Monday, December 17, 2012

Specific Steps to Address Gun Violence

249 people in the US were shot todayOver 95,000 were shot so far this year. (Source)

Finally there seems to some measure of political will to address the problem, at least to begin talking about it.  Sure, there are still those who oppose any limitations on weapons ownership.  And there are those who want all firearms banned.  But between those extremes lie the rest of America.  Senator Feinstein said today she will introduce a bill restoring the expired ban on assault weapons and limiting clips to 10 rounds maximum.  Other than that, I'm hearing very few specifics.  Well, I'm hardly a weapons expert but someone has to put forward some proposals.

Humbly I stepped into the breach. (Okay, line stolen from the Limeliters.)

Here's what I would do:

1. Legislation or voluntary action by the media to control coverage, beginning with leaving the perpetrators anonymous.  The glorification of mass murder encourages copy-cat crimes.  Why have we had so many of these in the past 20 years?  Partly because we've made celebrities of the madmen who butcher innocents.  If the mass media is not willing to voluntarily commit to this, let's look at a way to impose it legislatively or judicially.

2. Revive the previous ban on assault weapons.  This is a no-brainer.  The shootings in Newtown, Aurora and at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin were all from an assault weapon called the Bushmaster AR-15, a knockoff of the military's M16.  It is the most popular gun in America currently, selling very well at $500-$1000 each.  It is a killing machine.  Once the ban goes into place, the government should offer to purchase these back from owners at a fair second-hand price to remove as many as possible from the streets.

3. Overturn the 2005 Protection of Lawful Arms in Commerce Act signed by President Bush.  This made it illegal to hold gun manufacturers and dealers accountable through the courts.  It is outrageous that this one industry is sheltered from accountability that every other industry must face. Do this first.
The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act is also commonly referred to as the "Gun Protection Act." The law dismissed all current claims against gun manufacturers in both federal and state courts and pre-empted future claims. The law could not be clearer in stating its purpose: "To prohibit causes of action against manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers of firearms or ammunition products, and their trade associations, for the harm caused solely by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products or ammunition products by others when the product functioned as designed and intended." 
4. Overturn "stand your ground" laws. The killing earlier this year in Florida of Trayvon Martin brought home to all of us how the proliferation of these license-to-kill laws is affecting our communities.  If you must shoot in self-defense, the courts do consider that an exception.  Stand your ground laws go much too far.

5. If necessary by amendment so be it, but allow states and municipalities to regulate weapons in their borders. Even in the "wild west", frontier towns had very restrictive gun laws to protect citizens.  Yet just this week the 7th District Court overturned an Illinois law prohibiting carrying loaded guns in public and ordered the state to develop a concealed carry permit process.  Over the weekend, 18 people in Chicago were shot.

6. Authorize the ATF to regulate the firearms industry, including advertisement, safety controls, online sales and manufacture and import controls.  We have an agency that should be regulating the firearms industry but have tied their hands.  There are strict regulations on cars, gasoline, plumbing contractors, hairdressers, kids' pajamas, peanut butter and plastic toys. Why are there almost none on guns? 

7. Establish a maximum firepower for citizen-owned weapons.  That could include number of automatic rounds (as in Feinstein's proposed bill), but also strength -- as in armor-piercing bullets -- and distance.  I don't really want anti-aircraft guns anywhere near my flight path. 

8. Make internet sales and gun shows/sales illegal and require registration for all private sales and gifts of firearms.  At, you can buy weapons at a Craigslist-style site from individual sellers.  I spent less than a minute at the site and found an UZI for sale in nearby Medford. Ending internet sales is a priority of the Brady Campaign.  I support them in that.

9. Consider additional insurance requirements for firearms. We know that people who own guns are more than four times more likely to be shot. We also know that men who accumulate arsenals are at high risk for anti-social behavior. If age is a consideration in what you pay for medical, automobile or life insurance, and the type of roof you have a consideration in your home insurance, why not a risky activity like excessive firearm ownership?  Guns are also a frequent target in burglaries. I have no idea if insurance companies are currently permitted to ask clients about gun ownership or if they can adjust rates accordingly.  I'm not even sure it's a good idea.  But let's talk about it.

So relax, hunters.  I'm not suggesting taking your hunting rifle or the BB gun you use to scare the crows out of your cherry tree.  There are plenty of ways we can tighten up firepower access and add a measure of safety that we don't have today.  

I call on Congress, the President, Governors and Legislators to demonstrate the courage needed to confront the powerful gun lobby.  It's time.  Now.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Preventing Future Slaughters

The tragedy at a Connecticut grade school reminds us all how fragile our security is, how vulnerable we -- even our children -- are.  Since 1982 there have been 62 mass killings in the US.  And if we look only at the worst mass shootings anywhere in the world , twelve of the nineteen worst since 1990 have happened in the US.  The nation with the next highest incidence is Finland with two.  What do they all have in common?
We find that the mass murderer is almost always male, is probably White, and is in his 20's or 30's.  He loves weapons, particularly guns, is a loner with no friends and few acquaintances, may be a drifter with no responsibilities, and probably has no criminal record or any lengthy history of mental treatment.  The mass murderer has festering "real or imagined grievances, frustrations, disappointments, and outrages done to him by others over a long period of time" (Flaherty 1992:5). (Source)
We're all thinking about prevention.  Some focus on mental health, others on guns and others on ramping up security at schools and other public facilities. Let's focus on individual acts we all can take.

What You Can Do Now
  1. Turn off the TV.  Media exploitation of these tragedies feeds them and encourages more.  Consume no more news -- television, newspaper, internet -- than you would on any other day. Knowing the up-to-the-minute body count, watching people cry and seeing the face of the perpetrator does not tell you anything useful.  
  2. Contact your TV stations, newspapers and radio stations and tell them to stop glorifying the killer and the killing.  Tell them NOT to show the face or name of the killer.  Make him anonymous.
  3. Talk about guns with people who agree and disagree with you.  Be respectful in spite of your passion. Listen. Make this your goal:  What kinds of weapons can we agree to place limits on? What do individuals need weapons for and which weapons will suffice? We won't ban everything.  Nor are we likely to continue the anything and everything agenda of the NRA. Do we start with large magazines? Automatic weapons? Allowing regulation of gun manufacture and trade? (We do it for cars, pajamas, peanut butter, dog food and every other consumer item.) Restricting gun show sales? Allowing state and local governments to make their own rules? Eliminating stand-your-ground laws? 
  4. Contact your Congressional representatives and the President.  Let them know you expect some courage on this issue.  Tell them what specific actions you want them to take.
  5. Continue living your life.  Send your children to school.  Go to the theater. Go to the mall.  Don't let the crazies change the lives of you or your loved ones.  Statistically, you're still safest whenever you're not in your car.
Meanwhile, be aware of just what our gun culture is.  In the Rogue Valley, there are sixteen stores where you can purchase a bottle of hard liquor. You cannot buy it at a swap meet and you can't carry it around downtown or have it accessible in your vehicle.  There are laws that ensure the alcohol is prepared properly (whatever that means) and that prevent anyone under 21 from drinking it.

There are thirty or more stores where you can purchase a gun. You can also buy it at countless gun shows, from an ad in the paper or from your neighbor. Or you can buy it online or from a magazine. You can give it to your children, carry it around downtown (with a permit) or keep it loaded on the seat next to you in your car.

Both guns and alcohol are killers. Why is one sheltered and the other controlled?

See also: Hobby Politics