Commentary | Over the course of sixty one years on this earth, I have witnessed much horror. I have seen wars, murders and suicides up close and personal. I watched close friends waste away from aids and I was saddened by the promising kids from my generation who destroyed their lives with drugs. I write about tragedy every day as a journalist and although I abhor violence, I realize it comes with the territory. Yet today, something is different. The murder of a classroom full of children in a Newtown, Connecticut kindergarten changed everything.
Every American, from President Obama to hard nosed crime reporters to the man or woman on the corner in towns and cities all over this nation, is stunned literally to tears. As I write this commentary, it is difficult to contain my emotions. Twenty children and six adults died in an elementary school at the hands of a disturbed gunman after he allegedly murdered his own mother in her home. Two weeks before Christmas, 20 young Kindergarten children will not be opening presents under the Christmas tree or around the Menorah for Hanukkah. The wonderful life they had ahead of them was snuffed out forever in an instant. Stunned families are left to mourn their loss in horror as our nation watched this terrible scene play out live on television.
In the last few years, the world has witnessed an endless parade of insane gun violence from Anders Breivik in Norway to the Aurora, Colorado theater massacre. Time after time, innocent human beings are gunned down in the prime of life. Every time I read about the latest rampage, after I get over my shock at the loss of life, I think about the political uproar that will inevitably follow. Those opposed to private gun ownership will demand strict gun control and Second Amendment advocates will proclaim their ‘God Given” right to own and carry guns.
The United States is the only modern, industrialized nation that allows its citizens to go armed in the streets. In Great Britain, for example, every single firearm must be licensed and permits for private citizens to carry concealed weapons are virtually non-existent. At the same time, in Colorado, where James Holmes is alleged to have killed 12 and injured 58 moviegoers during his shooting spree, there are no gun registration laws. To carry a concealed weapon in Colorado, a resident simply goes to the local Sheriff’s office and applies. You can walk into a local gun shop and buy a gun as easily as buying groceries.
Most readers who are familiar with my writing are aware that I am a dedicated Libertarian. I believe in human freedom, limited government and the right of responsible adults to make important decisions without the interference of a Big Brother Nanny State. In recent years, we have witnessed the Federal Government inject itself into every aspect of our lives from parenting to religion to our health care choices.
All things considered, why then do we need laws to require background checks, gun registration and a reasonable waiting period to purchase a firearm? After all, many of the shooters involved in these terrible incidents probably would have been able to acquire a firearm one way or the other, no matter what the laws. How would stricter laws have prevented this disaster and what can we do to prevent them from happening in the future?
At the risk of offending most Conservatives and Second Amendment advocates, I will answer my own questions. In many ways, today’s shooting in Connecticut was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. We simply can not let this terrible tragedy fade into our collective consciousness and be forgotten, like all the other tragedies involving guns and mentally disturbed shooters.
1. The time has come to save the lives of innocents by requiring all guns be registered in the owner’s state of residence. The registration should include a complete background check, fingerprints and a reasonable fee to absorb costs to local and state government. All gun purchases should also require a short waiting period to permit the registering agency to complete the background check. The waiting period might also save lives by allowing an emotionally distraught individual a cooling off period to rethink their plans of violence. If only one shooting is prevented because someone had the time to change their mind about a decision made in the heat of the moment, lives will be saved.
2. Gun crimes must be addressed with sentences that take criminals off the streets. No one who uses a gun in a crime should be given probation, a reduced sentence or be released back into the community without strict parole. While I am not an advocate of cruel laws, people must come to understand that if they commit a crime with a gun, they will pay a serious price for their actions.
3. Gun ownership means guns must be handled responsibly and safely. The states need to pass laws requiring anyone who is given a concealed weapon permit to complete an annual gun safety course and qualify at a police shooting range at the gun owners expense. Too many innocent bystanders have been shot, including the nine New York City residents caught in a hail of NYPD gunfire at the Empire State building earlier this year.
4. I must question why many states allow individuals to drive around with rifles and shotguns on display in their vehicles. In Great Britain, the only time you can carry a long-arm in your vehicle is if your going to a coming from a shooting range or a hunt and you must be a member of a gun club. The gun must be stored in the trunk of the vehicle and every single round of ammunition must be kept in a separate locked container. In Colorado, you can drive around with guns prominently on display in your vehicle. Even James Holmes could have put his weapons on a gun rack in the window of a pickup and driven to the theater.
5. Yesterday’s shooting in Sandy Hook clearly illustrates why stricter controls on gun storage in the home are absolutely necessary. According to reports, the alleged shooter had a history of mental illness, yet he lived in a home with his mother, who owned and kept guns in the house. He is alleged to have used his mother’s weapons to kill her and then 26 people in the kindergarten. Why would a law banning the storage of guns in a home with a person suffering from mental illness be so unreasonable? It is already illegal is most states to keep guns in a home occupied by a convicted felon. Would it really impose such a hardship to ask the gun owner in this situation to store their weapons at a licensed shooting range?
While I am not an advocate of the draconian prohibition on guns we see in Great Britain, we can do better in the United States. Do British gun laws work? The numbers tell the story: 31,347 Americans were killed by guns in 2009, while in 2008, only 39 people were killed with guns in Great Britain. America is a much larger country and we have a long history of gun ownership, hunting and recreational shooting. A complete ban would not work and it would probably be unconstitutional, but some changes are desperately needed.
Over the years, both sides in this great debate have dug in their heels and largely refused to even consider compromise or negotiation. The NRA has insisted that even the most innocuous gun laws are a violation of the Second Amendment. We can all remember Charlton Heston’s famous “You can have my guns when you take them from my cold, dead hands” comment as President of the NRA.
The opponents of gun ownership are not much better; working tirelessly to ban guns and often resorting to deception and subterfuge. Like Heston, Obama has his own rigid view of gun ownership and he told Sarah Brady, the wife of James Brady and a passionate advocate for banning guns, that he has his own secret agenda to restrict gun ownership.
“I just want you to know that we are working on it. We have to go through a few processes, but under the radar.”
Neither party is willing to come to the table and talk. They hold to unyielding ideologies and refuse to consider compromise. In a recent poll, 74% of the citizens questioned are opposed to a ban on handgun ownership. There are 88 guns for every 100 citizens and banning guns might lead to a civil war. The solution is for both sides to put aside their tired old ideas and work together to develop a workable policy to allow responsible citizens to own guns while keeping them out of the hands of criminals and emotionally unbalanced individuals.
The obstacles are great and the gulf between the two sides on this issue is immense, but we must finally make the effort to work together and find a better way. We owe it to our children.