I've read a lot of posts from my Facebook friends about guns in the last few days, mostly calling for stricter controls on guns, and I know there are a lot of people who feel that any controls are bad controls, so I thought I'd try to organize my thoughts on where I stand, which is in the middle.
First, as most people know, I do own and enjoy guns. I use them safely and respect them greatly, as the vast majority of gun owners do. I also believe that gun ownership is a constitutionally guaranteed right, but I do not believe that regulation is merely by its existence an infringement of that right.
So clearly I am not at either end of the ideological spectrum on this issue, but it seems that people who are most vocal about it are. Many people think of the atrocities that have been committed with firearms and cannot think of any valid reason to own a gun. If only we could get rid of all the guns, we would all be safe. Then there is the other side, who think that any restriction is a violation of rights, and if only we all had pistols in our belts no one would have the guts to start shooting innocent people.
The problem with both of these views is that they try to boil the issue down until there is no nuance, no shade of gray, both edges of the sword are blunted. But there will always be guns, even if we decided to alter our constitution to make their ownership illegal. And the concept of everyone having the training and wherewithal to face down a gunman on a rampage is hopelessly idealistic at best. (Besides, the idea that a mentally-ill attacker who has planned out his spree for weeks being intimidated by other people's pistols is clearly just not viable. Lately the murderers have taken to wearing body armor and they want to die anyway.)
The point that both sides seem unable or unwilling to discuss is the fact that someone who meticulously plans out methods for killing large numbers of strangers is not sane. Would legislation placing more restrictions on firearms acquisition stop these people from killing? Unless we were able to magically cause all guns to disappear, most likely not. Would it keep them from killing as many people? Possibly. although it is worth noting that these rampages only account for one-tenth of one percent of all murders in the US. (Thanks for that excellent article, Bertrand!)
So what can we do? There has to be some way to curb gun violence; other countries with similar firearms laws do not see the same level of violence we have here. I have some ideas, but you may not like them. Not one is simple or clear-cut, easy to grasp onto when you're feeling frightened and outraged. But I think if we could all sit down and think about them, perhaps we might be able to make progress toward a solution.
First: Single-payer healthcare. What? Yes. If every person in this country has guaranteed access to health care, more mentally-ill people with violent potential will be diagnosed and treated before they ever reach the conclusion that going out in a blaze of glory(?) is the only thing left to do. Also, if more people suffering from mental illness are diagnosed and documented, it makes part two much easier.
Second: More thorough screenings of prospective gun buyers. Right now the form does ask if the applicant has any history of mental illness, but given how quickly background checks take (less than five minutes, by phone), I feel almost certain that only someone who has been examined by the state would have a record in that database.
Third: Although it may not have much effect on rampages, I think there are some regulations on firearms that need to be tightened and improved. (Yes, I did say that.) First-time gun purchasers should be required to participate in a safety course, and gun owners should also have to renew those safety classes every few years. Gun-owning parents should be required to have safety locks or safes, because while your child may be taught to respect and fear firearms, his or her friends may not be. Additionally, the exemption to waive background checks on gun show or private purchases needs to be eliminated.
Fourth (and last, I swear): We need to change the way we view violence. I mean that in both the figurative and the literal sense. Parents need to talk to their children about violence, not just try to shield them from it. And we need to change the way violence is depicted in movies and video games. (Yes, I really did say that.) How are "action" movies toned-down for younger audiences? By removing all the blood and suffering that being shot with a bullet entails, because we don't want to traumatize the children. People get shot, they fall down and disappear. Is that really what we want children to think about guns?
I don't claim to have the answers. But I like to think I've tried to see the issue from both sides, as reasonably and objectively as I can. We all want to feel safe where we live, where we learn, where we work, and while there is never a guarantee of safety, I do believe that if we could begin to look at this problem from a broader perspective, things could change. We can decrease gun violence, in general, if we can let go of our fears and preconceptions and have that conversation. The one that ends in the complicated but pragmatic middle.