Getting guns right

I’ve been wanting to write something about guns and gun violence in America, so when some deranged zealot got loose in Orlando, I sat down and knocked out a quick post. Before I could punch “Publish,” though, I ran nose-first into the enemy of all quick posts.

I started thinking.

Define all, delete. Dammit.

This is a slippery one, a confounding one. This one’s going to take some time and some keystrokes. Though, as the great social debates of our time go, the answer to whether we should get a better grip on guns in our society seems pretty simple, doesn’t it?

Yes. The answer is yes. We have too many guns. We, as a nation, have more privately held guns than any place on Earth. A lot more. By itself, the U.S. accounts for some 42 percent of all the privately held guns in the world. There are almost more guns in America than there are Americans in America, this says.

So to many (especially the “gun control” crowd), it’s no surprise that, with all those firearms floating around, gun crime is more prevalent in the U.S. than in any other rich nation. Taking it a step further, Harvard’s School of Public Health (as the Vox pieces point out) makes it awfully clear: More guns mean more gun deaths.

Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the US, where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.

gun-toonMakes sense, right? Who doesn’t understand that? The more guns out there, the more chance something goes wrong and somebody dies. Not so hard, eh?

How should we get a better grip, we ask? That seems pretty simple, too. We need to reduce the number of guns. We should make it harder to get, or maybe ban, certain types of guns. Maybe restrict who gets them.


[the vast sound of nothingness]

One big reason that we haven’t been able to get a grip on gun violence in the U.S. is the simple term “gun control.” To many Americans, control is what makes us Americans. Having control is having the freedom to choose. Giving that up — giving up your rights — is giving up your freedom.

But I think, maybe naively, that even the most strident gun-rights advocates have to agree to this: The right to keep and bear arms, however you read the Second Amendment, is not an absolute right. No more than the freedom of speech is absolute. Or the freedom to assemble.

From Nelson Lund, a law professor at George Mason:

The First Amendment, for example, has never protected perjury, fraud, or countless other crimes that are committed through the use of speech. Similarly, no reasonable person could believe that violent criminals should have unrestricted access to guns, or that any individual should possess a nuclear weapon.

Right? Simple, eh? You can’t have someone running around with a nuke.

tshirt-gunsStill, you have a good portion of gun-rights advocates — and I have to say here that it’s true that they’re fanned by a very powerful gun manufacturing industry and a very influential lobbying group, the NRA — believing that they have every right to own a military-style assault rifle, with a clip that holds 100 rounds. If they want to own four or 10 or 50 AR-15s, that’s their God-given and constitutionally assured right. They want no controls.

Those people are as misguided as those who say we, as a society, should rid ourselves of all guns.

My dad owned a gun. It was a .22 caliber pistol. He kept it tucked away in the back of one of his drawers in his bedroom. We used to take it out when he wasn’t home, some of my siblings and I, and point it around. Spin the chamber. Pretend like we were shooting. Once, my brother took it out and shot at a tree in the backyard. It was pretty exciting.

I grew up in a rural area where hunting was as natural as going to school. Many of my classmates owned rifles. That’s been a way of life for millions of Americans. I have family members still — nephews mainly — who own guns for the sole purpose of shooting at targets.

All of us need to accept that guns are engrained in our society and probably not going anywhere. And all of us need to accept that our right to have guns, to keep and bear arms, doesn’t mean everyone who wants one gets everything and anything he or she wants.

Giving up some control, for the greater good, is part of being  a member of society.

It’s simple, right? Common sense?

Except … we can’t get any kind of gun legislation through Congress. Even though, according to Gallup, 62 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the nation’s policies regarding gun laws.

To be fair, some are dissatisfied that the laws are too strict. But the number of people who say they’re too lax is more than twice as high, 38 percent to 15 percent. From Gallup:

Americans are dissatisfied with gun and crime policy in the U.S. After Sandy Hook, a violent crime involving firearms, the American public’s opinion on both guns and crime flipped from majority satisfaction to majority dissatisfaction. Since then, the gun debate has become more contentious, as mass shootings appear to proliferate in American life.

In the face of all that dissatisfaction, why is Congress being so … Congress-y? Well, part of it is the tired big government vs. small government issue. But I don’t want to make this some BS liberal vs. conservative argument. It’s just not that way. Not when Barack Obama and Bill O’Reilly actually agree on some kind of assault rifle ban. Here’s O’Reilly:

There is too much gun crime in the USA, and high-powered weaponry is too easy to get. That’s the fact. So let’s deal with it. We all have the right to bear arms, but we don’t have the right to buy and maintain mortars. Even if you feel threatened by gangsters or a New World Order. No bazookas, no Sherman tanks, no hand grenades.

So if those two can agree, somewhat, why can’t we get something done?

[more vast sounds of nothingness]

Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) just pulled off a 15-hour filibuster that forced the Senate into agreeing to vote on two common sense gun-control measures. One proposal bans individuals on the nation’s terrorist watch list from getting a gun license. The other would require a background check for those wanting to buy guns at gun shows and on the Internet. (Gallup polls indicate that 86 percent of Americans favor a universal background check.)

Smart, right? Easy, right?

But similar legislation has failed before. Spectacularly. The NRA and guns-right groups fan the flames. The fringes, some of whom feel the need to be armed to the teeth when the government comes for their guns, cry that their constitutional rights are being taken away. They dig in. The politicians cower. Nothing gets done.

Clearly, a good portion of Americans are up for some kind of gun control. (Honestly, what private citizen really needs an assault rifle?) Polls show the more specific the suggestion is — say, let’s keep guns out of the hands of people on the terrorist watch list — the more popular it is with Americans.

Yet we sit and spin. Orlando, the worst mass shooting in American history, is just the latest in multiple murders by gun. We all know, if we keep sitting and spinning, it won’t be the last.

To me, as much of a struggle as this nation is having with guns, guns rights and gun control, this much seems to be true:

  1. Getting guns out of the hands of dangerous people will help.
  2. Making it harder to get guns by checking the background of everyone who wants to buy one will help.
  3. Removing military-type weapons from civilian hands will help.

We all won’t agree. Those suggestions don’t go far enough for some, and go way too far for others. Obviously, we have to figure out the specifics on how to do all that.

But this is a democracy. If our representatives start listening to all the people, not just the fringes and the powerful lobbyists, if they start applying some common sense, it’s likely all of those things can be realized. And that will help us avoid a future Orlando, another Sandy Hook, another Blacksburg or San Bernardino.

Call your senators and representatives already. Tell them what you think.

Easy, right?

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