Gun Control: The Messy Middle
April 2, 2018
Clearly, we’re not easing into this messy space with our first topic on gun control. Fools rush in, right?
Well, here we go…
Truth: people use guns to kill other people — this is clear-cut, i.e. black and white.
[truth]: there are so many issues surrounding guns and the proliferation of school violence that there is not a clear solution that will be the panacea for change — lots and lots and lots of gray. Lots.
And with that in mind, I have decided that it’s best to focus on just a few issues for now, but clearly I am not even scratching the surface. Before I start, I want to lay out a few interesting facts I received from interviewing a federal firearms instructor. I don’t want to seem pedantic, but these facts were new to me. Perhaps they are new to some of you too.
-A semi-automatic weapon is any weapon that fires one round each time the trigger is depressed. Therefore, the vast majority of rifles, handguns, and shotguns are semi-automatic.
-An AR-15 is a semi-automatic and only fires one round at a time.
-A bump-stock is a rifle stock that allows a gun to mimic automatic fire by harnessing the recoil of the weapon. This is what was used in the Las Vegas shootings. It has not been used in any of the school shootings. Bump-stocks are currently legal and can be ordered online for approximately $200.
-A civilian can get a “transferable registered automatic sear” for an AR-15 or any weapon that can be configured as an automatic weapon, such as a rifle. This turns the firearm into a weapon that continuously fires rounds as long as the trigger is depressed. To get it legally is quite arduous. You must submit ATF forms, fingerprints, photographs, go through an extensive background check, and pay a $200 ATF tax. Current lead times on ATF approval are between 6–12 months. The cost of this automatic sear pack is anywhere between $15,000 — $30,000, depending on the type of weapon.
Ok, so let me start by saying how proud I am of the students who have exercised their First Amendment rights to protest. I have a particular affinity to this amendment due to my own background in China. Sometimes we get so immersed in our own country’s strife that it’s hard to place ourselves in a larger global perspective. I have often sat in a hotel room in China and watched the mud-slinging — over a VPN, because a lot of western news outlets and social media sites are blocked — in amazement. And gratitude.
This wouldn’t happen in China. Do you remember the last time people protested in China? The images from Tian’anmen Square are iconic. Keep in mind that religious groups are also a considered a threat and they have banned the Falun Gong, and run many Christian churches underground. But, I digress.
The point is, exercising our First Amendment rights, whether you believe the message or not, rocks. Let your voices ring out. As Delaney Tarr says in a tweet: “get ready to roar”. Go girl.
Now, with the facts presented above, what is reasonable policy? A ban of semi-automatic weapons is essentially a wholesale ban on all firearms. Without trying to get too deep into a constitutional debate on the Second Amendment, this is extreme.
However, a ban on bump-stocks, not so much. How about a ban on civilian automatic weapons? Although automatic weapons have not been involved in school shootings, I don’t really have much of a problem exploring this option either. Changing the age of those buying firearms? Stricter background checks? These seem like reasonable areas for discussion. Can we go there?
The concern is encapsulated in another quip from Delaney Tarr: “when they give us that inch, the bump stock ban, we take the mile”. I don’t mean to pick on Ms Tarr, but she verbalized the sentiment that I know so many fear, and which in turn, paralyzes the debate and any true progress.
Gun control is not black and white. There is middle ground between the NRA and the demands of many in the gun control camp. Yes, the middle is messy and uncomfortable, and not everyone will be happy. No one ever is.
And yet, this is the beauty of democracy — a government by the people must learn compromise. So, several inches, perhaps a few yards, maybe even half a mile, but the full mile? Going the full mile in either direction, and democracy is dead.
While some may argue that David Hogg is a Communist and would love nothing more than to see democracy destroyed, that’s inflammatory and extreme, and more importantly, doesn’t promote genuine (let alone compassionate or diplomatic) dialogue. Like gun control, what defines a democracy, and how we as citizens of a democracy exercise our rights, is not always clear-cut. There is so much gray in our red, white and blue.
I hope we can all agree that demolishing our democratic ideals is not the goal. Please say so.
But, with that in mind, we need extremes. The paradox is that extremes serve a democracy well. It’s only when the extremes are presented is there a move towards the middle; when we fear the extremes that mark the parameters of the debate, the middle offers solutions.
Before I conclude, let me offer one additional thought. We must address social media and mental illness in any solution (I believe those two go together). We can fully ban guns, but if we don’t address the reason for the increased violence, the violence will prevail. As we’ve seen in terrorist attacks, there are plenty of ways to rack up the death toll without firing a shot. An angry/lonely/depressed student can just as easily use their car to assault their classmates in an incident as deadly, or more so, than the recent school attacks.
Putting these issues together is messy and hard, but we must get beyond the provocative rhetoric and go there. In all of the debate, there has been one solution that continues to draw my attention. My former colleague, Scott Stewart, lays out the idea of having a central command for school violence, similar to the highly successful Center for Missing and Exploited Children founded by John Walsh after his son was killed. I would only add that in such an institution we not only create a clearinghouse for all issues relating to school violence, but we also include mental health in the equation. Separating these two issues is too dangerous.
It’s time to navigate the messy middle.
If you’ve turned on your TV recently you will recognize the fierce debate in guns that is sweeping our nation. For me, this was very difficult to research because each side says such severe things and states that the other side is “lying through their teeth”, or they are “not intelligent enough to understand the situation”. I believe this is because they rarely interact with people who do not share their views, putting them in a position where they cannot comprehend a reality where someone thinks differently. When they find someone who has an opposing perspective, this makes them very aggressive.
From what I deduced after the horrible shooting in Florida, the left decided to try to make a change. They did this on a scale from, limiting magazine size to repealing the Second Amendment altogether. The right, who consist heavily of gun owners, responded to this issue on a scale from, compromising with lower magazine capacity to arming school faculty.
Not that the left and right didn’t, but I believe we should examine the disease more thoroughly before we start blindly prescribing cures. For example, people who commit mass murder overwhelmingly have some form of mental illness, this can range from depression to complete schizophrenia. So if we wish for a place to start to reduce gun violence, I believe we should ban guns from people who are in therapy for moderate to severe depression or people known to have a major mental illness. But then there is the argument that those people will always find a way to get guns, which is true, so we must find a safety net.
One of the arguments on the right was to arm teachers, I do not believe this would work because this would just give a shooter the first target, or even more pessimistically, what if the shooter was somehow able to get a hold of the teachers gun. I don’t want to have to think about that as a possibility.
On the left there is the argument that we should lower ammo capacity. I don’t believe this would work, because after doing some research I discovered that for an untrained person it takes three seconds to change clips. The Florida shooter changed clips 10 times and no one was able to stop him in between changing rounds, so this would be ineffective.
As for repealing the Second Amendment, I believe this would not only be gross overreaction, but also potentially cause more loss of life, as people resort to getting guns illegally, and hurting those who obeyed the law and gave up their guns.
I have a proposal that I believe could possibly reduce gun violence in schools as well as areas that accept this method. We should have a compartment where a student inserts their bag before entering the building and it is checked thoroughly by a staff member. After the bag is given the all clear, the student goes through a brief metal detector scan and is allowed to proceed to school without further interruption.
This is my analysis on the issue of gun violence. If you have any helpful comments or suggestions for me please contact us. Have a good day.
Your friend, Finnegan.