With yet another mass shooting in our nation, it is with some trepidation that I venture once again into the conversation about what to do about gun violence. Trepidation only because it is such an emotional issue on all sides. However, I continue to come back to the fact that as the only major country in the world that has so many violent deaths by guns, we are clearly doing something wrong. As I have written before, the usual explanations of mental illness, video games, movies, TV, etc. as the cause of such actions do not resonate with me. I am sure that all or some of those factors are at play, but in those respects our country is not different from Canada, the UK, Japan, or other modern nations and yet it is rare for them to have an incident of gun violence and they certainly do not suffer them on the scale or with the frequency that we do here in the United States. And let me make an even finer point. Canada in particular has a culture and a heritage that is very similar to ours, including sport shooting and hunting, and yet they do not suffer from the same indignities and deprivations resulting from gun violence that we do in this country.
I am not advocating the repeal of the Second Amendment — although I think that it is wildly misinterpreted — and I am not advocating the removal of all guns in the country. I hunted as a boy, served a career in the military and enjoy the occasional outing to go skeet shooting. My thought is simple. If gun owners have a “right” to own their weapons, don’t all citizens have a “right” to walk down a street on a beautiful evening and not get gunned down?
And please, do not insult my intelligence by arguing that private citizens “need” to have their guns to keep the government in line. How is that a factor? And just who do those “patriots” think they are going to go up against? The police? The United States Army? The United States Marine Corps? “Obama/Democrats/liberals/communists/fascists (pick one) want to take your guns.” Puhleeez. Fantasy aside, there is little chance of gun-toting civilians over throwing the government. And even if there is a chance, who elected them as the only individuals deciding what is right and good in this country? The last time I looked it up, an armed insurrection was considered treason. This was settled early in our history over several incidents starting with the Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794) where President George Washington (yes that George Washington — aka “founding father”) rode as Commander-in-Chief at the head of a 13,000 man militia to end the armed uprising of farmers and distillers in western Pennsylvania protesting the imposition of a tax on whiskey. This set the precedent that the national government has the right and ability to enforce the law and to suppress armed insurrections. If that is not enough of a precedent, and there are others from our early years as a nation, it was put to rest permanently with the Civil War and the preservation of our country.
Of particular concern to me is the concerted effort by “pro-gun” advocates to suppress or prevent the sale of “smart guns.” Smart guns are, at present, hand guns that have a computer chip in them that prevents their use without some other identifying presence. From my understanding, the most reliable thus far are the smart guns where the shooter wears a wrist watch style device that communicates with the weapon and allows it to shoot. No signal, no shooting. While there may be legitimate arguments as to why this is or is not a good idea in certain scenarios, it seems to me that a large number of gun owners have their weapons for sport, either hunting or target shooting. It seems to me that having such a gun would cut down on spur of the moment violence, suicides, and children coming across an adult’s gun and accidentally shooting themselves or someone else. It’s a start, not a panacea.
Unfortunately, two gun dealers recently found themselves in the news when they offered smart guns for sale. One was in California and one was in Maryland. Both received personal threats to their own and their families’ well-being including death threats. Additionally, there were threats to burn down their shops and other over the top reactions for merely offering them for sale along with the usual assortment of weapons in their stores. They both decided not to sell them fearing for their safety. So much for free market capitalism. I have no idea whether they would be a good seller or not or whether there is a market for them. I do know that the zealots that somehow equate guns with their own self-worth are preventing us from finding out. The ruckus comes primarily because of a New Jersey law passed and signed into law in December 2002. The law requires that all guns sold in New Jersey be “smart guns” starting three years after the state approves a workable smart gun. Law enforcement is exempt from the statute. To date, New Jersey has not approved a smart gun, however, gun advocates and the National Rifle Association fear that the sale of such a weapon (see above) would cause New Jersey to implement the law. As they see it, this is the first step in “taking our guns away.” I disagree, but then what do I know? Legislators in New Jersey have offered to repeal the law if the NRA will agree not to oppose their introduction into the market place. So far, the NRA stands by their opposition to the guns. Curious.
There are so many myths about the right to bear arms and what it means that a rationale discussion is hard to come by. But I agree with Richard Martinez, the father of one of the students gunned down Friday night at the University of California Santa Barbara when he says that our motto concerning gun violence should be “Not one more!” Not one more child in an elementary school, not one more college student sitting in class, not one more person minding their own business walking down the street. Not one more.
Ironically, in some perverse way, the continued senseless acts of violence may in the end radicalize a new generation of young Americans that decide enough is enough. As more and more of our young people gain first hand experience through these tragedies it may actually spur them to action. God help us, but perhaps we need more of these senseless killings in order for people to finally act to change our behavior and our attitudes towards guns. I am especially tired of the macho baloney some of our politicians espouse in order to garner votes. It needs to change.
I see no reasonable argument against the requirement that gun owners take a certified course and get a license in order to own a gun. I see no reasonable argument against universal background checks. I see no reasonable argument against a national data base of gun owners to aid in the solving of gun crimes. And there are many more steps that can be taken to allow reasonable people to own guns and to pursue their hobbies and/or give themselves a sense of security in their homes. To do nothing other than offer our sympathies on the loss of loved ones accomplishes nothing.
I am not naive. Nothing will change over night, or perhaps even in my lifetime. I am encouraged however when I think of other cultural changes that did occur in my lifetime. I am of an age where when I was growing up smokers were everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Efforts to curtail smoking were impugned as a threat to every American’s freedom to do what they want. The term “nanny government” began in this era. Over time, with education, thoughtful laws and an understanding of the health hazards, not only did the rules change, but people’s attitudes changed as well. Non-smokers no longer have to put up with smoke-filled rooms in the name of “freedom” for smokers to do as they please. Smoking is not outlawed, merely regulated to protect the health of non-smokers. Likewise, drinking and driving laws and attitudes have changed equally dramatically in my lifetime. The danger to innocent people and consistent campaigns of education and enforcement have drastically reduced the number of people killing themselves and others through drunk driving. Why not take the same approach to guns? My family should not be in danger of a random shooting. I do not want to take your guns away.
We have done it before when as a nation we came to realize that this was not the type of culture or threat to our well being we want to deal with anymore. It is time that we move away from this culture of guns and violence. Enough!