December 14, 2012: Hug your kids. Daily. Hug them more often than parents in any other country on this planet. “Multiple people, including children, have been killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.” [Hartford Courant] But, we can’t talk about reasonable gun control, because the “emotions are too raw,” the “timing would lead to biased decision,” we should wait until “the crisis has passed.” How long will it take to get past the a total of 26 reported casualties? (NBC)
What excuses can we manufacture to justify our lack of attention to issues surrounding responsible gun ownership? What reflexive thinking will be required to shift the responsibility from the shooter to the victims? Should we arm the kindergarteners? Should we arm the teachers? Thus adding to the rounds flying through the offices, classrooms, and cafeterias? This isn’t the first school shooting. It probably won’t be the last.
What “well regulated militia” entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School?
September 29, 2012 — workers at the Accent Signage System in Minneapolis went to work, not knowing that the co-worker who had been descending into emotional instability was about to be fired. Five people were killed, including a UPS driver who happened to be on site. [StarTrib]
How was the “security of a free state” enhanced by this tragic instance of workplace violence?
August 5, 2012 — a deluded shooter killed seven people in a Sikh Temple. The neo-Nazi confused Sikh’s with Moslems, and confused humanity with his insanity. The shooter had an “administrative” discharge from military service — that should have been a clue, but Wisconsin law allows open carry anytime, and concealed carry with a permit.
How are the rights of people — to exercise their freedom of religion — improved by this horrific tragedy?
July 20, 2012 — 12 people died because they went to a movie in Aurora, Colorado. The shooter was a psychologically disturbed, heavily armed, young man. [HuffPo] How is it that a demonstrably disturbed individual can amass the kind of armament necessary to perpetrate this horrific event?
(For a more full discussion of mass shootings see Mother Jones, on the subject.)
We have all the information we need. We understand this situation is not isolated. We understand that the location of mass killings spread across the country:
How many more empty seats will there be at Sikh celebrations of the birth of Guru Gobind? How many more empty chairs around holiday dinners will there be after the next Theater Shooting, the next flash of Workplace Violence. The next School Shooting?
We won’t have any answers until we grapple with some essential, if not existential, questions.
What are we protecting? People or Guns?
If we are protecting people, in the interest of forming a More Perfect Union, then we can either secure all of our public facilities (perhaps to such an extent that our theaters, workplaces, schools, parks, and stores are fortified and secured to an extent that airports look like institutional sieves); or, we can decide that the “right” to gun ownership — like other rights — demands a modicum of responsibility.
We recognize “freedom of speech,” however we do not allow individuals to indulge in slander. We do not, in the classic example, allow people to yell “Fire” in crowded theaters. However, let someone advocate full background checks for fire arm purchases and the Heavens roil with demands that the “rights” of gun owners are sanctified.
We recognize “freedom of the press,” but we do not countenance the printing of libel. We do not allow unauthorized graffiti. We recognize “freedom of religion,” but we do not allow polygamy, nor would we consider the practice of human sacrifice an “exercise of religion.” We allow people to “peaceably assemble,” but we don’t tolerate mobs. We promote the freedom to petition the government, but we don’t acknowledge petitions with one signature. In simple terms, there are reasonable limits on the rights we enjoy predicated on the responsibilities we assume.
Could we agree that the “right” to own guns is subject to the same scrutiny we apply to all the other rights specified in our Constitution?
Refer to the chart from Mother Jones magazine above. The weapons of choice for most mass shooters are semi-automatic handguns and assault weapons. I can’t think of anything I would hunt with semi-automatic handgun. Unless, of course it’s for the hunting of other human beings. I can’t think of what venison might look like after the use of an assault weapon. It’s hard enough to pick all the bird shot out of a quail. Does everyone have the “right” to own every type of weapon?
Do we have to nit-pick in our discussions of reasonable regulation by parsing whether or not my 14 shot Remington .22 rifle qualifies as an “automatic weapon,” or can we agree that weapons designed to rapidly fire multiple rounds of deadly ammunition should not be in some hands?
We do have a system of background checks for gun ownership, unfortunately the system has some deadly loopholes. “The Brady Act applies only to sales by FFLs.* Accordingly, persons who purchase firearms from private sellers – estimated to be 40 percent of all gun purchasers – are not required to undergo background checks.” [SGL] (federally licensed firearm dealers) Incidents like Tucson, like the Sikh Temple, like Columbine, like Newton, are often the consequence of individuals who have serious emotional or psychological issues — often evidence of the Lone Idiot of right wing rationalization. The real question is not whether the shooters at Tucson, Columbine, Aurora or the most recent incident were single deranged individuals — the real question is how did so many single deranged individuals get access to deadly weapons?
“Although federal law prohibits the purchase of a firearm by any person who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or involuntarily committed to a mental institution, many states do not collect information about persons who fit these criteria or provide law enforcement access to this information. There are many Americans who have been involuntarily committed to mental institutions and are barred by federal law from possessing firearms, but, as of November 30, 1999, the FBI had received from all states a total of only 41 records of mentally ill persons.”
[…] As a result of the FBI’s lack of information about mentally ill persons, a FBI background check is unlikely to find that a person is ineligible to possess a firearm due to mental illness. Because of these reporting deficiencies, mentally ill persons in this country are easily able to buy guns in violation of federal law.” [SGL]
The topic of mentally stressed and ill veterans even threatened to derail funding for the U.S. military in December, 2012:
“Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., sought to amend the bill to stop the Veterans Affairs Department from putting the names of veterans deemed too mentally incompetent to handle their finances into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which prohibits them from buying or owning firearms.” [ArmyTimes]
Why resist measures which might reduce the number of so-called ‘military suicides?’ “Suicides in the military rose sharply from 2005 to 2009, reaching 285 active-duty service members and 24 reservists in 2009. As the services expanded suicide prevention programs, the numbers leveled off somewhat in 2010 and 2011.” [NYT] Counseling helps, but the new system was attacked by the NRA:
“The 2011 measure, which was part of the Defense Authorization Act and passed at the urging of the National Rifle Association, was viewed by many military officials as preventing commanders and counselors from discussing gun safety with potentially suicidal troops. But the N.R.A. said that the provision was a response to efforts by Army commanders to maintain records of all the firearms owned by their soldiers.” [NYT]
Is it reasonable to restrict the retention of gun ownership records, and reasonable to share this information with authorities if the life of a disturbed veteran is at stake? What level of paranoia is required in order to believe that the retention and sharing of records by military, state, local, and federal officials is part of a Grand Design of Nefarious Intent — to eventually disarm a “freedom loving” people?
How much of our own freedom are we prepared to lose?
Once upon a time, not so long ago, I could walk through the airport with my shoes on. Comfortably. I did not have to wait in line to get through “security.” I gave up some privacy in order to cooperate for my own safety and the safety of others. Now, must we transform our schools into Secure Zones, and at no small expense to taxpayers and citizens? Must business owners fortify their facilities in the interest of “safety?” Must their customers ultimately bear the expense?
Would it be too much to ask, in the interest of making our country secure, that in order to purchase handguns a person must submit to a comprehensive background check? Too much to ask that the records associated with mental illness, with or without involuntary institutionalization, be retained as financial records are for at least seven years? Would it be too much to ask, that in the interest of saving the lives of our veterans, that the military be allowed to retain records and to share them with officials who share the urgency of reducing the number of military suicides?
When do we start putting the rights of people — their Right To Life — ahead of the rights of gun manufacturers and dealers to sell their products?
Do we do this before yet more Christmas gifts remain unopened under trees which have now lost their holiday cheer? Do we do this before any more new wagons and bicycles are transformed from items of potential glee into items of unendurable sadness and remembrance?
Do we do this before any more police departments have to inform the four children of an officer who was serving court papers that their mother won’t be there for Christmas?