Will a high-capacity magazine and assault weapons ban make us safer? Are gun owners more or less likely to become the victim of a crime? How can we best protect our schools and homes? What's the easiest way to control guns without trampling the Second Amendment and the rights of law-abiding, gun-owning citizens?
Last week's Patch Back readers had plenty to share (thanks, readers!).
The conversations made two things abundantly clear. The first is gun owners really needn’t fear the government confiscating their weapons, as that isn't on anyone's agenda. The second is gun control supporters have ample reason to hope that a high capacity magazine ban will become reality in Connecticut, if not the entire U.S.
Yet as I monitored the conversations, I began thinking about varying types of gun violence and how advocates on both sides often twist statistics to support their own views. It also occurred to me that although mass shootings garner the lion’s share of media attention, the reality of gun violence that occurs in Chicago, Washington, New Haven, New York, Los Angeles and beyond claims many more lives still.
This type of violence occurs mostly from handguns, not assault rifles. Two contradictory points here are also abundantly clear: although those who own guns are more likely to be the victim of gun violence it is also true that those who carry guns are less likely to become the victim of someone with criminal intent.
Makes no sense, right?
Yet according to JustFacts.com, a nonpartisan independent research organization, it’s true. For example, JustFacts found that the much-quoted statistic about those who own guns being three times more likely to become a homicide victim is not credible. Yet many pro-gun advocates who claim that existing controls are already strict enough fail to mention the ease with which someone with a fake ID can secure a gun.
In fact, the Government Accountability Office had a 100 percent success rate buying firearms in five states using false identification that also met the minimum requirements of the federal background check system, according to JustFacts.
Clearly, change is in order.
So where does this leave us? First, one can certainly make an argument that the motivations behind a mass shooter and a common street thug are vastly different; one is likely mentally ill while the other is likely committing a crime for socioeconomic reasons.
Limiting magazine capacity and banning assault rifles at the state level may make it more difficult to commit a mass shooting, but it isn't foolproof and it won’t help with the everyday problem of handgun violence. A shooter using a handgun or two and holding extra ammunition can inflict just as much damage as one with an assault rifle, unfortunately. Isn't there a way to prevent mass shootings while also stemming the tide of handgun violence, which is, overall, a much greater threat to the safety of society?
Plus, although it pains this writer to think about asking Congress to take on anything of this magnitude, shouldn’t any change in our gun laws hold true for all of our citizens? After all, the Second Amendment is a federally guaranteed right. Isn’t buying a weapon at a gun show in a gun-friendly state and then hopping on the interstate pretty easy for a would-be criminal?
Local handgun bans, assault weapons bans and other technology-focused legislation seems to produce one step forward, two steps back results. Some sensible suggestions, many of which were provided by readers, include:
- On the federal level, requiring universal background checks, closing the gun show loophole and monitoring sales of weapons and ammunition, even when sold privately.
- Incorporating mental health screening as part of the background check and requiring repeated applications, as we do for driver licenses (“You could write a whole new column about driving requirements,” my husband grumbled after one long commute home). This should include those living in the home with the weapon in question.
- Developing safe storage laws and enforcing penalties for those who do not follow them, especially if the un-stored gun is stolen and used in a crime.
- Making standard trigger mechanisms that unlock via fingerprint.
- Training teachers and administrators in self-defense. One reader suggested tasers or tear gas.
- Requiring gun owners to train family members in the appropriate use and safe storage of weaponry.
- Offering a federal gun amnesty program to get as many guns off the streets as possible.
Adding armed guards to schools, as the NRA suggested, may make sense for President Obama’s children, but the idealist inside me is saddened that our kids may have to learn under armed protection. Can we not limit access to weaponry without infringing upon the rights of those who own guns safely and responsibly?
People who purchase guns want them for protection, hobby or sport. Those who don’t want guns will probably never understand the motivations of those that do. But reaching a compromise will require each side to cross the impasse of their own making.