The Great Gun Debate

* NOTE for my readers: This was originally published in February of 2014. I have not updated the stats and here we are now four years later. The gun debate is a hot topic and we've now added mental wellness to the hopper. Even though It's much easier to bite my tongue and not go outside of my box on big topics, however I am reminded that I have an opinion and my leadership requires that I open these topics up for conversation.

Back in 2014, they had just released information about the Smart Gun ... one that requires a "watch" that identifies the user as legally authorized to operate the gun. Prior to reading that article, I had decided not to publish this, but post-read, I hit "submit."

In the United States in 2011, there were 8,583 homicides by firearms, out of 12,664 homicides total, according to the FBI. This means that more than two-thirds of homicides involve a firearm. 6,220 of those homicides by firearm (72%) are known to have involved a handgun.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration found 257 more guns at airport security checkpoints in 2013 than in 2012, an increase of 16.5 percent, according to data released by the agency Friday. In total, 1,813 firearms were found in carry-on luggage at airports in the United States, roughly five per day. The airport with the most guns found in the country was Atlanta (the busiest passenger airport in the country), followed by Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Phoenix and Denver. Of the firearms discovered at airport security, 81 percent were found loaded, some with bullets in the chamber (In November, 2013, Gerardo Hernandez became the first TSA officer to die in the line of duty when he was shot by Paul Ciancia at Los Angeles International Airport. Two other TSA officers were wounded in that incident.)

This doesn't have much to do with this piece since I'm focusing in the United States, but I wanted to share because it caught my eye. Have you heard about the gun they are manufacturing in India? With less than 5% of the world's population, the United States is home to roughly 35-50 per cent of the world's civilian-owned guns, heavily skewing the global geography of firearms and any relative comparison. India is a close second to those stats, although their numbers of illegally held firearms in India are MUCH higher. (Small Arms Survey)

I interviewed five people who are all known to me and close to me, and I want to share their answers with you. I promised I would keep everyone's identities private, as I felt it would result in more honest answers. I'll tell you a bit more about the interviewees at the end of this piece.

Does the United States have a gun violence problem? If so, why?

S: The United States’ history is drenched in the blood of its people. Until we come to terms with the history of our country “that really happened” vs the “history we like to tell” our leaders will always stroke our egos as if we are something special. They say that my generation of parents hurt our children by giving every kid a trophy even if they never swung a bat. In the same way, we celebrate our history to make us feel good, but there is a history behind the history we have not come to terms with and we don’t even talk about.

A: I think there is a problem with gun violence in the US. I think the core of this problem is with the individual who commits the violent act and amount of guns available. I think there should be a cap on the number of guns a person can own, and the number produced. More should be done to individualize a gun. Such as advancing technology to the point that only the owner can fire it.

M: No. We have a crime and punishment problem.

D: No. I believe there are specific locations in the country that do however. See District of Columbia, Louisiana, Illinois and New Mexico. Compared to other nations, the U.S. has a very low firearm/homicide rate at 3.6 per 100,000 persons. Taken in the context of conservative estimates of at least 300 million firearms in the possession of private citizens in a free society, I would say we have a very low rate. As we harshly evaluate and judge ourselves, as a nation perhaps we should consider/compare ourselves with other parts of the world. Honduras has 91.6 homicides per 100k of inhabitants, South Africa has 75 per 100K, El Salvador 69.2 per 100k, Jamaica 52.2 per 100k, ever heard of Cote d'Ivoire? They have 56.9 homicides per 100k and Thailand has 33 per 100K. Why do they have such gun violence? Do they have more or less firearms in those countries? Does the rest of the world consider those figures "horrific" or is it just chalked up to the way those cultures are? Sometimes in the U.S. we are our own worst enemy and biggest critics. We tend to look at our gun violence as epidemic and feel compelled to legislate additional firearms laws but at the same time minimizing foreign issues, referring to death rates in other countries as "civil war" or "ethnic cleansing" or "political killings" or "civil unrest" or "drug cartel slayings" or "terrorism" or "freedom fighters" or "revolutions" etc. Comparatively speaking, I would say the U.S. has a minimal problem with firearms violence.

 

Would a mental health database curb the incidents of gun violence?

P: I’m not sure how many of those who have committed heinous crimes have a mental health history, but assuming they do/have, I’d bet that the answer would be yes!  People with serious mental health issues should not be allowed to own a gun.  Then, who decides what’s “serious”?  Does it count that maybe I went to counseling once?  Hmmm?

D: It is currently illegal, both at the federal and most states level to transfer a firearm to an individual who has been adjudicated mentally ill, defective or whatever the current terminology might be. If an irrefutable, comprehensive, updated "database" including both public and private mental health status were to be maintained and accessible to the FBI conducting background checks and the data clearly defined which of the types of documented mentally illnesses were dangerous threats to public safety and firearms possession dis qualifiers, then yes. However, even if the mental health profession and congress could articulate this in another federal firearms act, it would only have minimal effect on overall firearm/homicide rates in the U.S. as very few statistically are attributable to mentally ill perpetrators with no relationship to the victims.

A: I don't think a database would do anything to slow gun violence. It's my opinion that the mentally ill are not the problem. That issue just gets the most press because of recent mass murders.

M: No way. There are many other factors that go into why individuals commit gun crimes and mental health is such a broad category. Depression is a form of mental illness and even "normal" people get depressed and act on emotion. A database wouldn't help with that.

S: Yes it would. However, there are major problems in our local mental health systems. In most cases, individuals who we may deem “unfit” can elect to not receive help or identify themselves as having mental health issues. Because of the protections our laws give to every citizen – this works against the idea of a national database that could potentially identify individuals who could pose a threat to the public. For example, while the recent Boston Marathon bombing attack is not gun related (even though they may have used guns too) – the mastermind (older brother) in my mind suffered some type of psychotic break. It may not have been overtly evident, but for an individual who has for the most part behaved rationally to behave irrationally suggests a temporary lapse in mental health status. Now, did he know this – probably not? Did he seek help for his homicidal feelings – probably not. Would he have voluntarily provided a gun store information about his mental health status? No…therein lies the the anatomy of the typical killer gone “postal.

The most comprehensive public list of U.S. mass shootings is the spreadsheet of 97 incidents from 1982-2018 (this has been updated!), compiled by Mother Jones. Their list shows:

  • Mass shootings happen all over the country.

  • Killers used a semi-automatic handgun in 75% of incidents, which is about the same percentage as the 72% in overall gun violence.

  • Killers used an assault weapon in 40% of incidents. This is much higher than overall assault weapon use in crimes, estimated at less than 2%.

  • The guns were obtained legally in 79% of mass shootings.

  • Many of the shooters showed *signs* of mental illness, but in only two cases was there a prior diagnosis.

  • There were no cases where an armed civilian fired back.

Does a reduction in number of magazines allowed in automatic weapons (to 10) really accomplish a change, or should it be reduced even further?

P: Definitely reduced even further!  Why does anyone need more than four or five or maybe six shots to protect themselves?

M: Short answer, no. It takes less than a second for me to reload my weapon.

A: The only thing a reduced capacity magazine does is force a shooter to reload more often. This would be true for a person protecting their home as well as a violent offender.

D: I am an absolute literalist so let me clarify the nomenclature of this question and perhaps eliminate some misinformation before I answer it. Automatic firearms-machine guns and sub-machine guns, are so extremely rare in the possession of private citizens (prohibited by the National Firearms Act of 1934) that its really nothing more than misinformation. That type of firearm used in a homicide is so rare if doesn't even show up on FBI stats. As to magazines, firearms designed to use a magazine to cycle ammunition through it only has one. Less than one would be zero rendering the firearm functionless and an expensive paper weight. If your question is- should the ammunition capacity of magazines, designed for semi-automatic firearms, legally possessed by U.S. citizens, be limited to 10 or less and would that restriction reduce the firearm/homicide rate in the U.S.? The answer is No. If this were part of a congressional firearms act it would be ineffective and unenforceable. A criminal who is determined to commit a violent act does not contemplate that their larger than 10ish capacity magazines might be illegal. If the criminal can't get a 30 round magazine, they get two 20 round magazines, or 4 10 round magazines? It's really only the difference in a few seconds of reloading time.  If a federal act were to simply outlaw them, what federal law enforcement agencies have the resources to confiscate the millions and millions of large capacity magazines currently and legally possessed by U.S. citizens? Are all those owners going to be outlaws if they don't relinquish them? The ammunition magazines people continually talk about are all over the world (see distribution of the AK-47 and parts) and would be available to criminals in the traditional black market supplies regardless of what the law abiding citizens do.

S: I say yes. The glock is one of America’s favorite and most circulated handguns. It has 17 rounds. If you are a good shot, you can go in a crowded reception of at your ex-wife’s wedding and kill 17 guests if you are a good shot. If you have 6 rounds, 11 people didn’t die that day (unless you have more than one gun). Also, hand gun violence is not as pre meditated as most people believe. Guns are used as a defensive and intimidation weapon and when people have them in their possession and feel threatened or intimidated or emotional the ease of using them make them especially more lethal. If I only have a knife, I really have to be committed to the violence and have to get up close and personal. Guns – you don’t need this cushion. You can be hundreds of feet away and kill someone.  So, yes reduce magazine capacity for sure.

Why are some so staunchly attached to the Rights to Bear Arms?

P:  I think it’s the principal of the constitution.  Once we start taking away this “right” what comes next?  And, with the state of the times/America right now and the despair of so many, I believe we have the right to protect ourselves and most importantly, our children from the senseless crimes against others.

M: I think it comes down to people hate being told what to do and what to buy. In countries that have never allowed firearms you don't see them complaining about it. However if you made a law about taking away something that is already legal, you will see the same sort of outcry as you do about guns here.

A: I think this is more of a stance against Government interference more than anything else. When you have a right to something and its taken away, you seldom - if ever - see rights freely given back to people.

S: Fear. It’s the only reason to hold on to a gun. If you are in a war, I get it, but other than that, you are just afraid.

D: Some people embrace the U.S constitution, it's articles and the bill of rights. It's what defines the United States and distinguishes us from other parts of the world. (see civil rights leaders and their movements to define "staunchly attached") Those of us that happened to study U.S history and take U.S. Government back in the day it was required in high school, have a substantial appreciation for all the amendments to the constitution, not just the 2nd amendment but the 1st and 6th and the 14th as well. My personal experiences also suggest that millions of individuals who served their country in the military and fought in foreign lands in the interest of their countries security and freedoms seem "staunchly" supportive of the 2nd amendment of the U.S. constitution. Finally I think it is irresponsible to pick and choose through the bill of rights and promote and take advantage of those that suit ones own personal agenda, while chastising those that view other elements of their civil rights as important.

Why is it taking so long for any action to be taken following the events of Sandy Hook (Newtown), when so many seemed moved to take action back in 2012?

S: Because Washington is filled to the brim with lawyers and their main skill is making sh*t sound like it would taste good. The other reason, is political action committees (PACs) they buy politicians and the weapons industry is a very large and powerful PAC. The electorate is the one to blame – we elect these idiots and go home and play with our toys. Until the bullet hits someone we love and then we care.

M: There are lots of knee jerk reactions following a tragic event. Just look at the emotional fall out of 9-11. Gun control is something that has to be thought out logically. That takes time after the emotions run off.

A: I think this is just the mess of politics. Organizations fund campaigns and causes. It's a politicians job to get re-elected, and they need money to do it, they would lose the campaign funds if they came out a certain way against something. The biggest are guns, alcohol, and gambling.

D: Like it or not, acceptable, effective and enforceable administrative law and public policy should be driven by research, statistics, planning, logic, reasoning and consensus. Laws drafted as a result of emotion, personal agendas, political motives, knee-jerk or rare occurrences are often overturned by the U.S. Supreme court as being inconsistent with the constitution. Case in point, Congresses of the United States have passed 6 federal firearms acts since 1934. Some good some not so good. But it has not eliminated homicides in the United States. If as a society, we continue to expect the federal government, who cannot balance a checkbook, to solve our firearm/homicide crimes with additional laws, we are doomed to have the same firearm/homicide rate of 3.6 per 100,000 just like Belarus.

Why do horrific events seem to escape national consciousness so quickly?

 

Mass Shooting Cycle.jpeg

S: Like I said before – unless it is happening to me, it’s not real. The deeper meaning of compassion is “to suffer with” which is why revolutions and movements speak of their fight as “a struggle.” For years I fought my husband on the use of this term. I would say, “Its negative” but I have realized through this deeper definition that until you understand (walk a mile in someone else’s shoes) you cannot begin to understand their plight. In order to change what is going on, we have to understand as an assault on one is an assault on all. This is what is meant by the idea of solidarity. I think our nation while religious in theory suffers from a “compassion deficit” and most of this comes from the religious sector.

A: I think this is a result of the 24 hr news cycle and the need for news organizations to keep their broadcast fresh. They are not driven by news, but by finding the next story and to break it first.

M: Americans tend to have short memories because we are on the the "next big thing" so often that we don't have time to really dwell on important issues.

D: I don't believe horrific events escape national consciousness quickly unless perhaps you're a recent immigrant from Chechnya or maybe Pakistan. Most Americans can tell you about Stockton, Von Maur, Columbine, movie theaters, Newtown and religious temples. We are typically outraged and never forget but in the context of driving federal law in the U.S. rare occurrences should be taken into context. Sometimes too the definition of "horrific event" is a matter of perception. I'll answer the question of national consciousness in two ways. Your a mother of a murdered child, one of the 515 murder victims shot down in the streets of Chicago in 2012, likely with a handgun. The President of the United States does not orchestrate a press conference, the Mayor of Chicago is on CNN patting himself on the back for having a much lower homicide rate than in previous years, Bloomberg doesn't say a word, Diane Finestein does not introduce a bill into congress. In December of that year, a disturbed idiot misappropriates his mother's rifle, murders her, proceeds to a school and murders 20 school children and more teachers. NOW we have a "horrific event" now we have to take action, now we have experts on msnbc, now we have pass another federal firearms act, now we have to restrict ammunition magazines, now we have to ban the type of rifle that was used. Somehow government officials are driven to legislate to prevent this "event" but 515 dead folks in Chicago is not driving anything. What's  mother's perception of horrific events?

Secondly, Americans are keenly aware of "horrific" events continually occurring worldwide. In Beslan, Russia, 2004, armed assailants took a school full of people hostage. Police assaulted the perpetrators, approximately 334 people were killed in the school, including 156 children. In 2010, there were 1,200 political killings in the Philippines. Palestinian suicide attacks in Israel increased to 460 in 2005. In Myanmar 2007, 135 ethnic groups are responsible for 31-138 killings. There are 32 terrorist groups operating in Pakistan and 37 operating in Sri Lanka. Approximately 50,000 people were killed in the 11 year civil war in Sierra Leone. Point is, horrific events occur world wide and seem to never end. While no one is the U.S. will ever marginalize what happened to the school children in Connecticut, to believe we are the only country to experience horrific events is misguided.

 

Background checks are promising because a high fraction of future killers already have a criminal record. In one study in Illinois, 71% of those convicted of homicide had a previous arrest, and 42% had a prior felony conviction.

Should a convicted felon have the right to purchase automatic rifles online or at a gun show without background checks?

P: Absolutely not.

D: No. Convicted felons are prohibited from purchasing or possessing all types of firearms by federal law and laws of all 50 states. According to federal laws, all on-line transfers of firearms, whether a private party sale or from a federally licensed dealer, can only be shipped to a federally licensed dealer who will conduct the FBI background check, review/documented the state issued permit to purchase (required in some states and for certain firearms) complete the federally required paperwork, reflect transaction in the permanent dealer books audited by the ATF, prior to transfer to the purchaser. This is the same as what would take place at a gun show background checks are always conducted. If a felon were to obtain a firearm through these means, it would be against existing law for the felon and in most states against the law for the seller. Ok here is the "gun Show" loophole all the "experts" talk about on CNN. I am a law abiding, private citizen in possession of a legal firearm, legally obtained. According to existing law it is my personal property. One day I choose to sell that personal property. My neighbor down the street decides to by my personal property so I sell it to him. If that property was a shotgun or rifle and he is a resident of my state or a contiguous state, that sale is legal. If the property was a handgun, my state law would require me to require him to possess a state issued/background checked - handgun purchase permit. If we fail to do that, two felonies in my state would be committed.

Having said all that, although rare, folks without federal firearms licenses do get tables and do transfer a firearm or two. Usually its a couple of old guys like me just selling a few guns they don't use anymore. Except for handguns, they don't do background checks on buyers as it is private property sales to private individuals not prohibited by current law. I think folks might support an expansion of background checks to prohibit me from selling a shotgun to a friend if it could be proven that it would have a significant, measureable impact in lowering the firearm/homicide rate in the U.S. but statistics do not support that notion.

M: Hell No.

A: I guess it depends on the felony you're convicted of. You can be a convicted felon for dumping dish soap in a swimming pool because of the dollar amount to repair the filters.

If you think people are the cause for gun violence (not guns), are you willing to pay more in taxes to support people with mental illness?

P: Yes, I believe it’s because our laws aren’t tough enough for those that commit crimes. . They know they can get away with it and get “famous” from all the media attention.  Realized not long ago, while at the Gandhi museum, that there is not one mention of Gandhi’s killer’s name in the museum.  He got no notariety, no publicity, no “fame” - as it should be.

A: No, as I stated earlier, I don't believe the mentally ill are the problem with gun violence. They just seem to make it to prime time news because they tend to commit mass murder , making it more news worthy.

M: Guns are not the cause. People are the cause.

D: People are the cause of gun violence just like people operating inanimate objects like automobiles killed 181 children in 2011 during intoxicated driving incidents. Speaking of inanimate objects like guns, in 2011, 1,694 people in the U.S. were killed with knives and 496 with blunt objects. Speaking of people, 726 committed murder with their hands, fists and feet used as weapons! (for what its worth, rifles were used in 323 of the 14,664 homicides committed in 2011). Mental illness? Those services are already in place and funded by city, county and state tax dollars. If those services were expanded to ensure that mentally ill people likely to engage in violent behavior, were somehow prohibited from obtaining firearms, then sure. However, statistic still disprove notions that the mentally ill account for a significant percentage of firearm/homicides in the U.S.

These policies do actually seem to reduce gun violence, at least somewhat or in some cases:

  • More intensive probation strategies: increased contact with police, probation officers and social workers.

  • Changes in policing strategies, such increased patrols in hot spots.

  • Programs featuring cooperation between law enforcement, community leaders, and researchers, such as Project Safe Neighborhoods.

What's the most practical way an average citizen can help reduce gun violence in the United States?

A: I would say educate yourself and train yourself. I hear a lot a people say they hate guns, or are afraid of guns. For me, I try to make myself familiar with what scares me. I believe you should do all you can to educate yourself on what causes you to be afraid. I don't think gun violence is a concern for "average citizen" it's more of a concern for people who experience it in their neighborhoods. Guns aren't going anywhere in the US, and it's important to note that gun ownership or possession does not equal violent gun related event. The fact is, the majority of gun owners are never heard of on the news because they are responsible and knowledgable about their guns.

M: Learn how not to be victims

P: Own a gun and put a sign in your window of your house that says you do.  There have been several communities, two that I know of in Georgia, that did this and crime went way down in those areas.

S: To continue to have a dialogue that gun violence has to stop period. We have face it front and center and not dance around the issue of gun rights and think about why we live in a violent society. While I believe in self accountability society is also responsible and that is the part we have to own up to and begin talking about our problem.

D: If we expect the government to have an impact, we need existing laws to be enforced not new laws. Aggressive laws, aggressive enforcement, aggressive prosecutions and aggressive sentencing has significantly reduced deaths related to DUI collisions. The same thing would work for crimes in which a firearm was used illegally. As a culture parents need to be better parents and raise their children better. Simple as that.

 * * *

Out of the five people whose opinions you've just read:

  • THREE are law enforcement officers in one capacity or another (with a combined 64 years of experience at city, county and state levels, including one who has extensive experience with an executive branch of state government)
  • TWO are mothers
  • All five have children.
  • THREE are Caucasians, TWO are African-Americans.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this piece. However, please do not refer to a specific person's response with any negativity. Any comments that do not follow this request will not be published.