I’ve spent the last couple of evenings cramming as much information as I could find about the school shootings, other mass shootings, and gun violence in general into my head. I’ve read analytical and investigative pieces all the way back to Columbine. I’ve consumed many incident reports and more than a few editorials.
Can’t say I’ve achieved much clarity for my trouble. I’ve yet to find one data set that I can use to make evidence-based policy recommendations about how we go about solving it, unless I do an asinine amount of fact-checking. I don’t trust anyone’s numbers. I’m planning to dig into the peer-reviewed literature next week and see what I can turn up, but this post can’t wait.
The rest of this is pure opinion. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
I am a life-long shooting enthusiast. I can do the two-pistol thing better than almost anyone I know. I enjoy skeet shooting. I grew up hunting. Haven’t killed an animal in a long time now, though. There’s plenty of food at the grocery store and I object to killing other living creatures for no good reason, but I could totally stalk and butcher other mammals if that was the only way I had of feeding my family.
As far as handling the guns proficiently goes, I’ve got that. I’m pretty attached to my scattergun which was manufactured in the 1930’s and gifted to me by one of my grandfathers. I treat that gun with all the reverence that is due an ancestral weapon. I have rifles, shotguns, and handguns in my house which I have no plans to give up anytime soon.
But this is not about my guns.
Schoolchildren are dying needlessly in mass shootings at such an alarming rate in this country that I’d homeschool the boy just to keep from sending him to the schoolhouse every day, if I could afford to do that. And I am not a fan of homeschooling. I believe in public education. I don’t mind paying my share of the taxes to support it. But I would keep him home if that were an option.
We must do something about this gun problem.
So here is a list of policy recommendations. I’m doing my best to offer only realistic options, and to think in terms of how to get the ball rolling. A little progress is better than none, is my way of thinking. This is a long-term problem and it’s pretty far gone. We have to change the way we think about our guns in the U.S. That is not the sort of thing that happens overnight. It will never happen unless those of us who see this problem for what it is find a way to get the ball rolling, though. So we best get crackin’.
Here’s a numbered list.
1.) Criminal liability for irresponsible gun owners who allow their weapons to get away from them.
I floated this idea earlier this week and got positive response. Holding gun owners accountable if someone uses their gun illegally. Treating them like we treat people who pass stopped school buses—people now go to jail for passing stopped school busses. We need to do that. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking it will have a very noticeable effect in the beginning, nor that it’s enough. The point of that proposal was to touch off the process of re-thinking our toxic relationship with our guns. This one thing alone might save 20 lives per year, which is significant and important, but isn’t nearly enough.
2.) Raise the legal age for buying rifles and shotguns to 21 in all states.
This is a no-brainer. In most jurisdictions, people under 21 are not allowed to buy alcohol. In what world does it make sense to allow a person society judges too immature to walk into a bar and order a drink to walk into a gun shop and arm themselves with military-style hardware? This will not solve the problem of the 20- and 30-somethings shooting up public places, but it will create an obstacle to legal gun ownership for 18-to-20-year-olds, who are very much an at-risk segment of the population.
3.) Repeal any and all laws which prohibit our federal public health agencies from studying this mass shooting phenomenon scientifically.
I know I’m not all that, but I am pretty good at taking reliable data sets and building models to base policy recommendations on. If I need to know who voted for which candidates in the last election, I can go to four or five different places and look at their data. I don’t have to agree with how the source is interpreting the numbers, but the data itself is easily corroborated. It gives me empirical information which I can validate in a reasonable amount of time and use to draw my own conclusions. There’s nothing like this quality of information on the mass shootings. Where this stuff is concerned I have a hard time doing even the basic fact-checking of headlines that you do before you share a thing. This is a huge problem, and it needs to be addressed, stat. The public health community needs to be producing as much or more information about these shootings as law enforcement is.
4.) Better risk assessment and early intervention.
I’m not talking about tossing disaffected white boys willy-nilly into prison for no reason. This is a well-developed field, knowledge-wise. But there’s no money to train professionals and put them in a position to actually observe at-risk populations. Sorry, free-market fundamentalist sympathizers. If you want these shootings to stop, you’re gonna have to spend more money on mental health professionalization and give your schools enough money to pay real wages. This is not a job security guards can do alone. Psychologists, sociologists and conflict resolution specialists are required. None of these people can afford to work for free.
5.) Assault weapons.
I hate that term. It’s become fuzzy and emotionally-fraught. So let me describe to you a category of weapons. Light, easily-maneuvered semiautomatic carbines with high-capacity magazines. Those need to go. I’ve been racking my brain for almost three days now, trying to figure out what I would use such a weapon for other than killing a large number of people in a hurry. Needing such a weapon to qualify for a specific category of competitive shooting is all I could come up with. Sure, you can hunt with them. But why pick those over a lever-action .30/30, a bolt-action .308, or a good ol’ 12-guage shotgun, if all you are about is hunting? Sure, you can defend your home with them. But why reach for that one when you can just as easily reach for a combat-style shotgun or two pistols, if your only objective is to defend your front door? This is a whole category of weapons that needs to go the way of the tommy gun and the sawed-off shotgun. The sooner we find a way to take them out of circulation, the better off we will all be. And I can’t for the life of me understand why any civilian in the U.S. needs a gun that holds more than ten bullets. Most impromptu gunfights are settled with two or three shots from either side at most, and it’s not like we’re actually able to fight off the government if it turns on us in a big way. Seriously, folks. We’ve got drones, tanks, trench mortars, naval guns, entire battalions of body-armored shock troops, and tactical nukes. If you’re clutching your precious assault rifle and dreaming of the day when you might actually need it, you should stop that. It’s a harmful way of thinking, and it is entirely unbecoming of a person who has the privilege of living in an open society.
I’m done. No flourish at the end. This is all I’ve got for now.
Originally published on the author’s Facebook page. Reprinted with permission
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