Saturday, December 29, 2012

Gun Control

As promised in a previous post, here are my thoughts on practical gun control. Obviously these are my opinions. I’m not any kind of expert, just a concerned citizen familiar with the topic.

I believe that most “gun control” is an attempt by society to legislate evil. It doesn’t work, because guns aren’t evil. They’re just objects. Society has been taught to fear and loathe guns. So they battle the tool rather than the wielder. It’s easy to call for restrictions on an object that you have no personal use for. I could for instance call for restrictions on cars since I don’t drive one. It would inconvenience a bunch of people, but since I don’t have any personal need for a vehicle, it’s no loss to me.

This kind of thinking is inherently flawed. I may not own a vehicle, but I benefit from the availability of transportation. Those who have no desire to own a firearm still benefit from their presence and the freedoms that make that presence possible.

The point in this case is that I don’t believe reducing the number of available firearms or access to them makes anyone safer. If you look at countries like England and Australia that have virtually no private firearm ownership, their violent crime rate is greater than that of the United States. Then there’s Israel where military service is compulsory and gun ownership rates are greater than or equal to ours; or we could look at Switzerland, where fully automatic rifles can be found in many households. In both cases violent crime is extremely low even though gun ownership rates are high. Guns aren’t the issue. People are the issue. If you look at the 2009 CDC death figures for the U.S., you’ll find that firearm related deaths came to about 31,000 for the year and automobile related deaths came to about 34,000. So you’re more likely to die from a car accident from a transportation device that requires skill based certification than a gun.

Instead of looking at gun violence as the problem, I find it instructive to look at its source. A disproportionately large amount of that violence is committed by a disproportionately small segment of the population. Namely young minority males in poor urban areas. You can track that directly to drugs and gang activity. Like it or not, certain cultures glorify violence and crime. So, if you really want to reduce gun violence, it pays to focus on those socio economic groups.

Here are a few things we can do to positively impact those numbers:

1. We can focus on education and urban renewal in high risk areas. Providing a consistently better standard of living and more alternatives to the gang life style is good for the economy, good for the community, and bad for violent crime.

2. We can end the war on drugs. Mexico is currently undergoing a virtual civil war as members of rival cartels fight amongst themselves. In many areas the government is powerless to stop mass executions and human rights violations. That violence spills over into southern Border States. It indirectly filters into our cities as the cartels seek to fill the immense demand for illicit drugs. We don’t have to make everything legal. The specifics aren’t as important as cutting the heart out of the illegal drug trade. Twenty years of drug war hasn’t reduced the nation’s consumption rates. It has bolstered the criminal element. Resolving this issue will reduce crime and related violence.

3. We need to hold states accountable for reporting mental illness and background restrictions to the federal government. Currently states are required to report individuals with qualifying mental illness and criminal records. This is so that when a federal background check is run at the point of sale, unfit people will be denied. However the federal government doesn’t enforce this requirement. The result is that some states report and some don’t. Rather than coming up with new restrictions on legal gun owners, we should work toward enforcing this law.

4. We can ask the media not to glorify people who commit sensational crimes. It’s one thing to be well informed. It’s another to know that if you shoot six people your facebook page will get a million hits and you’ll be the focus of a media storm. We should morn the dead and care for those left behind. We should make every effort as a society to make sure that people who commit atrocities and those who seek to imitate them are condemned and shunned. Doing so won’t stop bad people from doing bad things. But it will remove public recognition as an incentive.

Finally, while limiting access to certain firearms and accessories may theoretically make some people safer, it restricts the lives of millions of lawful gun owners as well. When politicians and activists talk about “an honest discussion of gun control” they aren’t talking about discussing the effectiveness of current laws and viable alternatives. They are talking about further restrictions with no compensatory loosening of strictures for law abiding citizens.

If someone could pick up every firearm in the world today and really and truly make the world a better place I’d be first in line to turn in my guns. But that’s not possible. Guns are an integral if controversial part of our society. There is a movement afoot right now that seeks to marginalize gun owners. It seeks to characterize them as archaic relics of by-gone days. It seeks to portray them as dangerous reactionaries who can’t be trusted with the responsibility of firearm ownership. It seeks to incrementally restrict gun rights in the U.S. until private gun ownership is a thing of the past. Please do not give in to this movement.

An honest discussion of common sense gun control must begin with the understanding that the overwhelming majority of gun owners are responsible and productive members of society. We are not the enemy. What gun owners have seen over the last thirty years is a relentless assault on our rights and our character. We are vilified in the press.

An honest and open discussion of gun control will only be effective if all sides of the issue can reach a legitimate compromise. That requires loosening existing strictures in return for concessions in other areas. That is the only way that the gun owning community will support such action.

The alternative is for these discussions to consist of anti-gun supporters lecturing the rest of us as to what new restrictions we should accept in the name of public safety. That isn’t a discussion and certainly isn’t compromise. Treating the entire pro-gun community as if we are responsible for the actions of a deranged minority isn’t just. Proposing legislation that makes no distinction between these two elements is intellectually dishonest.

Current estimates range from 39% to 50% of U.S. households owning at least one gun. The number of firearms in private hands increases by 4,000,000 annually with an estimated current total of more than 300,000,000. Groups like the NRA, SAF, GOA, and others don’t exist as extensions of the gun lobby. They exist because nearly half of U.S. households own a firearm responsibly and are willing to pay these groups to defend that right.

We are not the enemy. We are your neighbors, coworkers, politicians, and public servants. We represent nearly half the population. We don’t appreciate being treated as if we are the problem, especially since we aren’t. We have a right to exorcize our constitutionally guaranteed liberties responsibly. Comparing us regularly to mass murderers forces us to adopt an aggressive stance. We have no other choice. So the first step to meaningfully reducing gun violence needs to start with both sides understanding and respecting each other’s motives. Then both sides need to stop fighting over guns and start fighting against those who use them to do bad things.

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