Monday, January 7, 2013

Stopping Gun Violence in America

The goal ending gun violence in general, and horrific mass shootings in particular, is one that is shared by most all Americans.

It is also true that a great many Americans own weapons and keep and use them responsibly. We have a strong traditions of gun ownership and guns are tightly intertwined with our history, our politics, our entertainment, our mythology, and in many cases, our sense of self.

This combination had made ending gun violence very difficult in America. But I wonder if we can find some common ground and move towards a solution. Ideally we should all seek a system that preserve our traditions and allows for continued gun ownership while keeping these uniquely lethal capabilities out of the hands of criminals and psychopaths.

My proposal goes like this:

  • Existing regulation regarding the purchase of firearms is left unchanged. No additional restrictions are added on who can purchase guns or what people can do with the weapons they already own.

  • A federal law would make it illegal to sell any firearm ammunition to individuals for private use.

  • During phase 1, there would be no new restrictions on ammunition people already own or purchase before the law goes into effect.

  • Licensed gun ranges, gun clubs, and similar operations would be authorized to purchase and sell ammunition in most any type and volume. 
    • All of this ammunition would have to remain on and be used on the premises.
    • These gun clubs would be given a very wide latitude in terms of the their scope, size, and the variety of tactical, recreational, and sport opportunities they offer.

  • Whenever a valid hunting license is purchased, the individual would also be able to purchase a small quantity of ammunition appropriate the weapons they will be hunting with and the game being hunted.

  • After 10 years, phase 2 would go into effect. At this point private ownership of firearm ammunition would no longer be legal. 
    • The penalty for owning ammunition would be minor - more like a speeding ticket than a jail sentence.

The goal with this proposal would be to immediately limit access to lethal capacity to new gun purchasers. People could keep their guns and get new ones. But, over time, the intent is to move the capacity to use them as lethal weapons out of peoples homes, out of the hands of criminals, and into more controlled settings. This would preserve the use of guns for hunting, sport, and recreation. It would also bring about a fundamental shift in the unrestricted availability of deadly force and end much of the tragedy that comes with it.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Way of the Gun

When my son Isaac (age 12) wrote his Christmas gift wish-list this year it consisted of:
  • Nerf gun. 
  • Nerf gun. 
  • Nerf gun. 
  • Money. 
This year we had also had a 14-year-old French cousin joining us for Christmas. So, when my mother called in search of gift suggestions, I had the bright idea: Nerf guns for everyone!  I figured a big, plastic firearm was the quintessential American gift and envisioned much merriment with all of us boys - I included myself in this plan - blasting away at one another.

In the aftermath the Sandy Hook shootings, the thought of pointing guns, even bright plastic ones, at children filled me with nausea and dread. I had second thoughts. But my always-agreeable mother had already gone ahead with my plan. So it came to be that a substantial Nerf arsenal awaited us under the Christmas tree.

Christmas morning came. The Nerf guns were a big hit. Of course. As soon as they were opened and unboxed, with piles of sparkly presents still sitting unopened under the tree, we ran outside to shoot blue darts at one another in the fresh snow.

The Nerf guns was hardly the only firearm-themed Christmas gift received. Our favorite toys, computer games, board games, card games, television shows, movies, and books all feature guns and lots of them. The depiction, recreation, and immersion in imaginary gun violence is one of my, and now my son's, major preoccupations. Blowing holes in a wide variety of zombies, mercenaries, aliens, and assorted "bad guys" is a near-daily staple and a welcome source of temporary escape from the basic banalities of modern life.

For all my indulgence in firearm fantasies I've pretty much kept my distance from the real thing. I've rarely held, and never fired an actual weapon. I don't own a gun and don't ever intend to. But I can see the appeal. I understand the powerful  pull, and the mythic aspects of guns. In spite of that, and in some ways because of it, I wouldn't want an actual weapon in my home or in my life.

For a great many Americans their relationship with guns is much less distant. Around 45 millions households in the US own a total estimated around 270 million firearms. The vast majority of these weapons are kept perfectly safely and securely. They are used for sport, hunting, collected, and used responsibly for fun or recreation.

But these are weapons. They are designed to do damage. With weaponry that powerful, and access this easy, it takes only a tiny percentage of dangerous individuals to cause horrific damage. Every year there are thousands of firearm deaths in the US. Thousands of murders. Thousands of suicides by gun. Every few months we receive news of another shocking mass shooting. It is too often, too regular, to easy for a psychotic individual to go on a shooting spree in an office, a movie theater, or a school. Each time we are appalled, we grieve, we shrug, and we go on.

Here in the US, the guns have always been here. And the tragedies have come with them.

I wonder if we aren't ready for a change.

There are multitudes of guns owners in the US. They are also citizens, parents, colleagues, businesses owners and community members . The horrors of gun violence reach the guns owners and those without alike. We should be unified in our desire to prevent gun violence. We should share the objectives of reducing violent crime, and stopping the terrible killing sprees, while preserving lawful, safe, responsible, and even for-fun firearm use.

In my next post I'll propose a plan to do that.