The conversation has finally begun. After 20 innocent children and 6 of their teachers in a school in Newtown Connecticut were brutally murdered at their desks by a severely disturbed young man using powerful semi-automatic weapons, the fog over the nation’s collective awareness of gun violence has begun to clear. The stories of teachers dying while trying to protect their young charges are heartbreaking, though no more so than those same stories that came from the shootings in Aurora Colorado, Brookfield Wisconsin, Portland Oregon, Tucson Arizona, Nickel Mines Pennsylvania, Littleton Colorado, or dozens of other sites of mass shootings.
The age and innocence of the victims in this massacre, coming right on the heels of the Oregon shootings and the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide, have finally caused the self imposed discussion moratorium, enforced by the millions of dollars invested by the NRA and gun manufacturers, to be ended. After the Belcher killings, Bob Costas was excoriated after courageously raising the issue of gun violence on national television. However, the NRA’s organized pro-gun response of denial has not emerged after this shooting. In fact, the NRA has uncharacteristically gone subterranean since the shooting, and its website is completely silent on the matter. In fact, there have been no postings on the NRA website since the tragedy in Connecticut, and the NRA’s fire breathing CEO, Wayne LaPierre, has even been quiet, not peddling his nonsense about the president waging a war on the Second Amendment.
Politically, few Republicans or other gun advocates have made public statements or agreed to come on the weekend talk shows to talk about gun violence with the exception of Fox News, where the walking caricature of a Congressman, Louis Gohmert of Texas, idiotically asserted that the answer to gun violence is more guns. I know of no serious person who is actually advocating the really bad idea that elementary school teachers should come to work packing heat.
Gun ownership in the US is the law of the land; the Constitution says it, and the courts have affirmed it. However, up to now, pro-gun advocates have successfully dominated the debate and have succeeded in foiling the efforts to establish any reasonable standards for gun ownership, continuing to advocate for a free-for-all market in all weapons without restriction. Odd that they want photo ID to vote, but not to purchase a bazooka. Politicians, paid off by pro-gun contributors, and threatened with primaries against them if they vote for sane gun policy, have treated gun violence as invisible, or at the very least, one of those issues that we simply can’t address. Perhaps public pressure will finally get them to do something.
My suggested something, I believe, is simple: if you buy a firearm, you are responsible for what that firearm does forever. How would this work? Again, it’s simple: We establish a protocol where you can only legally buy firearms through federal firearms licensed dealer (FFL) whose license authorizes that dealer to buy and sell firearms.. You must have a background check and show evidence that you have passed a competency test for the kind of firearm you are purchasing. That’s where accountability comes in; when you purchase a firearm, you are responsible for it as long as that weapon exists. If a crime is committed using that weapon, not only is the perpetrator responsible, so are you. Forever. There would however, be a way to relieve yourself of that responsibility, and that is to sell your weapon only through an FFL. If you want to sell a firearm to your friend, or in a private sale at a gun show, that’s fine, you just have to have an FFL, for a small fee, do the background and qualification checks and have that firearm registered in the buyer’s name. That buyer then becomes responsible for that weapon. Forever. Many politicos love to talk about accountability, responsibility, and consequences for actions. That philosophy should aslo apply to gun ownership. If you want to own 400 handguns and 100 semi-auto long guns, knock yourself out; however, know that if you lose control of one of those weapons, or if you sell one of those without documenting it through an FFL, you go to jail just like the shooter if your weapon is used in a crime. Simple. Clean. Responsible.
We are one of the most armed societies in the civilized world. We also have the worst record of gun violence. The problem is that our entire society carries the burden of gun violence to accomodate the pro-gun proclivities of a minority of Americans who represent the concentration of gun ownership. While there is almost one gun for every person in the US, less than one in 3 Americans own guns. Because we have failed to hold gun owners accountable for the damage that those guns do, there has historically been no downside to owning, collecting, and trading guns. If we begin to hold legal owners accountable for crimes committed by those who may buy those guns illegally, perhaps then they will be motivation to be more responsible in how those guns are stored, used, and sold. Maybe then they may think about whether they really need that new Bushmaster or Glock.
*Note…I am a licensed gun owner myself, so am not an anti-gun zealot. However, I am a strong advocate of responsible gun ownership, training, and safety, including how my guns are stored and transported. I also believe that a pragmatic approach to regulation of gun sales is not only common sense, but protects the very fabric of our society that we not only have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but also the responsibility to care for the Common Good of All the People.
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