Hardening Targets Is The Wrong Target: Harden Access to Firearms

I’m going to hear “we have to harden the targets” one more time coming from my TV speakers and my neighbors may be able to hear me yelling in the direction of the set.  Another day in America. Another school shooting. More deaths. And yet another press conference in which I’m told “the guns belonged to the _____” (in this instance, the father).  Here’s an idea: Harden the access.

This latest atrocity was perpetrated by a 17 year old, armed with his father’s firearms, but we also need to remember that in 2017 there were 17 toddler shootings that resulted in a fatality and another 26 which inflicted non-fatal injuries. [WaPo]

So, we’re going to have another spate of “Roundtable Run Arounds?”  May we assume the tables will include representatives of the gun manufacturers’ lobby? During which “all” viewpoints will be allowed access?  There’s nothing quite like a “roundtable discussion” replete with the same old hoary contentions, ideological arguments, and self-serving lobby interests to forestall any meaningful action — unless, of course, it’s the drafting of “reports,” by committees of “interested stakeholders,” edited by those with the most at stake.  Translation: We can stall any action by taking a “thorough” (read – long) look at the problem and drafting a blue ribbon panel report on the subject. (read – the production of dust catchers and door stops).

For starters, let’s assume a world governed by adults who really do want to protect children.  They want to protect them at home, at school, in churches, at concerts, and in clubs.  Do we really have to make it easy for miscreants to get access to firearms?  There’s good news and bad news on the subject:

Eleven states have laws concerning firearm locking devices. Massachusetts is the only state that generally requires that all firearms be stored with a lock in place; California, Connecticut, and New York impose this requirement in certain situations. Other state laws regarding locking devices are similar to the federal law, in that they require locking devices to accompany certain guns manufactured, sold, or transferred. Five of the eleven states also set standards for the design of locking devices or require them to be approved by a state agency for effectiveness. [Giffords] (emphasis in original)

The good news? Eleven states have done something, however there’s a range of effective to almost ineffective statutes within that range.  The bad news is that only eleven states have enacted safe storage legislation, which means that thirty-nine have nothing between the adult, the teen, or the toddler, and the victims.  There are some common sense measures which can, and should, be legislated in all states to harden the access to firearms.  The Giffords organization recommends the following:

  • All firearms are required to be kept disabled with a locking device except when an authorized user is carrying it on his or her person or has the firearm under his or her immediate control (Massachusetts, New York City).
  • Locking devices are required on all firearms manufactured, sold or transferred in the jurisdiction (California).
  • Standards are set for locking devices (California, Connecticut, New York).
  • Locking devices are tested and approved by a certified independent lab before they may be sold in the jurisdiction (California).
  • A roster is maintained of approved locking devices (California, Massachusetts; Maryland maintains a roster of approved locking devices, but only for handguns).

Nevada has child access prevention statutes on the books, but no assault weapons ban, and no safe storage or gun lock requirement. [KFF]  Every gun owner is “responsible” until he or she isn’t.  Until he or she leaves a handgun within reach of anyone unauthorized to use it, anyone too young to understand what can really happen if it is used.  Until he or she leaves a handgun or long gun unsupervised and it gets stolen. Until he or she leaves the gun safe keys or combination in plain sight. Until he or she decides to leave a loaded gun within reach of a child, or keep the guns and the ammunition conveniently located in the same insecure location making access easy for the unauthorized individual or the garden variety burglar.

Before we place our children in lock down, behind steel doors and bullet resistant windows; before we enter the church nave through metal detectors; before we attend country western music festivals in full armor; before we go out for an evening of music and dancing at a club wearing enough protection to make only “doing the Robot” a practical way to move to the music — we should think about hardening access to the firearms which plague our streets and venues.

We should “harden access” by forbidding the sale or transfer of military weapons of war to civilians.  Should a person want to fire a real military weapon we have several perfectly fine armed services always looking for top quality volunteers.  We should “harden access” by requiring safe storage of all firearms.  We should prevent straw purchases.  We should require reporting of stolen guns.  We should preclude those with a history of domestic violence and abuse from accessing firearms — nothing predicts a shooting quite so well as a history of domestic violence.

It isn’t the “target’s” fault if a toddler finds a handgun.  It isn’t the “victim’s” fault if a domestic abuser commits a family annihilation.  It isn’t the “crowd” at fault if  person in a sniper’s nest decides to rain down terror upon the concert goers.  It isn’t the congregation’s fault if a domestic dispute turns deadly.  If an office party becomes fatal. If a college campus becomes a battle zone.  If…   We speak as though it’s the “target’s” fault if fatalities happen.  It isn’t.  We need to speak of hardening access to firearms, of hardening our attitudes toward those deluded souls who believe gun shots are a form of conflict resolution; and, harden access to the siren call of gun manufacturers who sell fear and guns in equal measure.

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