American Culture

If you want real gun control, stop trying to control the sale and possession of guns

by JS O’Brien

The US Supreme Court has decided to rule on the constitutionality of a law that prohibits Washington, DC residents from owning handguns.  Naturally, the mainstream media and blogosphere have been quick to revive all the old arguments for and against gun control, rehash the history of the Second Amendment and the meanings of words like “militia” and “well regulated,” and pit rabid proponents for both sides against each other for our amusement.

Entertainment aside, the gun control advocates are not likely to get what they want from the Supreme Court this time, and there’s great doubt they ever will.  It’s not just a Second Amendment issue; it’s a protection issue.  The US has one of the highest homicide rates in the industrialized world, and it’s not because so many people own guns.  The Swiss have very widespread gun ownership as a function of their universal, military service, and the homicide rate there is among the lowest in the world.  Like it or not, the US suffers from person-on-person violence to an alarming degree compared to its industrialized peers, and US residents would be foolish to unilaterally disarm in such a society.Â

This does not mean, however, that gun control advocates can’t get what they want.  They just have to change tactics.  Unfortunately, they won’t change tactics until they actually figure out what they want.

One of the most crippling mental mistakes for any activist or other political movement is confusing desired outcomes with the tactics they think will achieve those outcomes.  What gun control advocates really want is a decrease, and preferably a sharp decrease, in gun-related deaths in the US.  The reason they advocate gun control is because they think it will produce that end result.  And it probably would.  Surely, if most private citizens didn’t own guns, accidental shootings would decrease, domestic violence incidents would be more likely to end in beatings and woundings than outright murder, and hunting accidents (should hunting rifles and shotguns also be banned) would be useful for teaching young surgeons how to remove arrows instead of how to replace a human brain blown apart by a .30 caliber round.  Having said all that, gun control would also make it much more difficult for citizens to deal with violent criminals armed with guns and, while it doesn’t happen often, perfectly innocent, private citizens sometimes do need to protect themselves from these people.

It is this need for protection that is bound to doom gun control tactics in many parts of the nation, regardless of the Supreme Court’s findings on Second Amendment rights.  Should the Supremes find that the Second Amendment doesn’t protect handguns, it will mean only that some parts of the country will be free to ban or heavily regulate handgun ownership.  It will not strike down existing state and local laws allowing gun purchases.  Fear of armed criminals will continue to drive gun manufacturing and sales throughout much of the nation.

There is another, better way.  Instead of trying to restrict the sale and possession of guns, impose substantial criminal and civil penalties on those who use them negligently.  Conservatives are fond of promoting a culture of “personal responsibility,” so why not apply that to the use of guns?  After all, an automobile is not designed to be a weapon, but when someone driving an automobile makes a mistake and kills or maims someone, he or she is usually held accountable for it, often with a charge of manslaughter.  A gun, on the other hand, is designed to kill and maim.  Surely, gun owners have a personal responsibility not to make a mistake and, if they do, should be punished.

Toward that end, I propose this grass-roots legislation, state-by-state, as a starting point for a movement to promote gun responsibility:

  1. Killing a person with a gun, who was no threat to you or others, even if a well-intentioned effort at self-defense, results in a 15- to 20-year prison sentence, in a maximum security facility, with no chance of parole.  The only exception to this is when the killer can demonstrate that any reasonable person, acting cool headedly, actively seeking out information, and with no other reasonable alternatives, could not have come to any other decision but that the victim must be killed.  Wounding or maiming, only, would reduce the sentence.  (Note that this wording would include criminal liability for such things as hunting accidents, but would allow one to kill an intruder into one’s household as long as it doesn’t later turn out that the intruder was innocent, such as a family member coming home from college unannounced.)
  2. Killing, maiming, or wounding a person who was no threat to you or others carries a minimum payment of $1 million, plus attorney fees and court costs, in any successful civil suit.
  3. Anyone who owns a gun and allows it to fall in the hands of another who uses it to kill, maim, or wound, will go to a maximum security prison for no less than  five years, unless said weapon was secured in a manner that would defeat all but the most determined attack on the mechanism by which it was secured.  If a child is killed, or if a child does the killing, the sentence is doubled.

Laws of this sort would most likely get gun control advocates what they want, while allowing the unlimited purchase of firearms by practically anyone.  Most potential owners would think very, very carefully about the utility of owning a gun before buying one, and either decide not to own a gun, or to be very careful with it.  Those who are still careless would risk going to prison for a very long time, which will serve as a lesson to others.

Doubtless, it will not be easy to get such legislation passed.  There are those who believe that simply being frightened is enough justification to blow someone away, as in the case of Yoshi Hattori.  Having said that, opponents can be defeated because the personal responsibility argument represents the moral high ground.  I can remember a time when it was common to partially excuse someone who caused a fatal accident on the grounds that “he was drunk,” as if being drunk was a mitigating, instead of an aggravating, factor.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) did a bang up job of convincing the American public that driving drunk was personally irresponsible, and that anyone who drives drunk or, worse, harms someone else by driving drunk, deserves a stiff penalty.  How much higher is the moral ground demanding personal responsibility when the product in question, a gun, is an intentionally lethal machine?

Laws focusing on penalties for failing to live up to gun owners’ personal responsibillities to others will make gun control a reality.  It will just be voluntary gun control, as those considering owning guns weigh the potential consequences against the (in most cases) questionable benefits.
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21 replies »

  1. JS,

    This post is a terrific example of S&R’s reason for existence: to generate ideas, to propose alternatives, to see what others have not. Well done.

    Now, let’s tinker with the “self-defense” aspect of this …

  2. My lovely wife has a concealed weapons permit, which is real easy to get in Florida. She got it after she was attacked, late at night, in a parking lot. She got away OK, but was scared out of her wits. She took a firearms safety course, passed the background check, and got her permit.

    If someone jumped out of the bushes to attack her a second time, I don’t think she’d be thinking about a prison sentence when she pulled the trigger.

    Jeff

  3. Jeff:

    Nor should she have to if the person jumping out meant her harm. But if the person jumping out was a kid running because he’s late for band practice, and she kills him, I think she should go to prison for a long time.

  4. Jeff:

    I think you’re mixing up two concepts here. A person who steps into traffic giving a truck driver no time to stop is obviously the person at fault. The truck driver, I assume, could do nothing. The driver shouldn’t go to prison, because the driver is not responsible.

    Now, suppose the driver had plenty of time to stop, but was talking on a cell phone, drunk, reaching over to the next seat to get a Big Mac that had fallen to the floor, or the like. In that case, the driver is making a decision to endanger others with his carelessness. He’s decided that talking to someone right that minute, his convenience in drinking and driving, or that Big Mac is way more important than someone else’s life. He needs to take responsibility for that decision, and should mean going to jail for a long time.

    But even then, what the truck driver did is more understandable than having a gun owner make a mistake. The truck driver is using his truck for transportation. It becomes a lethal weapon only when he is negligent. A gun owner resorts to a gun KNOWING it has only one purpose, to wound or kill. The price of negligence with a gun is especially high. When you pull out a gun and use it, you’d better be right.

    The link you gave appears to me to be a somewhat related matter, but tangential to the issue I posed: whether a gun owner has the right to play prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner for a property crime. I may take that on later, but not here.

    Finally, I used a kid going to band practice merely as an illustration, since the issue is hypothetical. But let’s take a closer look just for grins. (Oddly enough, the only place I’ve ever been mugged at gunpoint was a parking lot in Florida. Go figure.)

    Let’s say your wife is in a similar situation. She is in a parking lot at 11:30, hears some bushes rustling, pulls her gun from her purse, wheels, and fires. She manages to kill a young man escorting his date to their car. Should she go to jail for a long time? I’d say, “Oh yes. Verily.” If you have a gun, you have a personal responsibility to others not to kill them for no reason.

    If you don’t take that responsibility seriously, you go to jail.

  5. I agree with you about the irresponsibility of acting in haste. If you killed someone that was a result of your negilgence, there should be penalties, but much of that could be settled in civil court.

    In the case of a person stepping out into traffic and getting hit, at least here in Florida, it’s the driver’s responsibility not to hit the pedestrian. The pedestrian is not at fault. The driver is always at fault if he hits a pedestrian, cyclist, or person on horseback. I learned that from a jury I was on about 7 years ago.

    In tIf a person was to punch someone with his fist, that he initially thought was a threat(but it turned out wasn’t), and that person died, what should the penalty be? What if the perp was a law abiding school marm with no record who made a mistake?

    Do you have a gun, engage in any shooting sports, or hunt?

    I was raised around guns all my life and have a healthy respect for gun safety. I also wouldn’t hesitate to shoot someone who threatened my life or the life of any member of my family.

    In what city in Florida did you get robbed?

    Jeff

  6. I agree with you about the irresponsibility of acting in haste. If you killed someone that was a result of your negilgence, there should be penalties, but much of that could be settled in civil court.

    I’m glad we agree about personal responsibility. I just go farther than you. I think there should be a severe criminal as well as civil penalty, and that the civil penalty amount shouldn’t be based on something like future earnings. Lives are worth more than that.

    Taking someone’s life is an irreversible act, and you’d better be right when you do it. If you’re wrong (unless, as I said above, “any reasonable person, acting cool headedly, actively seeking out information, and with no other reasonable alternatives, could not have come to any other decision but that the victim must be killed”), then I believe you need to be punished, and punished severely.

    In the case of a person stepping out into traffic and getting hit, at least here in Florida, it’s the driver’s responsibility not to hit the pedestrian. The pedestrian is not at fault. The driver is always at fault if he hits a pedestrian, cyclist, or person on horseback. I learned that from a jury I was on about 7 years ago.

    I believe this law is unjust. Any suicide could easily arrange to kill himself by jumping right in front of a car from concealment in such a way that the driver could not possibly avoid hitting him. You Floridians will have to change that law. (I do find it a bit weird that Florida’s gun laws and use of deadly force laws are so lax, but so stringent on drivers who, in many cases, could not humanly have avoided hitting someone. Sheesh!)

    In tIf a person was to punch someone with his fist, that he initially thought was a threat(but it turned out wasn’t), and that person died, what should the penalty be? What if the perp was a law abiding school marm with no record who made a mistake?

    I believe there are laws on the books about manslaughter in such a case, and I think the ones I know about are appropriate. But a fist is very, very rarely lethal. So, its use does not show nearly the degree of negligence that using a gun in the same situation would demonstrate. If you use a gun, you EXPECT to kill someone, so you had better be right when you use it.

    Do you have a gun, engage in any shooting sports, or hunt?

    I own a 12-gauge, semi-automatic, an SK assault rifle, a 9 mm. Colt semi-automatic, a Winchester 22 caliber, short-stocked, bolt-action, single-shot rifle that I was given when I was 10, a .357 magnum, a 30-30 1876 centennial, lever-action cavalry carbine with octagonal barrel, a .38 police special revolver, a 20-gauge over and under, and a 410 single shot I was given when I was 8 years old. I no longer do any target practice or hunting,

    I was raised around guns all my life and have a healthy respect for gun safety. I also wouldn’t hesitate to shoot someone who threatened my life or the life of any member of my family.

    Neither would I, and I’m not suggesting anyone should. I am suggesting that we have to put a stop to those who are negligent with their firearms.

    In what city in Florida did you get robbed?

    The parking lot of Disney World’s :Pleasure Island, in Orlando. As an aside, it wouldn’t have done me a bit of good to have a gun on or near me in that instance. Once you’ve got one aimed at you, you’d have to have super speed to shoot your weapon before the other guy could pull the trigger.

  7. JS
    I have a question for you. I’m going to base it on my own experience from a time when I was a police officer. I pulled an individual over at about 3am for drunk driving and he promptly got out of his car and advanced, all-be-it somewhat unsteadily, on me and my car. The real problem here comes with the drunk having his left hand tucked into his belt behind his back in such a way as I couldn’t see his hand but it appeared he was hiding something behind his back. I ordered him to get back into his car and as he advanced I eventually had my door open, was behind it with my gun out and was ordering him to get on to the ground via my load speaker. He continued to advance. As I was starting to pull the trigger he stumbled and fell on his face and I was able to see he was just drunk and stupid. He can within a split second of me shooting him dead because he was to drunk to think strait. I actually got a rep[remand for how close I allowed him to get to me and for having violated policy by potentially endangering myself. If I had fired earlier it would have been judged a clean shoot and the only consequence to me would have been having to live wit killing an unarmed man for being stupid. Now in a similar situation not involving a cop your proposal would result in someone going to prison for 15 to 20 years and cost them at least $1 million although. How do you justify them feeling any less threatened than I did or do you think as a cop I should not have reacted to what could have been a potentially deadly situation, although in this case it turned out not to be?

  8. Rho:

    Let me try to answer you question by going back to the exception I made:

    The only exception to this is when the killer can demonstrate that any reasonable person, acting cool headedly, actively seeking out information, and with no other reasonable alternatives, could not have come to any other decision but that the victim must be killed.

    In your case, you clearly were cool headed, were very actively seeking out information, and there don’t appear to be any other reasonable alternatives, like calling a cop, because you are a cop. In addition, the context of the thing has some bearing. You were clearly a cop (I assume), with lights on the car and whatnot, and were telling him to halt with a loudspeaker. Anyone who disobeys that kind of order in that situation might very well be dangerous.

    I’m glad you didn’t kill him but, had you, I think it could be said that this situation met the criteria for an exception.

    Luckily, I’m guessing that what was really going through your head is that this guy is blind drunk and is probably no threat, because he’s too drunk to know what the @#$% is going on. It may also have occurred to you that, should he bring that concealed hand around to aim at you, you would be able to shoot him before he could bring it to bear. Or maybe not. I wouldn’t know. I do know that you showed admirable constraint and, because you did, you didn’t impose a death sentence for drunk driving.

    Now, let’s turn it around. A police unit does a no-knock raid and gets the wrong house. They burst through the door unannounced, in the dark, with no police cruisers or lights visible. They do not shout “police” for fear of giving themselves away in the dark. A man in a bedroom down the hall reaches for his gun. A figure explodes into his room and he shoots and kills the cop.

    Justified? I’d say so.

    Here’s another story. My father once drove all night to reach his farm in North Florida. He had a brother and his wife staying there rent free to look after my grandmother. He arrived in the wee hours of the morning and, rather than waking up his brother and wife, he drove down the driveway, around the house, and out to the back yard about 100 yards from the house. He turned his lights off, and lay down on the truck seat to sleep.

    That’s when his rear window exploded.

    My aunt had gotten a shotgun, filled it with buckshot, and was going to kill whoever was in that truck.

    Now, here’s the thing. That truck was rather distinctive, since it was old and had fenders on the bed. It also had out-of-state plates. My aunt knew that truck, had she bothered to look. My aunt had many options. She could have called the sheriff’s office and waited inside the house with the shotgun in case someone actually tried to break in. She could have fired a shot in the air to try to scare them off, then retreated if necessary. She could have called the sheriff and then run out the front door and down the road a bit to stay with my Uncle Drew.

    Instead, she decided to be prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner right there on the spot, and could very well have killed my father.

    Had she killed my father, she should have gone to jail. That kind of mistake is not one you fix, and there were many alternatives open to her.

  9. OK, I agree your Aunt was acting like a lunatic. As for her option of shooting in the air I think not. You shoot in the air you don’t know where the bullet is going to land or if it might kill someone. even shotgun shot can seriously wound someone in that instance. There have been many cases of people being killed because of someone shooting in the air. granted I couldn’t kind any of someone being killed by shooting in the air with a shotgun but I did find a couple of cases of injury including a 10 year old girl being blinded in one eye that way. Now as to what I was thinking I was scared shit less as anyone else would have been. I was downright worried he had a gun but I was reluctant to take his life unless I absolutely had to. As I said I was pulling the trigger with every intention of killing him when the @ssh@le tripped and fell down. Does this make me reasoned or just to scared to do what I knew I was supposed to do. After over 15 years I still can’t answer that and that is one reson I never intend to be a cop again.

  10. Rho:

    I think you’re too hard on yourself. Fear is the first thing that will make you pull that trigger, I suspect. It took guts not to pull it.

    A quick thing on shooting in the air. You’re right, of course, but I had a particular image in mind of my aunt standing on the back step with about 1/2 mile of farmland in front of her, ending in uninhabited, semi-swamp. Shooting buckshot in that direction shouldn’t be to dangerous, but you make a good point.

    That was some years ago, but I have been told, by a person who should know (an attorney), that under current Florida law, she could have killed him dead with no legal consequences. I don’t agree with that.

    As I’ve said, I think it’s a matter of personal responsibility.

  11. JS,
    thanks for your vote of confidence. On the gun control issue I agree it should be a case of one taking personal responsibility for ones actions, but I guess we’ll just have to disagree on the extent of government being involved in neutering the 2nd amendment. But I will say I enjoyed your posting and your positions are well reasoned and presented even if I disagree with some of your conclusions.

  12. Whoa! Whoa! there Rho. You’ve got me all wrong. I’m not for neutering the 2nd Amendment. I think people should be allowed to own “arms” (though I probably would draw the at personal nukes). I just believe that, should they own them, they need to take responsibility for not killing someone, an IRREVERSIBLE decision mind you, unless it’s necessary.

    The way I see it, those who aren’t willing or able to use guns responsibly will either decide not to own one (a good thing) or will be put out of commission in jail for a good while. Either way, we get the people who think killing someone is like what they see on the movies instead of the awful business it is.

    I feel the same way about people who drive cars, and we have laws on the books to punish them for being careless and negligent.

    Why treat guns differently from cars? The 2nd Amendment, at its widest interpretation, gives you the right to own a gun. It doesn’t confer the right to shoot and innocent person in panic.

  13. JS
    I can agree with all that. I just see one problem, enforcement. Like our rules on DUIs our legal system will plea the offenses down to another lesser charge and the criminally negligent will get of with a symbolic slap on the wrist. One of my biggest pet peaves is drunk driver’s who have been convicted 5 or 6 times who have never spent any actual jail time and go on to kill someone like happened here in Denver just this summer. If we aren’t willing to jail someone on their fifth DUI, two resulting in injury, how do you expect us to jail someone for injuring someone in a hunting accident?

  14. Rho,

    You and I are in complete agreement on drunk drivers and we seem to be in agreement on people taking personal responsibility.

    Maybe I’ll deal with the justice system later. That should be fun. 😉

    Good conversing with you. Thanks.

  15. JS said:

    ” own a 12-gauge, semi-automatic, an SK assault rifle, a 9 mm. Colt semi-automatic, a Winchester 22 caliber, short-stocked, bolt-action, single-shot rifle that I was given when I was 10, a .357 magnum, a 30-30 1876 centennial, lever-action cavalry carbine with octagonal barrel, a .38 police special revolver, a 20-gauge over and under, and a 410 single shot I was given when I was 8 years old.”

    You have an SK???

    Holy crap, you could take on an army:)

    Seriously, I like to go out skeet shooting every couple of months, and do a bit of plinking whenever I feel like going out to the country. Our deer here aren’t really trophies, and aside from a little wild boar hunting, I do very little hunting. I have gone on a legal alligator hunt a couple of times, and gator hunting is very challenging, despite what you’d think. Frankly, I’m more of a heavy tackle, fishing kind of guy right now.

    Jeff

    Jeff

  16. Yeah. I haven’t hunted deer since I was a kid. I love target shooting, but I have neither the time nor ready access to a range these days. The SK was something I inherited from my father.

    Never been gator hunting. I don’t like to hunt things that can get me if I’m not careful ;-).

  17. Boars can hurt you just as bad as gators. If they charge you, they’ll still keep coming straight for you even if you get a head shot with a .303. Boar hunting is where I learned the matador sweep to get out of the way of the charge… even after you hit them. Boars scare the shit out of me every time I hunt them. I have some good ‘ole boys that know the back woods and I like to hunt with them. We don’t use dogs, as I would hate to ruin a good dog(boars tear up dogs…and people, too). Even without dogs, those boys know how to get boars, everytime.

    Gator hunting is fun, but the meat is highly overrated…the meat is chewy and doesn’t taste like chicken. I did tan some good hides though.
    Jeff

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