Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Pragmatic Plan for Gun Control

It goes without saying that whatever resolution Congress comes up with on the issue of gun will be so convoluted as to be rendered inconsequential.  I have no doubt that the final bill will complex and filled with “exceptions.” Every special interest- on either side of the issue- will have to be satiated and every member of Congress will have to be able to claim “victory” to their respective constituencies. What is so frustrating is that crafting a bill that is respectful to gun enthusiasts worried about the “slippery slope,” and gun control advocates demanding stronger limitations on access is actually feasible, avoiding the aforementioned contrivances.

As I have argued in posting after posting, the majority of Americans demand pragmatism from its leaders; they want something that is easy to grasp, enforceable, and reasonable in its scope. With this in mind, I would like to suggest such a plan:

1)      Background checks specifically designed to weed out those with a history of mental illness. This is more difficult than one might think, since our HIPPA laws limit access to an individual’s medical records and history. It seems that the only way to approach this is to simply broaden the type of purchases that require background checks, and to possibly create a list of criminal behaviors that are indicative of someone with “instability,” using this as a “red flag” to restrict purchases.

2)      Limits on the size of magazines and limits on the number of automatic weapons that any individual may purchase in a given time frame. I would personally prefer a ban on all automatic weapon purchases, but this will certainly delay passage of any legislation and rekindle the “slippery slope” debate.

3)      A national gun “buy back” program modeled on the program recently run in Australia. The program could be run by government at local levels, many of which have already run such programs in their own cities and suburban communities. The current buy back in Los Angeles has shown great success. Rather than provoke those concerned with “big brother” taking away “our” guns, give individuals an incentive to turn in some or all of their weapons.

4)      Use moral suasion in much the same way that we have approached issues like drug use and drunk driving. Aggressively challenge the “no snitching” mentality that dominates inner city neighborhoods and construct a message to dissuade people from feeling the need to own a gun, or at the very least own their own arsenal of guns.  Make people aware of statistics associated with gun ownership and gun violence, statistics that demonstrate who are the real victims of gun use. And take the issue of moral suasion into the business and entertainment industries, reminding business executives that they are parents too. Confront those that glamorize violence and try to actually trigger a sense of shame in adults that profit from the excesses of gun violence. This moral message should also be constructed towards children and young adults that revel in the violence of popular video games. It is imperative that we try to influence the next generation of possible gun purchasers.

5)      Although hampered by free rider issues, encourage and support community watch programs so that people don’t feel the urgent need to defend themselves. Tie these programs to community policing policies like those that have been developed as part of a “broken windows” approach to police work.

6)      Provide funding for schools that want to study ways to improve their security, and funding to support reasonable strategies to do so. On this issue Wayne LaPierre is correct; we have a duty to do more to make our schools safe. I do not support arming teachers or administrators, but as a former teacher I can tell you from experience that much can be done to make schools more secure.

7)      And finally, require all gun owners to take out insurance on each of their weapons. Every car owner in New Jersey, and I assume in the nation, is required to have liability insurance, assuming the risk for any injuries that a “victim” may incur. The NRA already offers such insurance to its members; such a program should now be expanded and required of all gun owners.

In much the same way we approach First Amendment issues, restrictions on gun ownership should be structured around the lenses of “time, place, and manner.” For those demanding a more aggressive and forceful approach, this plan will probably be a letdown. But we do need to remember that gun ownership is a constitutionally protected right, and so restrictions on this right must carry a presumption towards personal liberty.

It is going to be a fool’s mission to think that we can craft a bill to stop the next mass murderer, but there is much we can do to end America’s “love affair” with guns and prurient love of gun related violence, especially violence in the name of entertainment. I wouldn’t doubt that some people actually derive some sort of sexual gratification from owning and firing a weapon. For whatever reason, American is awash in guns, and it would be the height of irresponsibility for our political leaders to act impotent. Take away guns where we can, use guilt, shame, incentives, and a stronger sense of community to lessen the demand for guns, do a better job enforcing laws and protecting fellow citizens,  make guns less “sexy,” and make gun owners more accountable for  actions taken with the weapons they own.  Taken together, the “Brown Plan” is a pragmatic approach to gun ownership and gun violence, and pragmatism is the key. Americans don’t need “holier than thou” speeches, and they don’t need to have the fears of Big Brother unnecessarily stoked. They need solutions, and this is one that will work.

 

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