Winning the gun violence argument

America's intersection of children and guns

America’s intersection of children and guns

After yet another mass shooting in America, this time in San Bernardino, California, the debate over what to do about gun violence has been rekindled. However, when both sides simply fall back into their standard arguments, there’s no reason to believe that a different result will occur. To achieve a different outcome, we need some new thinking and new language. Here’s how the majority of Americans can win the argument to reduce gun violence:

1. Agree that we need more “good guys with guns.” However, require that such good guys with guns be trained police officers. Let’s have more such officers, or better-trained ones, in public places, such as movie theaters, shopping malls, schools and trains.

The problem with conservatives’ idea that we should have more UNTRAINED citizens firing back at bad guys is precisely that these citizens are untrained. Furthermore, what if such citizens have bad eyesight? What if they are drunk? On drugs? Depressed? What if they are naturally unable to identify and shoot only the bad guys in situations filled with people and pandemonium? How would an untrained good guy with a gun even know whether another person with a gun is a good guy or a bad guy? Although cops are far from perfect, in America we have decided to hire them to protect us, and they are subject  to monitoring and review from their supervisors. The alternative is not to have police protection, and we become Somalia.

2. Clearly limit the scope of new gun safety laws. Instead of waiting for shootouts to occur, let’s keep guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists and small children in the first place. We can start by pushing just a few requirements:

  • Universal background checks, which would deny gun purchases to violent felons, terrorists and domestic abusers. This includes closing the gun show loophole, the 72-hour waiting period loophole and the terror gap, which lets people on the terrorist “no-fly” list buy guns. 92 percent of Americans want universal background checks, including 92 percent of gun owners and 86 percent of Republicans.
  • Reinstate the assault weapons ban, and limit high-capacity ammunition clips which are only used to kill masses of people in a very short time.
  • Require gun purchasers to pass a firearms safety course, such as the one required in California, Minnesota (for hunters) and other states.
  • Require liability insurance for gun owners. Note that these requirements are similar to the requirements to own and drive a car. For example, assault weapons and high-capacity clips are akin to non-street legal racing cars, which, as the term indicates, are not permitted on public roads.
  • Require safe storage of guns in the home. Let’s reduce or eliminate accidental child and toddler deaths.

To those who say that guns should have less restrictions than cars, we have two answers: (A) Guns are just as dangerous or more dangerous than cars; and (B) just like the Second Amendment rights that the gun lobby cites, Americans have a Constitutional right to travel, and car travel is likely the most popular form of travel in America.

3. Call the conservatives’ bluff on “mental health.” Conservatives love to point to mass killers as “sick” or “maniacs,” and say that the solution to such gun violence isn’t more gun safety laws, but rather, “mental health.” But conservatives rarely say what they mean by this. So let’s help them. “Mental health” should mean that anyone adjudicated as mentally ill should not be able to purchase, own or use a firearm. Moreover, mental health care should be available to all Americans who need it. The Affordable Care Act includes mental health coverage. Who opposes the ACA and votes to cut mental health care? Republicans and conservatives!

4. Don’t use the term “gun control.” This is an old term that brings up the idea of a Big Government nanny state. Moreover, the term isn’t accurate, as most anti-gun violence (or “gun safety” or “stricter gun law”) proposals don’t involve “controlling” the hundreds of millions of guns in the U.S., but rather, placing reasonable restrictions on the availability of firearms to a small group of people, and on the availability of a few types of assault weapons.

Ideally, progressives, conservatives and those in between could find common ground around such limited, common-sense gun safety requirements. Do we think that conservatives would agree to these ideas? It’s doubtful. We have a decades-long track record from the National Rifle Association and other conservatives of opposing these types of requirements, and anything else that makes Americans safer from gun violence. If that happens again, the idea here is to make such intransigent conservatives look unreasonable and soft on terrorism, and thus increase the pressure for laws to save our lives. As more American families unfortunately are impacted by gun violence, these proposals will only gain momentum.

Photo by Mike Licht, used under Creative Commons license.


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