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Who, Exactly, is a “Criminal”? The Bad Guys are “Law Abiding” Citizens More Often

whoisacriminal

Who, exactly, is a “criminal?” According guns-gone-wild advocates, these weapons are there to protect us from “criminals.”   Newtown shooter Adam Lanza had no prior criminal record. Gabrielle Giffords’ shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, had no prior criminal record.  Nor do most of the people who make news as a murderer. What separates most gun owners from becoming criminals?

Taking off the safety.

Suicides and Arguments are the biggest source of gun violence in the United States, not felony crimes.

Our legal system is decades behind the data on homicides and their causes, most of which are rooted more in mental health and emotional control than in criminal intent.

Suicides

There are 633,000 emergency room visits for self-inflicted injury [1]  Firearm suicides account for 19,392 deaths. That’s 6.3 per 100,000 population. [2]  The next two leading causes of suicide, suffocation (9,493 deaths) and poisoning (6,599 deaths) don’t hold a candle to the ease of ending it all with a gun.

Arguments

Beyond suicide is homicide.  We’re lead to believe by the gun lobby and its minions that crime, and defense from crime are the primary reasons we need guns in America.

Yet only 14% of homicides are felony related, according to the FBI’s “Crime in the United States 2011.”  That includes everything from robbery to rape to narcotics, gambling, and prostitution.  TV’s darlings, gangland killings, juvenile gang related violence, and sniper attacks make up a large portion of the news day, but a small percentage of murders (5.5%)

The majority of murders committed in the United States, 5,976 of the 12,664 (47%) are domestic events.

The sad thing is that few of these arguments can be excused by causes that we see featured in movies and television so regularly.  The majority are run-of-the-mill arguments. A man shot a McDonald’s manager over a sandwich dispute. Hundreds of domestic disputes a year end in death at the end of a gun kept in the home, according to the FBI.

Of those non-criminal events arguments under the influence of alcohol are just 2%, influence of narcotics are also 2%, and fights about money and property make up just 2.5%.

52% of the arguments that lead to death by gun have no excuses other than poor judgment. Well, that and access to a firearm in the home.

 

The Excuses are Criminal

A criminal is defined as a person who has committed a crime. If the majority of gun deaths are committed by non-felons, those without a prior criminal record, then law-abiding citizens, not criminals, are the major source of gun deaths in America.

To curb gun violence, then, we don’t need to be looking at toughening sanctions against criminals. We need to be looking at better civil standards of gun ownership, licensure, and permit/carry rules.

 

Behavioral Regulation

We regulate all kinds of behavior, from deviance to mental illness to smoking and use of substances from alcohol to hard drugs. The possession and/or carry of a weapon involve behavioral issues as well.  Gun owners should not be any more immune to enforcement of safe and sane practices.  Temporary confiscation for cause is no different than what we do with motor vehicles, and gives police the power to dramatically lower the real sources of murder in our communities.

  • Don’t Drink and Die – We take away the keys of a car from drivers because we now recognize a motor vehicle in the hands of someone legally intoxicated as a weapon.  If someone handles a firearm of any kind while under the influence it should hold equal felony status to a DUI/DWI charge. 22% of suicides alone are at the hands of people who are legally intoxicated [4] Another 4% of deaths by arguments under the influence, hundreds every year, could be spared if officers visiting domestic disputes could remove weapons from the premises of intoxicated people brandishing or threatening to use a weapon under the influence.  Judges should be given the ability to either temporarily or permanently revoke the right to own a weapon, just as they do an automobile now.
  • Suicides & Domestic/Work-Related Disputes –  There are too many disgruntled workers who kill co-workers or their bosses because of real or perceived loss by the shooter. Depression in non-alcohol induced suicides accounts for the majority of gun deaths in America annually.
    • Any person who has attempted suicide loses their permit to hold a weapon, and has all weapons seized and cached at a secure location by the local authorities until a court determines that the person has completed sufficient psychotherapy to have their permit privileges reinstated.
    • Companies now hire contractors to fire/move out employees. Anyone who issues threats of violence or reprisal should be referred to the police. Police should be legally allowed to get a warrant to search the homes of anyone making public threats of violence. A court should be able to have their weapons permits suspended, and firearms cached in a secure location until such time that court is convinced that possession of that weaponry presents no danger to the owner or the general public.
    • Police called to domestic disputes should be empowered with the right to issue a misdemeanor citation, or, as part of a disturbing the peace charge, be able to tag and remove any guns from their owners for cache at a safe location until such time as either the officers or a court deem it safe to return them.
  • Gang Related – Proof of affliation with a gang or organized crime groups should make ownership of a weapon of any kind illegal at any time, whether the person in possession of the weapon has a criminal record or not.
  • Mental Health – Most of the mass shootings and a fair number of suicides and arguments are all mental-health issues.
    • Want a prescription for depression? Check your weapon in at a local safe cache like a shooting range, where it stays on the range for your use and enjoyment. Take it out of a target facility without transfer of it immediately to another one? Lose your permit and your weapon.
    • Have members of the house who are in therapy or have been the subject of police domestic calls for mental health issues? Check your weapons in at a local range, and use them there. Give a member of the house with mental health problems access to weapons, and you should be subject to a high misdemeanor charge and requirement that your weapons be secured at a local safe cache, like a shooting range, not in your home. If a mentally ill family member uses weapons that were secured in your home, then the gun and homeowner should be subject to the same charges as the shooter.

Guns aren’t much different than cars.  The same rules should apply for their responsible use, and loss of their use, temporary or permanent, should equally be balanced against the privilege of their ownership.

As I mentioned in “In Guns We Trust,” if the full Second Amendment is used, then membership in a special militia of the National Guard, complete with background checks and psychological screenings, would radically drop the majority of gun deaths annually because unfit people would not be holding permits.

Short of that comprehensive, constitutional approach, though, the police dealing with domestic disputes need to be empowered with the ability to remove the easiest means of killing another human being from the hands of human beings with impaired judgment, whatever the reason, for a term to be determined by law.

Only then do we curb the real source of gun death in America: Gun-owning Americans who use them on themselves, their families, and their friends and neighbors.

My shiny two.

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About Brian Ross

Brian Ross is a writer, screenwriter, political satirist, documentarian and short filmmaker who blogs for Truth2Power, the Huffington Post, and the Daily KOS, among others.

6 comments on “Who, Exactly, is a “Criminal”? The Bad Guys are “Law Abiding” Citizens More Often

  1. Stirling Watts
    February 12, 2013

    This is MY life. Please leave it alone. Like the other 99.99% of the population, I am sane,loving,and I use my brain and my natural moral sense daily. And I have been doing that for all of my life. I have handled quite a few loaded guns. I have competed in firearms sports. But, your article says that every time I click off the safety of my gun, that I am likely to go and commit a crime. That is personally offensive to many. That is a bold and negative statement which reveals clearly the generally negative opinion that you hold of your fellow man. I prefer to respect my fellow man and to expect decency from every person I meet. It is natural. God created us naturally good. If you disagree with that and believe people to be basically bad, you have no right to push your disagreement off on the way that I lead my life. In my experience, people are generally all good, not the inverse. My peaceful life is an indication that I am not incorrect. I don’t need an authority figure to do check my guns for me. I have been doing that very well on my own for 56 years. Just leave us every day regular, sane, and normal people alone, OK?

    • Brian Ross
      February 12, 2013

      Well, Stirling, as long as you maintain “your” life in a reasonable fashion, everyone will leave you alone, including the police. Unfortunately, if you own a firearm, and you take the safety off anywhere other than a range, statistics are very clear: Your likelihood of dying by a gun, either that one or one wielded by person(s) known or unknown, goes up exponentially. If you want to live that way, that’s certainly your choice and your right under the Second Amendment.

      That’s not what we’re talking about. If you started departing “sane”, say you threatened people, or fell into a depression or some other mood altering mental condition that causes you to become a danger to yourself or others, then your natural moral sense is out the window, and you would become the point of focus of law enforcement.

      At that time, if law enforcement can show cause, they should be able to remove your weapon from the premises, cite you, and cause you to appear before a judge to explain why you should maintain a weapon in your home after threatening others, or threatening harm upon yourself. They might compel you to keep your weapon in a lockbox on a range, and use it there. They might temporarily suspend your license to possess a firearm, and cache it until such time as you could reasonably prove to the court that you would not present a danger to the community or to yourself. When you returned to “sane” they would reinstate your permit, and you could go about your life.

      We were created FALLIBLE. We get sick. We get emotionally worn out. We have breaking points. Any of us, you included, can be pushed or dropped into a state of dispair that can cause you to lose that sunny amiable attitude.

      If you lose your way, as many people reasonably do when life throws them curveballs beyond their ability to cope, then and only then would you present a public problem. Otherwise, your every day regular, sane and normal behavior would certainly qualify you to maintain a firearm in good standing with your municipality and state.
      Ok?

      • steve
        February 17, 2013

        I imagine you support Indefinite detention and drone strikes on American citizens without due process either right?

      • Brian Ross
        February 17, 2013

        Einstein says that imagination is more important than knowledge, but in this case, your flights of fantasy take you astray, I fear. I don’t support indefinite detention. As for the drone strikes, if the “American citizen” in question is in a foreign country actively engaged in the treasonous act of plotting guérilla strikes on the United States, I have less compunction about “due process” given the fact that we can’t dial said foreign government up, have him arrested, and shipped back to the good ol’ USA to answer for what he is doing.

        Your smug shot aside, none of that has a lick to do with day-to-day policing and our system of courts and laws exercising the same level of due process over the controls that should be exercised on permit holders of weapons. We take the car keys away from drunks, and we’ve even made drowsy drivers responsible for their actions. Yet somehow requiring gun owners who commit assault on their loved ones or neighbors, or who are depressed enough to be handled by law enforcement or the medical community, is fascism? That’s not imagination. That’s warped fantasy.

  2. Pingback: Jesus and the Handgun « truth-2-Power

  3. Pingback: Operation, NOT Confiscation. Can We Agree on Gun Safety? | truth-2-Power

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