The Sandy Hook mass murder has me just thinking constantly. In one way, I guess I’m blessed that I don’t have little kids anymore as I just can’t imagine dropping a kid of 7 years old, all sweet and cuddly and happy, at the bus stop or at school, and the next thing you know, that was the last moment you had with your child, ever and you are headed to the morgue to identify that cute, cuddly person’s body, now bloodied and shot full of holes by a deranged man with an assault rifle. My sons are 20, 17 and 17. Yes, all three of them are still in schools – with Joel at University of Illinois and Alex and Brian finishing up high school this year. In an abstract way, they are still my kids and still in danger, but they are also all three such grown men that again, thinking of them as those kids in Newtown, CT is an abstraction.
Instead, I find myself ruminating on the question that’s boiling around the edges of this tragedy – when are we ever going to learn and enact meaningful regulation and controls on the firearms in this country? How many more Columbines, UVAs, Northern Illinois’s, Auroras, and Sandy Hooks, are we, as a society going to tolerate until we decide enough is enough? And the conversation needs to go beyond guns – it needs to also go to our healthcare system in this country, where still, in this day and age, mental illness is something that we have to fight to be able to fight it.
There are too many issues to tackle in one sitting here, so let’s go to the guns.
As most people that know me, know … I’m very much a liberal. If you have me take one of those tests that gauges where you are on the left-to-right scale, I’m well left of our President and I make even Ralph Nader appear centrist. But one area that confounds most people (and believe me, some of the conservative jackwagons on Facebook have attempted to goad me into arguing on this only to learn they are wrong about me) is that I’m not for banning firearms. I do have to say, I do not believe that the second amendment, as it is interpreted by the guns and ammunition manufacturers’ professional mouthpiece organization, the NRA (which, doesn’t give one shit about gun owners, but instead represents the firearms manufacturing industry), is designed to ensure that we as Americans have a right to own guns and defend our property. Which is absolutely untrue. James Madison specifically wrote that amendment in support of ensuring that as the nation expanded, that locally, we’d have well-armed and equipped militias to defend our newly acquired territories from those who might dispute the fact that we’ve expanded into it. It’s right there in the language of it. The idea of projecting force as widely as was necessary to defend our rapidly expanding borders was absurd, and so this was a way to do it without killing our fledgling government under the weight of a rapidly expanding national military, and empowering those out on the outer edge of the expanding border to be able to defend themselves. A great analysis on this is here: http://news.yahoo.com/madison-never-meant-second-amendment-allow-guns-sandy-174733267–politics.html
So, that brings us to today, in the post-Columbine/Aurora/UVA/Sandy Hook/Tucson/etc. world. And my beliefs, and where I believe we need to go. First, my beliefs on firearms.
I didn’t grow up in a gun-owning family. My mom was firmly in the camp of “Ralphie, you’ll shoot your eye out!” when I feverishly asked for a Daisy “”Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock …”. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying shooting sports whenever I could. I went trap shooting with our neighbors, even went pheasant hunting once with our neighbors, became a pretty damn good shot with other kids’ “Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifles”, did “plinking” with my grandfather’s 16 gauge Winchester shotgun out in the country in high school, etc. As an adult, I’ve gone skeet, trap, sporting clay, handgun target, rifle shooting at professional clubs and ranges with friends, and in fact am currently scheduled to go on a Living Social “Shooting and Drinking” experience where they bus you over to Southwest Michigan from Chicago to a range in Benton Harbor, MI, you go shooting for an hour or two, then head to lunch and to have beers at a microbrewery on the way back. Sounds like a fun day!
Additionally, my twin high-school age sons are interested in weaponry and have gotten into Air Soft as a hobby – both of them have bought top-of-the line gas-powered air soft hand guns and rifles, and go to air soft events, which are similar to the para-military, run around a field hiding behind stuff and shooting at people events like paintball but the weapons are far more realistic-looking and also are accurate in weight, feel and operation to “real” guns. They have learned appropriate gun safety with it.
So obviously, I’m OK being around guns, and well, I’m OK with owning them. Within limits. And right now, we have no limits. I think we have to do a number of key things in order to reduce this problem we have here in the United States of too many weapons in too many of the wrong folks’ hands. And unlike the conservative jackwagon faction, I do not believe that more guns in more peoples’ hands is the answer.
That said, let’s make sure that we also point out one simple fact: there is no reason whatsoever that the assault rifle ban should have been allowed to expire in 2004. Someone should grab that fucking idiot George Bush and take him directly to Sandy Hook elementary school and walk him around and rub his nose in all the blood that was spilled as a result of his allowing that ban to expire. That .233 Bushmaster assault rifle was bought legally, post ban-expiration. The 30 and 50-round clips for it and for the 9mm Glock and the 10mm Sig Sauer the shooter used were also bought legally under the failed ban. Make him see the results of his completely-stupid policy decision. If anything angers me the most here about this one, it is this single item. Yes, you can argue “but he would have done it any way” – and maybe so, but he wouldn’t have gotten off hundreds of rounds, little kids wouldn’t have had 12, 15, 20 bullet wounds in them, he probably wouldn’t have even been able to shoot his way through the door to start with if all had were 9mm and 10mm handguns. So the policy: Ban all assault rifles of all kinds, and require a turn-in for anyone who has bought one since the ban. Pissed off you spent the money on it? Tough shit. You shouldn’t have.
So, what do we do?
- We have to be diligent about gun ownership in households where there is a mentally-ill person present. I know this is tough to police and a bitch to enforce, but I just don’t get his mother’s judgment – she’s a gun enthusiast, and she has a son who was known to be mentally ill, known to be withdrawn, known to be anti-social and was being treated for mental illness? WTF? REALLY? As we get into licensing, this has to be an issue: No issuing of gun licenses to anyone who lives in a household where there is someone who is currently or has been treated in the last five years for an anti-social mental illness. I’ll let the experts decide what that is. Or at the very least, if you want to own guns and you have someone in the house that’s mentally ill, then you cannot keep the guns there, period.
Licensing: It makes no sense to me that a grandma cannot go into a Walgreens to buy some Sudafed for her stuffy nose without showing her state-issued photo ID card and without hand-signing a registration form, and without a record being kept of it, while in the vast majority of states in the US, you can buy ammunition as easily as you can buy a Snickers bar. The shooter in the Sandy Hook case (I am not using his name on purpose) bought more than 6000 rounds of ammo in the six weeks prior to the event through a combination of retail store visits and online sales. And this was in a state that’s supposedly tighter than most. Can you imagine if this were in Texas? Therefore, I propose the following licensing system:
- Anyone who owns or wants to buy firearms or ammunition must apply for and have issued to them a Firearms Owners ID Card – we have these in Illinois – they are called a FOID card. To get a FOID card, you must apply for it online and then law enforcement and the regulatory folks who issue them run a thorough background check on you to ensure you’re someone who should get it. They can mirror the Illinois system and this will work well. This will create a database of legally-registered firearms owners or potential owners. That said, I’d enhance it by requiring annual renewals, which force an automatic background check, and an annual fee to keep it, the scale of which is designed to create the funds to run the background check. It should NOT be cheap – at least $75 per year.
If you own a gun, you must register it with the government and registration of it will be then tracked to your Federally-issued FOID card. To register your gun at either purchase or post-enactment of these new laws, you must:
- Pass a federally-designed written firearms safety knowledge test.
- Take out and provide proof of coverage of a liability insurance policy that provides for $1 million in liability coverage should you shoot anyone with your gun in either anger or accident.
- Provide proof of having taken an NRA-designed and administered/Gov’t approved (see, I cut the NRA in on this so that they now have their sole motivation, money, taken care of and will support this) firearms safety course.
- Pay a hefty registration fee that is indexed to your gun’s firepower (cheap 22 cal handguns, not much. 45 cal. Hand cannons … $$$$).
- Pay the registration fee again to renew it
And every three years:
- Take the written test again and qualify it.
For each additional gun you own, you must:
- Register it and pay the fee
- Demonstrate safe usage to a qualified inspector.
- Guns may ONLY be purchased by Federally-licensed gun dealers. No gun shows whatsoever unless operated or filled with federally-approved dealers. If indeed gun shows are allowed to happen, every purchase is tracked, and you cannot take the gun home that you bought – the vendor must ship it to you, see point iii below.
- Guns may not be sold individual-to-individual. Period. If you want to sell a gun, arrange to have a gun dealer consign it for you for a small fee so that the purchase is tracked. Since the new owner must register it to be legal, that’s effective prohibition against that.
- Purchasing ANY gun of any kind is subject to an automatic 2 week waiting period, no exception. You make the purchase, and two weeks later you can pick it up. During those two weeks, you are required to register and if you haven’t done it before, take the test and take the skills class. Can’t get the gun until those items are checked off.
Who can own guns:
- 21 years of age or older. If you’re not old enough to drink you’re not old enough to fire a gun. Period.
- If you live in a household where there is a mentally-ill person (again, not my job to figure out what that means) then you may not house your guns in that home, period. You must find another place to store them. Not even a gun safe or locker is acceptable.
- If you have anyone under the age of 18 living in your home, every gun must have a trigger lock, and your home must have a gun safe. Hard to police, but you can enforce ownership of it at least.
- Convicted of any felony, state or federal? Too bad. Turn in your guns and you will never, ever own another one.
I realize that this is very, very far reaching and I could go on and on further with this. But at the end of the day, people who SAY that they are responsible gun owners are going to have to acquiesce that we as a society need to do this. The answer to gun violence is not more guns, it is less, and it is proven across the world. If you want to own a lethal weapon, then license yourself to use it, license the gun itself, pay to take education to know how to use it, renew both your personal license and the gun’s license periodically and you can have it.
Just like that other lethal weapon that you’ll hop in at some point today: Your car.
We have to change. I have sent this blueprint to a number of politicians. I hope some piece of it makes it into law. Even one item is better than the anarchy we have now.
As you were,