Listening to a local television station bring community leaders together to talk about the issue of the growing violence and death associated with guns in the United States it became apparent that all concerned were trying to see the problem as everything that surrounds firearms and not guns themselves.
The problem ladies and gentlemen and interested criminals and victims is GUNS. Yes, it is guns. The greatest violence done on our streets and in our public places involve the use of firearms. Take them out of the equation and all or most of the death and destruction disappear as if by magic. The pathogen is not present.
Now let me reassure gun owners I am not about to go after them at all. In the years since what has been termed “Gun Control” has been around, roughly the 1970’s, I’ve come around to seeing that outright gun bans are not the answer. I favor concealed carry for those with a permit that includes training or status as a first responder and a full background check. I see gun owners all over the United States who are law abiding good citizens of long-standing as my allies and friends. I won’t budge from my view that gun safety cannot be achieved and will not be by violating American’s Second Amendment rights.
Yet, the problem is still GUNS. Damnation! I did not want to have to tell you that—to tell myself that and stop continuing to make excuses and be in denial. We are going to have to get significant numbers of guns off the street and we are all going to have to change the gun culture that is the way we view firearms and what they do emotionally and psychologically for and against us.
Every one of us has to think and to do so long, hard, and reflectively about why we have guns, what we like and do not like about them, and how we use them, and how media and the culture in general projects their uses and values to the masses of us.
Then, we are going to have to do what President Obama said at Newtown last month: CHANGE. Not some little tiny action but real, widespread, societal change. Will or should it involve confiscation of guns? NO. Let me say that again: an emphatic NO.
But we must not see TV and movie promos where the heroes jump into the frame pointing a handgun or some larger weapon in answer to a problem. We can’t routinely have video games where people realistically blast each other with realistic weapons on highly virtual landscapes. We all need re-education in conflict resolution without weapons or violence.
If there are people who like guns because it supports their manhood or for women the assertiveness or strength they feel than you people now know you are on the wrong path. Hunting, target shooting, collecting, and self-protection in the most practical sense are legitimate. Beyond that the individual has to do some thinking.
Struggles for Justice has argued for the past couple of years that the problems of gun violence and related safety issues must be approached in a multidimensional manner. I and the Blog still feel that way and argue for it ever more strenuously. Those folks on the TV debate I watched were honest and right in pointing that out too. But too many of them said more guns would help. They are in denial and have not faced the fact that guns are a pathogen like public health threat in our society that cannot allowed to get out of certain boundaries in our culture and in how we live.
So what do I suggest? Well many of the obvious things. A lot of people are going to hang on to their guns and be left alone by the government. Back when I was a little kid a lot of folks had guns and seemed then to be a whole lot more sensible in their use. Here are the good guys again. That’s right, the law abiding citizens we count on to hold our communities and neighborhoods together. Leave them alone except for a very few things: background checks when they buy or sell their guns—they will pass them all with flying colors. Intervention led by family members and close friends if they see a loved one in a mental health crisis of some kind. Almost half of all gun deaths each year are due to suicide. And gun owners will have to bite the bullet (pardon the pun) and realize that there are and must be limits on the power and capabilities of the weapons they hold under the Second Amendment.
A useful upper end limit would be magazines over ten rounds and guns that have equal performance to the main battle guns of the main-line military forces around the world. Below that, leave everything alone. I do imagine there would be a lot of gun owners who could hold out rather nicely with a nice assortment of handguns, shotguns and rifles with ten round magazines.
We have to spend some real money here. Again, conservative folks who tend to support guns and hate gun control want to also cut the budget deeply and take police off the streets, have less money for jails and prison guards, and who have yet to look at who we lock up in prison and why or perhaps why not?
There has to be Federal money in large amounts sent to the States earmarked for nothing other than to let local and regional law enforcement expand their current task forces that track gun traffickers, drug dealers, street gangs, and any other groups who use firearms to kill rivals, and just the regular criminals we always will have. Let’s give law enforcement the resources for once to track the bad guys more easily—hunt them down, get them off the streets and make sure we lock them away in prison for a very long time. That means we need to elect judges who can see the criminal, see the nexus of the gun and the crime and lock the sons of bitches away and do so with integrity. Those that do not and have had the opportunity to do that should be rejected by the law-abiding citizenry.
Those people who are first-time non-violent offenders can receive treatment for mental illness, and drug-addiction or small offenses where restitution would be more effective. They should make restitution to society and to the ones they’ve betrayed or hurt, outside of jail and prison. We need those spaces for the people that get guns legally or illegally and then use them to kill the rest of us.
Full background checks for every single purchase will separate out the good guys who will be left alone—perhaps who sometimes might be deputized and even help, from the law-breaking dangerous people who obtain guns in order to kill and wound and maim and terrorize.
And when the criminal is brought into court for prosecution for some offense where a gun was used the fact they obtained it illegally will carry additional weight and be added to their original offense. The background check they failed and that yielded a red flag will be further evidence to obtain a conviction and long prison term to protect the rest of us. It also might alert law enforcement to a problem before such an event as a Columbine, Virginia Tech or Newtown takes place.
In many of the recent mass shootings the perpetrator obtained massive weaponry and sometimes even explosives legally and without any intervention by the authorities. We are going to have to monitor a sudden increase in gun purchases by citizens to make sure it’s not the next mass shooter doing the buying.
We do have to understand that 99 percent of the mentally ill will never harm anybody else. But if we do not treat mental illness with the same zeal we do with physical illness, and respond to the sufferer with greater compassion and sympathy, we are going to fail to identify those who might be a risk to obtain a firearm. That means real money devoted to making sure those adjudicated by a court to be a danger to others are not permitted to obtain weapons. It means identifying and working with those victims of mental illness who do pose a future threat to overcome that illness and return to society if possible.
We’re going to have to turn to our Churches, and the elders in every family and voluntarily launch the greatest effort at family support and development this nation has ever seen. That means private efforts to help maintain strong families where even in one parent homes, the support system from grandparents and uncles and aunts and very close friends is strengthened so that our children grow up in safer, more loving homes. That includes same sex parental homes too. What we want are parents with a strong marital bond to each other in love and a loving home for kids to grow up in.
I envision a society where the flow of guns is made up of guns used or to be used illegally and the offenders being isolated from the rest of society so that we might be safe and live good healthy lives. And where even the individual citizen does not feel pressured to have to buy a gun for self-protection or to show friends how tough they can be. Let gun owners evaluate their level of need and risk and act accordingly. We owe them that respect and autonomy.
This kind of society would mean we would as a nation possess far fewer guns than we do right now. But the greatest number of guns would flow to the law-abiding, those who live in distant places from quick and effective response by law enforcement, or those who are genuine gun lovers from a hobby or historical or collecting and shooting and hunting sense. A whole lot of people who now have guns from fear or some sense of false bravado or machismo, and many more preparing to have and use them for criminal purposes would not have them.
And the guns we would have would be limited as to the upper level of firepower and performance they could have so that some sort of arms race among the populace can stop.
The latest U.S. Army combat weapon, or some kind of hand-held RPG or misslie launcher is just not a Second Amendment protected issue.
When I was a kid a lot of people did not own a single gun; they left their doors unlocked all the time. I’m not naïve enough to envision a return to that idyllic situation but frankly and as candidly as I can I must tell you that having over three hundred and fifty million guns in the United States and escalating is a public safety and health disaster of the first order.
We can get along on far fewer firearms held in the hands of those trained to use them or who as law-abiding citizens have earned the Constitutional right to have them.
Dr. Thomas Martin Sobottke
For Struggles for Justice