Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Gun Debate: Sixteen common sense ideas could take us a long way....

We really don't need to ban guns in the United States...

We really can't ban guns in the United States...

Despite the nonsensical social media and talk shows battles that arise predictably after a shooting like we saw recently in California, there is NOT a serious effort afoot to eliminate guns from our culture. The silly "Obama's coming for our guns" fear is irrational and usually partisan in its origins.

As various "mass shootings" occur, they generate a lot of media attention and buzz. Much of that attention is appropriate. Some of it is not. I'm also puzzled by the type of shootings the media and secondarily we pay attention to. Over the past weekend in Chicago, 7 people were killed and 23 others wounded in various shootings around the city. In Dallas, there have been multiple shootings on local highways and another shooting recently that left one dead and three others injured. Recent shootings have also occurred in Norfolk, Virginia, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Erie, Pennsylvania and Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

You get the idea...the ones I just listed haven't got a lot of play in the national media. Frankly, I didn't know anything about any of them until I did a google search.

Now, the shootings we probably have heard about:

Most of us heard about the McDonalds shootings back in 1984 with 21 dead, the Edmond, Oklahoma post office shooting in 1986 where 14 died, 22 killed at a restaurant in Killeen, TX in 1991, the Long Island railroad shootings that left 6 dead in 1995, 23 dead in the 1999 Columbine HS shootings, 7 dead in a office shooting in Hawaii in 1999, 9 killed at the Red Lake Indian reservation in Minnesota in 2005, 5 dead Amish school girls in Pennsylvania in 2006. Five more dead back in 2007 at a Salt Lake City shopping mall. 32 killed later that same year at Virginia Tech. There's plenty more, feel free to browse this collection by the LA Times...

You can make a reasonable argument that the scope of the second group of shootings warrants the media coverage and I would't disagree with you. The person who is killed by a shot gun blast by a mentally unstable person is just as dead as the person shot in a gang-related shooting or a road rage incident or a hunting accident.

On one level this is very straightforward.

The United States has more guns per person than any other country as well as a very high rate of those guns resulting in injuries and/or deaths.

The United States is 13th in the world in terms of firearms-related deaths: (per 100,000 population...)

1. Honduras-64.8
2. Venezuela-50.9
3. El Salvador-41.1
4. Jamaica-39.7
5. Swaziland-37.2
6. Guatemala-36.4
7. Columbia-28.1
8. South Africa-21.5
9. Brazil-19.0
10. Panama-17.6
11. Uruguay-14.0
12. Mexico-11.2
13. United States of America-10.3
14. Argentina-10.1

Some feel suicides shouldn't be included in fire-arm related stats, so let's adjust for that:

1. Honduras-64.8
2. El Salvador-39.9
3. Jamaica-39.4
4. Venezuela-39.0
5. Swaziland-37.2
6. Guatemala-34.8
7. Columbia-27.1
8. Brazil-18.1
9. South Africa-17.0
10. Panama-16.1
11. Mexico-10.0
12. Paraguay-7.3
13. Nicaragua-5.9
14. Costa Rica-4.6
15. United States of America- 3.6
16. Uruguay-3.4

Still, not so good, eh?

I could dig in and see what sort of gun control laws each of these countries have and conversely what the low end of the spectrum countries have, but I won't. Why? Because its futile. It doesn't matter what other countries are doing, does it? America has this stick up its ass that we must do things OUR WAY. (Which should rarely be confused with the best way.) Given our current political state, there's no "big change" coming when it comes to guns in the US. There just isn't, so I suggest we find another approach to improving our performance in the area.


"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

That's not going anywhere, either. Furthermore, it probably shouldn't. I've waiting for years to find out exactly a "well regulated militia" means. The argument that "we the people" may need to keep arms in order to overthrow our federal government someday is laughable. Your gun vs. theirs? Seriously? Its a stupid notion and one that I won't devote another word to here. 

So, it's likely a matter of hours before there are some shootings none of us hear about unless we live in the same city where they occur. It's likely a matter of weeks, perhaps days, before a shooting occurs that does rate national and our attention. Et its fit. And so it goes and goes and goes...

What can we do, what can be done?

After studying this issue, I believe it will be a combination of ideas that improve our gun violence problem. There are many things we can do that don't involve the banning of guns or amending the Constitution. We needn't do either to see a real improvement via these common sense actions:

(In no particular order...)

1) Mandatory and rigorous background checks for all retail firearm purchases- This won't close the gun show loophole or address private sales, but its widely popular across the country, even from gun owners.

2) We should have a national gun registry, with the ability for any law enforcement officer to access a database to learn where a gun was manufactured, where it was sold originally and who the subsequent owners have been.

3) Increased funding for additional field inspectors of gun shops. Inventories of some drugs are required by law. Inventories of all gun dealers should be as well.

4) Seamless communication between states and federal law enforcement agencies regarding guns used in the commission of a crime. Perhaps related to the national gun registry, a tiered system of communication across local, state and federal law enforcement agencies would increase the ability to access relevant information regarding a gun.

5) Repeal the Tiahrt Amendments- There should be little obstruction when it comes to law enforcement agencies as well as the CDC, HHS and academia having full access to gun records. I understand President Obama has rescinded some of the regulations within the Tiahrt Amendments, but its time for them all to go. (This is not to say granular level ownership information should be printed in the Sunday newspaper, it shouldn't.) Let serious people have full access and be able to study and do evidence based research in this area. Which leads us to...

6) Fully fund evidence based research into guns and violence-I understand money is tight these days, but if the Tiahrt Amendments are fully repealed, and Congress refuses to properly fund this research and database maintenance, then where does this get us?

7) Expedite communications between mental health professionals and law enforcement- Too often information passed on from mental health experts fails to reach the proper authorities in a timely fashion, if at all.

8) Increase funding for gun education and safety/Offer safe gun handling classes in all public high schools-If we agree guns aren't going away, then the more training and education our young people are exposed to, the better. I'm not saying it has to be a requirement for graduation, but at minimum, make it an option. (I'm confident our friends at the National Rifle Association would be happy to help with the expense.)

9) Redouble the efforts within public schools for life-training & life-skills type classes. The pressures on children today are of a greater magnitude and entirely different scope than what previous generations had to deal with. Social media can be a blessing, but it can also be a non-stop, 24/7, inescapable complication/nightmare. Coping skills have never been more important than they are today.

10) Broaden the list of crimes that will disqualify someone from owning a gun. Currently, federal law prevents those with felony convictions from gun ownership, but doesn't go far enough to disqualify those who have committed violent acts (even multiple occurrences) at the misdemeanor level. Further, those with multiple DUI's should likewise be prevented from gun ownership.

11) Its time to raise the federal excise tax on alcohol. We know alcohol often plays a part in violent crimes, including gun related crimes. The data suggests that raising the tax on booze, will have a positive effect on overall crime, auto deaths and other accidents. In Michigan, raising the excise tax seemed to contribute to an overall decline in violent crime of 9%. (The federal excise tax on alcoholic beverages was last raised in 1991, 23 years ago.)

12) Increase incentives for buy-back programs in inner cities and areas with known gang activity.

13) Restrict clip sizes-Even if limiting clip size or capacity results only in the slowing down of the firing of a madman's weapon, its worth it. This article from the Blaze suggests that a trained shooter will be slowed down by 8-14 seconds. That's not much, but it might be enough to slow down or reduce the carnage during a shooting spree. Most appealing, is the delay it would incur upon a non-trained shooter. You take what you can get.

14) Restrict military grade weaponry to state approved shooting facilities-Rather than ban the automatics and semi-automatics fully, (which isn't going to happen anytime soon) perhaps a compromise might be to limit certain weapons to certain shooting facilities.

15) Increase funding for smart gun technology-There's a lot of interesting ideas out there in the way of personalizing guns and the ability to shoot them. Technology can be pretty creative when it comes to making sure no one but the proper person can actually fire a gun.

16) Increase funding for local law enforcement via the COPS program- More money provided to local law enforcement with minimal regulations from the Fed on how the money be utilized. Tie grant renewals to evidence based crime reduction/gun violence reduction performance measured on an annual basis.

That's 16 different, common sense ideas that would, I think, begin to tilt the scales in a healthier direction than we've been in the realm of guns and gun violence. No guns are banned, the 2nd Amendment is still intact, our children are better informed, better trained to handle both guns and stresses, we make it harder for criminals to access guns, we increase the information flow for law enforcement and research institutions to do good work on this issue. We enhance our background check system to become more comprehensive and we finance technological advances in firearms to produce a new generation of safer weaponry.

We're America...13th or 15th worst in the world just isn't good enough....

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