Gun Control: A Call to Action
Published 10:58 am, Friday, March 29, 2013
If Columbine wasn't it, or Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Binghamton, Tucson, or Aurora -- maybe 20 tiny coffins will finally push politicians from their incredible tolerance for such tragedies and into the realm of action. As cries from the Newtown tragedy can still be heard, now more than ever is the time for sensible, non-ideological reform, and regulation of guns in America. The answer is not a liberal one, nor a conservative one, but a moderate approach that addresses accessibility of guns, ease of obtaining permits, and lack of enforcement of existing gun laws in this country. While a few politicians, most recently in response to the latest mass murder tragedy of Newtown, have responded with fairly sensible solutions; the vast majority of our leaders have put forth ideas that are futile, laughable at best, or rooted deep in ideology. Even more disturbing are calls of inaction; "Don't do anything, things like Newtown can't be avoided." This very much embodies America's problem with gun violence, widespread acquiescence to the fact that America is a naturally violent culture and no law can prevent murders with firearms. Not only is this notion not true, but feeds into avoidance of gun control legislation by politicians.
Last year alone, the United States recorded approximately 11,775 firearm homicides. However, the majority of current gun control proposals under consideration will fail miserably since they neglect to address the triggers of gun violence, instead opting for political rhetoric to suit their respective parties. Among such recent proposals that will do little more than provide a perception of safety, are the NRA's arming schools proposal, and Dianne Feinstein's, Senator from California, assault weapons ban.
Apparently, the right wing's answer to gun control is the NRA's Executive Vice President, Wayne LaPierre, calls for increased security by "arming schools." Ostensibly this makes sense: if a shooter enters a school the chance of mitigating death is increased when someone is there to return fire. However, this proposal is flawed at many levels. According to the NRA the only way to prevent mass shootings is to institute "a good guy with a gun". If that is the only way, will we need armed guards at movie theaters, malls, restaurants, retailers, stadiums, parking garages, sports centers, arcades, or any other public space? Do we need more than one guard to shield all the school entrances or are they supposed to be there, at the right place at the right time, when the shooter enters? How will the guard fend off a shooter with an assault rifle or by flashing an AK in front of little Johnny? What about the fiscal strain of installing an armed guard on cash strapped school districts? Ultimately shooters with motive and means will likely succeed. Logically we must attempt to remove the motive and means, under the full realization there won't always be a good guy with a gun.
On the opposite side of the political spectrum, proposals aren't much more advantageous. Pro gun control pundits need to realize a ban on assault weapons is woefully insufficient, amplified by the incredible amount of loopholes in the original 1994-2004 implementation of the bill. Numerous loopholes, including explicitly banning 18 guns and making all models produced before 1994 still legal, only contributed to the bill's porous nature. Any reincarnation of the bill would need to tighten the cracks. In addition, merely implementing an assault weapons ban would do little to mitigate gun violence. The fact is only 3 to 8 percent of all gun murders in the US occur as a result of assault weapons, while the vast majority occur by hand guns.
More InformationFact box
If the answer to gun violence in this country isn't being provided by the proposals under consideration by the right or left wing, a more moderate, holistic approach must be taken that starts with understanding the root of the gun problem. Many feel the core of the problem in the US is a violent culture. Look around at all the violent movies and video games that surround us. Violence sells in this country.
However, our issue is not as rooted from violent videogames and media as some would have you believe. The United States and the United Kingdom have 55% and 54% of their population playing console-based videogames (i.e. Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3). The console platform encapsulates the market's most violent titles, namely, Call of Duty, Halo, Grand Theft Auto, all blamed for an increase in violent teen behavior. But the argument that violent video games have a direct correlation with increasing gun violence is nullified by the fact that the US and UK have the same exposure to violent games, yet the US has a firearm death rate (per 100,000) over 40 times that of UK. As the data suggests, it becomes exceedingly obvious that another factor must be contributing to our nation's comparatively astronomical firearm death rate.
A more likely culprit for our country's firearm death rate is sheer gun accessibility. According to a scatter plot graph I developed to analyze the effect gun ownership has on firearm-related deaths per 100 thousand, the US has the 2nd highest firearm death rate (10.2) among OECD nations, eclipsed only by Mexico. That number is 3 times higher than France's; 10 times Australia's; and a staggering 146 times worse than Japan, an industrial nation of 150 million. The question is why? The US decidedly doesn't have 146 as many psychopaths as Japan, nor are we any poorer than countries with lower firearm murders. The answer to this enigma becomes much less mysterious when one realizes there is an astronomical statistic in addition to our country's extraordinarily high firearm death rate. We possess 88.8 firearms per 100 people and more than half of our nation's households have one or more such firearms. Why do we have so many murders? Because guns are easy, convenient, and accessible. If I snap or become suicidal, I am surrounded by nearly more guns than people and what is likely the biggest hit-men industry in any of the Westernized nations.
Thus, the scope and complexity of our gun paradigm necessitates legislation that is holistic in nature, progressive, yet still respects America's veneration for guns. More essentially, any legislation has to recognize several important, yet obvious facts: gun violence cannot be solely attributed to violent media; banning only certain guns is not effective; armed guards mask a problem, not solve it and accessibility is a major factor. Also, what needs to be taken into consideration are policies grounded in political sectors only fuels divisiveness. Policies should not look to prevent mass murders, but aim to tackle the broader issue of national gun violence. The answer is not revolutionary, and even better, it already exists within our borders -- we need to regulate guns like we do cars.
Cars and guns are very similar. Both have their uses, but when used irresponsibly have the potential to compromise public safety. The population of guns and cars in this country are roughly the same, but when have there been powerful lobbying groups trying to prevent car regulations, which at one point probably saved your life (i.e. seatbelts)? No one likes going to the DMV or taking part in the long difficult process of obtaining a driving license, but who likes to crash because another driver wasn't capable or responsible? Guns should be treated the same way. Guns should not be treated like a God given right, but rather a privilege that is acquired only by doing the necessary steps. Among the "necessary steps" used to regulate cars that should be transposed for guns include: strict licensing, renewal of licenses, and entry into a central database, which if combined will help assure better enforcement and reduced ease of accessibility.
Still my aforementioned proposals do little to quash areas rife with illegally owned and obtained weapons. While regulating illegally obtained weapons will always be the most difficult of any proposal, there is still an answer to be taken from cars -- insurance.
John Wasik, from Forbes Magazine, was the first to propose such a measure and later was backed by other financial journals, such as The Economist. The concept of forcing people to purchase liability insurance in order to own a gun is a unique, but viable remedy to many of the more complex gun issues. Either government sanctioned or private insurance could price risk according to age, personal history, location, and other factors. This would make the price negligible for a middle-aged person with a clean legal slate and a history of gun club membership, but unaffordable for a young person in a crime ridden city with a history of drug abuse. Implementing gun insurance would also reduce straw sales, when an individual who can legally purchase a gun does and then gives it someone who can't, by holding the purchaser accountable for any damage that the gun causes. If "straw sales" are limited, it would have a direct effect on illegal obtained weapons. Additionally, insurance companies will want to require better security for insured weapons to reduce the potential for liability.
Strict vehicular regulations do make things more difficult, but when comparing the automobile death rate of the 1960s to now, it is obvious that the potentially damaging effects of cars have been greatly reduced. Why? Because politicians were willing to make the unpopular decision in the best interest of public safety. Why? Because politicians realized that implementing "car" policies to enforce the 3rd most populous country in the world would be difficult, but still worth a shot. Gun control should be implemented with the same frame of mind. It took years for automobile regulation to demonstrate a marked decrease in auto fatalities, but eventually it did. Only by treating guns as objects that cause eleven thousand homicides a year will gun control finally be possible.
Gun control in the United States is one of the most complex and divisive issues we face. Any mention of it results in a fiery battle of ideological beliefs and with good reason; no other country has anywhere close to as many firearms as we do. This makes gun control difficult, extremely difficult, but it is essential to realize that it is not an incurable terminal disease. Simply "taking a side" or taking "the liberal or conservative" point of view will only prolong the pathetic divisiveness that plagues any attempt at solving this very real issue. We need laws that address our country's severe issue of accessibility, the excessive ease of obtaining permits, and lackluster enforcement of gun laws. Issues with gun control could be significantly minimized through a combination of adopting car-like regulations and implementing liability insurance for gun owners. Mass shootings aren't the only manifestation of lax gun control; cities such as Chicago, Detroit, New York, New Orleans, and Memphis have dozens of gun murders each year. These all but go unnoticed by the media, but in reality we all have to face the grim truth that families have to grieve, every day from gun violence. Only when politicians decide to lead, and people advocate, will Newtown serve as the end of an era.