Saturday, March 2, 2013

Common sense gun control


If you've been reading along in this blog, you are doubtless aware that I think most of the gun control measures being proposed these days are wrongheaded. There are, though, a few measures that I think we could implement for the greater safety of us all.

Gun storage is one area where I'd like to see some improvement. When I read stories about kids getting their hands on their parents' guns and doing something stupid, and sometimes tragic, I cringe a bit. But I do not think we need new laws on the matter. Most state legal codes already cover the matter adequately. What we need is a talking-up campaign to inform or remind people about their responsibilities.

Though the details are unknown, the broad outline of the Newtown massacre suggests that it began with a failure in safe gun storage. The wrong person got hold of the guns, murdered their owner and went on a shooting spree. It was questionable judgment even to have guns in the same house with Adam Lanza; off site storage would have made sense here. Else the weapons should have been secured in such a way that he could not access them. Else his mother should not have owned guns at all. From the Hartford Courant:
In a six-minute rampage, armed with a Glock, a SIG Sauer and a Bushmaster rifle, he killed six women, 20 first-graders and, eventually, himself.
Before he drove to the school, he killed his mother, shooting her in the head at close range four times as she lay in bed at their home.
That indicates that he was able to get at the guns by himself, unsupervised, for she was still in bed. Insufficient concern over proper gun storage was her last mistake.

America's mental health system is not what it should be. When the law was framed that prohibits the dangerously insane from buying guns, it was presumed that we knew who they were. Times have changed. Patient privacy now trumps public safety. Findings of insanity are either not furnished to the authorities or else never made in the first place. Some psychiatrists work to shield patients from the indignity of being adjudicated incompetent or committed to an institution, events that  trigger a ban on an individual owning a gun. The "broad national conversation" veered off that very important aspect of our gun problems. Since we have had a string of shootings by obviously deranged people, the mental health aspect should be at the center of the discussion.

It makes sense to put armed security in schools. Where it is in place, we have already seen several incidents in which shootings were thwarted. Objections to the idea seem to hinge altogether on emotionalism. Those who say that guns in schools are inappropriate or send the wrong message have their hearts in the right place. It's just that their heads are not on straight. We do not live in the world we once did, and certainly the world is not altogether like what we could wish it to be. Society contains vicious people who harbor the idea of doing harm for harm's own sake. Unless we can turn that around, it is time to do the one thing that works and make sure there is an effective security presence at every school.

We need to acknowledge something we have been trying very hard to avoid talking about for years. There is a demographic connection to much of the gun violence that takes place. It involves such factors as urban blight, government dependency, the drug trade, lousy schools and--apparently at least--restrictive gun laws. I am not altogether sure on that last point, for it is difficult to say whether laws like Chicago's are a cause or effect of violence. Is the violence in part because of the laws, or despite them? Anyway we need to take a hard look at why there are pockets of violence where the murder rate is sky high, and why you can drive a short distance from there and find yourself in a neighborhood where no one has been shot in forty years. I think the answer here is going to have to include reform of our revolving door system of criminal justice. I have, in general, nothing against releasing prisoners, for that can be both merciful and cost effective, but it seems evident that sometimes we release the wrong prisoners.

I think the above items really will do some good if sensibly addressed. Unfortunately, the discussion in Washington has shifted away from the points that matter to a number of unhelpful proposals that reduce the choices and privacy of the law abiding and sane.

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