Thursday, December 20, 2012

We're Going to Talk About Guns and Something Good Will Come of it

The school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut must serve as the starting point for a serious, well-mannered discussion about how we treat people with mental illness and how we control access to firearms in this country. This post will deal with access to firearms. It is not acceptable for things to continue as they are. The current system regulating who has access to firearms clearly does not work.

First, I would like you, the reader, to understand my background regarding this subject. I believe people have the right to own guns and I enjoy target shooting. I have sold guns in the past. I worked the counter of a local store that sold firearms for almost seven years. I've written thousands of hunting licenses and sold many pistols, revolvers, shotguns and rifles. I want you to understand I have some experience on this subject. You may have more, you may have less but at least we both know where I'm coming from.

Second, I am a long time supporter of an organization named Mayors Against Illegal Guns. This organization has done fantastic work identifying how guns get from retailers into the hands of criminals. They have a list of suggestions for making it harder to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have access to firearms. I recommend looking at their site.

Third, we need to enter this conversation about access to firearms with an open mind. Notice I didn't use the term "both sides". I did that because there are many sides in this debate. I'm a gun owner who favors tighter restrictions on gun access and more responsibility for gun owners. I assume some people will agree and others will disagree.

This conversation needs to center around two things; keeping firearms away from people who are not allowed to have them and mitigating the damage such a person can do if they gain access to a firearm.

I live near Youngstown, Ohio in the Mahoning Valley. This area experiences a high rate of murders and gun violence for a city this size (around 60,000 people in the city) but the city is surrounded by rural communities where owning a gun is considered normal. A child laying in his own bed was killed by a man wielding an AK-47 rifle earlier this year. This is a place where feelings about guns vary if you drive 20 minutes in any direction.

We need to accept that people enjoy owning and using firearms and also that it is sometimes necessary. There is nothing criminal about hunting, target shooting or being secure in your home. Hurricane Katrina taught us that there may be times when the authorities cannot render aid because they are overwhelmed. People living in remote areas cannot be expected to wait 20 minutes for police assistance if it is needed.

We also need to accept that there are limitations on the type of firearms we can own and the functions of those firearms. Automatic weapons are already outlawed. The following is a list of other restrictions I feel are common sense that would help protect us but also allow us to exercise our rights:

  • Every transfer of ownership should require a background check. This includes not only the retail sales we're all familiar with but also private sales, inheritances and gifts.
  • People diagnosed with a sufficiently dangerous mental illness to keep them from purchasing a firearm should have their guns removed from their possession if they were bought previously.
  • Government agencies should share data related to criminal history and mental illness diagnoses for use in the background check.
  • Gun owners should be responsible for the storage of their weapons.  It is negligent to allow a burglar to obtain a gun without taking reasonable precautions. A lock box or a safe is reasonable. Inside a nightstand drawer is not.
  • Gun owners should be responsible for reporting stolen or missing weapons to the authorities. Losing track of a gun is irresponsible.
  • High capacity magazines should be banned. If a mentally ill person or a criminal gets access to a gun we must mitigate the damage they can inflict on their targets. A magazine that holds six rounds limits the amount of damage a shooter can inflict before reloading.
  • Existing high capacity magazines should be bought back and outlawed after a certain time period. The government should buy back high capacity magazines, forbid their future sale and give gun owners a reasonable amount of time to turn them in. The last assault weapon ban failed because magazines manufactured prior to 1994 were grandfathered in as legal. Ownership of these should be made illegal with a penalty to include a revocation of the right to own firearms.
  • Firearms using magazines should require a tool to remove the magazine rather than a push button ejection system. This doesn't need to be complex but it must slow reloading time.
  • Rifles and shotguns that will not accept magazines should be plugged to limit the number of shells that can be loaded.
  • Purchases of firearms should be limited to one per month.
  • The Tiahrt Amendment should be revoked so that municipalities and government agencies can trace the life of firearms used in crimes and identify firearms dealers who sell large numbers of weapons used in crimes. This data can lead them to crooked dealers who may be working with strawman purchasers.
  • Stronger enforcement of gun laws already on the books. There are stringent laws in place for using a gun in a crime but they are often pleaded down. That needs to stop so people see their is a consequence for using a gun in the commission of a crime.
 As I said above, not everyone will agree with what is written here but I feel these changes would allow gun owners to exercise their rights and indulge their hobby while providing reasonable safeguards for the rest of society.

Things need to change. The laws we have are ineffective and too many irresponsible gun owners are giving the rest of us a bad name. We need to accept that with rights come responsibilities.    

No comments: