Reasonable and effective ways to reduce gun violence

gun_owners_reutersIt is obvious now that the majority of Americans, in fact the majority of gun owners, support better screening of those who shop for guns and ammunition. The majority of civilized countries manage to let citizens own firearms without the carnage we see here in the U.S. One major difference is the requirements that citizens have to meet before owning guns. Background checks, mandatory training on handling and storing guns, and other reasonable requirements result in a shared sense of safety and freedom of movement in those countries. Public safety is just as much of a right as owning a gun. If the general population isn’t “free” to travel and go about our business, we have lost much of what America is supposed to be all about.

From research done on mass shootings in the U.S. over the last few years, we can say with some certainly that angry young men are more likely to commit these violent crimes that other members of our society. Other countries know this as well and have done a few things to try to address the situation. For example, in Germany, anyone younger than 25 must undergo a psychological examination before being allowed to own a gun. In France, ALL gun buyers must provide a medical certificate declaring them physically and mentally capable of safe handling of firearms.

I’d like to suggest we pass laws similar to those we all take for granted when it comes to driving a vehicle. There are minimum standards relating to rules of the road because we all desire some semblance of safety on the highways. Violations are punishable by fines, tickets, even prison. If we begin thinking of gun safety the same way we agree on the need for rules of the road and requirements for drivers, we can refocus the conversation where it needs to be—on something we all need and want—public safety.

Insurance companies require higher premiums for younger drivers, especially young male drivers, because of the long history of that demographic causing a disproportionate number of accidents and deaths on the highway. Psychological and neurological studies have shown that the judgment part of the brain isn’t completely developed until the early 20’s. It’s the last and most important part of the human brain to reach maturity.

It makes all kinds of sense to look more carefully at younger potential gun buyers. Like it or not, males under about age 25 are in a higher risk group for committing a violent act with a weapon. Yes, they can use other weapons such as knives, but guns that can kill dozens of people in minutes should never be allowed in the general population. Military assault rifles were designed for combat situations, not for grabbing a latte at the Bread Company. We should reinstate the assault weapons ban in Congress immediately. Serious outdoorsmen and hunters don’t use automatic weapons to kill deer.

Pro-gun enthusiasts complain that the criminal justice system doesn’t do enough to enforce laws already on the books. I agree. In fact, I’d like to see more serious attention paid to gun owners who leave loaded weapons where children can find them. If a toddler is taken to the ER because he ingested rat poison he found under the kitchen sink, family services is called in immediately. Recently, a mother in western Missouri was charged with first degree child endangerment and 2nd degree murder because her child drowned in a pond. But if that same child died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds, the police would have called it an “accident.” No, it’s not an accident. Anyone who leaves loaded guns for children to find and use against themselves or others is guilty of criminal neglect.

While I try to avoid arguing about Second Amendment rights, I think it’s very important that we repeat over and over that the 2nd Amendment was about a “well- regulated militia” being necessary to defend the fledgling new nation. The former colonies had tried forming a Confederation, but that didn’t work. Each state was on its own as far as defending its interests against encroachment from British soldiers in Canada, Native American tribes to the west, and raids on Atlantic ports by various European shipping companies. With no standing army organized by the federal government, states had to call up, organize and arm local citizens, usually with limited success. When Americans were colonists of the British, there were prohibitions against stockpiling weapons. That is the logic behind the 2nd Amendment. It had nothing to do with the “freedom” to own guns, much less assault rifles and other automatic weapons. And it certainly had nothing to do with the “right” to “open carry.” I doubt that anyone who walked around with rifles hung around his body while shopping in town would have been taken seriously. In fact, that person’s neighbors might join together to disarm him for fear of his mental state.

The response to my suggestions will probably be the usual cop-outs about guns always being available illegally, stolen weapons being used in crimes committed in larger cities, etc. That’s a defeatist attitude, and we shouldn’t be bullied into giving up on reasonable regulations surrounding gun ownership and use. The other illogical argument is that people are safer with guns in the home, car or wherever. But statistics show that guns that are readily available are more often used against someone known to the killer. And, yes, someone really intent on suicide will find a way to do it, but a bullet to the head doesn’t give a depressed person time to reconsider.

The time has come to find reasonable and effective ways to reduce gun violence in general and mass shootings in particular. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and the majority of us have the will at this critical time in our history.