Is this REALLY where we should be spending all that money?

News came out today that Bill and Melinda Gates have made a $1 million donation to support a Washington state bill that would require background checks on all gun purchases.  On its face, this is great news, as the Gateses join fellow super-rich folks like Michael Bloomberg, Paul Allen, Steve Ballmer, and Nick Hanauer in donating towards sensible gun control initiatives.  And, while I wholeheartedly support any attempts to mandate background checks and any other measures that would limit gun violence, I was also a bit saddened to realize just how much money is being spent on this nonsensical debate.

Many are celebrating the Gateses donation, including Cliff Schecter at the Daily Beast:

Gates’s fame brings more attention and further legitimizes the initiative in a way that almost nobody else could. Once the Gates Foundation made it a priority to combat malaria around the world in 2000, it brought down deaths due to the insect-borne disease by 20 percent in 11 years, saving the lives of 1 million African children in the process.

Gates has the ability to grab headlines and make an issue go viral with the constant media coverage he receives, and the financial ability, if he wins, to fund similar efforts around the country. His involvement could be the answer to the public health crisis that makes American children 93 percent of those murdered in the 26 high-income countries around the world.

But, in those paragraphs lies the most tragic part of the entire debate, namely that so much money is being spent on it that could better be spent on other things.  The Gates Foundation has already shown the good that can be done by philanthropic billionaires, and its malaria prevention effort has already saved more lives than any gun control effort ever could.  And, sure, the million dollars donated in Washington is dwarfed by the budget his Foundation spends fighting disease, but even that million dollars could do a world of good if spent elsewhere.

But, because of groups like the National Rifle Association, who spend absurd amounts of money fighting any and all efforts to keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people, Gates, Bloomberg, and all the rest are now spending their money fighting against the NRA.  And, the Gateses’ million dollars, along with the $50 million donated by Bloomberg, are still dwarfed by the hundreds of millions spent by pro-gun groups.  The Washington Post details spending from 2010:



Just imagine what all that NRA money could be used for if not for their obsession with guns.  They could fight hunger and homelessness in America, cure disease, or fund research.  But, instead they choose to spend it on making it easier to buy guns.  What a waste.

So, yes, Gates and his billionaire buddies should be applauded for entering the fight against the gun lobby.  Their efforts, and their money, could potentially save thousands of lives.  It’s just a shame that they have to.

Whatever the Problem, More Guns is not the Solution

Pro-gun folks are getting ambitious with their new proposals.  They used to merely oppose legislation that would hinder the ability of people to own as many guns as they want, regardless of their criminal history, mental health, or ability to handle their weapon safely.  Now they want to push legislation that would encourage or even require more people to own guns.

Take the recent commentary from NRA News Commentator Billy Johnson titled, “Everybody Gets a Gun.”  Though he conceded that his ideas “may be seen as ‘ridiculous’–even by ‘Second Amendment advocates,'” I don’t think this admission comes close to expressing just how ridiculous his proposal is.  It is flawed from beginning to end.  But, it is a telling indicator of where some of the more extreme pro-gun supporters hope to go with gun policy.

All emphasis in the following excerpts is mine.  Johnson begins:

As a country we have an education policy. Imagine if that policy was about limiting who has access to public education. I mean, let’s be honest, the danger in educating people to think is that they might actually start to think for themselves. Perhaps we should think seriously about who we give access to knowledge. They could use it to do a lot of damage.

As a country we have a far reaching public parks program. Imagine if that program was designed to limit who has access to those parks. You littered once in high school, sorry no park access for you.

As a country we have labor policies designed to ensure that people are given access to jobs regardless of gender, race, or creed. Imagine if that policy withheld certain types of jobs as only the purview of the government elite.

Here Johnson sets up his straw men, hoping that he can convince people who guns are actually comparable to any of these things.  But, let’s break them down, one at a time.

First, he compares the right to own a gun to the right to an education.  While it is true that only one of these things is mentioned in the Constitution, his argument actually defeats itself.  He claims that knowledge in the wrong hands can be a dangerous thing.  This is the very crux of the argument for gun control legislation.  None but the most extreme anti-gun advocates is seeking to outlaw guns completely.  Most are merely hoping for measures are put in place that limit who has access to them, ensuring that they do not end up in the wrong hands.  Even if Johnson is attempting to be sarcastic or ironic (and he may very well be, to be fair), he fails in this attempt.  Claiming that knowledge can be dangerous but ignoring that guns can be is idiotic.  Or, assuming he is being sarcastic, he is admitting that guns can be dangerous and we should “think seriously about who we give access to” them.  Either way, the argument fails.

Next, he says litterbugs should be kept out of public parks.  This is obviously a reference to legislation that keeps violent felons and those with violence-related restraining orders from owning weapons.  But, his analogy is offensive as it compares acts of violence with littering.  I think the victims and survivors of these acts would dispute the similarity to leaving trash on the ground in a public place.  Surely, even Johnson can see the difference.  And, if this is merely an attempt at humor, again, he has failed, as there is nothing at all funny about violence or trying to prevent it.

Then, Johnson compares gun owners to those affected by discrimination due to their “gender, race, or creed.”  And he tops off this failed comparison with the right-wing buzzwords “government elite,” hoping to appeal to the paranoia of many gun extremists.  One would assume that he is trying to make an analogy to the fear that the government will come take all the guns away from regular citizens, meaning only the government itself will be allowed to bear arms.  Again, this is playing into the extremist paranoia, and doing so through an apples-and-orange comparison between the right to discrimination-free employment and the right for unhindered gun ownership.

But, all of that is just the set-up.  Now, we get to the heart of Johnson’s proposal.  He continues:

The point is that as a country we often write policy to protect access to something; education, parks, jobs. But one for one of the most important protections, a constitutional right, we write policy designed to limit access. Among Second Amendment supporters it’s common to talk about U.S. gun policy. We worry that policies will encroach on our rights; we share our concerns about overreaching gun policy that fails to make any of us safer.

But we don’t spend nearly enough time asking what is the purpose of policy and what should the purpose of gun policy be? We don’t have a U.S. gun policy. We have a U.S. anti-gun policy. Our gun policies are designed around the assumption that we need to protect people from guns, that guns are bad or dangerous. But what would happen if we designed gun policy from the assumption that people need guns — that guns make people’s lives better. Let’s consider that for a minute.

Gun policy driven by people’s need for guns would seek to encourage people to keep and bear arms at all times. Maybe it would even reward those who do so. What if instead of gun free-zones we had gun-required zones?

It is a common tactic among pro-gun supporters (or “Second Amendment” supporters) to fall back on the Constitution.  Yes, the Constitution does have an amendment that refers to a right to bear arms.  But, there has been great debate over the ambiguously worded amendment and just what it actually does intend to protect.  The Amendment reads, “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.”  It was only with the recent Heller decision by the Supreme Court that this was found to refer to the right for all people to own guns of any kind without restriction.  But, even after that, the court has upheld numerous restrictions, as various states and cities have implemented legislation seeking to limit gun violence.  But, gun supporters have been bolstered by the Supreme Court ruling, to the point that they believe their right to keep and bear arms should supersede the Constitution’s promises to “establish Justice,” “insure domestic Tranquility,” or “promote the general Welfare.”  These far-less-ambiguous promises are exactly what Johnson mocks with his earlier dismissal of education, public parks, and jobs.  Surely, if limits can be placed on access to these, the same can be done for guns.  But, Johnson calls such restrictions an “overreach.”  He then claims that gun policy “fails to make any of us safer,” despite proof that states with more gun legislation in place have lower rates of gun violence, and vice versa.

Next, Johnson makes a blatantly false assumption and then uses it as the basis for the rest of his commentary.  He asks, “what would happen if we designed gun policy from the assumption that people need guns — that guns make people’s lives better?”  The answer is simple.  We would be making policy based on a false assumption.  We might as well make gun policy based on the assumption that guns can make people fly or grow to be ten feet tall.  All are equally ridiculous.

But, Johnson is undeterred, next suggesting that what we really need are “gun-required zones,” an apparent reference to the erroneous belief that criminals seek out gun-free zones for their killing sprees, though that argument has been debunked.  So, now we have false information leading to a proposal that is itself based on the false assumption that people have a “need for guns.”

Now, we come to the big finish.  Johnson concludes:

Gun policy driven by our need for guns would insist that we introduce young people to guns early and that we’d give them the skills to use firearms safely. Just like we teach them reading and writing, necessary skills. We would teach shooting and firearm competency. It wouldn’t matter if a child’s parents weren’t good at it. We’d find them a mentor. It wouldn’t matter if they didn’t want to learn. We would make it necessary to advance to the next grade.

Gun policy driven by the assumption we need guns would probably mean our government would subsidize it. I mean, perhaps we would have government ranges where you could shoot for free or a yearly allotment of free ammunition. Sound crazy? Think about it. Education, healthcare, food, retirement, we subsidize things we value. Gun policy, driven by our need for guns would protect equal access to guns, just like we protect equal access to voting, and due process, and free speech. Our Founding Fathers believed that we did need guns. That’s why they codified our access to guns into the Constitution. But the idea of a gun policy that does justice to their intentions sounds ridiculous. What does that say about us? Even as Second Amendment advocates we can’t fathom a world where we would treat guns as a need.

Johnson has gone off the rails, contradicting himself at every turn.  He now claims that young people should be educated to use weapons, just like they are taught “necessary skills,” after earlier stating that education can be dangerous (unless maybe he is joking again; it can be hard to tell).  Then, in his most disturbing statement of all, Johnson says, “It wouldn’t matter if they didn’t want to learn.  We would make it necessary…”  Without making too many assumptions about Johnson’s political beliefs, wouldn’t this be the very type of government tyranny that Second Amendment folks are so worried about?  Johnson then calls for government subsidies for guns since “we subsidize things we value,” like education, healthcare, food, and retirement.  Again, aren’t these examples of government tyranny?  While I am surprised that he admits that those are things we value, guns clearly do not fall into the same category–at least not unless you are still buying into the false assumption that guns are something “we need.”

He concludes by saying that even the pro-gun crowd “can’t fathom a world where we would treat guns as a need.”  But, clearly he can.  Not only can he fathom it, he can come up with a dubious justification for it.  And, while this may be merely a tongue-in-cheek thought exercise, this kind of thinking can have real-world consequences.

For example, look at the recent legislation in Kentucky that seeks to arm survivors of domestic violence.  This shows the danger of treating guns as a necessity rather than as something that can be used to do great harm.  Rather than taking steps to keep people with a history of violence from gaining access to a weapon, Kentucky has now placed the burden on the abused, encouraging them to arm themselves, even though having a gun in the house drastically increases the likelihood that a domestic violence attack will result in the victim being killed.

The idea that guns make people safer is dangerous, and the idea that guns are something that people “need” is even more so.  While guns may be protected by the Second Amendment, regulations on them are also protected.  And, these regulations are necessary.  The right to own a gun is no more sacred than the right not to own one, or the right to be free from the fear of having one be used against you.  But, the NRA keeps pushing.  And, though Johnson’s proposal is admittedly ridiculous, it justifies laws like the one in Kentucky, where the answer to a problem of violence is more guns.  And, more guns should never be the answer, no matter what the problem is.


Mind Over Money

The loudest news this week on the anti-gun front came from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is using his group Everytown for Gun Safety, as well as $50 million of his own money, to try to beat the National Rifle Association at its own game.  Sadly, his effort, while well-intentioned, is destined to fail.

The idea is to mirror the NRA practice of giving political candidates a survey to determine their stance on guns and gun legislation.  These surveys would then be used to endorse candidates in upcoming elections.  Those with strong gun control strategies would receive Bloomberg’s blessing.

This has certainly proved to be a sound strategy for the NRA.  Republicans have fallen all over themselves trying to prove their pro-gun bona fides, carrying guns in parades, and shooting them in their campaign ads.  Meanwhile, Democrats are reluctant to speak out against guns (and often even support pro-gun legislation) for fear of losing votes.  And, Bloomberg’s copycat strategy will do little to change that.  Because it is not surveys or even money that wins elections or passes legislation, it is fear.  And, the GOP and NRA are masters of spreading fear, even if they are not scared of Bloomberg:

“Money cannot buy the hearts and minds of the American people when it comes to the Second Amendment,” [NRA Spokesman Andrew] Arulanandam said. “Michael Bloomberg is just the latest incarnation of a long line of anti-freedom billionaires who’ve tried to take on the National Rifle Association.”

This is why background check legislation cannot get passed, even with support from 92 percent of the public (including 86 percent of Republicans and 92 percent of gun owners).  As long as the NRA can spin “gun control” to mean “gun prohibition” and make “guns” synonymous with “freedom,” they will win.  The same poll shows that only 50 percent of people support “gun control,” even though they almost all support background checks.  By dictating the definition of the term, the NRA has managed to control the issue. They have created their own language and their own set of facts.  And, this is how they have inspired people to hoard guns, form ramshackle militias, or parade around in public with semi-automatic rifles.  This is why gun sales continue to grow even as the number of people who own guns decreases.  This is why people can rail about a tyrannical government or impending terrorist takeover while not seeing the irony in pictures like this:


Girls with Guns

The juxtaposition of the gun, Bible, and flag in that picture are telling.  They are the trinity of the modern GOP.  And, all three are necessary for membership in the club of “true” conservatism.  The caption illustrates this.  Holly Fisher is a supporter of the owners of Hobby Lobby and their efforts to exempt themselves from providing contraception to their female employees.  Yet, her fellow conservatives pointed out that she was missing the three totems of the party, so she quickly obliged by posing with the requisite props.  And somehow, these conservatives fail to see the similarities between their own fanaticism and that of the extremist Muslims they love to demonize.

This is why even those conservatives and gun owners who may actually support background checks or other sensible gun legislation can only admit to it in an anonymous poll.  At the ballot box, they must prove their dedication to the party ideals.  The candidates know this, which is why their stance on guns and God matters far more than their economic or foreign policy.

And this is why Bloomberg’s plan is destined to fail.  He cannot shame Democrats into supporting gun legislation the way the NRA shames Republicans into supporting guns.  The truth is, it just is not as important to voters on the left.  Ana Marie Cox at the Guardian explains it well:

That’s the key misunderstanding between gun-control advocates and the wide swath of voters they need on their side: Americans are OK with guns. They don’t like violence. They don’t like guns in the hands of mad men and criminals, or shoved in their faces in restaurants and shopping centers, but they’re OK with guns.

And, even if we are not OK with guns, it does not matter, because the people we have elected to represent us are certainly OK with guns.  Or, at least they are OK with being seen that way, and OK with the money they receive from groups like the NRA to keep gun regulation an impossibility.

Bloomberg thinks that he can help change laws by taking a page out of the NRA’s book.  But, he is taking the wrong page.  It is not the money that matters.  It is the mindset.  The NRA, and by extension, the Republican Party, have convinced gun owners that their right to own and carry guns is divine.  It comes not just from the Constitution, but from God himself.  And, anyone who attempts to limit that divine right in any way is not just wrong, but evil.  To stand any chance at all, Bloomberg must make gun regulation matter as much to Democrats and guns do to Republicans.

That is the battle Bloomberg is fighting, and it is not one that can be won with money alone.



Pic 6

Large numbers of Americans have aligned themselves on one side or the other in the debate over guns in this country.  But, though each group may appear to be fairly united (and unwavering) in their beliefs, this is not actually the case.  Among those in the pro-gun camp, divisions are forming between factions ranging from responsible gun owners endorsing reasonable safety measures to a growing number of radical groups advocating everything from gun hoarding to open carry of semi-automatic long rifles to all-out revolution against the government.

Despite these divisions, the truth is that all gun-owners must accept responsibility for the words and actions of all other gun owners.  While this may seem unfair, especially for those in the more responsible group, this sharing of responsibility is the only way for gun owners to preserve their beloved right to bear arms.  Because irresponsible gun owners attract all the attention, they will drive legislation.  And, if they continue to act in ways that frighten and threaten the public, the response will eventually be to place restrictions on them and their guns.  And, like it or not, this will affect responsible gun owners.  Pro-gun lobbying groups like the NRA are strong, but even they are losing power as public opinion (and the courts) continues to slowly turn against guns.  So, in order to preserve their own rights, these responsible gun owners must join the effort to rein in the more extreme groups.

Of course, I have pretty vocally supported increasing restrictions on gun ownership, and I would be very happy to see a reaction to gun-extremists that includes new, stronger gun-control laws (as well as increased enforcement of existing laws).  But, the realist in me knows this is unlikely to happen.  Without the help of responsible gun owners, a far more likely outcome is that gun-control laws remain the same and these extremist groups continue their armed march to the fringes unabated.  And this march would likely end with more than a few casualties.

Pic 5

So, who are these fringe groups that have me so worried?  The most visible in recent days is Open Carry Texas, with branches all across that state.  They gained notoriety for their practice of carrying assault-style rifles into restaurants (and for the restaurants asking them to leave).  Their stated goal is to show people that they do not need to fear guns, though their methodology is questionable.  The reasoning seems to be, “See how I’m not shooting you with my scary-looking gun?  Now you don’t need to be scared of guns anymore!”  Their strategy has largely proven to be a misfire, leading even the NRA to ask them to leave their guns at home, even calling it “downright foolishness.”  The NRA went on to say:

“[W]hile unlicensed open carry of long guns is also typically legal in most places, it is a rare sight to see someone sidle up next to you in line for lunch with a 7.62 rifle slung across his chest, much less a whole gaggle of folks descending on the same public venue with similar arms,” the statement said. “Let’s not mince words, not only is it rare, it’s downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself. To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one’s cause, it can be downright scary. It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.”

Of course, the NRA backed off this surprisingly bold and rational statement after OCT threatened to withdraw their support for the group.  But, the fact that they made the statement in the first place shows that someone among gun owners acknowledges that those on the fringe are going too far.  But, open-carry advocates are undeterred.  Their demonstrations continue, with the newest trend appearing to be taking guns to Target stores across the country.

Pic 4

Another fringe group is not quite so well-organized as OCT, but is even more terrifying.  This group includes those like the couple who recently shot and killed two police officers and a civilian in Las Vegas, believing that they were beginning an inevitable revolution against the government.  While open-carry advocates can be intimidating when holding their weapons, these kind of “revolutionaries” have shown a willingness to actually fire them in public, killing innocent people in the process.  We can try to dismiss these people as mentally ill or mere outliers, but the truth is they are a growing group fueled by the language used by gun groups like the NRA.  It is very easy to see how statements like:

For you, as an individual, when do you draw your saber? When do you say, “Yes, I am willing to rise up and overthrow an oppressive, totalitarian government?” I hear the clank of metal on metal getting closer, but that’s not enough. The politicians have to hear it too. They have to hear it, and they have to believe it.


Our Constitution and our system of government guarantee that every American has the opportunity to write his or her name in the history books of tomorrow – to leave his or her imprint on the fabric of our nation. But in the end, history is always written only by a select few – the few who sacrifice of themselves to fight for the causes in which they believe.

which both come from NRA-supported groups, can lead to statements like:

There is no greater cause to die for than liberty. I will willingly die for liberty. Death, in a sense, is freedom from tyranny. Most notably is the suicide by cop routine. Yes, standing before despots is dangerous and most likely will not end well for you. I know this. My wife knows this. Soon they will come for us because they don’t like what we think, and what we say. They don’t like the fact that we simply will not submit to fascist rule.


To stop this oppression, I fear, can only be accomplished with bloodshed. May the best men of our beloved nation stand and fight tyranny, without fear and without regret. May we stand proud as free men instead of kneeling as slaves. May we offer our children a free and just world with our blood, sweat and tears as payment. Let our wives and lovers take vengeance upon our enemies in our absence. We cannot fail in this endeavor of Liberty, if we do we risk leaving our orphaned children to the will of tyrants. We, cannot with good conscience leave this fight to our children, because the longer we wait, our enemies become better equipped and recruit more mercenaries of death, willing to do a tyrants bidding without question. I know you are fearful, as am I. We certainly stand before a great and powerful enemy. I, however would rather die fighting for freedom, than live on my knees as a slave. Let it be known to our children’s children that free men stood fast before a tyrants wrath and were found victorious because we stood together. That we all cast aside our petty differences and united under the banner of Liberty and Truth. May future generations look back upon this time in history with awe and gratitude, for our courage to face tyranny, so that they could live happy and free.

which come from one of the shooters in the Las Vegas killing spree.  This kind of paranoia does not have a rational explanation.  But, the language groups like the NRA use to sell guns can easily be twisted by others as an excuse to use them.  And, the fight against imagined enemies and tyrants can have very real victims.

Pic 2

A final group needing to be addressed is far less malicious, but even more deadly.  They are not overtly evil, just foolish, but the end result of their foolishness is heartbreaking.  I am referring to people who believe that requiring gun owners to store their weapons safely is somehow an infringement of their rights.  This carelessness has led to the deaths of approximately 100 children a year—deaths that are falsely labeled as “accidents,” but are in fact due to blatant negligence.  In fact, up to 70 percent of these deaths could have been avoided if the guns involved had been stored correctly.

I know most gun owners are rational people.  Polling actually supports this belief.  In regards to children and safe gun storage, 77 percent of gun owners think “parents with guns in their homes should be required to keep them locked and unloaded.”  Almost as many (72 percent) think “doctors and teachers should be able to warn parents about safe storage of guns.”  And, and overwhelming 81 percent of gun owners support “allowing law enforcement to charge adult gun owners with a crime when a minor gains access to a negligently stored gun and death or serious injury occur.”


Pic 7

I grew up among gun owners.  I know many more.  And, the ones I know are otherwise responsible people who just happen to own guns.  They know that guns are potentially deadly weapons that must be handled safely and carefully.  And, they know that failure to do so can have fatal results.  These are the kinds of people who naturally get defensive when the media or anti-gun groups refer to “gun nuts,” as if all gun owners behaved in the same irresponsible way.  I think this type of name-calling is not productive.  Instead of alienating the responsible gun owners by lumping them in with the fringe groups, we should be appealing to them to help us limit the damage these fringe groups can do.  Responsible gun owners should be allies to anti-gun advocates.  It is not fair to tar them all with the same brush.

But, just like all men, good or bad, are responsible for the behavior of the worst among us (as illustrated beautifully with the #notallmen and #yesallwomen trends on social media), all gun owners are likewise responsible for the dangerous element within their ranks.  No, all gun owners are not militants or lunatics.  No, all gun owners are not going to carry their scary guns around in public or shoot them at innocents.  And, no, all gun owners are not willing to kill or die in the fight against imaginary gun-grabbers or a tyrannical government.  Most are normal people, kind and compassionate and responsible, just with guns.  But, to those responsible gun owners: your right to own guns means that radicals also have that right.  Your refusal to accept limitations on gun ownership means that anyone who wants a gun can get one (legally or illegally) whether they should reasonably own one or not.  Your beliefs and your votes have made their actions possible.  So, it is also your responsibility to help keep them from doing harm.  Radical gun owners have isolated themselves from anti-gun groups, and there is no real way for our message to reach them.  But, you can.  You can speak to them, and you can support legislation that will limit their access to guns.    You can stop spreading the propaganda that radicalizes them.  You can vote for legislators who are not in the pocket of the NRA.  And, you can even get rid of your own military-style weapons with high-caliber cartridges and extended magazines that have no real use in hunting or self-defense.  You can help us.  You can make the country safer.  And, you can protect your own right to your own guns at the same time.

We are never going to eliminate all guns or the constitutional right to own them, but we can take steps to make sure that they only land in the hands of those who know how to handle them safely and responsibly.  And, there are gun owners who can help us in that fight.



Mourning in America: A Time for Action

Twenty children and six adults were shot and killed in an elementary school on Friday, with another dead in her home.  One man entered that school in Newton, Connecticut and pulled the trigger.  But he is not the only one with blood on his hands.  Every gun manufacturer, every lobbyist pushing to relax gun laws and every politician that takes their money, every media organization glorifying killers and the havoc they wreak, and every gun owner who refuses to admit that there is a gun problem in this country shares in the responsibility for what happened.

My Toy!

Assault weapons like the one used in the Newtown school shooting must be outlawed.  But, that is only the beginning of what should be done to solve America’s gun problem.

Sadly, massacres like this are so common that there is a standard response when they occur.  The instant media blitz is always accompanied by a debate over whether such an event could have been prevented.  The country mourns with the families of the victims.  Prayers are said.  Speeches are made.  Bodies are buried.  But, ultimately, nothing is done.  People move on.  And then, inevitably, the cycle begins again when there is another slaughter by another man with a gun.

Not this time.  The cycle cannot continue.  There must be a response.  Something must change.

Conventional wisdom says that a certain amount of time must pass before reacting to a horrific event, that decisions should not be clouded by emotions.  That is nonsense.  We cannot and should not wait one single day more before taking action to attempt to eliminate the possibility of any more killings.

We should not wait until these fresh emotions pass, but should hold on to how we feel right now.  We should remember the sadness, the rage, the confusion, the desperate agony of yet another avoidable tragedy and use it to motivate us to get something done so that no one has to feel the way we feel right now, use it so no one else has to die this way and no one else has to bury their children.  We must do something, and we must do it now.  Today.

That said, opposition to any effort to regulate guns is strong.  The National Rifle Association, the biggest and most powerful pro-gun lobbying group has not been shy about spending money for their cause, and its list of friends in government is long.  Courts have ruled that gun ownership is protected by the Second Amendment, despite a convincing argument from Harvey Wasserman at the Columbus Free Press that this was not its original intention.  Wasserman says that the Second Amendment exists for the express purpose of regulating gun ownership and does not guarantee the right of private citizens to own firearms.  Still, it seems very unlikely that any law outlawing guns would be found to be constitutional.  But, that does not mean that we cannot try to lessen their availability.

President Obama spoke this morning on the subject of gun violence and said that he is seeking solutions for the plague of gun-related killings.  It is notable that he mentioned the numerous shootings that have occurred just since Friday’s massacre in Newtown, as well as the thousands of deaths that occur each year due to guns.  He has boldly called for action.  His full statement can be seen here:

There is momentum behind an initiative to ban some types of semi-automatic guns, also known as “assault weapons.”  This weekend on Meet the Press, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, said that she plans to introduce a bill banning assault weapons on the first day of the next session of Congress.  Her proposed bill would also outlaw certain kinds of bullets and extended magazines.  A similar ban was enacted in 1994, but was allowed to expire under President George W. Bush in 2004.  In an encouraging sign, numerous lawmakers, including President Obama in his comments this morning, have voiced their support for a new assault weapons ban.  This would be a step in the right direction, but it would only be a small step.

This is not a time for small steps.  It is a time for bold, decisive action.  I’ve come up with a few suggestions of my own that I believe can help fix this country’s dysfunctional relationship with guns.  I am no expert, and I certainly make no claims that any of these would result in a complete end to gun-related killings.  But, like the president, I do think that every idea should be examined, every solution considered.  We have made token gestures of gun control and they have not worked.  It is time to try something else.  My wish is that these ideas can be part of a much larger discussion, one in which we recognize the true scope of this nation’s problem with guns and a genuine effort is made to remedy it.  I would welcome any explanation as to why any of these would not help, as well as any additional ideas.

  • Renew the ban on assault weapons- As I said, this is only a small step, but it is still a good start.  I have seen no valid reason that any private citizen would need a semi-automatic rifle like the one used to slaughter the children in Connecticut, capable of shooting a large number of bullets in a very short period of time, causing a maximum amount of damage with a minimum of effort.  This is not a weapon for self-defense.  It is offensive, in every sense of that word.

Feinstein’s bill would also ban extended magazines, like the 33-round clip used in the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona that resulted in six deaths and numerous injuries, including the wounding of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.  These magazines exist only to allow shooters to fire more bullets without needing to reload, to cause more devastation without being inconvenienced by the necessity of changing the clip.

These guns and their accessories serve no purpose other than to make easier to kill people, and should therefore be outlawed.  This is also among the ideas backed by President Obama this morning.

  • Repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act- This bill, enacted in 2005 under President Bush, protects gun manufacturers or sellers against prosecution if those firearms are used in a crime.  There is no reason that the makers and providers of weapons designed specifically to kill other human beings should be protected when those weapons do exactly that.  To suffer no repercussions when they are directly responsible for every single injury or death caused by the guns they make and sell allows them to literally get away with murder.

This is an idea backed by the National Law Journal, and it in no way infringes on the Second Amendment.  By facing large financial penalties for the misuse of their products, gun makers and sellers might be encouraged to back measures that ensure these weapons are only owned by people who will use them responsibly.  Of course, it would be even better if they were so heavily penalized that they decided not to make or sell guns at all, but  as with the proposed assault weapons ban, any step in the right direction is a good thing.

  • Mandatory and thorough background checks on ALL gun purchases- The law currently requires background checks on all gun purchases made via licensed gun sellers.  But, due to the dubious “gun-show loophole,” there is no such requirement for guns sold privately.  According to a study by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, fully 40 percent of all gun purchases are made this way, without proper background checks.  Additionally, privately sold guns are used in 80 percent of crimes committed with a handgun.  This is easily fixed, and makes so much sense that it is even supported by most NRA members.

But, I would go a step further.  In addition to a simple criminal background check, there should be a full psychological evaluation of anyone seeking to purchase a gun.  After all, most mass-killers obtained their firearms legally and had no previous criminal record.  Granted, a psychological evaluation is not a foolproof method of identifying just who is likely to slaughter masses of innocent people, but it would keep guns out of the hands of a lot of potentially dangerous people.  A similar policy has been enacted in Japan and has been very successful in keeping both the rates of gun ownership and gun-related murder among the lowest in the world.

  • Safety and skill testing- The Japanese laws also require a mandatory gun safety class with a written test and a skill test which requires gun-owners to show that they know how to handle their weapons safely and effectively.  Anyone who met these requirements would receive a license allowing them to purchase and own a gun.  Anyone who did not have such a license would be prohibited from buying a gun, simple as that.  This is another common-sense requirement that is shockingly lacking from American gun policy.

It only makes sense that anyone wanting to own a weapon should at least know how to use it responsibly.

  • Buyback programs- A simple way to get guns out of the hands of people is for the government to buy them.  A recent two-day buyback effort in Camden, New Jersey netted 1,137 guns.  Admittedly, this is barely a drop in the ocean of an estimated 300 million guns that are owned nationwide.  But, if more than a thousand guns can be taken off the streets in a single city over a single weekend, a national buyback program could succeed in removing millions of guns from circulation in this country.

Importantly, this buyback program should include firearms that would be outlawed by any assault weapons ban.  The proposal by Sen. Feinstein would not apply to guns that are already in circulation, but would merely prevent any new sale of these types of weapons.  Her bill should be amended to make all assault weapons illegal and institute a mandatory buyback for all such firearms.  This was part of the gun control policy in Australia that has virtually eliminated mass shootings in that country and seen a steep decline in both gun-related murder and suicide rates.

  • Tax all gun and ammunition sales- There are currently taxes on things like alcohol, tobacco and gasoline.  Guns and ammunition should be added to that list.  Not only should they be taxed, but it should be at such a high rate that it discourages sales.  Firearms and the bullets they use are cheap enough that people can buy them easily and in large quantities. As suggested by Alex Pareene at Salon, they should be made “less cheap.”

There will likely be an objection to this sort of taxation, but exceptions can be made for certain groups.  For example, target shooters tend to use a lot of bullets, but they do so in a way that is not dangerous or criminal.  The easy solution would be for them to use rubber bullets or non-lethal ammunition that could be exempted from exorbitant taxation.  Surely, a rubber bullet is just as effective at shooting a paper target as a traditional one.  The tax would apply only to live rounds and the guns that fire them.

Additionally, revenue raised though these taxes should be used to increase federal spending on mental health care.  People that truly want to buy a gun will do so no matter the cost, but there’s no reason that some of the money spent should not go to providing help for people who currently lack it.  Obviously, only a very small fraction of people with mental illnesses have violent tendencies, and a large number of people with these tendencies have no history of mental illness.  But, funding for mental health care has been slashed nationwide, and the recent trend of mass-killings by shooters with psychological problems has brought the need for better mental health care into the spotlight.  Any additional revenue from taxation could be used to create a federal gun registry.

  • Registration of all guns and ammunition- There is currently no federal law requiring that guns be registered, except for certain fully-automatic guns and weapons like bazookas or mortars.  This makes it virtually impossible to track who owns a gun or how many guns any person has accumulated.  This is another problem with a simple solution.  A law should be passed requiring gun owners to register their weapons, and should require them to submit their social security numbers and fingerprints.  This would make it much easier to account for weapons that have been stolen and to track anyone who amassed a cache of weapons.  It would also help identify any convicted criminals attempting to purchase firearms.

Equally important would be tracking ammunition sales.  By flagging anyone buying large amounts of ammunition, law enforcement would be better prepared to stop mass-shootings before they occur.  An added benefit would be that the additional paperwork and time necessary for registration, as well as the sharing of personal information that would be required, might deter people from buying weapons.

A gun registry would also allow for law enforcement officials to track crimes committed by gun owners. For example, any gun owner who committed a violent crime, even if it did not involve a gun, could have his gun license revoked and his guns confiscated.  This would be especially helpful in cases of domestic abuse, since 70 percent of spousal murder/suicides involve previous incidents of domestic violence.

I would also propose limits on the numbers of guns and amount of ammunition that any one person could legally purchase.

  • Gun Insurance- Guns, like cars, are dangerous machines that can be deadly if not handled correctly.  So gun owners, like car owners, should be required to purchase insurance in case anyone is injured or killed when these machines are misused.  Similar ideas from Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars and Robert Cyran and Reynolds Holding at Slate illustrate how a gun insurance program could work.

Rates could be determined by insurance providers based on a risk assessment of the gun owner.  Those with a history of handling guns safely would pay lower rates, and those with a record of anything that would rate them as a higher risk for coverage would pay higher rates or not be insured at all.  Anyone deemed too high a risk to be insured would not be allowed to purchase a gun.  Likewise, guns carried in public, like those allowed by concealed-carry laws, would be subjected to higher rates than guns kept safely locked away at home.

  • Smart guns- Numerous advancements in gun safety have been made that could help eliminate misuse of firearms.  It should be made mandatory that gunmakers adopt these advancements when manufacturing weapons.  For example, “grip recognition” technology exists that prevents anyone except for the owner to fire a gun.  A similar system reads fingerprints.  This would have prevented the shooter in the Newtown massacre from successfully firing a single round, since the weapons he used belonged to his mother, who was shot and killed with her own gun.

So, those are my suggestions.  Though they will do little to regulate the estimated 300 million guns currently in circulation, any or all of these ideas should make it far less likely that we have to go through what we’ve gone through this week.  Any idea that can save lives and prevent tragedies like the one in Connecticut, or the ones before that in Wisconsin, Colorado, or in countless other places, should be considered.  Too many people have died for us to stand by and let it continue to happen.

We should mourn those we lost, but we cannot let them have died in vain.  We must do something to break this endless cycle of death and despair.  Enough is enough. The time is now.