Monday, January 14, 2013

Suggest changes in gun laws - part three of four parts

So far, we have examined the current situation about gun violence on both sides of the issue and the Constitutional issues surrounding the theories. With this we have a foundation for making some suggested changes in the ownership and use of guns in America.

The suggestion that the National Rifle Association (NRA), which is a trade group that protects gun manufacture’s sales, has brought forward in response to the shootings across the county in the last few months, including the tragedy in Newtown, isn’t all wrong. The association suggests that every school in America should have armed guards to protect against shootings. As a last resort, it isn’t such a bad idea. But, it is a little like going to the doctor to get treatment for lung cancer after you have been smoking for 45 years. It is good that the doctor is there but, the patient should not have been smoking for all those years. Stop smoking and we won’t need so many doctors to treat cancer. Stop the shooters and we won’t need as many armed guards.
Think about this, is there a person that would like to live in a community that posts armed guards at the doors of the local school? Given the shootings over the last six months, it should also be at shopping malls, movie theaters and political rallies. I don’t know about you, but when I go someplace and see armed guards, I don’t feel safer. What I think is there must be reason they are there.
A report in just the last month said that there are less police on the road today than ten years ago. At the same time, the population of the country has grown. If we can’t find the will to keep our policing levels the same as the population grows, we will not be able to find the will to add dozens of armed guards in every community.
This is not the America I envision. It may be the last resort at some places, but it should not be the only response to the violence in America.
If a community did nothing more than staff schools with guards, it will fail our children, the teachers and staff that work there and the community. Armed camps never stopped violence. Shootings over the last couple of years have taken place in buildings with armed police and military personnel. Even a police station in Detroit, for God’s sake, had someone walk in with a gun and start firing at police officers. If armed guards, police and military personal didn’t stop the shootings there, how is it that a single armed guard at every school should be the only thing we do?
Perhaps we need to back up from the school or any other place for that matter since shootings have taken place in movie theaters and shopping malls. As a last resort, the armed guard at a school should be considered on a community by community basis. The guard should only be a properly trained and a responsible individual. It could be a local police officer or a member of the National Guard serving active duty time. They must be answerable to the community, not to the school or any private citizen. Only then can we have confidence about the professionalism of the guard.
Schools, like other venues, should also be off limits to anyone carry a gun, open carried or concealed. It has been said that if you outlaw guns then only the bad guys will have guns. Well, that is actually the point. If people are allowed to openly carry guns into a school and other places, how will you know who the bad guys are? By outlawing guns and other weapons in schools, the guard will know immediately who the bad guy is. The guard will not need to approach each individual to request identification and a license. This would only give the gunman the opportunity to open fire immediately. The guard needs to be able to take action before the shooting starts.
The shooter in Newtown was able to obtain the guns needed to carry out the attack, apparently from his own home. We don’t know all the details about how he was able to obtain the guns and perhaps never will. It is hard to believe that they were securely stored since the gunman was able to take possession of them.
To prevent this, guns in the home must be stored in a fool proof place as possible. The owner must be given full responsibility to ensure that they don’t get into the wrong hands. An inspection of the security arrangements should be carried out by the local police before the arms are purchased. Additionally, people living with a mentally ill person must take extra precautions about the weapons stored in the home, if they are stored there at all. Think about this, even on a military base everyone, including the court clerk, is trained in weapon use. But, they also have secure locations to store the guns. This is also similar to many law enforcement officers when issued their weapons at the time they are hired, have a home inspection to ensure safe storage of the weapons.
The type and amount of weapons in a single location should be limited as well as the ammunition. It has been reported that one of the guns that the shooter in Newtown used might not be in his hands if the assault weapons banned had not lapsed over ten years ago. If he didn’t have access to that type of weapon (even if we can’t stop every assault weapon from getting into the wrong hands, at least some) there could have been far fewer deaths. As for the ammunition, when hunting for deer or birds in Michigan, the hunter can only carry 5 bullets or shells in the magazine at one time. That has stood the Constitutional test for many years. Why should we be allowed to carry 100 bullets in an assault rifle to carry to school?
Background checks at gun shops, gun shows or between private citizens must be instituted before any sale is completed. It is a ridicules assertion that we can’t tie in all the information needed in one system to make the checks reasonably certain. I can get a credit check in minutes and my bank always knows how much money I have in my account. It is a fallacy that we can’t know who everyone is and what their status is with various law enforcement agencies.
Guns and ammunition should not be sold over the internet or by mail order. Only person to person sales should be allowed. The shooter in the Colorado movie theater purchased his ammunition over the internet. It has been said that if he was purchasing fertilizer (as was used in the Oklahoma City bombing many years ago) all kinds of red flags would have gone up. But, if a purchase of a hundred rounds of ammunition for an assault rifle is made, no one notices. Besides all the checks and balances that should be in the system legally, there is also that human contact that might tip off a gun shop owner.
The sale of guns and ammunition must be recorded, for two reasons. It is a reasonable request to know who owns guns, the type of gun and how many. This doesn’t prevent anyone from owning guns. But, it is reasonable for police to know in case there is an event that threatens the community. Second, if a gun is used criminally, it is good to be able to trace the gun back to the original owner.
These programs, policies and laws must be instituted nationwide. It is difficult to police the movement of weapons from one state to another when every state has different laws. With uniformity across the nation, all law enforcement will know how to respond.
In the past, the argument has been made that it is not with in the power of the federal government to make such laws. Those who make that argument assert that it is a freedom left to the states. First, if a right is stated in the Constitution, the federal legislature and federal courts have the responsibility to protect and regulate those rights. In the Tenth Amendment, it says all other rights and responsibilities not stated in the Constitution are left to the states and to the people. Since gun ownership is in the Constitution, it is with in its powers to protect and regulate.
There is also the right created in the Fourteenth Amendment that must be considered. The amendment made it clear that all rights, responsibilities and limitations in the Constitution apply to all living in the country. Clearly a power granted the federal government to protect and regulate.
If the Tenth and Fourteenth amendment do not apply, then the states do have absolute control over all rights. This was believed to be the case before the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court granted broad powers to the states to restrict all the rights of individuals, not just gun rights. A return to that situation would mean that any state could take away all guns from private individuals. It could also take away voting rights, the freedom of speech and any other right that could get through the state’s legislature.
Another thing we must do is a restriction on the violence in all media. This is a parallel restriction to pornography. It has been said that while difficult to define pornography, people know it when they see it. The same thing can be said about violence. The depiction of violence being acted out in the media is appalling. And, it is getting worse. Recently, I had the opportunity to view the film “Hannibal.” On the screen there was more violence than was imaginable in the time of another violent film, “Psycho,” which was deemed outrageous during the time it was made.
These reasonable restrictions on violence in media are not something that is to be done with a wide violation of rights. But, examples like a Supreme Court ruling in the last two years that struck down a law in California that required parental approval before children could purchase violent video games, is one that should be allowed. The Supreme Court’s ruling, with a well-argued dissent by Justice Clarence Thomas, said that it was an unnecessary restriction of the freedom of speech. Thomas in his dissent asserted correctly, that the authors of the Constitution in recognizing the many freedoms we have never intended that those rights would prevent parents from raising their children as they see fit. By protecting children from violent media, we keep them from even considering violence as a method to solve problems and seeking out revenge.
Finally, there must be an increase of enforcement at all levels. Some of these changes are already part of the legal code either at the federal, state or community level. But, without enforcement, they are worthless. In the first post in this series, it is pointed out that while the ban on the ownership of guns in Washington, D. C. was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the gun violence in the city went down. One of the reasons cited was that the enforcement of the existing laws was increased. The police forces in local communities are underfunded. They don’t have enough money to take preventative action. They only have enough money to react when something terrible has happen. State governments have also cut enforcement to bare minimums. Finally, reports that the chief gun control department of the U.S. government, the ATF, is handcuff when it comes to enforcement. If as a nation we really want to reduce gun violence in America, at the very least the current laws must be strictly enforced.
These changes will not stop absolutely every mad man. We all know that. But, if it can reduce the amount of gun violence, progress will have been made. Maybe by providing a longer period of time between the idea in someone's head to go on a rampage to the time a gun may be actually purchased is enough. Perhaps it will stop others all together. Maybe a smart gun shop owner will not sell a gun to someone that would normally purchase it over the internet. But, these laws will help support local communities and individuals in the the local effort to reduce gun violence.
The next post will be about the community’s response to gun violence.

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