The always festering acrimonious debate over responsible gun ownership has been exacerbated this holiday season by the tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School and the shooting at a Portland, Oregon mall. These events have provoked reactions as wide as those expressed by NRA Executive Director Wayne LaPierre, who called for placing armed volunteer, private, or public security guards in all schools to, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who promised to re-introduce federal legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. President Obama weighed in by delivering a heartfelt tribute to the slain children and adults of Sandy Hook and then commencing a taskforce whose charter is to investigate, develop, and propose measures to help prevent a re-occurrence of the incidents like those that happened at Sandy Hook and the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.
This holiday season, we will be looking for a lot from our elected leaders. We want them to return to business and get a budget deal done that will avoid the ramifications of the short term fiscal cliff – “Cliff-Mas” – and put us on a path to long term economic recovery and solvency. We want them to end the war expeditiously in Afghanistan and bring our troops home. We want them to remove the indefinite detention clause in the National Defense and Authorization Act, and eliminate warrantless search, seizure and monitoring of our digital communications from the Patriot Act. We want a lot of things from our elected officials, but all I want for Christmas is responsible gun control legislation.
Here are three gun control presents I want for Christmas:
1) Crackdown on illegal gun trafficking
The first present I want is an enforcement of the current laws. Illegal gun trafficking places guns in the hands of criminals and drug cartels. Let’s crack down on the dealers who are operating this black market. Start by addressing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The ATF is supposed to regulate the gun industry, including the investigation of gun trafficking. Before you criticize placing any faith in the agency that brought you the Fast and Furious scandal, understand that “the ATF has not has not had a permanent director since the Bush administration.” The agency has “fewer than 2,500 people to regulate 310 million guns and 60,000 gun dealers.” The Washington Post said that “the ATF is so shorthanded, gun dealers can expect an ATF inspection about once every eight years.” The agency is woefully understaffed, with fewer people than it had 40 years ago. So while illegal gun traffic has exploded in the country, this agency has no direction and no staff. Michael Bouchard, a former ATF assistant director said, “If the administration and Congress are serious about addressing this problem, they need to fund the gun police.” With a $1.1 billion budget you would think they could do something other than lose track of 2,000 guns in a sting operation.
2) Address mental healthcare
The next present is to address the state of mental healthcare in general, and specifically, as it is tied to gun violence. Obama’s task force has to convince insurance companies and taxpayers that cost-effective mental health care is not too high of a price to pay for safety. The National Institute of Mental Health said an estimated 26.2% of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. 6% have a serious mental illness. Most states (44) have laws regarding the ability of a mentally ill person to possess a firearm; however those with mental disorders still find a way to get their hands on guns. Mother Jones examined 62 mass shootings going back to 1982 and found that in many of them, the assailants showed signs of having a mental disorder. “Acute paranoia, delusions, and depression were rampant among them. At least 38 of them displayed signs of possible mental health problems prior to the killings.” Mother Jones presented their data in a panel discussion, “The Mind, Madness and Gun Violence.” The expert panel discussion sought to provide answers to some of the toughest questions surrounding mental health and gun violence such as:
- “How can we predict and prevent violent acts in those who are mentally ill?”
- “What is the medical profile of a mentally ill person capable of carrying out this kind of violent act?"
- “How do the state and federal laws protect the rights of mentally ill persons and the community at large?”
Most people who have mental illness are not violent. For those who are, these are the questions that need to be addressed as part of Obama’s task force.
3) Certified training requirement for purchase and carry permit
My last present is to require training for gun purchase and carry permits. Guns are dangerous and should never be handled, except in the case of an emergency, by untrained and unqualified people. Many tools are dangerous if mishandled by someone that is not trained, and many activities can be dangerous if you are not trained to perform them. None of that has anything to do with guns. Just because I can stub by toe, or fall into a pool or bang my finger, is not a reason to insist that the background screening for a firearm not include a training component. There are lots of tools that require training and a license to operate. Some can be just as dangerous as a firearm. We seem to be able to operate just fine as a society with those license requirements. Training certification is not a barrier to purchase. There are many ways to implement the requirement, including by re-introducing firearm training in schools. Guns are a tool like a car is a tool. We allow kids to learn how to drive through school instruction and we can be sophisticated enough to allow for optional firearms training.