It’s been a couple of days since the tragic shooting of WDBJ-TV Roanoke, VA, reporter Alison Parker and her cameraman, Adam Ward (and the life-threatening injury to Vicki Gardner, a member of the Chamber of Commerce that they were interviewing), live during the broadcast of the station’s morning show by a deranged former co-worker of the duo. Over the past couple of days, there has once again been the hand-wringing that comes about following one of these inexplicable shootings that seem to happen like clockwork in the United States. When these periods of mourning occur, there is also a renewed “effort” (if you want to call it that) to enact sensible gun regulation; in the Roanoke case, it is Parker’s father that has led the call this time. There’s also that dreadful feeling that, like many other times before and for much worse cases, nothing at all will be done about the situation.
The problem is, in the past couple of instances, the current laws and any tougher restrictions may not have done any good.
In the Roanoke case the shooter, former reporter Vester Flanagan (we will not respect him by using his on-air name) legally purchased not just one but two Glock semi-automatic pistols, one that he would eventually use in the shooting of Parker, Ward and Gardner. Flanagan passed through the background check, no bells went off and he walked out (there is no waiting period for gun purchases in Virginia) of a licensed gun dealer’s shop in Virginia with his weapons after paying for them.
This situation also applies to the horrific tragedy that is the Charleston, SC church shooting. The person responsible for that, 21-year old Dylan Roof, also was able to pass a background check (later found to be faulty) to be able to obtain the weaponry that he used to gun down the nine churchgoers in cold blood. Even the Sandy Hook tragedy was done by a shooter, Adam Lanza, whose mother legally bought him the weapons he had (and would use on her and 26 others) in 2012.
Add in Virginia Tech, Aurora, Chattanooga and many other cases and you see that the United States has way too many instances of mass shootings on its soil (this is just in the past decade and not even a comprehensive list). To be able to correct this problem, there are several issues that have to be considered here and implementation of all are necessary if we are to get the usage of guns in horrendous crimes under control.
A 2013 Pew Research Center survey states that slightly more than one-third of U. S. citizens own or live with someone who owns a weapon. With the population of the U. S. around 320 million, that means there are over 100 million people who own at least one weapon. For arguments sake, let’s cut that number to around 50 million gun owners, counting for duplication in a husband and wife household at the minimum. That’s a scary number to see, especially when you consider “at least one” in the ownership realm.
The reason I say “at least one” is that it is also estimated that there are anywhere from 270 to 310 million weapons in the United States, nearly enough to outfit each man, woman and child in the U. S. with a weapon whether they like it or not. That number of guns available in itself is far too many and needs to be examined in its own right. But through implementation of some common sense ideas, many of the problematic issues regarding weapons can be corrected; it’s going to take some time, however, perhaps decades.
First off is a suitable waiting period before someone can obtain any type of firearm: rifle, pistol, shotgun or a variety of other weaponry. In some cases, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) performs the background checks on potential gun owners, in others it is the individual State Bureaus of Investigation; both should be utilized, the state’s investigation first and the FBI as a double-check. There should be a 10-day waiting period in which to give the proper authorities ample time to review a person’s background and, if there is no result from the responsible investigative bureau, then the sale is rejected. To implement this change, however, you can’t continually cut funding from the proper authorities to do their jobs properly.
Second is better recording and sharing of mental health records. There should be a national registry for those suffering from mental health issues that flag them, in particular for law enforcement groups when they are looking over pretty much anything they do. Wouldn’t a police officer like to know that the person sitting in the vehicle ahead of them might have a history of mental health issues and therefore might handle a situation differently? The same holds true when they are reviewing someone’s application for a weapon, especially if the applicant’s mental health issues are only recorded in another state.
Now I am sure that someone is going to say that this is an “invasion of privacy” or a violation of doctor/patient privilege. Unfortunately, when you’ve reached the point that your particular affliction is causing issues with law enforcement, you do lose some privacy considerations. Don’t take it too far, however; someone has to have demonstrated previously an incident, either on the job or with law enforcement, to show just cause for being placed on such a registry, not someone who has been simply treated for issues that affect their abilities to function in normal life. Even with this caveat thrown into the mix, the Roanoke situation may still have happened, however.
Finally, there has to be some recognition from the political sphere that this is a significant problem in the United States and pay it real attention rather than hiding behind the skirts of several usual suspects.
For the Democrats, we already have enough gun restrictions on the books. There are going to be shootings on a RARE occasion, even with all the gun laws in the U. S. implemented to the fullest. Banning high capacity magazines and automatic weapons isn’t the answer, a better one would be to regulate their usage and allow for their ownership by the populace. Continuing to push for deeper and deeper restrictions or bans beyond what already exist only infringe on a lawful individual’s rights, not the criminal who actually committed the crime.
For the Republicans, it is time to take the pacifier that the National Rifle Association sticks in your mouth after each mass shooting out, get out from behind the U. S. Constitution and allow for some more regulation on guns. The NRA leadership (rumor has it the base membership of the organization doesn’t have a problem with some additional regulation, especially in banning sales at gun shows and more extensive background checks) has shown repeatedly that it isn’t about defending the right of U. S. citizens to own weapons. With that leadership in particular (and the same can be said for plenty of other groups), it is more of a political stance to get the proper person into a seat in Congress or state legislatures across the country to be able to manipulate them at will.
The Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights to the U. S. Constitution does provide for the right of the citizenry to own weapons and it is an important amendment to defend. However, it doesn’t provide for someone to own an arsenal that sometimes outpaces even law enforcement (no matter how good you are, you can only shoot two weapons at a time). Add in to that equation the issue of when the Second Amendment was written. At that time, it took even the best musket shooter anywhere from two to three minutes to reload their weapon and said weapon was only accurate to about 100 yards for the best marksman. Today, when you can spray 600 rounds per minute – with accuracy from 300 to 500 yards – from an Uzi by an untrained person, perhaps it’s time to reconsider the Second Amendment’s intent.
Additional regulation doesn’t have to be draconian, it can be as simple as banning gun show sales (hey, if you really want that weapon, go to the store and go through the process) or waiting a few extra days to get a particular weapon in your hand. What about liability insurance on gun owners to hold them personally responsible for the ownership and usage of their weapons? We do more for cars and their ownership than what we do when it comes to weapons.
It is particularly shocking when those whose livelihood once were dependent on the world of weapons are actually asking for more regulations on weapons.
One year ago in Nevada, gun range instructor Charles Vacca was the unfortunate victim of a gun range incident that resulted in his death. The perpetrator? A nine year old girl who legally could fire the weapon, an Uzi submachine gun, but logically shouldn’t have been allowed to even put it in her hand. The six children of Vacca are now advocates for new guns laws that would prohibit people under the age of 16 from shooting certain semiautomatic weapons like those as powerful as the Uzi, an instance of gun control that make completely logical sense.
The real issue that needs to be addressed, however, is the mentality of the citizens of the United States. It would take several generations to change the mindset of how guns are used in the U. S., to get it beyond its “Wild West” romantic nostalgia or its inner city “equalizer” role. We as a people need to start looking at guns as something that, like many things in life, in the wrong hands can be fatal and how can we attempt to make it a bit safer (let’s be honest, there is no such thing as “perfectly safe”). The rest of the civilized world seems to have learned that using guns as a method of solving conflict isn’t the way to go, why can’t U. S. citizens?
Implementing the measures above – and all of them need to be done, not a piecemeal approach that minces around the subject – would be an outstanding start. After that work is done, we can then sit back and review to see if there is anything else that needs to be done.