Who Controls Our Guns
Ready on the firing line
Three hundred million in the light
Sights glistening all the time
Recall that guns don’t kill; but people do
Soldiers, cops, and now, you too
Can start a flood of red
And kill them all except the dead
While knowing you have amendment rights
To keep your neighbor in your sights
And snuff his life in any season
For damn near any reason
As I started my research on this issue of gun control, I quickly learned that “gun control” is an oxymoron in these United States. I will provide some detail to support that assertion, but there is no realistic way to control the estimated 310 million guns within our borders. Despite exaggerated claims that President Obama was determined to confiscate weapons, no guns have been confiscated and the proliferation of firearms has accelerated beyond human logic. Despite highly publicized mass killings and voluntary “buy-back” programs, the number of gun deaths grows despite higher gun prices and negative publicity. There seems to be a uniquely American love affair with firearms. Deaths by firearms in our nation exceed 30,000 per year. In 2014, the number of automobile deaths exceeded those from firearms by a few thousand with 35, 543 to 32, 351 for firearms. In 2011, there were 14 states where gun deaths exceeded motor vehicle deaths. The National Traffic Safety Board has actually reduced automobile deaths by several thousand annually by focusing on safety in design and construction of autos. The auto is designed for transportation. The firearm is designed to kill. We cannot design safety into an item meant to kill. People speak of a mechanical safety or storage security, but if your design to kill works, it kills or injures people and animals.
Intuitively, we understand that proliferation of automobiles will result in more death and injury. It simply makes sense that the more autos there are on the road, the greater the chance for serious collisions. Wayne La Pierre of the NRA, on the other hand, spouts that it is bad guys that kill with guns and that all you need to prevent death by a bad guy with a gun is to have a good guy with a gun (to kill him before he kills you?). In Wayne’s world, the number of guns is immaterial. Now, that was easy. Oh wait, Wayne did not tell us how to do that! Are we to have designated shooters like we have designated drivers? Maybe we need the old fashioned posse to hunt down potential shooters. Maybe Zimmerman of Florida could be a posse leader and we could use NSA data and replace the 4th Constitutional Amendment with the 2nd. There is yet a further irony in the La Pierre position. It is flatly against 74% of NRA members who approve of some form of gun control (e.g., closing the gun show loophole). In other words, Wayne is able to tell NRA members that they are wrong and that any control is bad control. It is amazing that so many NRA members could be so wrong. But then, does Wayne support members or gun manufacturers or does he simply support Wayne La Pierre?
Thirty percent of firearm sales occur at gun shows. There is no requirement to use background checks at gun shows. Perhaps they would impede commerce? Maybe this is where we could find some of the bad guys that Wayne says cause the death problem. If we applied Wayne’s logic to prescription drug sales and we had prescription drug shows, would we feel the same about 30% of those sales being essentially unregulated regarding background checks? To show how ubiquitous guns are, allow me to offer a bit of trivia. The Iver Johnson Arms and cycle works was once headquartered in the bustling metropolis of Fitchburg, MA (now about 40,000 souls). Both President McKinley and presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy were assassinated by Iver Johnson pistols. It was a small company. We frequently invited the president and owner of Iver Johnson, Luther M. Otto III and his wife Priscilla, to dinner and he simply loved my mother’s cooking, especially a typical Italian (four meat) pasta dinner and her unbelievable pastry. Luther went hunting with my dad and seemed affable enough. I would assume that most of the other gun manufacturers could be similarly described and while they may covet profit, they do not seem to be lusting for blood. My guess is that if told that the rules had changed for safety, the manufacturers would adjust to the change and not seek sales of assault weapons for ordinary citizens. Luther Otto used a Beretta over-and-under shotgun for bird hunting although Iver Johnson also manufactured “over and unders.” He never used an assault weapon for hunting, even for deer. Assault weapons are inherently designed for killing people in numbers. In my Army career, I got physical with a soldier only when assault weapons were involved. In two cases, the soldier ignored all safety rules and turned the weapon back toward fellow soldiers. In one case, I simultaneously took the loaded assault rifle from the soldier and knocked him to the ground. In the other, I grabbed a 40mm grenade launcher while striking the soldier to avoid accidental discharge. That is not prudent in most cases where an assailant has a loaded military assault weapon, despite Wayne La Pierre. It was my job to disarm these soldiers, but that is not the case in schools, theaters and churches as we witness in recent times. We need something more universal and less risky to keep people safe in more ordinary and likely situations.
We like to think that these United States are populated with advanced and rational people, but when we compare ourselves in firearm deaths to other developed nations, the results are disappointing. According to Wikipedia, we are nowhere near Sweden, Germany, Israel or Ukraine or even Switzerland that has wide distribution of weapons. We are a little worse than Paraguay and Nicaragua and only slightly better than Mexico that kills 11+ per 100,000 compared to our 10+ per 100,000. Humanosphere noted that the US has a firearm homicide rate 6.6 times that of Portugal, which is the highest in Europe.
Back in 2012, Igor Volsky, based on a Republican poll by Frank Luntz, wrote that, although there was a difference between NRA members and non-members, that the following was true of NRA members: 1). 74% supported background checks on gun owners and gun shop employees; 2). 71% supported prohibiting terrorist watch list members from acquiring guns; 3). 64% wanted gun owners to tell police when a gun is stolen; 4). 74% wanted concealed carry permits restricted to owners having completed a gun safety course; 5). Concealed carry permits should not be given to perpetrators of violent misdemeanors 81% and/or domestic violence 78%. Non-member numbers were higher except in cases of previous violence or domestic abuse restrictions.
Given the near unanimous support for some forms of gun control, we need to ask why our nation has been spectacularly unable to implement any significant change. The answer is both simple and complex. The simple and unrefined answer is “money.” When we follow the money, things get more complicated. The cycle of dues and other payments to the NRA and affiliates continues on in payments to Congress. For 2014, there was $984,000 spent by organizations for the NRA. As for lobbying Congress; 18 of 35 assigned that NRA lobbying duty formerly held government jobs. Outside spending amounted to over $28 million with only $36,001 spent for Democrats and only $92,034 against Republicans. Much of their election candidate investment ($11,053,416) went for Republican candidates, but the largest single outlay was about $16 million against Democrats (negative ads seem preferred by the NRA). Most NRA contributions to legislators slid under the FBI $10,000 reporting requirement with the favored legislators getting $9,900 each from NRA organizations and larger donations made to strictly Republican committees. All these data were duly reported to and later released by the FEC, IRS and Senate Office of Public Records. Here, we see that the members of the NRA may, at times, act against their own interests in order to support the goal of protecting the 2nd Amendment. The NRA leaders, despite their irritating methods, are skilled at turning a phrase by blaming the victims or stirring emotions to defend the 2nd Amendment whether it is actually at risk or not. They are able to make it appear that it is under attack, mostly by liberals and not conservatives. I have no feeling that being emotional in return will change anything except the volume of the discussion. Surely, after Columbine and Sandy Hook, we have learned that emotions created no changes and little could be more dramatic and emotional than attacking school children. Firearms manufacturers want to sell weapons. Politicians want to be elected and money is “free” speech. We could ratchet up the spending for liberals or against conservatives, but that would certainly cause a similar reaction by NRA leaders. We could increase our invective against those leaders, but surely would face a defensive reaction of NRA members that might make things worse. Logic might help, but, by itself, is unlikely to move many people.
Although there is no guarantee that any one approach will achieve success, there is intuitive support for sequencing a combination of actions that will move us to increase that probability. If we begin with a campaign that poses no immediate threat to the special interests of the gun industry or to the members of the NRA, perhaps there could be a grass roots call for serious country-wide discussions of ONE item, for example, a demand for background checks at gun shows or, perhaps, restricting (not banning) assault weapons so that all collectors would permitted to own and use those weapons under rational controls. We need to keep assault weapons from the mentally ill and from men of ill will. We need a national tracking system. We can underwrite larger turn-in programs, perhaps using public monies as incentives. Perhaps if we made it easy to track weapons, some people might get upset, but a pilot program could easily demonstrate that tracking is not equivalent to confiscation. People need to report lost or stolen weapons. If we created an iron-clad policy of no-questions-asked reporting (as in turn-ins), we might make a small dent in the large problem of gun proliferation. I would leave it to more experienced negotiators to select an option that is measurable and that will encourage gun owners and the nation at large. We meanwhile need to openly and frequently report on the national health issue of gun violence so that we understand that it is a daily problem and not only a mass murder issue. We need to remind NRA members that we are in wide agreement on many control issues and we need to put money on the constant drum-beat of our specific agreements. The Supremes in black robes have made it clear that money is speech. We all need to make gun control a priority in fund drives and local programs so that we attain the awareness and the mechanisms to reduce gun violence, if not to the level of the UK, then perhaps to the level of Portugal. Thirty-two thousand Americans die from gun violence each year. Let us select a goal to reduce that by implementing the best ideas of our citizens including NRA members who have already shown an interest. We could try to incentivize gun manufacturers as we once did farmers to slow production. Each of us could think of ways to work on the numbers and while we do, it seems reckless to have no end to adding guns to the market. This will not be easy and many factors work against our success including the very recommendation to keep the public health issue publicized. Fear is a powerful motivator and it sells guns even better than the NRA. Success will be slow, but if we have chosen valid measures, we can stay on track.
25 June 2015