As we enter a new year in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook rampage, there is precious little we agree on where gun control is concerned. So I’d like to begin with these fairly incontrovertible but conflicting premises:

(1)   Criminals and insane people do not respect the law.

(2)   “Bad guys” will always have access to guns, no matter how tightly they are regulated.

We each have a fundamental right to protect ourselves—and others—from violence, invasion, and threats of injury.

(4)   We must find ways to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally unstable, avoid accidents (particularly involving children) and prevent theft of poorly-secured firearms.

Otherwise law-abiding, mentally-stable individuals sometimes wreak havoc with guns in moments of weakness, strain or passion.

No one selectively touts the first three principles more vehemently than gun-rights proponents, who envision a world where armed guards stand soldier-like at the entrance to every school, movie theater and post office. I, for one, take little comfort in the prospect of even more visible and concealed guns filling our public spaces. Whether or not you buy into the NRA’s overused maxim that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” perhaps it isn’t so wise to make it easy for people in categories (4) and (5) to kill other people by availing them of weaponry to throw a catastrophic, armed temper tantrum. Given our present hodgepodge of inconsistent and ineffective gun laws, we as a society have no real assurance that even lawfully-acquired weapons will not wind up in the hands of those inadequately trained to use them, or otherwise ill-equipped to react appropriately in a crisis. Clearly, something needs to be done in response to this latest bloodbath caused by a lone madman who claimed twenty-six innocent lives with one high-powered weapon. But what?

While there are no easy answers to our current state of national anguish, banning all guns does not seem to me a logical or attainable goal. Still, given the inherent hazards posed by guns, shouldn’t they be regulated at least as rigorously as vehicles? A car is a means of transportation, and yet we as a society recognize that, used improperly, it has the potential to kill, maim and ruin innocent lives. Why should guns be treated any less seriously? You cannot operate a motor vehicle anywhere in this country without proving you know how to drive and understand the rules of the road. You’ve got to obtain a license, register your car each year, and carry insurance in case you harm someone. You also need to take an eye test, and in some states, pass a vehicle inspection. These rules apply whether you purchase your car from a dealer or a private party, so why do existing gun laws contain a “gun show” loophole?

It also blows my mind that certain states (Alaska, Arizona and Vermont) allow the general public to carry concealed weapons without the necessity of any license or permit. (Source: Buckeye Firearms Association - “Defending Your Firearms Rights,” And while so-called “shall issue” states require state and local authorities to issue gun licenses to individuals to carry a concealed firearm as long as they meet enumerated criteria (such as proof of residency, minimum age, fingerprints for a background check, no record of mental illness, and certification from an acceptable handgun safety class), these requirements differ significantly from state to state. For example, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Washington do not require any certificate of firearms training. You would think that the sale and distribution of an instrumentality designed specifically for the effective taking of human life would be monitored at least as closely as the sale of an automobile.

And then there is the matter of assault weapons. Just as we cannot drive a tank down a city street, I cannot understand why a well-drafted national ban on a clearly-defined category of assault weapons should be the least bit controversial. Why should anyone be allowed to legally own an automatic assault weapon capable of taking out scores of lives in a single clip? Adam Lanza’s Bushmaster AR-15 was purchased legally by his mother. What remotely justifiable need did she have for owning such a weapon? Sure, the gangbangers and military have them, and probably always will. But seriously, does placing that degree of fire-power in the hands of so-called law-abiding citizens really make us any safer as a society? I seriously doubt it. It’s the job of the police and military to combat the gangbangers, organized criminals, and would-be marauders. Who else is sufficiently equipped to assume such an enormous responsibility?

Despite our widely varying attitudes about guns, and the arguments for and against private gun ownership, it seems that a uniform regulatory scheme that includes mandatory FBI background checks, a national gun registry, and an across-the-board ban on automatic assault weapons is a sensible step toward deterring unsound gun ownership absent appropriate documentation, training and forethought. This would weed out some—if not all—the “crazies” while preserving citizens’ basic right to self-defense.

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Gun Control after Sandy Hook: Part Two

In a knee-jerk response to the unthinkable carnage at Sandy Hook, there are those who would take away the ability of every individual—other than the police and military—to own a weapon. But does that really make any sense? As I assert in Part One above, criminals do not respect the law, and “bad guys” will always find ways to get guns. So prohibiting lawful gun ownership would only turn the rest of us into defenseless lambs in the path of an ever-increasing number of armed criminals.

We all know crime victims are supposed to “call the police” rather than “take matters into their own hands.” But in these days of budget cuts and stripped police forces, can we really expect the cops to show up in the nick of time and rescue us, like they do on television? Equally true for childhood bullying victims and adult victims of criminal activity, the so-called authority figures charged with maintaining our safety are often absent, ineffective, or ill-equipped to protect us.

As Forbes Magazine reported in February 2012 (citing a paper released by the Cato Institute), “The ostensible purpose of gun control legislation is to reduce firearm deaths and injuries. But . . . these restrictions put law-abiding citizens at a distinct disadvantage to criminals who acquire guns from underground markets since it is simply not possible for police officers to get to every scene where intervention is urgently needed . . . Large numbers of crimes . . . murders, assaults, robberies . . . are thwarted each year by ordinary persons with guns.” Forbes goes on to cite a National Crime Victimization Study (NCVS) which found that about 108,000 crime victims had used a gun in self-defense each year during the 1990’s, a survey that only included instances where a citizen killed a criminal, not “when one is only wounded, is held by the intended victim until police arrive, or when brandishing a gun caused a criminal to flee.”  ( According to the Northwestern University School of Law, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology ( “research has consistently indicated that victims who resist with a gun or other weapon are less likely than other victims to lose their property in robberies and in burglaries . . . [and] victims who resist by using guns or other weapons are less likely to be injured compared to victims who do not resist or to those who resist without weapons. This is true whether the research relied on victim surveys or on police records.”

That said, PHLR (Public Health Law Research - “Making the Case for Laws that Improve Health”) states that firearms are the second leading cause of injury and deaths in the United States, accounting for more than half of all homicides. (See US Department of Justice: Crime Statistics Even more sobering, in 2005 (the year cited in the article), over 80 percent of teen homicides, and almost half of teen suicides, involved a gun.

It used to be that little boys were taught rudimentary self-defense skills by their fathers and a few lucky little girls were shown by their mothers and big brothers where and how to gouge and kick if they were ever attacked by a male. It remains a truism today that the worst schoolyard bullies are often the biggest wusses beneath all their bluster. As unpopular as it may be these days to teach kids to match violence with violence, one good punch in the nose was often all it took to send a “tough kid” crying home to his mama. Such small victories empowered would-be victims and afforded a well-deserved sense of vindication and social standing to those perceived as weak, both of which can restore the otherwise shaky emotional equilibrium that comes from feeling constantly under siege by a tormentor.

But nowadays, kids are instructed to “tell an adult” when they are being bullied, which often makes the situation worse. It would be nice if we could always “negotiate” or “report” our way out of threatening situations, but generally speaking, those intent on debasing or causing us harm are not so rational. Obviously, our modern approach is not working, or we wouldn’t be so aware of the pervasive issue of bullying, and so many current and former victims wouldn’t take up arms to settle their unfinished scores in adolescence and young adulthood.

Gun rights proponents
believe the answer to atrocities like Sandy Hook and Columbine is for more law-abiding citizens to carry firearms. But do we really think more guns will cure our nationwide epidemic of gun deaths? And yet, many sane, rational people—myself included—feel quite strongly that ordinary citizens are entitled to use appropriate force in life-threatening situations. Even with the decades-long erosion of the notion of self-defense, our laws still support this basic human right.

As I said at the outset, there are no simplistic answers to our current state of national anguish, but I hope these two blogs will at least encourage folks on both sides of this hot-button debate to stop acting like there are, and begin tackling the issues in a thoughtful way. Recognizing that my ramblings sidestep critical social questions surrounding how we identify and deal with those in need of mental health services, I would like to close with an urgent message to those who choose to own a weapon or plan to acquire one in the future:  Please recognize and respect the grave moral responsibility you are taking on. If you are ineligible to acquire a gun legally, unwilling to train thoroughly, indisposed to keeping your weapon secure, or incapable of exercising restraint under pressure, you owe it to everyone around you, especially our KIDS, to forego this cryptic Constitutional right, however cherished it may be.

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