Over the past few months, I've attended a few rallies in support of our local GunSense Group, and I've heard some pretty impressive people speak about the gun problem in our country. I wish I could remember exactly who said what so I could give credit appropriately, but at least I can share their wisdom.
A Public Health Issue
There are over 30,000 gun-related deaths each year in the U.S. (11,000 assault, 19,000 intentional self-harm), and each year nearly 20,000 American children and teens are shot. This is a public health issue. To give some perspective, an average of 500 people die from the flu each year (1), which is considered enough of a public health issue that the government spends millions on the flu vaccine to prevent that number from being greater. Gun violence should be treated as a public health issue and we should respond as we do to other public health issues: we should do something.
Guns or Mental Health Care or Video Games?
The pro-gun side says the problem is our mental health system, not guns; and if it's not our mental health care system, then it is violent video games. But it is definitely not guns because guns don't kill people, people kill people.
According to the World Health Organization, we are in the same range of spending on our mental health care system as other developed nations. In fact, we spend more on our mental health care system than France does (2). Yet our murder rate is roughly 15 times greater than those countries (3). The difference isn't our mental health care system, it is the fact that we have more guns per capita than any other country, with almost three times as many guns per capita than most European countries (4).
Well, then it must be the violent video games (which, by the way, gun companies use to market their products, making it rather ironic that they then blame these videos for gun violence). I think we are all disturbed by this phenomena in our country. I cringe to think of children playing games entitled Bulletstorm, Splatterhouse, and Kindergarten Killers. But still, if we are to blame gun violence on video games, we would expect to see a violent video game - gun violence correlation in other countries. Japan, a country that allows the sale of video games even more violent than those allowed in the U.S. (5), had 11 gun-related deaths in 2008. Eleven. In the U.S., there were over 12,000. The difference? Japan has very strict gun laws and almost no guns.
Gun Laws and the 2nd Amendment
America loves its guns. We are a hunting society. It is our constitutional right to own a gun. Like it or not, we need to take that into consideration when writing new laws to reduce gun violence.
Leaving Background Checks and the Assault Weapon Ban aside for a minute, consider the following proposals, none of which violate the constitutional right.
A Safe Storage* law would require gun owners to keep their weapons locked in a safe. This, at the very least, would prevent children from gaining access to a gun. Just as there are extensive requirements for barriers around residential swimming pools so that neighborhood children do not drown, it is reasonable to require safe storage laws for guns on residential property so that neighborhood children are not shot.
A Reckless Ownership Penalty would hold adults accountable for their guns. For example, if an adult's reckless practice enables a child to access a gun and subsequently injure or kill someone, that adult would be held responsible.
A National Registry would require gun owners to register their gun. This would help prevent the illegal sale of guns. Of course, if we have no restrictions on who owns a gun, this isn't really necessary, but it would help enforce a Reckless Ownership Penalty.
Require gun owners to purchase Weapon Insurance to cover damage caused with their weapon, such as victim's health care and/or property damage costs.
None of these four laws threaten the 2nd Amendment. They do not restrict gun ownership in any way. They only aim to make gun ownership safer and protect the public from gun violence. Some states have some of these laws, but they should all be passed at the federal level.
If we are objective, we have to recognize that Health and Criminal Background Checks and Assault Weapon Bans do aim to restrict the 2nd Amendment, and as much as they are common sense laws to us common sense folks, they may need a little extra explanation for those who so fervently protect "the right of people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
Require Reporting Mental Health Data to the National Instant Check System. Pro gun people talk about fortifying the mental health system. Well, this law would do that. It would help prevent disturbed individuals who are prone to violence from going on shooting sprees.
A Background Check would prevent individuals convicted of a violent crime from purchasing a gun. To me, this is a no brainer, and I'm a little surprised the pro gun folks are so concerned with the rights of convicted felons. As for the law-abiding citizens who would be subjected to the inconvenience of a background check? I can’t imagine that any decent citizen would mind undergoing a background check if it meant saving even one child’s life from gun violence.
An Assault Weapon Ban would prevent mass murders, like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, to name a few. There is no reason for assault weapons. None of the hunters I know need or use an assault weapon, nor do they want to be in the woods with someone who does. For those who enjoy using assault weapons for recreational shooting, either use blanks or go to a shooting range where such weapons are available for use on the premise. These military weapons are not designed for personal use. At the time the constitution was written, nothing even close to these killing machines had been invented, therefore they should not fall under the definition of "Arms."
An Assault Weapon Ban is drastic, and some people say it wouldn't make a difference given there are already (approximately) 3 million assault weapons in our country (6). This is a problem, there is no doubt about that. But we can solve this problem. We have solved many more difficult problems than this. Polio was a problem, and we solved it. Getting to the moon was a problem, and we solved that. We can solve the problem of existing assault weapons in our country.
Why can't we fix this problem?
I'll get into that in the next post.
*A common counter-argument to the Safe Storage proposal is that keeping a gun locked in a safe prevents one from using a gun in self-defense, and therefore violates the 2nd Amendment. For example, an armed intruder enters your house in the night and your gun is locked up such that you can't access it to shoot the intruder before he shoots you. To this I say, the number of times this type of scenario will occur and result in a gun-related death is not likely to come close to the 20,000 instances of children and teens who are shot each year. So if you are concerned about an armed intruder, carry your gun secured on you during your waking hours and invest in a high quality alarm system at night so that your gun can be stored safely.