Nothing will Prevent All Gun Deaths…but, That’s not the Point

A week into the new year, guns have been getting a lot of press.  Notably, President Obama has been very vocal in his intention to enact executive actions that he believes will help reduce deaths due to gun violence.  But, predictably, there has been an equally vocal backlash in opposition to both the President and his proposals.

Much of the opposition is related to the nature of the president’s proposals.  Because his attempts to enact laws regulating things like background checks and the amount of ammunition that weapons can hold have been blocked by Congress, he has now chosen to act through executive actions.  These are a way to bypass Congressional opposition, but they also do not hold the same power as law, instead serving more as guidelines for the enforcement of laws already on the books.  Still, gun-supporters are outraged by any attempts to regulate firearms, including those intended to keep them out of the hands of dangerous people.  But, Obama’s actions are legally sound, giving opponents little to do but rally behind their talking points and their general dislike of the president.

These attacks on the president have taken two basic forms.  The first is to mock him for his recent show of emotion.  In a speech detailing his executive actions, Obama shed a few tears:

Some have argued that this is a show of weakness by the president, or that his emotion has clouded his judgment.  I would argue the exact opposite.  Obama’s emotion shows that he is thinking quite clearly, and gives a strength to his arguments that dispassion would not.  The fact is that people getting killed by guns should make people sad.  Even more, it should make them angry.  Anything else shows a lack of humanity.  The president has obviously thought deeply about this, and his anger and frustration at being able to do nothing to stop it is showing.  He is also a father of two daughters, and a husband to a wife that he would be devastated to lose.  So, he has empathy towards those who have suffered just this kind of loss due to gun violence.  This empathy has made him even more determined to do something, even if Congress will not support him.  He is committed to act independently–not necessarily because he wants to, but because he has been forced to–and this shows a tremendous amount of strength.

The second way to attack the president is to accuse him of overreach.  Many on the right have compared Obama to a tyrant, dictator, or king, saying that he should do nothing unless he can convince Congress to act with him.  But, he is not writing law.  He is merely acting to make existing laws more effective.  His actions boil down to a few basic guidelines:

  • Increasing the number of dealers who will need a license to sell guns (thereby decreasing the number of sellers who are not required to run background checks on potential buyers)
  • Increasing funding so that more people can be hired to complete background checks within the required three-day timeframe (potentially eliminating the possibility of selling a gun to someone who would have failed a background check had it been completed in time)
  • Eliminating barriers that keep some mental health records from being included in the background check system
  • Enforcing rules requiring the reporting of stolen or lost guns
  • Increasing funding for research to make guns safer

None of these are radical ideas.  They are common-sense attempts to solve a serious problem.  Guns are getting into the hands of people who should not have them, and these people are using them to do terrible things.  We should all want to find a way to stop that from happening.  These actions are what Obama is doing, since he is being prevented from doing anything further.

Even more pervasive than the attacks on Obama are those on the perceived ineffectiveness of the proposed actions, the most common argument being that they would not have prevented any of the recent spate of mass shootings that have plagued the country.  This is partly true.  In most cases, the shooters in these incidents obtained their guns legally.  However, better mental health reporting could have prevented some from passing a background check.  And, the shooter in the South Carolina church would have failed his background check had it been completed in time.  But, because it took longer than the three-day window, he was sold a gun, which he then used to kill nine people.  So, these actions could very well have prevented some of these mass shootings.  But, even if they couldn’t, that isn’t the point.  Mass shootings make for good ratings on the nightly news, but they account for a tiny fraction of all gun deaths.

Using even the broadest definition of mass shooting shows they led to fewer than 500 deaths last year.  And, while every one of those deaths is tragic, they are dwarfed by the estimated 10,000 gun homicides that occur annually, and even further by the additional 20,000 gun suicides.  Many of these homicides are acts committed against an intimate partner or family member by someone with a history of violent behavior.  And many of the suicides are impulsive acts that would not have been successful had the person not had easy access to a gun.  These are the types of incidents that Obama’s actions could help prevent.  And, these tragic and often invisible deaths are just as important as those glorified on the news.

So, I commend the president on his actions.  I only wish he had the power to do even more.  The missing piece of any true gun-violence prevention effort is one that causes the greatest uproar any time it is even mentioned.  There are currently somewhere around 300 million guns in the United States.  But, there is no way to know exactly how many, where they are, or who has them.  The solution to this is simple.  All guns should be registered.

Registration should be part of any gun violence prevention proposal, and it is instead treated as a non-starter.  The only way to truly address gun violence and to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people is to know where guns are and whose hands they are in.  The argument that gun registration will lead to confiscation has no basis in reality, but is somehow accepted as truth.  There is absolutely no evidence that registering guns will lead to taking them away from anyone other than those who have demonstrated that they should not be allowed to possess them in the first place.

Like with all “gun control” proposals, registration would do nothing to change the status quo for those who legally own guns and handle them safely.  But, opposition to regulations is an admission of the dangerous nature of guns.  Law-abiding gun owners have nothing to lose by accepting new safety measures, and should support them.  Even more, they should support greater education regarding guns and crime.  People should know that overall crime rates are declining.  They should know that a gun in the home is far more likely to be used against someone in the home than an intruder.  They should know that owning a gun is an option, but not a necessity.  They should know the pros and cons of gun ownership, and that is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

But, rather than the freedom of choice over whether to own a gun, the gun lobby favors scare-tactics that encourage everyone to own a weapon, with or without the proper training or safety measures.  They know guns are dangerous, as illustrated by their attempts to prohibit doctors from talking about them as a health risk.  This makes their support for universal ownership especially suspect, as the only people who stand to gain are gun manufacturers, not other gun owners.  Yet, they still perpetuate fantasies of “good guys with guns” saving the day against “bad guys with guns” who are allegedly around every corner, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Still, the right to own a gun is protected by the Constitution, and it is not going away, even with the president’s recent executive actions.  But, that has done little to quiet the outcry.  So, one more time, law-abiding gun owners of America, no one is coming for your guns, unless you’ve done something to prove you are not capable of handling the responsibility that comes with gun ownership.  But, you should support any measure that force others to take that responsibility as seriously as you do.


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