Spot one to the NRA and you gun fans: Guns don’t kill people. People under the influence, suffering from mental impairment, temporary or permanent, and those with aggression and rage issues using guns kill the majority of people in the United States.
Most gun owners would agree that responsible ownership is a key to safety. ”Control” is a bad agenda, and why efforts by gun violence advocates often meet a stone wall of resistance. “Control” implies all gun owners are irresponsible or unsafe, which is far, far from the truth.
If we focus on gun safety, homicides in the U.S. plummet, gun owners get a better rep, and those looking for a more peaceful community get their wish.
Here, then, is the how we get a win-win.
A few days ago, t2P launched what may easily be the most unpopular Facebook page ever: A wall devoted to reporting the names, ages, and circumstances around the daily homicides appearing in the newspaper. We found that Slate magazine’s post-Newtown Wall is too depersonalized with its daily pictograms, and the hope that you’ll click and read their stories. As we have found, you can waste ‘em on XBox Live, but few people want to stare the victims of real gun violence in the eye.
The American Gun Deaths Wall generally draws comment from a number of gun enthusiasts, many of whom rabidly worry that it is another means of taking away all of their guns, as the NRA primes them to fear.
It is not.
A debate coach told me, many years ago, you can’t win a point if you can’t show both sides of an argument equally and then prove why your point of view should prevail.
From home invasions thwarted by “good guys” to the much larger group of domestic dispute homicides, we have reported all of the available events to the purpose of having a real discussion of changing gun safety law. You can’t make your point by slanting facts.
Whether you love guns, think they’re necessary, or think they’re unnecessary these are indisputable facts:
- There is far too much gun death per capita in the United States of America
- The majority of gun deaths, as I pointed out in an op-ed last week, are in civil disputes, not criminal acts like robbery, rape, or home invasions.
- Gun sales are driven, like most consumer markets, by FUD (Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt). Fear of the “other,” usually minorities and the poor under the rubric of violent crime, drug wars, and fear of the government, a source of assault weapons sales, are what push weapons of greater potential lethality and greater profit for the gun industry. They are also driven by the cult of guns in the entertainment media, and gaming that glorify the outlaw/outlier in society holding a weapon as a person of power.
That myth spun by the industry is not the reality. The majority of gun deaths in America are gun safety issues. The top four causes of gun deaths are clear:
- Possession of a firearm while clinically depressed or other mentally incapacitated (temporary or permanent);
- Possession of a firearm under the influence of a substance;
- Possession of a firearm by people with Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) or Bipolar disorders or other rage/control problems;
- Possession of a firearm for expressions of power or control. These would include domestic violence, gang-related and aggravated robbery situations.
Judgement inhibitors, like alcohol, prescription drugs, illegal drugs, untreated clinical depression, mental illness, IED or substance-induced aggressiveness and rage can be the tipping-point in all four of the above categories. Primary stressers that push the minority of firearms owners incapacitated most often are:
- The last-straw argument of a married couple
- Marital infidelity or other passion-related stresser;
- Life-changing events: Unexpected pregnancy, job loss, terminal illness, exposure of a committed crime;
- An argument over some personal property or money;
- A “quick fix” way for a person(s) to gain power, control of a situation, money, fear, and/or perceived respect;
- A close friend or family member disrespected or injured by another;
FBI data also clearly shows that the majority of the gun homicides in America are either self-inflicted, or by people known to one another.
Responsible gun owners, if they can set aside the NRA’s decades-long conditioning to knee-jerk reactions about liberals taking away their all of their guns, should be able to agree that remedial measures that can knock out the bad judgment of 5% or so of gun owners who do not handle their weapons correctly will make the other 95% percent of you look much better.
We can all agree that American society is built on laws.
Civilian law is generally handled by the police and the courts. They already take on, peripherally, the symptoms of the four major causes of gun homicides, often the exclamation point of long-simmering social problems.
In a large number of cases minimal intervention by the police and the courts could save a lot of lives.
Common Law. Common Sense.
It’s time for three new state-level gun laws that mirror the controls put on the next most commonplace possession in America: The car.
Our existing laws involving guns and homicides only deal with intent after the fact. In other avenues of law and licensure, like automobiles, we worry about how to stop crime before it happens.
Most gun crime occurs due to temporary diminished capacity. Someone is upset about losing a job, not finding work, prone to IED fits of rage, depression that is organic, the death of a loved one, a terminal illness, a dispute over something, or the fear of exposure or jail time for something they have done.
The majority of what become homicides or attempted murders can be prevented in the way that we use the law to deal with driving cars.
There are a whole series of steps in auto law to prevent crime. You are given points on your driver’s license, your operator permit. Small infractions like a speeding ticket can take away a point or three. Large ones, like a DUI/DWI, can get your license suspended or revoked. Your driver’s license comes up for review every few years so that the state government can verify you are still living up to the conditions of the social contract that is your license to drive.
Three critical pieces of legislation totally absent in current discussions of firearms law would allow us to reduce gun homicide dramatically:
(You can tear off this part and send it to your favorite state legislator)
- Possession/Carry Under the Influence – We need PUI/CUI laws. If you’re going to drink, you don’t drink and drive. We need a gun law equally as tough. Substance use and guns don’t mix well. If you carry a weapon under the influence of a substance, or have it out of a secure location, you commit a class C felony, subject to the same kinds of sanctions as we employ on drunk drivers including suspension of permits. You may be subject to fines, jail time, and/or the temporary or permanent loss of your permit to own and/or carry a weapon, per the directive of whatever state court you land in. The court could also require that you cache your firearm at a range or hunting rifle, and only use it on the premises for a period of time if you violate the PUI/CUI law.
- Possession Under Temporary Mental Incapacity/Extreme Emotional Distress - If police officers are called to a home where a domestic violence situation is apparent, and there is a weapon in the house, and the exigent circumstances of the scene or the conversation with the parties in dispute suggests that escalations of violence are likely to be the next evolution of the conflict, police officers should be able to write a misdemeanor ticket that allows them to temporarily suspend a weapons permit, seize and cache all guns under that permit until the person(s) go before a judge for due process. The judge can rule in the gun owner’s favor, suspend a permit temporarily or permanently, or recommend steps like the reinstatement of the permit after counseling and proper weapons training. For the fraction of a fraction of gun owners with special circumstances, they could limit the owner’s permitted use and storage to secure ranges or licensed hunting ranches.
- Possession Under IED/Under Mental Illness - If you suffer from Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED), ”a behavioral disorder characterized by extreme expressions of anger, often to the point of uncontrollable rage, that are disproportionate to the situation at hand,” or bipolar disorder, or are suspected of suffering from these conditions based on behavior necessitating police calls about a gun owner to restore the peace, officers should be able to write up a misdemeanor ticket, cache any and all weapons, and suspend their permit until they go before a judge. Again, judges have latitude to recommend remedial levels of permit access, or remove/restrict access.
In Europe, it is common on gun permit applications to ask if someone suffers from mental illness, or chronic depression, or has been convicted of substance abuse. Their number of suicides and domestic homicides are a fraction of our own. We know that enhancing safety in permitting works.
To end tragedies like the Newtown shooting, weapons permits should also ask if the gun will be housed in a place where a family member or lodger suffers from IED, rage issues, untreated depression, diagnosed depression, or diagnosed mental illness, etc. That should not be a deal breaker to own a weapon, but it should require that those gun owners take extra precautions in the storage and carry of their weapons to prevent people from handling them who should not.
It is also essential, with millions of guns already permitted out there, that permits are modified and reissued to current valid holders to reflect changes in the law.
We require it for the initial licensure of automobiles. We take away auto licenses from those who can no longer drive safely. Gun owners should be able to show that they can meet basic proficiency and safety tests as police do. They should sign an affidavit that they have proper places to secure their weapon at home or at work. A background check should be run at reissue to insure that nothing has changed in the owner’s ability to possess a firearm.
With a PUI/CUI law in place, government agencies and advocacy groups can educate more about not carrying a weapon when under the influence, or when angry. They can reinforce the consequences of those actions. Such awareness campaigns have been effective in everything from DUI/DWI to texting and talking on the phone while driving.
We minimally regulate gun ownership. We need to refine it. Most gun owners polled are all for gun safety. Laws that give the legal system power to deal with the small minority of gun owners can wipe out 85% of the gun-related suicides and homicides in this country overnight, and make gun ownership a non-issue as it is in most other countries, which is a big win for gun enthusiasts and the public at-large.
My shiny two.