Are we going to get rid of guns in America?
No. The answer is ‘No.’
BUT – can everybody at least admit now that we have a gun problem in America?
- Firearms account for half (48.2%) of all violent death in America, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Among first world countries, the U.S. has the highest firearm death rate. After adjusting for population size, you are about 6 times more likely to be murdered with a gun in the U.S. than in Canada, according to the most recent data available. These stats account only for gun-related homicides, not suicides and accidents, which would invariably drive the total numbers even higher.
I don’t pretend to know the perfect solution for stopping mass gun violence in this country, a problem that seems to keep mushrooming as we watch in helpless horror and no amount of debate will restore the lives lost at Sandy Hook and in other horrific tragedies. However, there is urgency to this moment. We are right to feel compelled to take action to confront this national crisis and ensure that those who died did not do so in vain.
Yesterday, Obama called for “meaningful action” to stop rampant gun violence and mass killings. In my view, there are four core components of what that might mean:
- Changing gun culture
- Reducing the number of guns in circulation on a voluntary basis
- Making it harder to obtain guns (especially the kinds used in killing sprees)
- Demanding accountability from the gun industry
Here is more detail on the ideas that make sense to me:
1. Change Gun Culture Like We Changed Tobacco Culture
We need sustained – not just reactionary – leadership on gun control. The nation also needs courage. Courage to admit errors, to change the status quo, to help each other heal by working together to make sure the a tragedy like this doesn’t happen again. We need political courage to stand up to the National Rifle Association, which seeks to increase profits for gun manufacturers regardless of the body count.
We need to make gun culture a little less cool, like how we launched a rebranding campaign to make smoking cigarettes less cool. Yes, smokers don’t like having to go outside, 30 feet from the door, in the cold – but they have to suck it up now in order for us all to live healthier lives.
We need continued bold action to help us have the conversation on gun control, long after the classrooms at Sandy Hook are scrubbed clean. It takes more courage to lay down a weapon than to arm yourself with one. That is what several NFL football players decided the week after a Kansas City Chiefs linebacker shot himself.
Seven NFL players were moved to turn in their guns to team security personnel in the days after Jovan Belcher committed suicide at his stadium, reports Peter King of Sports Illustrated. At least one player surrendered multiple guns. That’s a bold action.
Spokespeople, such as celebrities, athletes, and other influential people on national and local levels, could speak more about gun control – and refuse to back down when challenged by the NRA and others who think semi-automatic assault rifles are covered under the Second Amendment. Some celebrities, including Michael Moore and Alec Baldwin, are already speaking out in favor of gun control following yesterday’s tragedy.
And every news anchor I saw seem to bear the same message: “By doing nothing about gun control, are we saying this is okay??”
2. Give People Incentives To Give Up Guns
We’re not talking forced gun retrievals here. I am suggesting we let people decide if they want to take part in rejecting gun culture, and give them incentives to do so.
Let’s buy guns back, or award tax credits or credits toward school tuition or job training, to reduce the number of guns in circulation and create a tangible expression of change. Especially of interest would be eliminating semi-automatic assault rifles with large magazines, the type of weapon used in most mass shootings, including Sandy Hook Elementary.
You may think: “Why should people give up their guns if they know in their heart of hearts, as most of us do, that they would never use them to commit cold-blooded murder, much less a massacre of children?”
The answer is this: the guns used in the Sandy Hook massacre were stolen. Even if they’re safe in your hands, they may not be safe in the hands of everyone who knows about them. Adam Lanza stole his mother’s guns to kill 20 children and 7 adults.
There are also less famous, everyday tragedies involving children. In only one year (1999), unintentional gunfire killed 214 children 0-19 years old. That’s about one child dying from gunfire every other day in the U.S. In total, 3,385 children were killed with a gun in 1999, including homicides, suicides, and accidents.
The University of Michigan has some thoughts on protecting children from guns.
3. Make It Harder For People To Get Guns
Sure, most gun enthusiasts and second amendment defenders are law-abiding and have no propensity toward mass killings. But isn’t it worth sacrificing some convenience to try to stop people with mental illness or a propensity toward violence from accessing mass-killing machines?
To keep people safe, we have extensive security screenings at airports; the potential weapons you can carry aboard are heavily restricted. We take off our shoes for the safety of ourselves and our fellow passengers. Also, the Feds are likely investigating anyone who has used the internet to study how to make an IED or join up with al-Qaeda. We go to great lengths to ensure our security in every area except this one, where we’ve allowed even the discussion to become needlessly politicized.
What if it’s your child’s school or your spouse’s work next time?
Here are some thoughts on gun reform:
- Longer waiting periods, especially for first-time gun buyers
- More robust background checks and, of course, an end to the gun show loophole
- We could establish a national line to report people with suspicious behavior, which could trigger a higher-level review before allowing them to purchase a weapon.
- Renew the Assault Weapons Ban. Stop selling weapons that are meant for purposes other than self-defense or hunting.
- Tax them, like we keep raising the tax on cigarettes.
Unfortunately, there are already so many guns in America – 90 guns per 100 people – that these steps might only hope to restrict gun access years down the line, to future killers who have not yet started to conceive a diabolical rampage. But can’t we take a step now to plan for a safer future?
Yes, card-carrying NRA members will riot over making guns harder to obtain. But, you know what? Weed is hard to get, too. And weed hasn’t ever killed anybody. Just deal with it.
4. Hold Gun Makers Accountable
People decide whether or not to start using tobacco, but we still held the tobacco giants liable for the public health crisis smoking has caused. Similarly, people choose when to fire a gun, but we could hold gun manufacturers liable for damages. Doing that might put some economic pressure on the gun industry to act more responsibly and back off the absolutist gun lobbying.
Currently, it seems none of the onus for our terrible gun tragedies is falling with the gun industry. Due to heavy NRA lobbying, 32 states have passed legislation granting the gun industry immunity from lawsuits; there is strong congressional support for similar nationwide immunity legislation for gun makers, according to An Overview of Lawsuits against the Gun Industry.
Like the tobacco industry, gun makers could be required to fund gun-control efforts, such as paying toward public service announcements and free mental illness and anger-management treatment services.
We could explore creative improvements to the information grid we use to do background checks, build risk models and be attuned to suspicious patterns – and the gun makers could fund that, too.
There’s probably more we can do – different types of suggestions that would work. You are encouraged to discuss your views in the comments section.