Thoughts and Prayers Don’t Curtail Gun Violence

In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL two weeks ago that left 17 Americans — 14 children and 3 adults — dead, it is time to say enough is enough. Something must be done by our government to stop the senseless killing of our country’s men, women and children.

Simply offering “thoughts and prayers” is no longer a viable response to the mass murders of innocent and defenseless citizens. I am not calling for the U.S. to eradicate civilian gun ownership. I am, however, calling for significant measures to be taken  to make our country a safer place for its citizens to live. I believe enacting meaningful gun control legislation would be a good place to start.

According to the Everytown for Gun Safety Fund, between 2012 and 2016, an average of 12,726 people have been killed by gun homicides in the U.S. — not including the other 21,637 gun suicides per year, which together amounts to over 34 thousand gun-related deaths in the U.S. annually. Compare that to another large and advanced country like Japan, which has a population of 127 million, where there were a mere six gun-related deaths in 2014.

As in America, it is legal for Japanese citizens to own firearms. It is, however, much more difficult to acquire them, and it requires dedication to do so. Obtaining a gun in Japan is much like the American process for getting a driver’s license. To obtain a gun in Japan, one must attend an all-day class, pass a written exam, pass a shooting test with 95-percent accuracy, take a mental health exam and pass a government-run background test.

Additionally, civilians are barred from purchasing handguns and semi-automatic weapons, such as an AR-15 — the weapon of choice of many mass shooters. Based on differences between Japanese and American gun culture, it is wrong to assume that America will simply adopt the Japanese’s gun legislation, but it can at least serve as a framework for legislation to stop the senseless killing of our fellow Americans.

It is no longer acceptable for our President and legislators in Congress to stand by and allow these mass killings to continue. It is time the NRA and NRA-backed Republican leaders realize they have massive amounts of blood on their hands due to their inaction. They must begin confronting this issue facing our country instead of deflecting questions about gun reform and offering their thoughts and prayers.

There are a number of simple changes our government can make to help facilitate a safer U.S. First, make it harder to obtain a gun. If it is more difficult to acquire a gun, then there will be fewer guns in circulation. And, if fewer guns are in circulation, then fewer people can kill each other with those guns.

A good place to start would be mandating universal background checks, something, according to recent Quinnipiac University poll, 97 percent of Americans support. A background check could have helped prevent Nikolas Cruz — who was surrounded by dozens of red flags — from getting the firearms he used to kill 17 of his peers in Parkland, FL. To take this a step further, why not make the process to obtain guns similar to the process to get a driver’s license? In most states, the entire process of earning a driver’s license takes at least six months, involves both written and physical exams and requires classes be taken.

Additionally, they require periodic re-testing to ensure people with a license are still fit to operate a car. Mandating a similar process for national gun licensing involving background checks, classes and written and physical exams would result in safer gun ownership nationwide and help keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people. Furthermore, these processes would allow for safe gun owners to continue owning guns and ensure people like Nikolas Cruz, with dozens of red flags surrounding them, do not.

Another measure to take is to ban the sale of semi-automatic assault rifles to civilians, particularly the AR-15 and its derivatives. There is no need for these guns to be in use by anyone except members of the military. The self-protection and hunting arguments do not apply to assault rifles. If someone feels they desperately need a gun to protect themselves then so be it; that right is protected by the Constitution. But that protection can be easily achieved by owning a shotgun or handgun instead of a weapon like the AR-15, which was designed for military combat. Additionally, banning modifications that increase the capabilities of assault rifles would go a long way in limiting the capabilities of potential mass shooters. The ban would take bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic weapons to function like fully-automatic weapons, and magazines of than 10 rounds off the market.

Conversely, the President’s proposal of arming 20 percent of teachers is the exact opposite direction we should be moving towards. This idea only further heightens the existing classroom battleground instead of making schools a safer place for America’s youth. Additionally, taking Trump’s senseless plan into action would mean arming over 700 thousand teachers and cost hundreds of millions in training, turning teachers into combatants instead of educators.

Many have and will continue to argue that deranged people will always find a way to get guns and kill people even with restrictions like these. Maybe some of them will, but I have a difficult time believing it wouldn’t keep guns out of the wrong hands.

I realize this is a very convoluted problem America is faced with and the forces acting against change from numerous groups are very powerful, but the system we have in place now clearly isn’t working. Why not try harder to keep guns out of the wrong hands?

  • dft

    Several excellent points, but may I share my somewhat different perspective on a few?

    First, I agree with the call for universal background checks, depending on exactly what that means. Correction: the NRA has not opposed what most people would call universal background checks. They have opposed systems that amount to de facto registration systems, since they see that as designed to enable to gun confiscation at some future date. It is possible to have a background check that is not a registration system. North Carolina has universal background checks for handguns that is not a registration system, and it could easily be extended to long guns. The NRA also opposes background check systems such as the one recently adopted in Washington that requires going through a federal firearms licensee and paying a fee just to let your spouse take your gun to the range. So there is ample common ground to move forward on greatly expanded background checks that would gain bipartisan support, if only (both) the parties were more interested in making things better than winning primaries.

    The “assault rifle” ban is also problematic. First, true assault rifles have been banned for manufacture and import for civilians since 1986. Pre-existing automatic weapons are very tightly regulated, and generally cost $20,000 and up. An assault rifle is cable of automatic fire, i.e., it is a machine gun. The 1994 ban and the current legislation in the house is to ban “assault weapons”, which are semi-automatic. This is an important distinction. No army has gone to war with only semi-automatic weapons since World War I. Semi-automatic weapons fire one bullet per pull of the trigger, just like a revolver. The overwhelming majority of guns on the market today are semi-automatic. So if you want to ban semi-automatics, you are talking about banning most guns.

    What constitutes the difference between an assault weapon and other semi-automatics that would not be banned? This is a legal distinction unrelated to their lethality. One criterion is an adjustable stock. If I wished to share my rifle with a friend who is shorter, that would not be possible; she could not reach the trigger. (Imagine trying to share a car if the driver’s seat were not adjustable.) If I were to add an adjustable stock so that we could share, I would be a felon under the proposed assault weapons ban, facing 10 years in jail. Adding a pistol grip would be equally felonious. My grandfather’s 1970’s era shotgun would be illegal if manufactured today. The most common handgun on the market, the Glock 17, would also be banned, because Glock makes an automatic version, the Glock 18.

    The term assault weapon was created originally to distinguish guns with a “menacing appearance”, and would be easier politically to restrict. Most people look at an AR-15, and it looks like what our troops use. It is scary. But it is functionally little different from hunting rifles that would remain legal.

    Why do some gun owners like the AR-15 so much? Why are other gun owners fearful of the ban?

    As noted, the AR-15 is not more lethal. Indeed, it is banned for deer hunting in some states because it is not lethal enough; lawmakers and hunters worry that the 5.56mm round it fires is too weak to assure a humane kill of a deer. It is allowed in those states for thinner skinned game like coyote and feral pigs. The attractiveness boils down to it being a reliable, easy to handle, low recoil, and accurate rifle, all for under $500. It is the Honda Civic of rifles.

    Knowledgeable gun owners who prefer other rifles are mostly no less concerned. They look at the ban on guns that are only cosmetically different from their own and they conclude that the real agenda must not be a ban on the artificial “assault weapons” category, but in fact a ban on all firearms.

    Magazine capacity ban? Like too many proposals, that would only affect law-abiding gun owners. Aside from the billion high capacity magazines already in circulation, one can make high capacity magazines with a 3-D printer, and there will be a thriving and affordable black market for them if legal versions are banned. For that matter, one can already manufacturer an “assault weapon” in one’s basement with a 3D printer and a CNC machine.

    Please do not think that I believe there is nothing we should do. I support extending North Carolina’s universal background check systems nationally, and expanding it to include long guns. I support the “FIX NICS” bill to improve reporting. I support gun violence restraining orders, if there is prompt judicial review. I support banning bump stocks. I support sentencing enhancements for using lethal weapons (not just firearms) in the commission of a crime. I support adding those on the “no-fly” list to the NICS database, but only with judicial review.

    I also support vigorous enforcement of existing firearms laws. I voted for Obama twice, but I was frustrated by his administration’s unwillingness to prosecute the thousands of felons (all banned from purchasing or possession of firearms) who lied on the federal background check form, committing another felony in the process. I was frustrated by his commuting the sentence of felons convicted of violating firearms laws. I am frustrated by prosecutors across the country who fail to hold felons who own and use firearms accountable.

    We also need to find ways to reduce the frequency with which people become interested in mass murder. We are not only unusual in the number of firearms per capita. We are also unusual in income inequality, lack of universal health care, lack of social safety net, and lack of economic mobility.

    We as a society will not make progress on any of these things unless we better understand each others concerns and seek evidence-based solutions that impact criminals more than the law-abiding.

    • TD

      Merriam-Webster – assault weapon

      any of various intermediate-range, magazine-fed military rifles (such
      as the AK-47) that can be set for automatic or semiautomatic fire;
      also: a rifle that resembles a military assault rifle but is designed to allow only semiautomatic fire.

      It is a weapon designed for high volume fire at limited range (3-400 meters, as opposed to early WWII rifles.

      The AR-15 is not a weapon designed for sport: hunting, target shooting,
      etc. It has little use in self defense as it endangers everyone near by.

      It is a derivative of weapons designed to kill people and can easily be converted to fully automatic, see advertisements on the internet or many gun magazines.

      • dft

        The M-W definition “assault weapon” supports my point. This definition covers a very wide range of firearms, and is not based on function or lethality. If one wishes to ban a class of firearms, it should be based on what they do, not what they look like.

        “[The AR-15] has little use in self defense as it endangers everyone near by.” Would you mind elaborating on this? I will assume for now that you refer to the risk of going through walls and killing neighbors by accident. Common AR-15 ammo such as the XM193 is less likely to penetrate walls than common handgun ammo and much less likely to penetrate walls than the most common deer hunting rounds, the .308 and 30-30. It is more reliable for stopping a person and less likely to penetrate walls, so it is perhaps the ideal round for home self defense.

        “It is a derivative of weapons designed to kill people and can easily be converted to fully automatic, see advertisements on the internet or many gun magazines.” I fully support banning such devices. I was astonished when the ATF declared bump stocks legal during the Obama administration, though I understand why they did not have the authority. This should have been fixed legislatively as soon as the ATF identified the issue. Congress needs to act now. (I should add that these devices you see advertised do *not* convert an AR-15 into the functional equivalent of the select-fire M-16 used by military and law enforcement. Such a conversion is far more difficult and is already illegal.)

        • TD

          An AR-15 is not easy to handle
          it can easily get away from the untrained.
          But anyone can by and use one.

          • dft

            “An AR-15 is not easy to handle it can easily get away from the untrained.”

            I cannot imagine where you came up with this. The AR-15 is one of the easiest handling rifles made. It is ergonomically designed and has very low recoil. And how does it “easily get away from the untrained”? Even if you drop it after firing, it is designed to be drop-safe and will not fire a second time. It is recommend by women’s shooter groups like “The Well-Armed Woman” because of its ease of handling and adjustable stock. Women on average have smaller frames and less upper body strength than men, making the AR-15 especially well-suited for them.

            For a moment I thought from this statement that perhaps you were under the impression that the AR-15 is an automatic weapon. Automatic weapons with their repeated recoil can indeed get away from an untrained person. However from your earlier comment it is clear that you know it is not an automatic. So what is your basis for this comment?

            “But anyone can by and use one.” Anyone 18 or older without a criminal record, adjudicated mentally ill, or convicted of domestic violence.

  • torch621

    The problem is, gun grabbers aren’t satisfied with just more background checks and what not. Notice how they always point to Australia as a model for us to follow? What they won’t tell you is that Australia banned ALL semi-automatic rifles, and introduced their buyback scheme with the threat of arrest and punishment for those that did not comply. Liberals very clearly want to ban guns, or at least certain kinds. They just recently proposed legislation that would make it illegal to possess all semi-automatic weapons, including most handguns. At least publications like Vox are telling the truth and admitting they want gun bans and not keeping the facade up.

    By the way, criticizing “thoughts and prayers” isn’t some kind of virtuous act, it’s an attempt to shame Christians for praying. Again, be honest.

  • Zigfried Ost Vind

    For some reason, well meaning fools feel that disarming more victims (no gun zones) violating the law abiding (gun control) and even protecting criminals (sanctuary cities) will somehow, someway, protect our kids.

  • TD

    States having restrictive gun control laws and enforcing them have a lower rate of death – even if they tend to be the states with large cities. CDC 2016

    You are six times more likely to be killed by a gun in Alabama than in Massachusetts –

    The US could reduce the death toll by guns by following those states with laws that are enforced.

    Internationally the US is in last place in modern democracies (27th) in deaths by guns.

    The Founding Fathers said “…with certain unalienable Rights, that
    among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
    Life came first for a reason.

    Lowest death rates by fire arms

    Massachusetts 3.4
    Rhode Island 4.1
    New York 4.4
    Hawaii 4.5
    Connecticut 4.6
    New Jersey 5.5
    Minnesota 7.6
    California 7.9
    Maine 8.3
    Washington 9.0

    Highest death rates by fire arms
    West Virginia 17.5
    South Carolina 17.7
    Arkansas 17.8
    New Mexico 18.1
    Montana 18.9
    Missouri 19.0
    Oklahoma 19.6
    Mississippi 19.9
    Louisiana 21.3
    Alabama 21.5
    Alaska 23.3

    Notice a trend in the death rates?

    The average American gun owner owns three guns, according to a 2015
    survey conducted by Harvard and Northwestern University. More than a
    half of them own just one or two, whereas 14% of them–7.7 million or 3%
    of the US population–own anywhere between eight to 140 guns. This 3% of
    the population owns half of the civilian guns in the US.

    Less than 1/3 of the people in the US own guns

    European death rates by guns are much lower than the the US, which is 61st world wide, with homicides 45th.