Gun violence is a complex problem. No single solution will prevent all gun violence, and while some of the more sensible solutions I’ve written about are a significant part of a larger solution, there are a lot of other things we can do too. In other words, no one thing is ever going to be a complete solution. The gun industry knows this, as do the lawmakers they fund, which is why the only thing many congressmen have been capable of offering are thoughts and prayers. It’s easy for politicians to attack any single idea if it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Just like other complex problems, a multi-faceted solution is needed here. Also like other complex problems, the success metric shouldn’t be reducing gun violence to zero, but rather how much we can move the needle down from the 33,000 lives lost to gun violence each year. The need for a creative and sophisticated solution is especially true in the United States, as there is an inherent fear among part of the country that we will become just like Australia – a country that has had zero mass murders in the past 20 years, and yet still remains a democracy. This sounds simply awful to some.
Rather than go on about the need to follow Australia’s model (which we should), or the desperate need this country has to fire most of our politicians and reform campaign finance law (which we should), I’ll attempt to outline my opinion of what I think would move the needle on gun violence significantly in this country, keeping what is realistic in sight.
Federal Grants for School Resource Officers
Let’s start by discussing “guns in school”. The NRA and certain politicians have spent much time promoting the idea of armed school teachers or staff. Let’s be clear about how realistic it is to expect a third grade science teacher to handle an active shooter scenario: it’s not. You’re asking a teacher to not only teach your children, but to also be trained in special tactics and able to effectively neutralize an active shooter, while outgunned, and in a room filled with unpredictable, screaming, running children (many of whom will run toward the teacher for safety), and do it all with perfect accuracy, under duress. No, it’s not realistic at all, and in fact even full-time, S.W.A.T. trained officers don’t ever want to find themselves in such a volatile and unpredictable situation. Those that push this agenda at the NRA somehow expect your child’s teacher to enter an active shooter situation with only a compact handgun, and without all of the things S.W.A.T teams have – special weapons, body armor, comms, a tactical team or backup, advanced training, and hundreds of training hours. Add to this, the likelihood that when the police do arrive, they won’t be able to tell the difference between school teachers and active shooters, leading to confusion, delay, and possibly more loss of life. Discussing such a thing is simply a mindless exercise, and if this country were to actually find themselves in this kind of an active shooter situation, we’d be rolling the dice on whether or not fatalities would end up worse in the cross-fire. There doesn’t even really need to be an active shooter for accidents to happen, as demonstrated by this genius.
What does make sense is to provide federal grants to local police departments to relocate one full time seat at local schools. There are some local programs, in fact, where police departments have worked with the schools to dedicate a room for a full time officer. They are able to do their paperwork and get things done, but also have a trained officer on-site at the school during normal school hours. A school SRO program makes a lot more sense than the school training their own S.W.A.T team of science and history teachers, and most (all?) schools would welcome the ability to have an SRO on the premises. It is also very positive for relations with the public.
Some additional improvements upon this also include special funding to allow schools to tie live feeds of security cameras into the local police department. Schools that have done this have seen reductions in overall problems, including drugs, assault and bullying.
The fact that a deputy was present and never entered the school during the FL shooting is point and proof that training is critically important. Some sworn officers can’t even bring themselves to overcome their fear and rely on their training in a real scenario – a school teacher with even less training is not a healthy solution. We need well trained law enforcement school resource officers who have a significant number of hours each year in active shooter training. We don’t expect cops to teach science. We shouldn’t expect science teachers to neutralize armed suspects.
I’ve previously written about how our country’s privacy laws were not drafted very well around mental health, and how HIPAA actually prevents many who need care from receiving it. HIPAA needs to be reformed to give the doctors more discretion over acting in their patients’ best interests. Specifically, we must allow doctors to reach out to family members of those suffering from mental health problems. There’s a recursive loop in mental health: it is impossible to get someone help without having consent, and impossible to get consent without first getting them help. This has allowed many mentally ill to go virtually untreated until they degrade enough to injure others. Mandatory reporting simply does not go far enough; the entire process is reactive, and not pro-active, doing a disservice both to those needing care as well as the victims they eventually take.
Add to this, we must fix some brain dead states that allow children to supervise their own medication. In Tennessee, for example, a 16-year old child living with their parents can choose to stop seeing a psychiatrist and stop taking their medication if they choose… and the state will back them, even against their parents’ wishes. This is idiocy.
The NICS system currently contains very little information about people; so little, in fact, that many recent mass shooters bought their firearms after passing a NICS check. For this reason, I would be careful to even consider NICS a background check given its current state today. It is a criminal records check, at best – and that’s how it was designed. Background checks are still for the most part declarative in the US. The buyer has to disclose that they have a problem that would disqualify them from purchasing a firearm.
NICS can be enhanced to be a true background check system. Tie in mental health, reports from mandatory reporters, school expulsion records, police reports, protective orders, and no-fly lists into the system. Also fix the problems it currently has, such as dishonorable discharges not always being reported. If there is enough information to flag an individual as potentially dangerous (note that this may or may not necessarily be a single data point, but given to a formula), the NICS should fail, and the buyer require a judge’s approval in order to purchase a firearm.
There is also very little response to a failed NICS check. More often than not, the individual just leaves. The BATFE is stretched too thin to be able to follow up on every failed NICS check. Federal funding and mandates could help resolve this so that individuals that fail a NICS check are visited, investigated, and possibly arrested if they falsified their form 4473.
Fish and Game Reform
There has been a decade-long campaign by the gun industry to push AR-15s and similar rifles into the hunting community, to create the illusion of adoption as a legitimate hunting rifle. In spite of this effort, none of these rifles have taken on any configuration changes to accommodate legitimate hunting needs.
When the assault weapons ban was signed into law under the Clinton administration, gun manufacturers quickly came up with ways to modify the AR-15 platform into a configuration that could skirt the ban, demonstrating that they’re capable of changing a gun’s configuration to comply with the law. If we’re going to pretend that assault rifles have some legitimate purpose for hunting, I say prove it: let the industry drop unnecessary and unsportsmanlike features that hunters don’t need in the platform.
The most notable of these unnecessary features is the detachable magazine. Hunters are typically limited to 3 or 5 rounds as much more wouldn’t be fair to the game, nor very sporting. California compliant AR-15s already exist with a magazine well that’s welded shut. Such a design would accommodate hunters well, and with an even lower capacity.
There’s also no need for a hunting rifle’s barrel to be capable of handling higher service pressures of NATO or US military ammunition. Even SAAMI pressures are typically rated higher than what hunting ammunition requires from a barrel. Hunting ammunition is typically lower velocity, heavier ammunition that is designed to direct most of its energy at the point of impact, whereas NATO and US military ammunition operate at higher velocities with lightweight bullets that over-penetrate, tumble, and rip through muscle (which would ruin the game). Changes can be made to the barrel design to create a lighter-weight barrel made of materials that are ideal for hunting, rated for lower pressures, and with lesser heat dissipation properties. Hunters don’t need barrels capable of withstanding hundreds of rounds of rapid fire.
There’s also no need for the shorter 16″ barrels on a hunting rifle, as this impairs accuracy. A hunter-friendly version of such a firearm would likely be a 24″ barrel, and not one designed around the popular M4 carbine. The longer barrel length will also reduce the overall bore pressure, allowing barrels to be made even lighter.
Lastly, the action of many fine-tuned rifles can be made to have a dangerously light trigger pull for hunting, and the frames are still built with an auto-sear relief (for converting the rifle to fully automatic). A hunter friendly rifle could require the auto-sear relief be blocked (that is, not drilled out), and the fire control components can be controlled to require a minimum safe trigger pull weight.
How could a hunting-compliant version of an assault rifle be facilitated? Fish and game reform on a state-by-state basis. The gun industry speaks only one language: money. If these rifles are truly being used for hunting, as some claim, then better regulations will cause the industry to adapt a hunting-compliant rifle version of the platform. In short, let them put their money where their mouth it. Fish and game rules should be revised to require rifles have a fixed magazine, a minimum barrel length, a minimum trigger pull, and do away with other non-sporting characteristics of assault rifles.
Many regulations already do require a minimum trigger pull, and even a maximum number of loaded rounds. The problem is, a hunter with six detachable magazines having 5-rounds loaded in each is virtually the same as a hunter with 30 rounds loaded in one magazine… yet fish and game regulations only regulate the latter.
Nobody outside of the gun industry actually believes anyone needs a combat rifle to hunt, yet hunting regulations largely allow them for no valid reason. The NRA has been selling an image to legitimize assault rifles under the auspices of hunting, and at the expense of the hunting community’s credibility. It is not unreasonable to require the gun industry change the firearm’s design to be sportsmanlike.
Reclassify Semi-Automatic Rifles
I’ve previously written about one piece of legislation that would dramatically move the needle on preventing mass murders in this country by placing semi-automatic rifles under the regulations of the National Firearms Act. This would treat semi-automatic rifles the same way that silencers, sawed off shotguns, short barrel rifles, and machine guns are treated: with a deeper background check, fingerprints, a record of transfer, and federal regulation.
Require Background Checks on all Transfers
Many have argued that most shooters have obtained their firearms legally, and therefore we don’t need to close the “gun show loophole”. This is true, in fact, because the bar is so low that there’s been no need to exploit any loopholes to obtain an assault rifle. A criminal will always take the path of least resistance to obtain a firearm.
Where universal background checks will come into play is when this country starts actually making it difficult for dangerous people to obtain a gun. If the previous items I’ve outlined in this article were ever implemented, the needle would move enough that the background check “back door” is likely to actually get used. Universal background checks are a proactive remediation for when the other shortcomings with NICS are fixed. It would have very little effect today, however this is the path that dangerous individuals are likely to evolve to using. If you’re going to fix NICS, you need to also fix universal background checks.
I have my doubts that our current congress or administration will do anything to prevent the continued mass murder of human beings in this country. One analyst has put the United States on par with Yemen in terms of gun violence. It should be shocking and sobering to people that more have died in this country because of gun rights than all of the people that have ever died in any war for gun rights. Unfortunately, this country’s leaders have failed to show empathy for the massive loss of life, to a level comparable with modern sociopaths. Money still very much rules the world, and the conscience of powerful men.
A new generation is about to grow into their voting rights, and I sincerely hope they will use them. My generation, and the generation before, have failed the people in one of the most basic mandates of government, and the foundation of every major religion: to care for other human beings.