Clinton, KY - January 9, 2013) - The horrendous murders of small children, their teachers, principal and guidance counselor at a school in a town in Connecticut before Christmas have sparked a national discussion of guns, gun control and mental illness and what can be done to stem the rising tide of mass shootings.
Good. It’s past time.
I remember the horror of murder in Louisville at the Standard Gravure plant in 1989. Mentally ill Joseph T. Wesbecker killed eight people and injured twelve before committing suicide.
Then there was Heath High School shooting in Paducah in 1997. Fourteen year old Michael Carneal killed three students and injured five. Carneal’s most recent appeal to withdraw his guilty plea and have a new competency hearing was rejected by the Kentucky Supreme Court recently. Missy Jenkins, left paralyzed by the shooting, wrote a wonderful book “I Choose to Be Happy”. Songwriter and singer Steven Curtis Chapman, a Heath alum, wrote and dedicated “With Hope” to victims.
Since moving back to a truly rural area, I have come to appreciate hunting and guns in a way I never did when I lived in a city. In Detroit, there was only one prey - and it walked on two legs. Guns were to be feared because the people who had them were either those with a badge or those out to do something bad.
In Hickman County, prey flies, or steps daintily through the underbrush on four legs. Since we have become an epicenter for feral hogs, prey is also big fat ugly field destroying pigs. There are rules for hunting all of the above and the hunters I know are scrupulous in obeying those rules and teaching their children - some of whom get their first deer at the tender age of six - to obey them also. Those who do not obey the rules - who spotlight (using truck lights to transfix deer to make them easier to kill), hunt out of season or lack the proper license, find themselves going to criminal court. The fines are hefty and sympathy lacking.
In the case of assault weapons, the strictures put on hunters appear to be lacking. Buy a gun whose very purpose is in its name at a gun show and there is no game warden, no licensing agency, no season to hunt or not to hunt. The season to hunt homo sapiens is whenever a person with a mental illness says it is.
I have a few ideas to add to the cacophony of talking heads and earnest experts:
1. Require liability insurance. The gun is at least as dangerous as an automobile. Why not require gun owners to obtain insurance for harm caused by their firearm? In order to own a motor vehicle and operate it legally in the US, one must license it. In order to license it, one must at least prove one has insurance that protects others from the harm the vehicle does. The same could be done for firearms.
Insurance companies willing to write policies will by necessity perform due diligence as in doing background checks on their insured.
If insurance is required, then purchases at gun shows and from private sales will be treated like auto sales. Sure, buy the gun, but show insurance before you take it home. Since the US Supreme Court has said that ownership of some guns (not necessarily assault weapons) is a constitutional right, there may be issues related to requiring insurance on all guns. There are enough smart lawyers to work out the details and who knows, maybe the Court will be more specific on what's constitutionally permissable.
2. Make manufacturers liable for the harm they cause. Corporations are people, right? Then they should be held accountable like people when they act negligently or recklessly. Remove the legal protection from liability that Congress gave gun manufacturers for certain classes of weapons. Sell an assault weapon and if someone is murdered by it, then the standard should be strict liability. Companies should not be allowed to argue that they didn’t know that a Bushmaster, such as the one used at Newtown, would be used to kill when they sold it. Some guns are, according to one retired general, military weapons and have one purpose - to kill the enemy.
3. Tax the living daylights out of ammunition and clips. That may mean that one has to save up to buy ammo for one’s AK, but so be it. It is hoped that in saving up, one will come to one’s senses.
4. Use the tax money from the ammo tax to fund mental health programs. Since the 1970s when the utopian idea of treating the mentally ill not in medical warehouses but in their homes with outpatient services went awry when funding was not available, America has been ignoring the growing problem of mental illness.
5. Honestly look at who’s doing the shooting. Scientifically identify personal characteristics that might lead to tragedy - before it does. Put the same effort into finding out why mass murderers do what they do as goes into market testing the latest kiddie cereal.
Let’s face it. There’s only been one mass murderer of color in the US in recent memory. That was D. C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo who was black. The huge majority of shooters are white and male. Most are young. We don’t know why they do what they do. We need to find out NOW. The pass we gave ourselves from the shooting of Ronald Reagan on must end. Yes, this is profiling and yes, not all young men are potential mass murderers, but there is a segment that are - and we need to find them and get them treatment before someone else dies.
6. Violent games - violence in movies/television must be addressed. Free speech is no longer a good reason for young people to encouraged to watch one more Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie (it debuted in first place this week) or play one more game of Grand Theft Auto.
There has to be a line drawn somewhere. It will take a serious open-minded discussion by those who want to protect the First Amendment freedom of speech with those who want to protect our children. There are no easy answers. But those on the left must be willing to entertain the questions.
7. Arming teachers is not the answer. More problems will be created than solved by this option.
As a former kindergarten teacher, I wonder where I would have kept a gun. In my desk? In a cubby? Top shelf? Locked up? What about the danger of someone taking a gun away from me and using it on those I seek to protect? How would I keep a gun safe from students? The bad outcomes severely outweigh the good ones.
8. Use technology to make safer places. Bulletproof glass at the front of the Sandy Hook Elementary Building would have held off the shooter longer. The police arrived very quickly - but not until after he shot his way through the door and killed twenty seven. Bulletproof glass on a building is cheaper and safer than arming teachers or hiring armed guards for elementary schools. Create and install devices/systems that warn police when there is a threat. After all, grandma now has a “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” pendant. Why not school personnel?
America must address our addiction to guns. Until and unless we do, Sandy Hook will be another grave yard in a line of grave yards named Standard Gravure, Heath, Columbine, Aurora, Tucson and on and on.
Talking isn‘t enough. It's going to take laws and widespread societal disapproval by our society to curb the violence.