President Obama is doing more to sell guns in this country than anyone in recent history. His move to put additional restrictions on some types of guns and accessories has caused gun sales to explode.
Last weekend at a gun show in Jefferson, a line of people stretched 200 yards outside the building on Saturday morning. And ammo is almost impossible to get right now anywhere, even for low caliber target rounds.
There is a lot of fear in the country that the Obama Administration plans to outlaw, and even confiscate, guns from legitimate owners.
Perhaps that fear is overstated, hyped in part by political groups trying to raise funds for lobbying and by the gun industry, which certainly wants to sell more products.
But if there is hype on that side of the debate, there is an equal amount of misinformation and fear on the pro-gun control side as well. The issue of gun control is one that stirs deep passions and it’s very difficult to have much of a reasonable discussion between the two extremes.
Still, let us try by thinking about the following:
• Homicides by guns are down in the U.S. Despite the recent spate of mass shootings in the country, overall gun homicides are down since the 1990s.
• Assault weapons aren’t the real problem. Most gun deaths are due to handguns, not the military-style weapons we hear so much about.
• Most of the assault weapon’s “look” is cosmetic, not functional. Folding stocks, pistol grips, laser sights and flash suppressors don’t do anything to make a gun have more firepower — it’s all just for looks. Real military guns are fully-automatic and those are outlawed to most civilians.
• Magazine size for ammo in a gun is one of the top issues today with some arguing that the size of ammo clips should be limited. But there are millions of large clips already in the country and they wouldn’t be difficult to make by someone with a little metalworking skills. Outlawing large clips would push the existing ones to the black market, but wouldn’t make them go away. Do we really want to arrest people for owning a big clip that has no gun attached to it?
• Access to guns does correlate to increased suicides by guns. In fact, most of the gun deaths in America are suicides, not homicides.
• While murders and other types of gun violence are heavily studied, there is much less data available on how guns are used in preventing crime. There are occasional high-profile reports of someone shooting an intruder, but there are certainly cases of a potential victim flashing a gun that wards off an offender without any shots being fired.
• Gun violence in the U.S. is largely a problem of young males. That problem is acute in fractured inner city black communities where black-on-black murders are epidemic, especially among teens and young adults. In Chicago where there are strict gun control laws, over 530 people were murdered in 2012, more than our servicemen killed in Afghanistan; most were black and most were killed by guns. So far in 2013, over 100 people have been shot (not all killed) in Chicago. Very little is said or written about that. You have to wonder if the current frenzy of gun control comes from the fact that the recent Connecticut shooting involved mostly white, suburban children and adults? If it had been a school of black children in Chicago, would Washington really have paid so much attention to it?
• Most of the gun violence in the country isn’t mass murder, but rather one-on-one violence, often between people who know each other. Some of those are crimes of passion, or stem from an argument. Having easy access to a gun no doubt has an impact on how those confrontations play out.
• Although I couldn’t find hard data, there seems to be a connection between gun violence and drug or substance abuse. Some of that involves drug dealing and gang wars between rival drug groups, and some of it involves guns being used when the parties involved are under the influence.
• Much of the misuse of guns for violence involves psychological or mental health issues. That’s been the case for many of the recent mass killings in the U.S., but it’s also true in many of the other smaller incidents of gun violence. Suicides are certainly a mental health issue; there is also a connection between domestic violence and mental health or psychological problems.
• Arming teachers or other school officials with a gun isn’t the solution to mass violence. Just imagine what will happen when a gun gets left on a desk or in a drawer for students to access. We can’t solve gun violence by trying to turn every school, movie theater, church or shopping mall into a fortress.
• While some of the pro-gun lobby groups are fond of saying that guns don’t cause the problems, people do, it’s also important to recognize that the act of possessing a gun does change the psychological temperament of the person holding the weapon. It gives a sense of power and control that the person would otherwise not have in a moment of anger if he were not holding a gun. That’s true on both sides of this debate because having a gun also gives a potential victim of a crime more control and power, too. A gun does affect the immediate psychological state of the person who is holding it. It would be foolish to ignore that in this debate.
• Those who say the Second Amendment shouldn’t apply to an individual right to own guns need to find a new argument. The Supreme Court has already ruled on that issue and gun ownership is not just for military purposes and is indeed an individual right.
• On the other hand, gun ownership isn’t an unrestricted right. The government has long had the right to ban certain kinds of military weapons from civilian ownership.
What all of this means is that gun violence is much more complex than the size of ammo clips or how “mean” a gun looks. The problem of gun violence is deeper than just the mechanics of how a gun functions; it involves many social and psychological issues as well.
So what should the focus be in trying to stem gun violence?
How about instead of trying to control the guns, lets focus on controlling those who might misuse a gun:
• Add prison time for having a gun during any kind of crime, including misdemeanors or crimes where a gun wasn’t directly used. For example, if someone gets caught for possession of drugs and they have a gun in their car or home, the gun should be confiscated and the person given mandatory time to serve.
• Increase the use of stop-question-frisk tactics in high-crime metro areas where gun violence is so prevalent. Police should be able to stop suspicious people walking down the street in a high crime area and frisk them for guns. If a gun is found, it should be confiscated and that person arrested and sent to prison for a while.
• Confiscate guns from homes where incidents of domestic violence are reported. If police arrest someone for any kind of domestic abuse or disturbance, search the house and confiscate all weapons found and destroy them upon a conviction.
• Fix laws so that mentally ill people get the kind of treatment they need and give family members an easier path to have seriously disturbed people institutionalized for treatment.
• Raise the age for handgun possession to 25 across the nation, unless that person is in the military or law enforcement. Lock up any person under 25 who has a handgun in his possession.
None of those will stop all of the gun violence in the nation. But it would put the focus on the real issue here, which is to frustrate those who might misuse a gun from having easy access and to punish those who use a gun for any kind of criminal activity.
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of the Barrow Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.