Our gun control laws are actually fairly strong. Since 1938, it has been a federal offense for a felon to possess, even temporarily, a firearm of any type. In 1968, the class of prohibited persons was expanded to include person judged to be mentally incompetent or a danger to themselves or other people, persons dishonorably discharged from the military, users of illegal drugs, persons illegally in the United States, persons under indictment for any crime for which the maximum penalty was more than a year in jail, fugitives from justice and anyone who has renounced their U.S. citizenship. In 1997, the Lautenberg Amendment to the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act added convictions for domestic violence, including misdemeanor offenses.
It is a federal offense to purchase a firearm for a prohibited person or a person under the age of 18, in the case of a rifle or shotgun, or 21 for a handgun. It is not illegal for a person to give a firearm to a minor as a gift or bequest or for temporary use while developing marksmanship skills or while hunting or target shooting, but the adult is still responsible for ensuring the firearm is used and stored in a safe manner. It is also a federal offense to knowingly provide a firearm, even temporarily, to a prohibited person.
The Obama-era rule that President Trump recently repealed, provoking widespread hysteria that he was enabling mentally ill people to get guns without background checks and other ridiculous claims, was actually opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The reason for the opposition was that the Obama executive order was unconstitutional as it violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. Furthermore, it was never a law because Congress didn’t enact it. It was an executive order.
I never invoke comparisons with other nations for the simple reason that there are so many different factors involved that comparisons based solely on guns are worthless. For example, Great Britain doesn’t even report homicides in the same way that we do. An example of this is the Home Office’s most recent report on crime in the UK that included murders committed in 1989. Other factors, including racial and ethnic makeup, culture, traditions and history, the relationship of the population and the government and even social safety nets all play into crime. As I am fond of saying, we are not them. This is not a criticism of the other countries, there are many ideas that might be very beneficial to the U.S. and could reduce some of the violence we experience.
While guns do play a large role in U.S. homicides, they are involved in only about a third of violent crime reported to the FBI in the U.S. Based on 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, guns are involved in about 8.1% of the total deaths and injuries requiring medical treatment that result from violent criminal acts, including assault, aggravated assault, sexual assault, manslaughter and murder. Yes, there are higher survival rates for other weapons but the survival rate from gunshots is about 80%.
Proponents of gun control often like to add suicide and accidental deaths to their figures for “gun violence.” The total number of people killed by accidental gunshots in the U.S. was 495 in 2016. That total is down about 80% from where it was in the 1980s. Suicide is an entirely different problem and the rate of gun usage in U.S. suicides has been declining even as the suicide rate has risen. The primary reason for the percentage of suicides involving guns to be as high as it is is that white, non-Hispanic males are the most likely to take their own lives and the most likely to use a gun to do it. Conversely, suicides among Hispanic females involve a gun in only about a fifth of the instances. Those who dismiss the contention that those determined to kill themselves will find a method need look no farther than California. The suicide rate in California is lower than the U.S. rate and the use of guns in suicides has declined, but the total suicide rate has continued to climb. One study found a spike in the number of California suicides by hanging in the two years following the death of Robin Williams.
Mental health is certainly a factor in mass shootings, but it isn’t the driving factor in many. There is no doubt that the mental healthcare system in the U.S. is in desperate need of improvement, but that alone cannot be a solution. There are millions of Americans with mental health issues, yet only a tiny fraction of them become killers.
While you protest that I shouldn’t lecture you on emotional decisions, I have to maintain my position on the subject.
By any rational, dispassionate standard, gun control is not the issue and clinging to the myth that it is clearly indicates an emotional response. You state that you are frustrated by people’s unwillingness to discuss gun control options yet you seem to be unwilling to entertain the idea that such a discussion might not be pertinent to a solution.
I don’t dismiss the possibility that some new laws might be helpful and I certainly don’t resort to hiding behind the Second Amendment, but it is quite obvious to me that laws aren’t the answer.
We have laws against murder; we have laws against assault; we have laws that make the use of a weapon in the commission of a crime an aggravating circumstance; we have parental responsibility laws; we have laws against certain modifications of firearms and making bombs. The Columbine killers violated enough federal laws before they ever went to the school that they would have faced decades in prison. The only person that went to jail over the killings at Columbine was the guy who sold a handgun to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. He got two years for selling a handgun to a minor. Adam Lanza committed capital murder and Jeffrey Weise murdered a police officer and used the officer’s guns to kill ten people at Red Lake High School. Tyler Peterson, a deputy sheriff, used a department-issued AR-15 to murder six people in Crandon, Wisconsin.
At some point in time, one has to come to the conclusion that a rational discussion of gun control, especially the measures currently touted, is missing the point. None of the perpetrators of mass shootings were deterred by existing laws, including strict state laws, so why is it sensible to think they would be deterred by the failed suggestions currently on the table?
One more thing: Why would we think it’s a good idea to fight crime by creating a new class of criminals? Why do we think Americans would willingly comply? In 2013, New York state passed the SAFE Act, requiring the registration of certain types of firearms with the New York State Police by 2014. Two years later, in 2016, the NYSP was compelled by a court order to release compliance statistics. They showed at about 4.4% of the estimated one million firearms that fell under the purview of the act had been registered. What would the compliance rate be in a state like Idaho or Wyoming?
Incidentally, one gun control tactic that might work is the promotion of safe gun storage and more accountability for gun owners. In addition, “red flag” laws that comply with constitutional requirements for due process might also be helpful. The problem with most of the ones currently proposed is that they do not meet the Fifth Amendment requirements. Moreover, there is a critical weakness — the failure of law enforcement to act to support these orders. Kevin Neal, who had been indicted on felony charges of violent assault, was ordered to surrender any and all firearms in his possession in April of 2017. Despite repeated neighbor complaints of gunfire from his property, the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office did not seize his weapons. In November of last year, Neal killed five people and wounded ten more, including an elementary school student, on a spree that ended in a shootout with police.
It might also be helpful for Congress to consider legislation that would overturn the 7–2 Supreme Court decision in Castle Rock v. Gonzales. That was a decision that even I got emotional about.
Again, best wishes.