With the horrific tragedy in Charleston, SC, the two opposing sides of the never-ending gun law debate have locked and loaded their rhetoric.
President Barack Obama made one of the first statements. Along with consoling remarks for the people in Charleston, he raised the gun law flag, and then surprisingly surrendered to the reality that new gun laws “are unlikely to pass anytime soon.”
This ongoing argument isn’t a simple Democrat vs. Republican spat. Some lawmakers from both parties protect what they call “Second Amendment rights” and pledge to block any new gun bills from becoming laws.
For fair-minded people listening to the two sides, most of the emotional arguments from either direction make very little sense.
For example, the pro-gun side calls their position “protection under the Second Amendment.” The actual wording of that amendment says “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The amendment was written more than 200 years ago. Since then, every state has established a permanent militia, usually called the “National Guard” of that state. Supreme Court cases have since ruled that the right to bear arms is not specifically granted by the Constitution.
But statements by gun law advocates are just as shaky. For example, when emotions ran high after the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown, CT, proponents of new gun laws implied that the tragic deaths of 20 children would not have occurred if we had better gun laws. They conveniently glossed over the fact that Connecticut already has one of the most restrictive gun laws in the country.
Pro-gun people frequently argue using statistics. They will point to selective areas where people have the right to carry firearms, and make a case that those areas show a drop in crime. Unfortunately, these are mostly cases where “cause and effect” are not necessarily related. One factor that skews statistics is a change of demographics. Most violent crimes are committed by young men aged 18 to 25. As our population grows older, the percentage of men of that group becomes statistically smaller. We can therefor argue that the murder rate has gone down by a few percentage points, even though gun rights have had no effect.
Gun law advocates are equally illogical with their statistics. They point to trouble spots such as Chicago, New York and Detroit, where shooting stats are rising, even though the murder rate has slightly declined in most of them. Gun law spokespeople imply that those statistics demand gun laws to protect innocent people. Unfortunately, a large number of those shootings result from gang-related events. Do we really believe that gang members will stop shooting at each other because of more restrictive gun laws?
The never-ending debate is, of course, highly emotional. Nevertheless recent shooting tragedies—Newtown, Virginia Tech, Aurora, CO and Charleston—have actually unearthed one point of agreement. Both sides understand that mental illness is a major driver of these senseless crimes.
Perhaps the two sides can agree to focus on the perpetrators, rather than the individual weapons that enable them. One fresh approach might be to require licenses for gun users, just as we do for motor vehicle users.
In many ways licensing gun users would be much like licensing drivers. Many people legitimately need weapons, just as many people need motor vehicles. Prospective drivers must have minimal training, and prospective weapon users should be trained before being allowed to purchase or use guns. We require drivers to pass certain tests and standards. Is it unreasonable to require gun users to pass analogous tests?
We require drivers to reach a specific age. In most states young drivers have stronger restrictions than those who are older and more experienced. Wouldn’t we want younger gun users to have similar restrictions? We license drivers only for specific vehicle types, usually only cars or light trucks. People who want to drive buses or trailers must have additional training, and must pass tests to prove their capabilities. Wouldn’t we require advanced training and testing for users of more complex and more lethal weapons?
Advocates of both sides of the gun debate would probably cite reasons why licensing users doesn’t provide a perfect answer. But everyone interested in finding a better solution might use licensing as a good place to start working together. Ultimately they must solve the root problem of detecting and treating mentally ill people who might become killers. But first they need to agree that guns themselves aren’t the real danger. The people who use them, however, are a continual threat to everyone.
My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX