To all the people who say the problem isn’t guns, its mental illness, I say that’s a dangerous deflection even when well intentioned. The lead proponents of this notion are the NRA and the GOP; the former funds the latter. Keep that in mind and don’t buy into it. It’s pathetic to see nearly all of the GOP turn into 20/20 hindsight psychologists, pronouncing that “there were signs beforehand!” It goes without saying that anyone that would shoot up a school, church, concert venue, nightclub or any other place is disturbed. It’s easy to identify the issue after the fact.
Here’s the problem and I suggest it is insurmountable. There is simply no way that we could ever remove all the mentally unstable people in our society or adequately predict who among the unstable will become murderous. Estimates are that 1 in 5 Americans suffer from some form of mental illness; that’s 42.5 million people! Perhaps it’s a fraction of that. We are still talking about millions of people. Even when people know there is “something wrong” (as with this Parkland shooter), getting that person off the streets is nearly impossible unless they have committed a crime or made overt threats. Even then, we rarely keep people in jail or a mental hospital for very long and they are often not better off for the stay. Consider that many people who actually ASK for help don’t get it and that mental illness remains highly stigmatized as if you can never recover from it. Thankfully, this stigma is lessoning but still many people avoid help or avoid calling out a friend or loved one who is struggling. If we passed a law against “strange behavior” who would judge and what exactly would we do? There are more than a few odd characters in my town (as there are in every town) but so far, at least, they’ve been harmless. The fact is, the vast majority of mentally unstable (to say nothing of simply odd) people do not turn out to be mass murderers, and some perfectly “normal” people do. I was reminded this week of a Long Island doctor who killed his entire family a few years ago. He seemed to be a pillar of society beforehand. I think we should be trying to change/improve society always but that’s a very long road and won’t stop a shooting that may occur tomorrow or next week.
As far as gun control is concerned, I find it appalling that there is even a question about the need yet we have a GOP dominated federal government determined to roll back existing gun regulations rather than toughen them, even in the face of these tragedies. This GOP, which is not recognizable as the party of Reagan, has taken massive support from the NRA – the National Rifle Association but perhaps should be known as the National Republican Association – mostly in the form of NRA-funded PAC-organizations that skirt around campaign finance limits, particularly after the Citizens United decision opened the flood gates for such activities while most Americans were napping. The “small” direct donations, which are often cited to put people at ease, hardly tell the story. Consider how we strictly regulate driving. You need to take a test to demonstrate skill, and then you need to pay for and maintain a license. You must be insured in case you inadvertently cause some harm. If you are caught breaking the law there are penalties that can include loss of the privilege to drive. We mandate speed limits. We passed strict laws against drunk driving. We have stop lights, seat belt requirements, and cell phone and texting restrictions. There are signs warning about curves in the road. We have safety standards at the manufacturing level. We do all this for the greater benefit of the many because we can’t trust everyone to be responsible even though most people would be without these laws (I’m an optimist). Laws are designed specifically to protect the many from the few. Yet, GOP politicians follow the NRA lead (no wonder why) and say that we shouldn’t restrict lawful gun owners because of a few “bad apples”. We are not talking about worms here, we are talking about bullets! Those bad apples are lethal.
Gun laws are on the books, of course, but there are serious problems with them which need to be corrected. They vary from state to state, for starters, which is a real problem given how easy we can travel today. We don’t have immigration stops at state borders or other invasive checks and we wouldn’t want them. We need adequate Federal laws combined with local enforcement; states and municipalities should remain free to pass additional requirements as their local constituents see fit. The ridiculous loop holes like the ability to buy at gun shows or from private owners without a background check (in our digital age, there should always be a background check) need to be eliminated. Failure to complete one would be penalized. Private gun sellers need to be made responsible, too. The data bases between agencies are imperfectly linked and reports are inconsistently made. And when it comes to high powered weapons of war, i.e., assault weapons that serve no sporting or legitimate self-defense purpose, they should either be banned outright or restricted to licensed shooting ranges only. If people just have to fire one to get their gun high…which seems to be the only semi-legit reason for a civilian to put their hands on one, and I’m not going to judge the fun involved, do so at a range. Where else would you shoot it safely anyway? I propose that owners of such specific weapons be required to permanently lodge them at a suitable facility. They would check them out at the range to shoot, and return them to the safe storage following. After a reasonable time frame to set this up, and reasonable government funding to implement the program, any guns found outside of a range would be subject to confiscation and/or financial or criminal penalties. No new assault-type weapons or ammunition could be sold outside of this arrangement. If a neighbor or a classmate saw someone brandishing such a gun, concrete action could be taken to remove that weapon and that person would be subject to additional scrutiny. In my view, this seems like a win/win. Law-abiding assault gun enthusiasts get to keep their weapons but the public is made safer. Traditional sporting and self-defense weapons would be excluded from this requirement, but subject to the other safety regulations.
As for the 2nd Amendment, the NRA and conservative justices have seen to an interpretation that protects even these war weapons for individual use. Understand that this is a later 20th century interpretation and has been rammed home in recent years. The 2nd Amendment refers to “well-regulated militias” and was the result of the political climate at this country’s founding, designed to placate state representatives who feared they might trade one tyrannical government (Britain) for a new one, a Federal government. Many states had deep reservations about joining a union, particularly the slave holding states (Franklin wanted an abolitionist plank but concluded there’d have been no United States if he insisted on it.) Knowing that history – and any 6th Grader should – it’s perfectly clear that the militias were to be arms of the states as a guard against too strong a central government. Putting aside the obvious fact that our Founders could not have anticipated our modern society of 320 million inhabitants let alone modern weapons, I think we can take from the “well-regulated militia” language and specifically the word “militia” (which cannot be an individual), that it was not their intention to let just anyone own war weapons. Many earlier legal cases support this view, such as the ban on shotguns with barrels less than 18” and machine guns, dating from the 1930s. We also don’t allow bazookas, tanks, fighter jets and nukes in private hands and no one seems to be bothered (at least, I hope not.) But somehow it’s become OK that an 18 year old kid can go to the corner gun store and purchase an AR15, a high capacity, high speed human killing gun, and all the ammo he’d like. In some places, you can walk around freely with that weapon. We MUST change this sorry state of affairs. The NRA could actually take a lead role in this, since it is supposed to stand for responsible, law-abiding gun ownership. Its leadership has steered the NRA into an untenable position and there is blood on their hands again, but I can’t believe that is anyone’s goal. Wise up NRA; Americans don’t want to remove all your guns, they want to remove the human killing machines from the streets. If we do not change, it is just a matter of increasingly less time before we are mourning yet another mass shooting.
Truly, enough is enough.