Getting Real

It has come to my attention that my bullet list was incomplete in its original form. This post has been revised to correct that.

It’s getting about time for a reality check. See the photo below.

GunDebate-MariahDavis

That’s five-year-old Mariah Davis. Only now she’s dead. She was not the victim of international terrorists. She was not the victim of a crazed shooter. She was not the victim of a scumbag criminal. She was killed, either by herself or by another child in her own home. Laws banning assault rifles would not have prevented this tragedy. She was killed by a handgun owned by her grandmother, supposedly a responsible gun owner.

In the wake of the mass shooting and murder at the Pulse night club in Orlando, there has been a renewed call for restrictive gun legislation. And some response. Vis, a recent Facebook posting:

Guns-HarlowKeithOrlandoShooting

Silly remarks are laid upon both sides of this debate. Those notwithstanding, some things are real.

The embarrassing rate of gun-related deaths in the United States cannot be attributed to mental illness. Mariah’s grandmother was not mentally ill. Also, she did not do the shooting. Let’s get real. Let’s toss out all the mentally ill and all the drug gangs and the terrorists attacks. How many countries can even approach the United States when it comes to killings by children under the age of 10?

It is not solely a matter of criminals and deranged individuals with guns. Strike those, and the United States is still number one among advanced countries. The truth is that the more guns there are around the more people will be killed by guns.

Underlying that problem is the Second Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment protects the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. Contrary to the thinking of the National Rifle Association and legions of gun rights advocates, the Amendment nowhere mentions guns. Apparently the Second Amendment was intended to be interpreted. Interpretations have been many. For example:

Its foggy wording and odd locution stand out in the Constitution. Lawyers and scholars debate its commas and clauses. For 218 years, judges overwhelmingly concluded that the amendment authorized states to form militias, what we now call the National Guard. Then, in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upended two centuries of precedent. In the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia declared that the Constitution confers a right to own a gun for self-defense in the home. That’s right: the Supreme Court found there to be an individual right to gun ownership just a few years ago. Now, when we debate gun control we do so in the context of a Supreme Court ruling that limits what we can do (though we don’t yet know how much).

Waldman, Michael. The Second Amendment: A Biography (Kindle Locations 39-44). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

This has been a critical decision by the Court. Not being a legal scholar, I take this to mean that if you want to own a gun the government is going to need a good reason to deny you the opportunity. Even the NRA concedes convicted criminals can be denied the right to have a gun.

My opinion: this has escalated beyond all sensibility. States have enacted open carry laws, allowing people with permits to carry weapons concealed or in plain sight just about anywhere they want to go. And this has resulted in greater safety for all of us.

No, it has not.

What is reasonable? Is it too early to start getting reasonable? Maybe the time has come.

Some plans are top of the head foolish. Take away peoples guns. Never going to happen. People purchased guns at a time when the law allowed them to do so. Seizing their property now would, at the least, be in violation of due process, part of the Bill of Rights.

Gun buy-back programs are also foolish and on the face unworkable. People will game the system, even purchasing cheap, often unworkable, weapons and working the program for a profit.

Prohibiting the sale of certain weapon designs. That has gone nowhere in the past, as minor changes in design can defeat the definition of what is prohibited. Exception: machine guns, what gun buffs call automatic weapons, can be outlawed.

Prohibiting the manufacture of certain weapons. Nah.

Holding manufacturers and marketers responsible. No, again.

Enough of that. What can be done? What can be done that has the slightest chance of passing muster with the courts. My suggestions:

  • Firearms must be registered. Yeah, yeah, this is a preamble for taking away your guns. Get over it.
  • Severe restrictions on the carrying of guns. If you want to handle your weapon anywhere outside your home, anywhere besides a shooting range or a hunting location, you’re going to need a permit, and to obtain that permit you’re going to need to demonstrate you have a good business reason for carrying a gun on the street.
  • Severe penalties for violations. You don’t register your gun, the government can seize it, you won’t get it back, ever. Carry your weapon on the street without the proper permit, and you lose it. Besides, you are going to jail. And you will receive no compensation from the government.
  • Sever penalties for using a gun in the commission of a crime. These laws exist and are enforceable. Penalties can be increased.
  • The need for an automatic weapon must be demonstrated before such a weapon can be used outside the home. Gun people like to pick words over what is an automatic weapon, but as an engineer, any machine that operates itself is by definition automatic. Any weapon that reloads itself is automatic.
  • Automatic weapons will not be authorized for hunting.
  • Guns being transported must be locked up. We had these laws in Texas for years. You’re going hunting? You need to keep your weapons in the trunk of the car until you get where you’re going.
  • It will be illegal to transfer a gun from one person’s ownership to another’s without a proper background check.
  • It will be illegal to lend a gun to somebody who does not have the right to possess a gun.
  • Violation of gun laws will result in the forfeiture of the right of ownership for life.
  • Pistols will be regarded as exceptional weapons, requiring additional restrictions for ownership.

Good, sensible gun advocates like to remind me that no gun law will prevent gun violence. Of course. No piece of paper will keep a bad guy from having a gun. Of course. What the piece of paper does accomplish is to give police the authorization to seize a weapon and even arrest a person. Without the “piece of paper” the police have to stand by until a crime has been committed or is about to happen. There is a case in point.

This is from news reports. People reported a man on the street carrying a gun. Police did not respond. Without probable cause the police could not stop the man and interfere with his going about his business. After the man killed two people the police were able to respond. Here is a case:

Case study: the Neenah stop. Recently in Neenah, WI, a woman called the police to report a man with a gun strapped to his back walking down the street. The call was placed to the non-emergency police number and the caller didn’t report that the man was doing anything threatening, but she did suggest that the police check on the situation. As a result, an officer stopped the man and his companion. The officer engaged in a protracted dialogue with the man, at one point telling the man that he would be shot in the head if he made any furtive movements. Other officers also responded, and at least one drew her weapon. The man who was stopped remained calm throughout the interaction and was eventually permitted to depart. The full 18-minute video of the stop is here. A local news article about the stop is here. It has generated quite a bit of controversy. Were the officer’s actions lawful and justified by public safety concerns? Or was it an unjustified response to lawful open carry? This post breaks down the legal issues.

Here is another:

As I first reported late Monday, questions are hanging over how the Colorado Springs Police Department handled a 911 call on Saturday morning, when a resident saw a man carrying a rifle on her residential block prior to a deadly gun rampage. The caller, Naomi Bettis, was alarmed about 33-year-old Noah Harpham—who soon went on to shoot three people to death in the area before being killed by police. But when Bettis made the 911 call, her first of two, the police dispatcher apparently reacted without urgency, telling Bettis about Colorado’s law allowing firearms to be carried openly in public. Bettis hung up, and when she called back it was because the killing was underway.

Yes, I’m thinking we’ve had about enough of this business. It’s time to get real.

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2 thoughts on “Getting Real

  1. Pingback: Getting Real | Skeptical Analysis

  2. Pingback: The American President | Skeptical Analysis

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