Solving the gun problem

  1. First, let us all acknowledge that we have a gun problem. We can’t, of course—not unanimously. There are a lot of people who think what’s going on is fine. Maybe natural selection. If only all those people had been armed, they could have defended themselves—right? Except that police officers are killed all the time, and they’re armed. Look at Dallas, for example. (It’s worth noting that the number of LEOs killed in the line of duty has been lower in the last few years, which is great news. But most people can agree that we have a gun problem: There are too many people with guns who simply shouldn’t have them.
  2. So, what do we do about it? Pass federal laws restricting certain people from owning guns. We already do this, of course. Felons, undocumented immigrants, those committed to mental institutions, and anyone dishonorably discharged from the military, for example, can’t legally own guns. But the list ought to be longer.
  3. The list of people who shouldn’t have guns, in my opinion:
    1. People who are severely mentally ill. Not someone who’s being treated for anxiety or mild depression or getting treatment to help them cope with a tragedy, for example, though the question of whether to take guns from people who may be suicidal is worth asking. I’m mainly concerned in this list with keeping guns away from people who kill other By mentally ill, I’m including the Virginia Tech shooter, the Colorado theater shooter, the Newtown shooter, and the mother in Texas who shot her two daughters to hurt her husband. (Using their names helps no one, and encourages others to commit similar crimes, so I’m not going to do it.) All of these people showed clear signs that they were a threat, and authorities of various sorts were aware of them but did, or could do, nothing.
    2. People with convictions for violent crimes of any kind.
    3. People with restraining orders against them.newtown-victims
    4. People who have publicly threatened to kill anyone, including elected officials. I’m looking at you, Ted Nugent—but also the vast hordes on Twitter and Facebook who plausibly threaten others. This is a complicated one, I freely admit, because of that whole first amendment thing, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that people who proclaim their intent to kill actually mean it, and should be stopped, as far as is possible. Asking people to stop publicly threatening others if they want to keep their guns is hardly a huge burden.
    5. People who have demonstrated that they can’t handle handguns safely, including anyone caught engaging in celebratory gunfire (which has been known to kill people), anyone who’s ever shot themselves “accidentally”—the proper term is “negligently”–anyone who’s ever shot someone else negligently, and anyone who has allowed easy access to their firearms to someone else, resulting in injury. This includes people who allow small children access to their guns, resulting in death and injury.
    6. And there should be a way for people with anger issues and antisocial personality problems (I’m not a professional, so there are probably better terms) to be referred for counseling and evaluation for inclusion on the list. I’m thinking here of people receiving warnings, “counseling,” and possible firing at work for behavioral issues, which can turn into workplace shootings. The man who killed a Virginia newscaster and her cameraman is an example, as well as a plethora of others.
    7. People who violate hunting laws that involve firearms.
    8. What am I missing? Should people with drug convictions be on this list? DUIs? Trespassing and property crimes? Nonviolent hate crimes? What about the guy at work who tells racist or sexist or homophobic jokes? Where should the line be drawn?
  4. It is possible that some of the above people (though by no means all of them) could have their firearms access rights returned after an extensive waiting period, application process, and retraining regimen. And they should be on a 1-strike probationary status permanently. People who make “minor” mistakes could potentially have their firearms rights removed for a year (or some other period), as well.
  5. In order to make this practical, we need a national database to record and track all of these people. There will also need to be an appeal process. Realistically, every process is prone to error, so there should be a way for people to get their weapons and weapons rights back if they were taken unfairly.
  6. Along with this national database, some other new laws should be implemented. According to a study recently published in The Lancet, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)01026-0, there are state-level laws that are highly effective in reducing homicides committed with firearms. According to the press release about the study http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-03/bumc-bsi030916.php (which I’m using because it’s much more clearly phrased): “Laws requiring firearm identification through ballistic imprinting or microstamping were found to reduce the projected mortality risk by 84 percent; ammunition background checks, by 82 percent; and universal background checks for all gun purchases, by 61 percent.” The study also identified several laws that seem to increase homicides with firearms, including the stand-your-ground laws. Some folks will argue that the study is limited, and of course that’s true. Every study is limited. But it’s hard to argue against any of these three laws—and it seems readily apparent that they will help control the flow of guns and ammunition to the people who shouldn’t have them. There simply isn’t a good argument against any of these laws. And of course, stand-your-ground laws should be repealed as well.
  7. There are other possibilities and other ideas that are worth looking into, such as adding education and training requirements for all people who own guns, and possibly licensing as well. But these five changes at the federal level (the database and three laws in #5, plus eliminating stand your ground laws) would make a real difference in reducing firearm-related shootings, and none of them involve taking guns away from stable, law-abiding citizens. So, how about if we start here and see how much progress we can make—and how many lives we can save?

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