or reimburse the owner for their loss when they are found to be operating within the law.) It would be great if we re-wrote asset forfeiture laws at the same time to reflect this as well, but hey, one dream at a time.
Perhaps you also noticed that I said weapons used in the commission of a crime should be destroyed only after all appeals have been made and the case is closed – so that if that person is found innocent they can have their gun back.
But yes, we should absolutely be taking steps to get more guns off the streets.
Yes, we should absolutely be limiting the number of people who can purchase and own guns.
Yes, we should absolutely be limiting what types of guns and magazines and ammunition citizens (and police and the military) can possess, own, carry and use.
Yes, we should absolutely require background checks, gun safety classes, gun licensing.
Yes, we should be talking about what responsible gun ownership actually means – and if we have to legislate what that looks like (guns kept in locked spaces, out of reach of minors, not in homes with people who are banned from owning guns, etc.) because common sense is not actually common, then so be it.
And, if we’re really not allowed to regulate guns or talk about guns, maybe we can take some advice from Chris Rock and try to control the bullets.