Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Evolving thoughts on gun control

Updated October October  8, 2020   A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News Oct.11, 2017

The Las Vegas massacre is another sad opportunity to refocus national debate about gun control. A near massacre of GOP Congressmen practicing for a baseball game and Rep. Steve Scalise’s emotional return to work the week before Las Vegas  was another reminder.   I am beginning to re-evaluate my thinking on regulating assault weapons.. At minimum, we need a serious national and Congressional discussion. The question we must ask ourselves as a nation is whether the price of deaths of these innocents is too high to pay for our very permissive gun laws.

I am in general a supporter of the 2nd Amendment.  I live in a rural county where every kid on a ranch or the offspring of a hunter is taught to shoot and to  learn gun safety. My grandfather in the eastern plains of Colorado taught me how to shoot a tin can with a shotgun when I was youngster..  A gun rack is often on the back window of local pick up trucks.  Big game hunting is big business here. Sometimes weapons are needed for defense of human life or livestock or a pet threatened by a predatory beast, a coyote, a mountain lion. I know gun collectors and in my family I have gun club sportsmen NRA members. I get all of that.  What I do not get is why semi automatic and automatic assault weapons are needed for any of these purposes. Semi-automatic weapons converted to nearly automatic machine guns and equipped with large clips are geared to kill many  people without a shooter needing  even minimal aiming  or rapid fire skills, or pause to reload. This enables one person to cause more carnage than even using the deadly unmodified semi-automatics. Due to Las Vegas reports, we have learned more about how easily semi-automatics can be converted to automatics and to skirt federal regulations with bump stocks and digital methods readily and legally available.

We seem to be hung up on dealing with killers’ motivation and what we can do to detect or stop  a wannabe mass killer in advance. Pursuit of those goals is worthy.  However, the enabler common to single gunman mass killers  is often an assault weapon. If there is to be a debate inspired by Las Vegas and an accumulated list  of other such tragedies where assault weapons were used, reducing access to them and means of modification need to be a part of it.   Reinstatement of  banning assault weapons, a buy back program, or requiring licensing and registration of semi automatics to accommodate collectors should be on the table. An NRA supported bill to make silencers legal was temporarily tabled by Speaker Paul Ryan as it became obvious the rat-a-tat noise was the only tip off that the Vegas shooter was not fireworks, alerting more to take cover. The non-sense response from gun rights groups is that a determined, cunning, and evil person can always find a way to kill, limiting the effectiveness or availability of these weapons would at least reduce the casualty count.

Motivations and techniques to kill masses vary from incident to incident so that there seems to be as many possible preventative solutions as there are incidents. Gun right advocates always respond to with more nonsense that the the most current incident would not have been prevented by such and such regulation and laws or proposed solutions or profiling personality types; therefore no solutions will work. There are copy cats and you can take it to the bank that the next mass killer now knows how to modify and use their weapons to do as much damage as possible it they did not know it before.

The Republican party has responded to calls for bringing gun control discussions in Congress with "now is not the time", refusing to set up a select committee on gun safety, and claiming "Democrats are using Vegas to politicize the issue". Shame on Democrats if they are, chimed in Colorado's Senator Cory Gardner. There seems to be some bi-partisan agreement however that bump stocks sales need to be outlawed.

Another response from gun rights advocates is that the single acceptable measure is to fund mental health services better . The Vegas shooter had no mental health red flags, which illustrates one limit of that approach. That we have a woefully inadequate mental health system is true, and intercepting wannabe mass killer patient is valuable and should be supported. However, as psychologists know they can predict who may be capable of doing it 50% of the time. Even if they do, we learned from the Aurora shooter history, a warning from the psychologist went nowhere. Protection of individual privacy rights trump the duty to warn as well in the rules and ethics of mental health professionals.

The GOP in control of Washington since January already tried to undermine access mental health services. The attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare with no required essential benefits overlooked the fact that insurance coverage of mental health was one of the benefits they tried to remove. In February, Donald Trump signed an executive order reversing an Obama era attempt to identify better those with mental health problems. Trump killed a regulation that would have required Social Security Administration to submit records of mentally disabled to the FBI database as part of the background check that would deny those the ability to buy guns. GOP reasoning: Some people who were "adjudicated as mental defective" were competent to own guns. In addition, the NRA lobbying has effectively scotched uniform background checks even though 74% of NRA members favor them. Stupid is as stupid does.

Peggy Noonan, a thoughtful columnist with  the Wall Street Journal, suggested one reason on MSNBC's Morning Joe why assault weapons are so popular. Her comment triggered  my  remembrances of things past. There are those who fear the government or hate its power.  They are preparing for a physical assault on their freedoms and they want the firepower to defend or to take a revolutionary initiative against what they see as their enemy,  government.

Early in the 1960’s and 1970’s my physician husband had a colleague. His wife and he were often dinner companians as well. John was an active member of the John Birch Society, the forerunner of the radical belief and ideology movements we see today.  His vacation time was often spent training with like minded people in “militias”.  It was easy to dismiss him as a paranoid or an anarchist, but it led to some interesting dinner time discussions and hearing his rationale,  to say the least. I had faith in the democratic process and the ways it provides to solve conflicts and government change without violence. Later when the Michigan “militia” tried  to  kill off  law enforcement and state police, I stopped looking at this movement  as just a matter of certain  personality traits carrying out  fantasies. I realized there was a darker side, especially since I was a part of the District Attorney’ s staff at the time, working side by side with police, whom I respected a great deal..

There is a bit of irony in  the  argument assault rifles are needed for protection against government. It does not have a  practical meaning today. The militarization and equipment of domestic police now gives police the firepower to outgun even assault rifle armed militias or blast through steel  doors, employing  the same techniques and  same equipment  used  on Afghan  battlefields. Many of those who take the side of law enforcement when it comes to dealing with racial issues and  stopping rioting. are the same voters  who support remilitarizing of domestic and local law enforcement with surplus military equipment . They are also  the  most likely to interpret  the 2nd amendment to mean the least regulation, the better.

As the Mayor’s liaison to Denver City .Council in the late 1980’s, I sat through many a debate on assault weapons, listening to the plea of police that they were outgunned by the criminals they were trying to arrest. The question centered around the firepower of ammo clips.  As the years passed, the police got the firepower they needed, the SWAT teams, the armored vehicles, and the military-like might  of equipment and training. Some of that was curtailed during the Obama administration, since there was a  feeling that militarization  created more problems with the minority community than it solved and it was a visual picture of police overreach.  However, the Trump administration recently reinstated  giving local police the military equipment they wanted.

The NRA’s push to legalize silencers is another extension of gun rights they advocate. Watching  TV reports of the Las Vegas massacre, it was the rat-a-tat noise that alerted the audience to bolt and seek shelter.  I wonder how many more  would have been killed on the baseball field or at the Las Vegas concert  if the shooter had used silencers. We need a very strong dose of common sense about that piece of legislation. Speaker Paul Ryan agreed and tabled the NRA silencer bill indefinitely.







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