The gun debate in America is quite complex.
On one hand, horrific events like the mass shootings of Sandy Hook, Las Vegas’ Route 91, Sutherland Springs, and Tehama County burn images into our brains, sensationalize the firearm problem, and make us call for immediate action to stop their occurrences. On the other hand, suicides, violent crimes, and accidents don’t evoke as much emotion, but cause much more death.
America needs solutions to resolve all of the above. Unfortunately, the Left and Right are incapable of handling this on their own.
The problem isn’t that either side is evil or desires for events like Sandy Hook and Las Vegas to occur. Both hate that people unnecessarily die from firearms. Both sides have altruistic motives behind their beliefs and actions. The problem is, both sides have polarized voting populations that either stifle progress or force partisan “solutions” that are highly ineffective.
Why the Left Will Fall Short
The left side of the aisle will fail to successfully solve firearm-related issues in America alone. A number of their voters and politicians lack knowledge about firearms necessary for solving the issue. When confronted with horrific firearm-related events, they call for rushed action based on an emotional response – causing their efforts to have little to no impact.
After events such as mass shootings or terrorist attacks we see a voracious push to ban automatic weapons, high capacity magazines, and modification items. These calls to action highlight the Left’s ignorance of the true firearm problems in America. They mean well, mass shootings like Sandy Hook and Las Vegas are horrifying and we should attempt to mitigate them, but the problem is, they’re letting their emotions convince them these events are more prolific, probable, and preventable than they actually are.
Take bus bombings in Israel for example. When terrorism was raging in Jerusalem in the early 2000s, many people began to let fear, not reason, rule their decision making. Israelis stopped using the bus system and began to drive their own vehicles, but if they sat down to run the numbers, they’d find out they were actually increasing their probability of dying in an effort to avoid the risk of dying. The same thing occurred in America with airplanes after 9/11.
Not only do these events make up a small portion of the issue, they’ll also be incredibly hard to mitigate. According to a 2012 Congressional Research Service report, there were an estimated 310 million firearms in America in 2009. And even if the government found a way to remove all firearms, the people behind these heinous acts will find new ways to kill and incite terror through the use of homemade explosives, vehicle ramming, etc.
Due to contingents of voters who mean well and want to see immediate, tangible action after high-emotion events, the Left will be forced into applying solutions that will unfortunately make little to no impact on the issue as a whole.
Therefore, the Left will fail to solve America’s firearm problems alone.
Why the Right Will Fall Short
The Right will fare just as poorly. The Right contains a contingent of voters who have an interpretation of the 2nd Amendment that makes them believe they’re doing the right thing in vehemently protecting the unlimited right to bear arms.
While we at Free Wheel Media admit the 2nd Amendment’s syntax leaves room for interpretation, it’s hard to imagine the line “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” meaning our founding fathers expected all sorts of unregulated individuals to maintain an arsenal of military-grade weapons.
It seems more likely the 2nd Amendment was written to ensure the People maintained control of the State Militias, not so they could be the State Militia. It’s also unlikely that the military, because of the way service members pledge to defend the Constitution instead of the government, and are allowed to disobey “unlawful” orders, would ever turn against the people of the United States.
Regardless of Free Wheel Media’s interpretation of the amendment and trust in our military, and despite the countless examples of senseless violence from unnecessary types of weapons, a small contingent on the Right will fight tooth and nail for the unlimited right of ordinary citizens to own firearms in the well-meaning belief they’re the final line of defense against an oppressive government. If the Right attempts to compromise away this unlimited right, they’ll lose votes, and with those votes, power.
Therefore, the Right will also fail to solve America’s firearm problems alone.
Needed: A Nonpartisan, Pragmatic Approach
To solve this problem, America needs a Nonpartisan approach.
A Nonpartisan approach is not based on party loyalty or partisan lines. A Nonpartisan approach means looking at the firearm problems as just that: problems; not political battlegrounds on which to earn votes.
Most voters support the Supreme Court interpretation that the 2nd Amendment1 bestows the right to own firearms to all citizens. Most voters also admit there are problems caused by an unlimited right to own firearms in America. Thus, most voters believe people should be able to own firearms, but agree there need to be limitations.
So, what does a Nonpartisan approach to the firearm problems in America look like?
First, we have to define the problems. We’ll utilize data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Firearm Violence Archive from the year 2014. Note: 2014 was chosen due to it being the year available from the CDC. The years 2015, 2016, and 2017 are all similar in statistics. Picking a different year in recent history would have a negligible impact on the findings. The problems America has with firearms, listed in order of significance, are2:
A) Suicide – In 2014, according to the CDC, firearms accounted for 21,386 successful suicides.
B) Homicide – In 2014, homicide by firearm caused 11,008 deaths.
C) Mass Shootings – A “mass shooting” is defined by a shooting of four or more individuals. In 2014, 273 incidents were reported and verified, resulting in 264 deaths and 1,094 injuries.
D) Unintentional Shootings (Accidents) – According to the Firearm Violence Archive, there were 1,607 unintentional shootings in 2014, resulting in 113 deaths and 331 injuries.
The problems listed above are complex and have a tremendous number of variables. We must realize there will be no miracle solution to solving these. Just as the problems are complex, so must be the legislative approach. Our recommendations below are just some of the ways these problems could be addressed.
We must ensure we focus on the most troubling problem first: suicide. As you can see in the numbers above, suicide made up a vast majority of firearm fatalities in America in 2014. Owning a firearm does not make someone suicidal. Removing firearms from our society will not stop suicide. However, access to a firearm while mentally unstable does make suicide easier to commit.
So, if we can’t ban firearms, and again, most voters don’t want to, then what are some pragmatic steps we can take?
First, the government and private sector must make access to mental health care easier, both through accessibility and through combatting social stigma. Ensuring health insurance plans cover mental health care is a must and will help combat firearm fatalities. The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act3 was an extremely important step for American health coverage in that it forces group health plans and health insurance issuers (and individual coverage due to the Affordable Care Act) from treating mental health and substance abuse needs similar to physical health and surgical needs. Access to mental health care and substance abuse care is one thing any future health care reform should sustain. But healthcare can’t fully address the firearm problems so other solutions are clearly needed.
To assist health care, we need help from technology. The government and private sector need to ensure research and development on firearm safety technology continues. Items like biometrically locked storage safes and biometric safeties on firearms will positively impact the problems listed above.
This technology will help mitigate the use of firearms in criminal activity. A study in which Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health partnered with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, found that nearly 80% of firearm crimes were committed by a perpetrator using a firearm owned by someone else4, something a biometric safety would make extremely difficult to do. It’ll also help mitigate the rare but horrific firearm accidents that occur when a child unfortunately gets ahold of a firearm. According to the CDC, in 2014, 74 minors died from firearm accidents.
Defensive technology, like security systems with ranged firearms identification capabilities, needs to be developed and implemented in crowded public areas to ensure those who bring a firearm, whether on purpose or accidentally, are caught and either denied access or removed. Technology can have a huge impact but technology won’t make much of a difference if people don’t treat firearms properly, leading us to the final recommendation: government action.
Whether we like it or not, the government must get involved and enact bipartisan legislation to combat the issues caused by firearm violence.
The government can’t ban firearms altogether, it’s a bridge too far and, according to the Supreme Court’s most recent ruling, unconstitutional. But that doesn’t mean America couldn’t enact a voluntary turn-in or buyback program.
An American turn-in program wouldn’t be as successful as in Australia5, but it may get weapons out of the hands of individuals who have bought firearms but now realize they don’t have the focus required to responsibly own them. Since it would be voluntary, why not at least try? This is something the government, especially local governments, should look into.
Most voters don’t call for an all-out ban on firearms, but most do believe the government should restrict the ownership of some style of firearms and unneccessary modification items. America must admit that the benefits of restricting these items would greatly outweigh the costs. No ordinary citizen has a need to own a fully automatic weapon, they may have the want, but not the need.
In sum, a Nonpartisan approach means looking at the problem holistically and creating a comprehensive solution encompassing, but not limited to, health care, technology, and government action. If one can create a catchy slogan for their “solution” to the firearm issues in America or to defend their right to own firearms, then we can guarantee you they haven’t thought through the problem. The firearm issue in America is complex – no one-liner will suffice.
1 – Library of Congress, “United States: Gun Ownership and the Supreme Court”, accessed at: https://www.loc.gov/law/help/second-amendment.php
2 – Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Vital Statistics Reports, Deaths: Final Data for 2014, accessed at: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr65/nvsr65_04.pdf
2 – Gun Violence Archive 2014, accessed at: http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/past-tolls
3 – Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA), accessed at: https://www.cms.gov/cciio/programs-and-initiatives/other-insurance-protections/mhpaea_factsheet.html
4 – University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, “Vast Majority of Guns Recovered by Police Not Carried by Legal Owners, Pitt Public Helath Analysis Reveals”, accessed at: http://www.upmc.com/media/NewsReleases/2016/Pages/fabio-firearms.aspx
5 – The New York Times, “Australians Turn In 12,500 Guns in National Amnesty’s First Weeks”, accessed at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/11/world/australia/firearm-amnesty-firearms-surrender.html