Friday, December 14, 2012

How to Restrict Gun Ownership in America

Another mass shooting in America. More than ever, anyone with a a pulse is outraged at the news of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. You can't get past the Kubler-Ross anger stage. It doesn't matter which side of the gun debate you're on to realize that killing is way out of hand in this country, and it has to stop.

Let's stipulate a few points, both for the Second Amendment zealots and for the Brady Bunch. First, the right to own a firearm is enshrined, however badly, in the Constitution. The phrasing is badly written and vague: "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." Jesus. :Literate people wrote that? 

In any event, (a) too many people believe this phrase means a person has a right to own a gun, and (b) the Supreme Court seems to side with them. The drafters may have intended militias, but at best, that's an academic discussion.

Second, the right to own a gun doesn't mean the right to go duck hunting. The purpose of a gun is to kill, whatever the motive behind the shooting is. An unloaded gun is an uninteresting wall decoration at best. A gun has bullets for a purpose.

Third, people, not guns, may kill people, but in America, they do it with guns. As the Newtown tragedy unfolded, a psycho in China knife-slashed 22 elementary school children. But it took the S.O.B around a half hour and no one got killed. The Newtown murder explosion took a few minutes, and 28 people--including 20 children--were killed.

Fourth--and this point was made in "Bowling for Columbine--" there's something about American society that seeks mortal violence as a cure for whatever ails folks.

So, what to do? The Plucky Observer has a couple of ideas. We need to keep guns out of the hands of psychos, and, if possible, criminals, while still respecting the right to keep and bear arms. Ideas:

1. To get a license to own a gun--any gun--you have to have a job, profession, have a long-term lease or own property, have a FICO score of 550 or so, own a small business, have graduated from high school and, if you're in college, have a B average and produce proof of continuous enrollment. If you get fired, kicked out of school, flunk out, etc., your employer or school must notify the gun licensing authority. 

The thought behind this rule is that psychopaths do not engage in usual social behavior (of course there are outliers, but you'll never get all of them anyway), so why not make rules to isolate the mentally ill? Gun advocates should sign on with this, as it restricts gun ownership to potential bad guys but leaves law-abiding citizens alone.

2. Any public employee, physician, social worker, human resource workers in the private sector, university/college staffers and the like, must report aberrant behavior to the licensing authority. I.E., if someone sees a screwball in action, he/she needs to tell someone. We have this safeguard for children who may be abused.

If someone is fired or leaves school, it becomes a matter of record in the licensing authority's database. This kind of data will necessarily become part of the background check.

Of course, the above raises questions: Who is the "licensing authority," and who has access top private data? This question is solvable, by making the data entry blind and by making those in charge publicly accountable.

3. End the private sale loophole. Most sales of guns take place among private parties, where no background check is required. If you peddle a gun to someone, you have to do a background check.

4. Require proof of insurance on each gun owned, at least to the levels of state-required driver's insurance. No insurance, no gun.

Jeffrey Goldberg, certainly no right-wing gun advocate, has written a couple of provocative articles in The Atlantic on gun ownership and American solutions to the problems arising from it. He points out that ours is a gun country, with maybe 300 million guns in ownership. They aren't going away, he says. Moreover, people need to be able to defend themselves when threatened, including mass shooting situations when no one is firing back at the shooter.

But we need to find a way to keep guns from the psychopaths and the criminals, and I hope this post offers a way forward. The above won't stop the violence, but it could mitigate it. 

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