A right-wing dude asked me about what my “solution” to gun violence in America would be, and I thought I’d put some stuff together. This is obviously a huge topic that could consume about a million more words, but here goes:
Gun violence is a complicated issue in America and it will require multiple, complex actions to solve. Some of them are policy, some of them are cultural, all of them are necessary.
At a high level, not getting into full detail, my proposed solutions include the following:
1) Compassion is #1:
Increased investment in community outreach for troubled kids and adults, including counseling, empathy building, and proactive conflict resolution to identify potential diathesis states and head off potential stressors before they can erupt into violence.
Important note: Mental health is not the cause of violence, and it’s not what I’m discussing here. There are a great many behavioral and social issues wrapped up in potentially violent situations, and licensed social workers can be extremely useful in heading off potential shooters before they shoot. We can just say “only a mentally ill person would shoot people,” but that’s an extremely facile way to talk about mental illness. We can’t just define people as mentally ill “after the fact,” like “oh, he seemed fine until he went on a shooting rampage, but since he did that, we can conclude that he was mentally ill all along.” That’s not how it works. We need to look for people who exhibit behavioral problems, threatening or violent speech on social media or in person, people with problems at home, people who feel isolated and abused by society.
As an aspect of forging a more compassionate culture, we must address the massive economic problems in our nation. We must fix our ludicrously broken health care system, so that people’s lives aren’t ruined by an unexpected illness. We must inject money back into the working people to lift people out of poverty. Poverty is a breeding ground for all sorts of vices, which is not to call poor people bad people–only to point out that poverty makes people desperate and limits their choices. You want to talk about the world being crushingly unfair to you, try being poor for just a week, let alone your entire life.
(How exactly we do that is another question, but I think taxing the rich to pay their fair share is a good start. The scale of wealth inequality is so monstrously enormous that anything I say about it probably won’t be believed, so I’d recommend doing some independent research on the subject if you’re interested. Maybe start with this video, which is 6 years out of date, and things have only gotten worse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM)
Compassion is our #1 shield against violence. And no, I don’t mean the whole #walkupnotout thing. That’s a transparent attempt to blame shootings on bullying and the victims of shootings, when shooters are more often the bullies than the bullied. If bullying truly caused someone to be a shooter, you’d think we’d have a lot more LGBT, female, and POC shooters. But the vast, vast majority of school shooters particularly (and most mass shooters in general) are angry straight white dudes.
(I 100% support anti-bullying measures, as I consider bullying to be a huge problem and an obstacle to a more compassionate society. But that’s another topic.)
Why are angry white dudes angry? What can be done about defusing their anger before it boils over? And the answer isn’t “just accede to their demands” or “be nice to them.” The answer is to identify the real causes of their pain and hatred and try to halt and repair the damage before it becomes murderous.
Sometimes people can’t be reached, however, and that leads to the next prerogative: keeping weapons of mass murder out of their hands.
2) Sensible, Preventive Gun Control:
Universal background checks of anyone who wants to purchase any sort of gun under any circumstance anywhere in America. Mandatory gun safety and training classes for all gun purchases. Additional screenings for more powerful weapons, such as AR-15s and other longarms.
It should be AT LEAST as difficult and time-consuming to own a pistol as it is to drive a car. Both are potentially deadly weapons that cause a significant number of accidental injuries. Both require responsibility and some degree of skill to operate safely.
Domestic violence, assaults, rape convictions, etc, all disqualify a person from owning a gun. Period. If one of these is discovered on your record, your application to purchase a weapon is denied. The end.
Note that any responsible, non-felon, non-violent, stable individual should be able to pass these checks and acquire the guns they want. I have no problem with responsible, good people having guns. I have a big problem with irresponsible, not-good people having guns, and I think that’s the point.
Also: we need to organize a national buyback program so people can get rid of their guns, no questions asked. And get a good price for them. Those who can’t or won’t play by the rules should have a means to give up their arsenals. After the amnesty period, those who hold onto illegal guns are criminals.
3) Preventive Maintenance and Liability:
Safety registration and training needs to be kept up to date. You must have a license for every gun you own, and must renew them with annual safety classes and tests. Failure to attend one of these classes/tests or failure on one of these tests leads to a suspended gun license, where you are not allowed to carry or remove a weapon from its protective safe in your house until you requalify. Repeat violations lead to gun seizure on the logic of you being an untrustworthy gun owner and a potential danger to yourself and others.
I am ambivalent on the issue of gun insurance, but I do think that if a gun you own is implicated in a crime, your gun licenses are immediately revoked and your guns claimed by authorities. Because you have demonstrated your inability to be a safe and responsible gun owner.
Also, except in a case of self-defense, if anyone is injured or killed by one of your guns, you are 100% liable for their medical and or funerary expenses, as well as any legal implications, which must be stiff. This would be a difficult balance to strike, since it isn’t like injuring someone with a car or they fell down on the stairs to your house. But it’s something we should definitely look into.
In a capitalist society, it seems the best deterrent to being irresponsible with a dangerous possession–be it a car or a knife or a gun–is not legal ramifications, which can seem abstract, but financial ones. But speaking of legal ramifications…
4) Penalties against Gun Misuse and Enforcement:
Having a gun without an active license must be a crime that leads to seizure. Purchasing a gun illegally must be an offense that lands you in jail. The existing laws we have about guns must be enforced. Loopholes closed.
We have a major hurdle in the form of the NRA.
Currently, the NRA maintains a stranglehold on our government to prevent enforcing gun legislation, let alone passing it or even *discussing* it. The CDC is currently not allowed even to collect shooting statistics or do any studies about gun violence. Let me spotlight that: the CDC can’t even study the problem. How are we supposed to do anything to fix it?
Not to mention, of course, that the NRA and their GOP servants won’t even allow us to try to prevent *terrorists* from buying guns.
Don’t believe me? Watch John Oliver explain it, and then do your own research on the subject about whatever he talks about that appeals to you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM
We must politically quarantine the NRA or at least cut off their lobbying efforts on our politicians to stop any of the above, because we all know they would do it. Their only motive is profit, and several necessary preventive measures (see above) interfere with their motive. We need to elect politicians who will not listen to them and will not take their money.
Also, taxing them might be nice.
5) An Honest Conversation:
We must be able to honestly, thoughtfully, compassionately discuss this issue.
We must not dismiss calls for sensible gun control as “but they want to ban all our guns!” or “guns aren’t to blame, people are!” or any of a dozen excuses the right throws out to avoid discussing this issue that’s killing us.
We must look at the 2nd Amendment in context, realize that our society and our weapons have evolved, and take some adult responsibility in discussing how to fix the problem. Note that I didn’t say “repeal” or “revise” or anything like that. That may not be the solution we come to. We may be able to find a path forward where we keep the 2nd Amendment as it is, recognize the need for sensible regulation of our “well-regulated militia,” and find a compromise that leads to fewer deaths. I doubt the Founding Fathers wanted to build a poison pill into the Constitution, and if they saw the massive gun violence rates in America today, they would be horrified that we didn’t use the built-in mechanisms of our government to do something about it.
We must call white mass murderers who target women or black communities what they are–*terrorists,* not “mentally ill” “disturbed” “lone wolves,” or imbue them with sympathetic descriptors like “sensitive” or “thoughtful” or “deep-thinker.” And we must not put a gloss over raving misogynist, homophobic, and/or racist BS spewing out of a white man’s mouth as “just talk.” It’s not. It’s hate, and it’s a warning–a promise of violence to come.
6) A Better Kind of Men:
Which is not to say white men are hazardous. It’s just easy for them to become radicalized in a society that seems to encourage them to be aggressive, in control, and not put up with people telling them no.
This is tricky. Young white men especially are dealing with a lot of pressure upon them to be stoic, strong, in control, persistent, and if they ever slip up or make any mistakes, their whole persona and manhood is called into question. This is a product of Toxic Masculinity, and that is what leads directly to shooting after shooting. How many shootings come about because a boy feels rejected, or out of place, or he’s “love-sick” or some other such shit? How many come about when a boy is made to feel out of control or vulnerable and doesn’t know how to deal with it? How many come from hate of women or LGBT people or people of a different ethnic background?
It’s all toxic masculinity, and it needs to stop.
We need to foster an honest, compassionate conversation about what men are allowed to be, which is individual, sensitive, and, most importantly, imperfect. Every question posed to us is not a threat. We can screw up sometimes, and still be worthy of love and personhood.
If we can get past our toxic views of masculinity, we can find a better, more compassionate, and ultimately safer way for men to live and grow. And it is our duty, as men, to do this.
Step up and help me.
How American masculinity creates lonely men on NPR’s Hidden Brain
I really like your comparison to owning a car. I think that whatever one’s stance on the second amendment, how far self-defense should extend, or the ‘true’ cause of mass shootings, anyone can agree that owning a gun is as dangerous and as much of a responsibility as driving a vehicle.
Erik, interesting how much and how little things have changed. Due to pernicious mismanagement and greed by Wayne LaPierre, the NRA has gone a long way to marginalizing itself. Courts have waffled on the issue, as always; and the Second Amendment is still up there with “Let’s eat Grandma” as the example of the importance of the use of punctuation. (BTW, few people realize there are two “original and official” versions, differing in said punctuation.) As a hunter, trap shooter, and gun owner, I applaud your common-sense ideas in the most part. I differ on the question of seizing guns and revoking permissions on the basis of a gun being “implicated” in being used in a crime; I think there needs to be some due process and adjudication involved. I think it’s an important distinction and involves other Constitutional protections against taking without due process. All that said, good job again.
Oh yes, I am all about due process.
That’s an element that often falls out of the conversation, mostly because anti-gun control advocates strawman the argument by saying “you don’t want due process involved!” Obviously there needs to be. I just think our laws need to be a little more responsible, as does our enforcement.
If a gun is used in a crime, that gun should be removed from circulation, and the owner of that gun needs to answer some tough questions about what the hell happened.
If gun owners are to be responsible, let them be responsible.