As I said in my previous post, I would like for the mass shootings in the U.S.A. to stop, and I would like for the overall decline in firearms violence in the U.S. to continue, if not accelerate. I would also like to see accidental deaths by firearms, suicide by firearms and other similar problems be addressed by our society. While I am a firearm owner, and I do not want to see civilian firearm ownership banned, I think *one part* of our society’s answer to these challenges can come in the form of sensible gun-legislation.
In my previous post I went through Obama’s Executive Actions on gun in detail and found that it was a mixed bag. The NRA and GOP would have you believe that Obama is coming for your guns to impose martial law, fanning the flames of hysteria to drive record gun sales. The Democrats and gun-control advocates would have you believe these actions will help end gun violence or at the very least be a first step towards it, when in fact some of these actions are vague, insufficient or will do nothing (in my estimation) to address issues with guns.
So what can be done to address issues with guns and what type of sensible gun legislation can be part of our response to issues with firearms? I will address this question by breaking down the issues with gun into four basic categories: accidental death and injury, suicide, and gun crime.
1. Accidental Death and Injury: Every year there are tragic incidents involving firearms where individuals injury or kill themselves or others with firearms being handled improperly. There are at least two ways we can reduce this issue.
- Increased firearm handling and storage knowledge for gun-owners: Many of these issues are rooted in people improperly handling firearms. Gun owners need to take their decision to own a firearm very seriously. I fear we live in a culture where access to firearms goes far beyond those who come from communities and families with that encourage responsible gun culture. The individual must take firearms seriously and ensure sure they and everyone who could possibly access their gun, understands the fundamentals of firearms safety. I say this as someone who had access to firearms before anyone every sat me down and taught me the basics of gun safety. I could have easily injured myself and/or others. Perhaps legislation like California’s requirement that you demonstrate your familiarity with safe firearms handling before purchasing a handgun and similar legislation can be developed in other states.
- Gun Safety Technology: We need to fund gun safety research. Specifically we need to develop technology that prevents anyone but the authorized user from firing the gun. Obama is pushing for this with DoD, DoJ, and DHS mandates. This has been developed in the past but widespread implementation was blocked by a combination of NRA lobbying efforts and fears about these safety features failing and keeping authorized users from using them in critical situations. While I do not think we should mandate these safety features on all firearms I agree with Obama that we need to push past both of these barriers and at least make these safety features an option on the market.
2. Suicide: Roughly 2/3 of the firearms related deaths in the United States are from suicides. People struggling with suicidal ideation who have access to firearms are at great risk. Most suicide attempts involving firearms are successful and the decision and result are instant so a person cannot be talked down from it or rescued from it in many circumstances. There are a few things we can do to help reduce the number of suicides by firearms and suicides in general.
- Increased Mental Health Awareness: Mental health issues, including depression, still carry a stigma. People refrain from talking about it, or refrain from seeking help, because of this issue. Suicide is especially stigmatized as it involves death and the choice to end ones own life which are especially difficult to talk about for a variety of reasons. Legislatively I think we can continue to fund effective outreach programs, especially in hard to reach communities, to help people better understand depression and suicidal ideation. The more people who understand depression and suicidal ideation, the more people who can recognize it in themselves, in their loved ones, and seek or encourage their loved ones to seek, professional help.
- Legal Ways for Family/Friends to disarm individuals dealing with suicidal ideation: While people may take their own life in many was the specific danger access to firearms presents to those struggling with suicidal ideation can be better addressed. I think that California’s new law where family can go to a judge and seek to temporarily remove a person’s firearms from them to allow for psychological evaluation is a good thing that I hope to see replicated in other states. In a related way, legislation that keeps firearms out the hands of domestic abusers should be in every state as some of the firearms related suicide are actually murder-suicides. (Sidenote: In 2012 I was going through another battle with depression and was the closest I had ever come to committing suicide. Knowing the specific dangers access to firearms represents, and realizing that I had begun to think about using my rifle to kill myself, I called my parents and had them take my gun and give it to a family member for safe keeping so I would not have access to it. While I was clear-headed enough to recognize this issue, and certainly part of me still wanted to live not everyone who owns a firearm and is struggling with suicidal ideation will be at this place. Giving the family a legal mechanism to disarm their loved ones will save lives.)
- Universal Healthcare: Some people who are struggling with depression are not being treated because they lack access to mental health treatment. Some people become suicidal because of physical health issues that could have been avoided or more effectively treated if they had regular access to medical care. Universal healthcare is a solution to both of these issues and it needs to happen in the United States.
3. Crime: We lose roughly 10,000 people a year to homicides involving firearms. While it should be noted that this is 0.0000314% of our national population, firearms related crimes are in decline, and murder rates are at a historic low, it would still be good to see firearms related crime continue to decrease. So what can be done?
- Fight Gun Crime By Fighting Poverty And the Wealthy Elite: I am a rather firm believer that a lot of the crime, including gun-crime, in the United States is driven by poverty. There certainly will always be people who choose to do evil, and choose to do evil with firearms, and I do not believe poverty *causes* crime, but for many crime becomes a more viable or compulsory option as their practical options are limited by poverty and related issues. We need to work towards ending the intentional under-resourcing of specific areas and communities and fight back against the stranglehold wealthy individuals, interests, and groups have over our nation and the flow of its resources and prosperity. Legislation, political action, union organizing and community organizing that can effectively reduce poverty and inequality will have the side benefit of reducing crime and firearms related crime. One major action we could take is close tax loopholes and subsidies for many major corporations and then redistribute that money to the poorest and most crime ridden communities in the U.S. If we invested the money every U.S. based corporation hides in offshore accounts, keeps in tax havens abroad, or dodges through loopholes (created into law by politicians they effectively own) we’d have a lot less poverty in the U.S. or at least would be able to reduce its impact on people.
- End the Drug War: One particular problem driving up gun violence here (and in other countries) is the Drug War. Prohibiting specific substances creates an illegal economy that supplies a demand which doesn’t disappear when we make specific substances illegal. Many poor marginalized communities see a vicious cycle where “tough on crime laws” mark an individual for life and they have no other choice but to stay involved in this illegal economy they may only have ventured into out of economic necessity or environmental circumstance. Ending the Drug War, clearing all non-violent drug related convictions from people’s records, releasing all inmates currently detained on non-violent drug charges, reinstating the right of felons to vote, shifting towards a mental health perspective of addiction instead of criminalizing it (as Portugal has) and investing in our communities (in ways as mentioned above) will certainly work towards reducing gang violence which accounts for roughly 2,000 homicides a year and often involves firearms and drugs.
These are some of the basic steps and legislative actions we can work towards to help reduce accidental death and injury, suicides and crime involving firearms. An astute reader would note that only a few of these suggestions involve legislation specific to guns. This is not an oversight on my part.
From the outset I hope I have made it clear that sensible gun-legislation can and should be one part of, but not the totality, of our efforts to reduce issues related to firearms. While the presence or use of firearms in all of these issues requires us to think of sensible gun-legislation as part of the problem, the connection these issues have to larger issues (such as mental health, poverty, crime, etc.) invite us to look beyond making new gun legislation as the only conceivable method to address these issues. So while we need to have more candid and sensible conversations about gun-legislation, that is free from self-serving misrepresented stats, the gross influence of lobbyists, and the emotional reactions fanned by politicians, we also need to have similar sensible conversations about a great many other things impacting our society.