Opinion: Some Thoughts on Guns and Gun Control
I know firsthand how rooted guns are in American culture, for the use and love of guns runs deep in my family. From an early age, I was taught how to shoot BB guns, then pistols, and finally rifles and shotguns. Some of my fondest memories with my extended family involve all the men going out on cold December mornings, bundled up in heavy jackets, to shoot skeet and trap at a gun club near my grandparents’ home in Pennsylvania. My grandfather often brings home venison for holiday dinners, shot at his beloved hunting and fishing club in the Pocono Mountains. Not only does my uncle hunt, but also supplements his income from his day job by engraving guns. What began as a hobby has become far more to him, and he is so talented he has been featured in national gun magazines.
I do not believe this connection between guns and family, between guns and livelihood, is unusual or in any way limited to my extended family. We live in a bubble, here in the Bay Area, where it seems most of the guns we hear about reside in the hands of gang members, not sportsmen. My experience with guns likely seems abnormal to most of you reading this, as I have grown up watching guns used in responsible, constructive ways. Almost all gun owners whom I have met, whether owners of shooting ranges, hunters, or even those who own guns simply for protection, have shown a deep respect for the power of the weapons they own and use. Those who have arsenals of weapons in preparation for the government’s collapse and subsequent apocalypse scare me just as much as they scare you, for these people are not reasonable or sane.
When I first picked up a gun, I was taught how to use and operate it, with one rule repeated over and over until it was practically tattooed on my trigger finger: NEVER point the gun at ANYTHING you don’t want to KILL. My knowledge of the history of weaponry is far more cursory than that of my grandfather and uncle, but our respect for the power of guns is the same. Just as my family respects the power of a gun, so do almost all gun owners whom I have met.
It is this positive experience with guns, this belief that guns can be used in ways to enrich one’s life, that has led me to be wary of aggressive gun control. I hailed the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller and their decision again in McDonald v. Chicago, both of which upheld the right to own a firearm detailed in Second Amendment by striking down handgun bans. Aside from my interpretation of the Second Amendment, I have been wary of aggressive gun control because I don’t believe bans, of handguns or others, actually lead to a reduction in crime. “Bad guys” still obtain guns illegally, while guns are taken away from those who seek to use them for legal means, such as protecting oneself. It was telling that the Supreme Court’s decision in McDonald v. Chicago was supported by not only the National Rifle Association, but also by the Brady Campaign to Reduce Gun Violence.
That said, the gun control regulations proposed by President Obama following the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left twenty children and six adults dead, are in large part regulations that I support and believe all responsible gun owners should support as well.
There are number of measures that Obama supports that will require Congressional action. The most controversial of them, renewing the 1994 assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, seems to be a reasonable action. I see no need, whether for protection or sport, that one would need a military style weapon. However, there remains no statistical evidence that the 1994 assault weapons ban actually reduced crime or gun violence rates. Considering the political capital that is likely to be spent by Obama in order to even get Congress to consider an assault weapons ban, which is widely considered to be dead on arrival, I would rather he spend that political capital on a more substantive contentious issue, such as climate change or gay rights, rather than on what seems to be an symbolic act.
Far more likely to reduce gun violence is closing the loophole that allows, according to the Brady Campaign, more than 40 percent of gun sales to be conducted without background checks, whether at gun shows or by private sellers. Closing this loophole should be supported by all responsible gun owners, as it will keep guns out the hands of many who shouldn’t have access to them. Obama has already addressed the concern of some gun owners that there should be exceptions to the regulations, such as for transfers between family members. I hope that a final bill, which closes the loophole to make us all safer while allowing for some legitimate exceptions, makes it through both the Senate and the House. Other actions that require congressional approval involve the banning of armor piercing bullets and limiting magazine capacities to 10 rounds, both of which seem to me to be sane proposals. I see no legitimate need for a citizen to have either armor piercing bullets or large magazines; banning both will give innocent citizens and law enforcement a small, but potentially significant, advantage when facing down a gunman.
The final pieces of legislation Obama is proposing are new gun trafficking laws, which will penalize those who assist criminals in their efforts to obtain weapons. While in many cases I am wary of lengthy prison sentences in response to public outrage (read: the War on Drugs), this to me is a no-brainer. Anyone from a kid on a street corner in Chicago hawking Glock 9mm pistols to weapons traffickers shipping truckloads of AK-47s has blood on their hands and must be stopped. It seems to me that those who sell guns illegally are not just part of the problem of gun violence, but in many cases the lifeblood for it.
Obama has also taken a number of executive actions, which include the following, according to Politico:
- Address legal barriers in health laws that bar some states from making available information about people who are prohibited from having guns.
- Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
- Make sure that federal agencies share relevant information with the background check system.
- Direct the attorney general to work with other agencies to review existing laws to make sure they can identify individuals who shouldn’t have access to guns.
- Direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other research agencies to conduct research into the causes and prevention of gun violence.
- Clarify that no federal law prohibits doctors or other health care providers from contacting authorities when patients threaten to use violence.
- Give local communities the opportunity to hire up to 1,000 school resource officers and counselors.
- Require federal law enforcement to trace all recovered guns.
- Propose regulations that will enable law enforcement to run complete background checks before returning firearms that have been seized.
- Direct the Justice Department to analyze information on lost and stolen guns and make that information available to law enforcement.
- Provide training for state and local law enforcement, first responders and school officials on how to handle active-shooter situations.
- Make sure every school has a comprehensive emergency management plan.
- Help ensure that young people get needed mental health treatment.
- Ensure that health insurance plans cover mental health benefits.
- Encourage development of new technology to make it easier for gun owners to safely use and store their guns.
- Have the Consumer Product Safety Commission assess the need for new safety standards for gun locks and gun safes.
All of these proposals seem to fall well within Obama’s executive powers and all deal, on the most basic level, with procedures for government agencies. I fully support all the executive actions he is proposing, although his call for the CDC to conduct research (in italics) will likely be met by strong opposition from the NRA. Following studies published by the CDC from the 1980s through the early 1990s into guns as a “public health issue,” which came to the conclusion that stricter gun control was needed, the NRA pushed to stop the CDC from researching guns. In response to the NRA’s anger, in 1996 Rep. Jay Dickey (R-AK) pushed through an amendment which stripped the CDC from $2.6 million in funding, the exact amount it had spent the previous year on research into gun research, and a provision which stated that “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Since then, no one in Washington has been willing touch the issue. While I recognize that some of the research that was done at the CDC may have been, as the NRA puts it “junk science” to promote a liberal gun control agenda, most of the research was just that: research. Just because the NRA didn’t like the outcome, gun control proposals, doesn’t mean the research wasn’t valid or beneficial to the American people. Why the NRA holds so much sway in Washington (hint: because most Americans support them) and whether they should is a whole other discussion, but I certainly hope they are unable to thwart Obama’s proposal to again fund research into gun safety.
Within his executive actions are a number of proposals to deal with mental health issues, so that we can detect those who are mentally ill and may wish to harm innocent Americans before they commit heinous acts. This is the most important part of all of Obama’s proposals. It it not, however, just his executive orders that will allow our nation to tackle the issue of mental health. We must have a national conversation about what it means to be mentally ill and how we can best help those who are, then stop stigmatizing mental health issues and work together to ensure that those who need help receive it. It will not be an FBI database that prevents more tragedies like Newtown, but people like you and me. I am blessed and proud to attend a school and district with strong mental health services, but I know that other schools, other districts throughout the Bay Area, across our nation, are not so fortunate. As part of that national conversation we must decide whether mental health services will be emphasized alongside other education reforms. I recognize mental health services not as a luxury, but as a necessity, and hope our nation does too.
This brings us to the NRA’s proposal to place armed guards on schools across America, the only “alternative” plan to Obama’s that has gained any sort of support. Setting aside the absurdity of their infamous advertisement, which labeled Obama an elitist for sending his kids to a school with armed guards, the only organization in my life that I can recall being more tone-deaf following a national tragedy is the Westboro Baptist Church. The very idea that we should put armed guards in our schools, sacred places of learning and growing, is repulsive. What will we have become as a society when we have to arm our schools like our prisons? A school with armed guards is one I simply do not want to attend. A school with armed guards steals all innocence, all purity, from our children far too early. I applaud the Marine who stood outside his daughter’s school on the day following the Newtown shooting, for it was moving symbolic act, but I do not want to see a Marine outside the doors of Pride Hall one-hundred eighty days a year. The contrast between the two images is stark.
Most of all though, I don’t support the NRA’s proposal because of the message it sends about who we are as a people. Sadly, I do not think even our best efforts will be enough to prevent another shooting in Newtown or Aurora or Tuscan or Columbine, but to arm our schools would be to give up far more ground than to lock a pistol in a safe for personal protection; it would be to accept that we must live constantly in fear of what we cannot control. While school shootings are tragedies, we are not a nation who can allow madmen to steal our children’s innocence and mar our institutions of knowledge, for to allow fear to define us would be far more of a tragedy.
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