Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Common Sense Matters

There’s a new, sad sequence of events in this country when it comes to mass shootings, which themselves are far too prevalent. That sequence goes something like this:

      1)      Mass Shooting.

      2)      Anti-gun and pro-gun sides shout (loudly) at one another.

      3)      Said mass shooting fades into the background over days and weeks.

      4)      No meaningful action is taken and the status quo prevails.

      5)      Repeat upon next mass shooting.
I know you’re expecting an anti-gun tirade from me – but look elsewhere because you won’t find one here. See, even though I find that the Second Amendment has been grossly misinterpreted and perverted from its original intent when it was adopted 224 years ago, I have zero issues with law-abiding citizens owning guns for protection of self and family, hunting, or other sport/recreational purposes.
Surprised? Don’t be…I’m far more moderate than people give me credit for.
Where my issues come in is within the lack of common sense among many obsessed with this country’s gun culture when it comes to applying 21st century standards to an 18th century constitutional amendment, written before electricity and running toilets. It’s that lack of 21st century context that concerns me greatly…the stubborn clinging to something that no one really wants to take away even in the face of great violence committed with alarming, increased frequency.
Newtown. Aurora. San Bernardino. Orlando.
Four mass shootings with only one common thread. And that commonality isn’t found in the nationality of the shooters, or in the profile of the targeted victims, or in the motivations that led to the shooters’ desire to kill as many people as possible in the first place.
Yes, a common thread winding through each of these events is that they were committed using guns. But the greatest common denominator running through these mass shootings is the type of gun used: An AR-15 assault rifle, developed in the 1950’s by a company called ArmaLite for use by the United States military.
To be clear, in Florida, where Omar Mateen purchased the gun less than a week before he massacred 49 innocent people in an act of homophobia and terror, there is no license requirement to buy or carry an AR-15 and no waiting period to purchase one. This gun is semi-automatic, which means it can fire bullets as fast as the shooter can pull the trigger and will continue to fire until the magazine is empty, and has an easily controllable recoil. Mateen used a Sig Sauer MCX rifle, which allowed him to fire 30 rounds of ammunition (bullets) without having to stop and reload. By contrast, the handgun that Mateen used in the shooting has half that capacity.
Worse, the AR-15-style rifle can be modified to use a magazine that can hold as many as 100 bullets – as was the case in the Aurora movie theater shooting. 
And here’s the most frustrating part for me: The AR-15 – and semi-automatic weapons like it – were banned nationwide for ten years under the 1994 Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act (known more commonly as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban) signed into law under President Bill Clinton. It was only when Congress allowed the ban to expire in 2004 under its sunset provision that the AR-15 and other similar assault weapons were allowed to re-enter the consumer marketplace.
Although I’ve asked the question countless times on social media sites, no gun enthusiast can offer a logical answer when the question of why an average law-abiding civilian needs an AR-15-style rifle is posited. Inevitably, such questions devolve into shouts of “Obama is coming to take our guns!” and invocation of the Second Amendment.
In other words, there is no logical answer.
Therein lies my main gun-related issue: This “all or nothing” attitude amongst many (not all) gun owners.
It doesn’t help that those who stand in opposition to the free-wheeling gun culture use the words “gun control”. Semantics matter in volatile debates like this, and both sides of the argument would accomplish so much more if they toned down the rhetoric and listened with an ear toward common ground.
If AR-15-style rifles were banned, people would still get shot – that’s a given. Just like we’ve toughened drunk driving laws, inebriated people still get behind the wheels of cars and mow people down in crosswalks. But, arguably, there may have been less casualties inside the Orlando nightclub if Mateen was armed only with his 9mm handgun, firing 15 – and not 30 – bullets before he needed to reload and not in rapid succession.
Therein lies the common sense that’s missing.
Just as there’s little to no common sense when gun advocates point out that even in a world (theoretically) without guns, terrorists would find a way to inflict harm.
Well, duh.
But when Timothy McVeigh drove a truck full of fertilizer up to a federal building and blew it up, we didn’t stop selling fertilizer – but common sense changes were made. Parking restrictions were imposed around federal buildings and the average civilian purchasing those quantities of fertilizer now set off alarms with both vendors and government agencies.
When the 9/11 hijackers used box cutters and airplanes to carry out their catastrophic terrorist mission, we didn’t outlaw box cutters or ground all planes in perpetuity – but common sense changes were made. No more box cutters on airplanes, removal of shoes at check-in, liquid bans, no-fly lists, no one at departure gates without tickets.
When the Nazis used cyanide gas to commit genocide against Jews, LGBT men and women, and anyone else they found didn’t fit their new world order, common sense dictated that the average civilian couldn’t buy hydrogen cyanide in quantities large enough to kill masses of people. Again, alarms get triggered.
Again, when drunken driving fatalities increased, we didn’t ban cars – but common sense changes were made. Laws were toughened, driving privileges were lost, and cars were outfitted with technology that made them inoperable if alcohol was detected on a driver’s breath.
So why can’t this same level of common sense be applied to the issue of gun violence in America? Why can’t law-abiding citizens own handguns and hunting rifles that serve the purposes they were designed for – protection, hunting, and sport – without the demand for near-unfettered access to semi-automatic assault weapons? If the ban on AR-15-style rifles and similar weaponry was reinstated, yes, some quantity would still make its way into the hands of determined criminals – that’s a near certainty. But the quantity of these types of weapons in circulation would be less. And here comes the logic (wait for it…): Less of these types of guns, less opportunities for mass shootings and lower body counts.
No, we can’t save all lives from gun violence…but isn’t saving even some lives worth our effort? Are we that desensitized to violence and death in our culture that the images of smiling grade-schoolers gunned down in their classrooms and young people massacred in a nightclub don’t move us to want to do more? If Mateen hadn’t such easy access to the AR-15 he used to commit his horrific crime, and instead entered that club and opened fire with his handgun, killing 25 people instead of 50, isn’t that a better outcome? Why when given the chance to choose the lesser of two evils do we steadfastly opt for the greater evil? It doesn’t make sense.
So, no, I’m not anti-gun. I’m a reasonable, moderate, critical thinker and inclusive humanist who advocates for greater gun safety in light of the myriad circumstances and conditions that have changed over the past 224 years. The words “unfettered access” don’t appear anywhere in the Second Amendment.
For my money, here’s what I’d like to see across the country in terms of increased gun safety:

·       Reinstate the ban on AR-15-style semi-automatic assault rifles. Use these weapons in war, not in our neighborhoods;

·       Toughen penalties for adults whose guns fall into the hands of children who then die or are maimed because of gun owner negligence in securing their firearms. Automobile drivers can be charged with aggravated vehicular manslaughter for certain automobile accidents – apply the same standard to gun owners to increase safety;

·       Apply the same logical standards to securing a gun license as is applied to obtaining a driver license: Application, written and practical test, insurance, and registration. Let the logic that guns are at least as dangerous a piece of machinery as a car be the guiding principle here that we can all agree on;

·       Criminal background checks for all gun license applicants to help keep guns out of the hands of individuals with criminal pasts. This imposes no undue hardship on law-abiding citizens who have nothing to hide, and I’d even support these checks being free to applicants – or, better yet, let some of the money that funnels into the NRA’s coffers go to support this common sense safeguard instead of lining politicians’ pockets;

·       Equip all guns with whatever technological safeguards are available to prevent anyone but the owner from using them – biometrics, RFID chips, and other personalization technology;

·       Create a severe mental illness exemption from gun licensure, much in the same way certain medical conditions preclude access to a driver license. If you’re prescribed medications to prevent you from seeing the devil on your sofa or from hearing Charles Manson sing country tunes in your head, you shouldn’t be permitted access to firearms – call me crazy, but enough said;

·       In this age of rampant terrorism and Internet radicalization, prohibit anyone on any government watch list from buying a firearm, with extra steps built into the licensure process for anyone who has been investigated or questioned by government agencies regarding anything related to terrorist activities or expressed sympathies. If you’re on a no-fly list, you’re automatically – without question or appeal – on a no-buy list. Again, let the logic of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” be the guiding principle here;

·       Both sides compromise on the issue of carrying guns on one’s person. In other words, allow law-abiding citizens who legally go through the more comprehensive licensure process above to conceal carry – and bar the ridiculousness of open carry. Think about the intent of each: Those who conceal carry want the peace of mind knowing that they’ve got an available tool for self-defense in a moment of crisis; conversely, ask yourself what those who open carry want. Why dangle a carrot in front of the criminals and crazies?

·       Make the above safeguards universal across the country so citizens residing in a state with lackluster gun safety protocols aren’t disproportionately more likely to be the victims of gun violence than citizens in states with more stringent safety measures.

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