Gun Control: Where do our priorities lie?

This year’s Superbowl ads plucked at sensitive political tensions more so than previous championship seasons. From an anti-union ad to the auto industry’s America is Recovering, Clint Eastwood, perceived politically-motivated halftime ad, national politics took advantage of one of the election year’s most captive television audiences. Another highly emotional issue regained the spotlight as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino were featured in their own ad promoting gun control reforms.

Mayors against Illegal Guns, the coalition of more than 600 mayors with Michael Bloomberg at its head, is pursuing a legislative approach to reduce gun violence aimed at addressing gaps in background check reporting through the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011. The legislation’s purpose is to ensure those who are prohibited from purchasing guns are included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) through improved reporting requirements for states and requiring all firearm sales be subjected to background checks.

Across the country states like Mississippi, Alaska, Wyoming and Arizona, have taken the Mutually Assured Destruction approach through loosening of multiple gun laws. The majority of these involved eliminating or reducing limitations for concealed weapon permits. The reasoning behind this shift is proponents see gun owners as “…the last line of defense against unexpected evil”. Born of recent mass shooting events on the campus of Virginia Tech, the Tucson attack on Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her supporters and the Fort Hood shootings, supporters of these loosened weapon laws feel more guns in the hands of average citizens will curtail violence through deterrence or through citizen action during an incident. The logic has its merits in that a person intent on causing harm may reconsider their actions if they believe someone nearby is armed. Additionally, in the event a shooting similar to the Gabrielle Giffords’ incident occurs then citizens can respond. But these incidents, despite their broad media coverage, are rare events. Most gun-related violence is attributed to gang activity, occur in the act of a felony or are related to an argument.

While proponents do make salient points, serious concerns do come to light when one considers the bigger picture. The Arizona law eliminating the need for concealed weapons also eliminates background checks for carriers as well as an 8 hour education and gun safety training course. According to retired Mesa, Arizona police officer Dan Furbee his biggest concern is the new law allows people with no training, education of state laws and no experience on shooting ranges to carry concealed guns. He states;

“If you are going to carry a concealed weapon, you should have some kind of training and show that you are at least competent to know how the gun works and be able to hit a target,” he said. “You owe the people around you a measure of responsibility.”

Mr. Furbee’s concerns are echoed by many in law enforcement. How will an untrained individual with no experience in a stressful situation, no experience assessing such a situation react if they choose to use their weapon? What will they do? With little shooting experience what is the risk to bystanders, especially in a highly stressful environment?

Beyond the concerns over inexperienced gun carriers, the issue of information gaps in the current federal background check system presents itself. A number of states, Arizona included, have no laws requiring them to report their criminal and mental health records to the NICS system. Currently,  federally licensed gun sellers and pawn dealers, which includes the vast majority of retail sellers, are required to perform background checks prior to the sale of a gun. Guns sold privately or through gun shows are not required to access the instant background check system. The only caveat is these sellers are not to knowingly sell to someone who is prohibited from owning a weapon. This, however, does not always deter such sales as is evident from Mayors against Illegal Guns undercover investigations of gun shows across the country.

Gaps in the national background check system, inconsistent reporting to the national database, low state involvement in the system and loosened, state gun laws allow those prohibited from owning guns to acquire them. They provide opportunities for individuals with mental health issues similar to Jarod Laughner to purchase a handgun with high-capacity clips. They facilitate gun trafficking from states with lax gun laws to those with more stringent restrictions. They allow U.S purchased weapons to enter into Mexico’s current drug war. They allow private sellers over the internet to legally sell anything from handguns to AK-47 assault rifles to a .50 caliber sniper rifle capable of bringing down a helicopter. They also give opportunity to an ex-law enforcement officer with a history of domestic abuse to purchase a handgun. An ex-law enforcement officer who lost his job after he pistol whipped his wife, her brain left permanently scarred. An ex-law-enforcement officer who pressed his police-issued weapon to his battered wife’s head, threatened to pull the trigger and stopped only when his daughter bravely dialed 911.

What’s the next step? Which direction does the issue of gun control take from here? One side will undoubtedly present the stalwart argument that the right to bear arms is solidified in the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, there is no question, gun control of any kind is an attack on that right. Gun control advocates will cede to varying levels of regulation depending on their particular standpoint. In order to mitigate gun violence creation of a middle ground between the sides is necessary. Is the common-sense reform proposed by Mayor Bloomberg attainable? Those against such measures to increase the efficacy and range of background checks will argue it will place too much burden on private citizens or will cause unreasonable delay for law abiding Americans who wish to exercise their constitutional rights. Perhaps. But one who makes such arguments should also ask, is an additional burden or a slight delay worth that trivial inconvenience if it means preventing one innocent person’s injury, one family’s pain over a lost loved one? Is a slight infringement worth alleviating, even by some small measure, that daughter’s persistent fear tugging at her from the back of her mind that her father will one day, in an agitated desperate state, present himself at her mother’s door one final time? If the argument against gun control reform is merely to spare gun owners certain inconveniences it then becomes necessary to ask where do our actual priorities lie.

Additional Readings:

NYC probe in Arizona shows illegal gun sales

Gun used in Tucson was purchased legally; Arizona laws among most lax in nation

Bloomberg: ‘You’d Think That If A Congresswoman Got Shot In The Head,’ That Would Change Congress’ Views On Guns

An Editor’s Pick

Updated 2/16/2012: Inaccuracies pertaining to the Mayors Against Illegal Guns support for the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban and high-capacity magazines have been removed. The Coalition does not take a position on this issue.


10 Responses to “Gun Control: Where do our priorities lie?”

  1. I’m a liberal. I’m a gun owner. I love my handguns. Not going to lie, I really enjoy going out and shooting at the range. I believe that the Second Amendment of the United States allows people to own guns.

    I also believe that the government has decided that certain arms are not appropriate for the public. You can’t purchase a nuclear weapon or a cruise missile. You can’t purchase a nuclear sub or a B2 bomber. The government has decided those weapons are for the government to own and use only.

    I believe there should be a national network for tracking gun ownership and purchasing. There should be a database letting federal authorities know who owns what weapons. I believe that certain weapons should not be available to the general public. I believe that bans on particular weapons are for the good of the public.

    The old adage of “if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns” doesn’t hold up. Many countries have banned guns, and their gun violence rates are far lower than the United States. The number of illegal guns seized in these countries is far lower than the number seized in the United States. In fact, criminals aren’t stealing the guns in America. They are buying high powered weapons to use on private citizens, the police, the military or whomever, or they sell them to the drug cartels in Mexico.

    I love my guns. If I was told that I could have my handguns, but I couldn’t have an assault rifle, I’d be okay with that. If I had to register my guns with a federal trackign program, I’d be okay with that too. I still have the right to my guns, but that doesn’t mean I need the same weapons the military is using.

    • This illustrates how a well-balanced approach to this issue, and many others, is best. People can continue to exercise their freedoms and rights to own guns in conjunction with common sense regulation that keeps weapons out of the hands of those who are prohibited from owning them.

      Thanks again for another insightful comment.

  2. Well-said, mp.

    My grandfather, a farmer in the red dirt of central Texas, supplemented his family’s livelihood by hunting in the woods near his farm. But his grandson lives in the biggest city in Texas, where people intent on concealed-carry make it a dangerous business to walk to the corner store for a pint of ice cream in the evening. I would feel far more at ease if there were some way to restrict gun-toting in cities without interfering with people who need them to hunt for dinner. But there does not seem to be any easy way to do that, and one national association seems to feel that my right as a city-dweller to keep breathing is inferior to their Second Amendment right… as they interpret it.

    What to do? HellifIknow! When my long-time mate and I decided to move in together four years ago, I asked her, and she agreed, to get rid of her pistol. (I have never owned a gun.) It’s not a solution to everything, but it’s a start.

    • That’s an interesting question. What is the practical reason for owning guns in a large city as opposed to those in the rural areas? There are no easy solutions for that one. I can hear the screams of discrimination now.

      One would think urban safety would trump some of the intepretations of the 2nd Amendment rights. Is that what happens when the regular people don’t have an organized, multi-million dollar lobby on their side?

      • If I recall correctly, some years ago such a lobby was formed. How well it “succeeded” is measured by the fact that today I don’t even remember its name. Americans love them some guns, and I think we just have to live (or not) with that fact.

      • “Americans love them some guns, and I think we just have to live (or not) with that fact.”

        Yes, very true. People do love their guns. I do have to admit…I’ve gone out shooting before, a long time ago, and it is a bit of a rush. I can see what the draw is but it’s not enough for me to start a collection or decide to have one in the house. You’re right, it’s something we have to live with but can we do it in a balanced way. I’d like to think so.

  3. I see five types of gun owners:

    1) A person that just wants something to defend his home from burglars. I have no problem with this kind of gun owner. However there are some logical weapons for self defense and some that are obviously not – such as assault rifles.

    2) A gun collector that loves the history behind them. They would have more antique weapons that he wouldn’t want fired that much. Assuming he isn’t focused on the history of WMDs I have no problem with them.

    3) Survivalists – These people I have a problem with because their world view is dependant on the collapse of society so they are not very stable on some level. I don’t think that they should have anything sharper then an ink pen.

    4) Violent Criminals – These people should not have access to any weapons at all.

    5) Idiots who think that they are being patriots – These are the biggest problem. They don’t want to have any reasonable discussion about the issue. They are living in la-la land and are acting as a huge wedge in our society preventing us from dealing with our problems as a whole.
    If we can deal with number 5 then when can more effectively deal with 3 and 4.


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