I wasn’t going to comment on this whole gun control debate as I was more concerned with putting all my thoughts and prayers to the victims of last weeks School shooting and the families and friends they left behind rather than whether John Doe can keep his guns. I am not an American. I did not grow up in America and therefore hadn’t grown up in a culture where guns were the norm.
Then Wayne LaPierre spoke and I feel that I need to address some things. Not everyone will agree with everything I am about to say but I feel that if the most liberal gun advocate and the most stringent gun control activist can agree that six and seven year old Children should never be part of this debate again then I think there is already enough to work with, so here I go.
Addressing some of Mr LaPierres speech and the NRA’s suggestions first he says that the fact that schools are advertised as ‘gun free’ invites the bad guys with guns in to do their worst. Suggestions that we should have armed guards at every school I contest would only encourage the perpetrators to arm themselves even more and would consider it more of a challenge for greater glory rather than a no go area. My reasoning for this? Mr LaPierre said that as a culture we protect our money, our President, our congress and sports stadiums with armed personnel.
This is true and yet in 2011 we suffered four school shootings which resulted in seven deaths. One of these on Dec 8th 2011 was a police officer on the Virginia Tech campus. This came four and a half years after the mass shooting at VT where 33 people (including the gunman) were killed. Now to the armed bank robbery statistics, in 2011 the FBI reports a total of 5,000 bank robberies, with a quarter of them involving a firearm. That number goes into the three quarter mark if you add into account other weapons and incidents where a gun was implied but not actually seen. So we have unarmed schools 4, secure banks 5,000.
President and congress personnel are not safe either from the crazed gunman. We have had numerous assassinations and assassination attempts on previous Presidents, despite a rather competent guard detail. For congress you really only have to go back two years for the attempt on Gabby Giffords life in January 2011.
Arm Teachers and Civilians:
So the argument being banded around by a few people is that had the teachers been armed last Friday then things could have been stopped at an earlier stage. This was also the argument given with the Aurora Colorado ‘Batman shooter’. Jesse Ventura himself said that had he been there at the movie theater that night then James Holmes would not have taken the lives he had that night. Really Jesse! In a dark movie theatre, panicked people running around, the noise (and smoke from the smoke grenade he allegedly tossed) dressed from head to toe in protective tactical gear and wearing a gas mask, you could have taken him out. Unfortunately I fear the only thing you would have done that night would be add to the body count.
Don’t forget the Fort Hood shootings where the majority if not all the people on that base were not only armed but were also highly trained with firearms. Yet Major Hassan managed to get into double figures that day.
ATF and CDC:
The ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) and CDC (Center for Disease Control) have both been restricted in their respective research projects by law makers on Capitol Hill backed by pro gun monies. In the current age of DNA and forensic advances it seems strange that the ATF sorts through paper records and contact gun owners via telephone. The reason for this? The gun industry has successfully blocked all attempts to get this information on computer, in a database or any other easily accessible form. Would a database make tracking guns and identifying hotspots easier and quicker for Law Enforcement? I don’t know but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to try it and bring the ATF up to doing its work in the same way other departments do.
Again with the CDC, efforts with research have been blocked with the NRA successfully able to block funding research into gun violence. In a crazy turn of events we learnt that the National Institutes of Health had granted money to the University of Colorado, who in turn granted just under $22k of it to a student for living costs while he pursued his doctorate in Neuroscience. That student was James Holmes, the Aurora shooter. However had the National Institute of Health tried to award the money to a researcher who was investigating the reasons for mass shootings then they would have been in trouble. When the Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed NRA lobbyist Chet Walker he said that CDC funded research was being used to promote gun legislation, and that the CDC ought to stick to fighting infectious disease and illness.
I think gun violence research should be funded and lets see where it takes us. Certainly it is not going to give us a definitive answer, nor is it going to stop these mass murders. The CDC have been warning and researching tobacco for years and yet there are still many more deaths from that per year than guns, but I think we need to take a look at this area in a better way.
There are so many safe and legal owners of guns in America that I do not for one minute think that we should ban guns and attempt to get a gun free America. Firstly it is not a realistic goal and secondly it will not stop gun crime entirely. I do however think that to own a gun you need to take responsibility for it and secure it so that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. For example if there are four people in a household but only one with a gun license then they need to be the only one who uses it and even knows the combination to its secure place. This will stop us hearing the terrible stories of a child who went to his grandfathers arsenal, grabbed a gun and shot himself. If you were in the only one with a drivers license you would not allow a house member without a license to take your car for a spin would you. Plus you would most likely know where the keys were at all times.
Failure to secure your gun or allowing improper use of it should result in it being confiscated for at least a period of time if not for good, depending on the severity of the violation.
I certainly think that there are no good reasons for semi automatic assault rifles to be accessed by the general public and the ban which expired in 2004 should be put back in force with a few adjustments in language to reflect the changes in society over the last few years. Certainly it would not impede the rights of Americans to have guns, but will restrict it a little. Much the same as car enthusiasts cannot by a F1 car to ride around on the highways of America. They can collect cars, and they can modify cars, but only within the legal parameters provided.
Media and Video Games:
The gun community are not the only ones who should take a look at their roles going forward. Certainly the media has a part to play also. With the invention of 24 hour news channels it was hard to turn on the TV without seeing the shooters face all over the news. Certainly people need to know the news, but this constant obsession with the shooter elevates them to a celebrity level. You could ask anyone in America on Saturday morning the name of the shooter and most if not all would know the name. However ask them to name one of the children, or teachers and those names don’t stick as much. It is a culture of violence and the morbid fascination with this kind of stuff and of human mortality which has us glued to those TV screens. Just like a car crash on our drive to work this kind of TV grabs and captures our attention and doesn’t let go.
Films and Video games have not only become more violent over the years but also more realistic. Does this make the line between reality and make believe blurred? Maybe so, but I am a great believer that films do not create psychos but do make psychos more creative. For the same reason we shouldn’t look to ban all guns is the same reason we shouldn’t touch films and games either. The majority should not be punished for the actions of the few, that is already happening in the airports across the nation to a lesser extent but should not come into our own homes.
This is probably by far one of the biggest issues to be dealt with. Certainly when a leading health and science writer doesn’t know where to turn when his son threatens suicidal actions it means there is something terribly wrong. Call the police or the hospital? Incarcerated or hospitalized? The experts even agree that the system isn’t perfect and it is the lack of coordination of care of various agencies. Different agencies sometimes work with cross purposes. Residential treatment versus in home versus yet a different placement. Other times a particular technique or pill may be used by a referred professional when it has previously failed at an earlier point in the treatment. At that point the patient may have been under the care of another. Central to the issue is there is just no where to turn for help. Government statistics state that currently we have 7,500 psychiatrists whereas the need is closer to the 20,000. Also Health Insurance frequently falls short of providing the essentials especially as essential continuous care can extend past four years.
In America five million children suffer with mental illness which is severe enough to impact their life significantly. Nearly twice as many suffer a type of developmental disorder which includes Autism.
Funding for this sector has gone down $4 BILLION over the past three years with another 10% being cut if we go over the Fiscal cliff in January. That would leave an estimated 320,000 children without early access care. Medicaid may also be targeted, this accounts for half the public mental health spending. So you see why this is more important to me in addressing the situation rather than focusing on the gun situation.
So in conclusion I think we should raise the restrictions on the ATF and the CDC to pursue their fields and untie their hands. There is no need for the ATF to make public their records but certainly it would make it easier for them to see patterns and concerns quicker after running the hard data through a computer model. A quick call to the local police department and any questions can be addressed. With the CDC, as I said before, lift the restrictions on their funding. Let them do their research and come back with recommendations. It should not be about removing guns from the legal and careful owners but to protect their names from the others who perpetrate crimes. Places of business (including schools) should be allowed to arm their personnel if they wish but it should be a collective decision, with the employees having a say about it, also parents in the case of schools. It shouldn’t be an all across the board infliction on all.
The media outlets could agree among each other that when stories like this break they do not take more than a certain % of their air time with it. The names of victims should not be sought or aired until officials release them and the name of the shooter or shooters should be mentioned but should not be profiled and talked about hour after hour.
Video Games are unfortunately under the guard of parents who must be more aware of what their kids are playing. The video game industry does have age recommendations on their boxes with their ESRB ratings but doesn’t not restrict the sale of most to Children. It doesn’t just fall to the parents though as older siblings can go out and purchase the games for the child also.
Mental Health should get back it’s $4 billion and a good look at its procedures and protocols. Instead of arming more people to guard the schools and Malls maybe we should be funding attempts to get the problem at source. So to Mr LaPierres quote earlier, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun’ is true. But what if we could get to that bad guy with a gun a few years before he even thinks about picking up two hand guns, an assault rifle and walking into a school?