Mass Death, Stalemate, and Guns Already Owned: A Modest Proposal

Who with half a heart can possibly hold what we are experiencing in this country?  At this writing eight people died from gun shots yesterday in Odessa, Texas.  Twenty-two people were injured from gun shots in this tragedy.  That included a 17-month-old child. Yet we have become so inured to these incidents that we don’t know the full extent of the mass catastrophe of deaths in this country at the hands of people who have committed these violent acts.  A small blurb buried on page 12A in today’s paper barely mentioned a shooting in Mobile, Alabama that injured at least ten people at a football game stemming from a fight.  A teenager pulled a gun he carried and began shooting.  Apparently this story wasn’t big enough; news-wise it was less important.  We can barely grasp only the biggest stories.

As an education consultant for school integrated learning design, I embed the arena of security into my design framework.  How we handle security from an operations side and how we help students learn about security through an overall positive instructional lens are both essential in the way we conceive of schools today.  The accumulating shootings at and near schools in recent years is devastating to me, and we must dig deep in holistically addressing the issue for and with students.  More on that in blogs to follow.

For now, though, I’m compelled to respond personally to a terrible August that has added to the escalating devastation of gun violence over recent years., which reports gun deaths from 6,500 available sources daily, reveals that yesterday – on the same day as the Odessa massacre – thirty other gun deaths occurred throughout the US.  As of today, 9,938 deaths so far just this year have been caused by gun violence.  This number is separate from the 22,000 deaths by suicide we suffer annually.  This is appalling; it is a sickness that we haven’t acquired the collective will to halt – yet.

The stalemate that blocks action to turn this around in my mind is an inexplicable, infuriating, heartbreaking gridlock.  I pay attention to the ongoing arguments that stall action because this matters to me.  Among them I look for something that makes sense which would keep this miasmic disaster from rolling on.

Most gun control arguments on both sides focus on guns themselves.  Many people opposed to gun control base their perspective on Amendment II, and fear proposed gun control measures threaten their perceived right to access, purchase, and use firearms.  The brief text of Amendment II is couched in the context of the right for the people to have “a well regulated Militia,” but gun advocates separate “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” as a distinct assertion. This amendment was ratified when the kind of guns that were available could only fire three times per minute in the hands of a person quite skilled in rapid muzzle loading.  Perhaps we’d be safer today if we allowed only the kind of guns that were known when the Bill of Rights was ratified.  Quite a different reality than the semi- and fully-automatic assault weapons of today.  I can in no way imagine that the right to keep, bear, and use these assault rifles in civilian life is justified by Amendment II. 

So on the other hand from the perspective gun control proponents, universal background checks as a requirement for purchasing a gun is gaining popular acceptance, and is an action that might be politically doable as one step to sanity and greater safety. I want to see anything and everything that will put a significant dent in the violence related to the existence of guns in the US, and maybe this might help going forward.

But one of the biggest the problems in curbing gun violence is what to do with guns already owned in this country.  In June, 2018 the Washington Post reported that there were 393 million civilian firearms in our country, which exceeded our population at that time by 67 million. Of these, an estimated five to ten million are assault rifles.

I believe every gun should be registered to its owner if it is in the borders of our country.  Note that licenses are very typical in many other arenas of life for common purposes – safety, professionalism, skill in operations, and maintenance of skill.  I’ve been required to have a license to be a teacher and a school administrator.  Medical personnel are required to be licensed to verify their training and skill.  Many other professions require licenses.  Many machine operators are required to have licenses which validate that these workers have the necessary skill and safety knowledge to operate the machines.  All of us who drive are required to have a driver’s license.  A gun license would carry the same follow-up to responsibility for purposes for which other licenses are required.

But for all the guns already owned in homes, vehicles, offices, or that are being carried – how do we step back to get them all those guns registered?  Hopefully the initiative itself would lead conscientious owners of firearms to voluntarily register them.  I realize, though, it is unrealistic to think all gun owners would take the effort to register their guns.

But think of this.  In the debate about gun control, with the focus on guns themselves as key to a solution, often two competing perspectives are voiced by saying, on the one hand, that “guns kill people,” and on the other hand, “people kill people.”  The fatal flashpoints of all gun-related violence, however, are the bullets that cause these deaths and injuries.  What if every gun license was linked to a national data base, just as many licenses are or can be through data base sharing systems?  Then, to purchase ammunition, one would swipe a magnetic card that would link to the gun owner’s license, verify that the ammunition being purchased was for the registered firearm, and note the amount of ammunition being purchased. 

This last point would be controversial to some, as was the Colorado law that limited the size of magazines.  But we need to take steps, and we can build on the intention of that law without imposing further limits.  Algorithms could be created for alerts about individuals purchasing massive amounts of ammunition, alerts that could complement warnings from other services and data banks of individuals who might pose a danger to themselves or others.

At the very least, such a system would require that every firearm be licensed before someone could purchase ammunition for it.  This is the essence of my proposal.  I can’t see any other way to insure to the best possible extent that guns already owned would eventually have to be licensed in order to be used.

Am I naïve with this proposal?  I’m sure I’ll get that feedback immediately from many corners.  But if I’m naïve, I invite you to join in creative thinking about other better solutions for stopping this tragic death march which is growing daily, and this growing trauma that festers among the injured, among the families and friends of survivors.  Then share your ideas; publish them; advance the conversation until we break the stalemate and take action – in memory of too many innocent people who have died or were injured in the blink of an eye, in the flash of a bullet.

[See for information about related proposals and attempts to deal with the gun violence issue through a focus on ammunition.]

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