Saturday, 15 December 2012

America, Gun Control, Liberties and Children's lives

The tragic events of today are still unfolding, it is believed a young man has taken legally owned firearms of his own mother's possession, killed her, and then murdered other adults and small children before killing himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut. It is another scenario that takes America to over 60 mass murders using guns since the tragic events at Columbine.

This subject is always going to be tough, the sheer senselessness of taking the lives of such young people, the lack of any way we can empathise with the decisions made by these shooters decisions...but perhaps unlike other situations similar to this, in high schools, colleges, and adult on adult altercations...the loss of what is currently being reported of 18 primary age children is surely going to provoke the age old debate about "gun control" in the US to reach new heights.

America, however, is complicated when it comes to it's relationship between liberty and gun ownership. It has been said today that one of the reasons this particular event is so shocking is that this isn't an area of the US that is even particular chest-beating when it comes to gun ownership, yet so pervasive is the "right to bear arms" that even in these more "sleepy America" towns and suburbs such horrific results can come about from what seems to stem frequently from mental illness or social segregation.

Some politicians, careful of how the gun lobby will react, will wheel out the same old lines. "This is not the time to act on our gun laws" they will say. They will also be right, no law changes that come so immediately out of grief are perfect. They aren't usually even good. People can claim loudly that this event, like the rest of the 60+ mass shootings since Columbine, is the straw that will break the politicians back to finally deliver gun ownership reform.

Now is the time to mourn, and not to demand that changes are made so soon, even if those demands are ultimately based in common sense.

You see, despite it not being the right time to get into the gritty details of gun ownership, that doesn't mean that we can't recongnise that without such accessible gun ownership laws, the likelihood of this tragedy happening on such a scale would have been near impossible. If it's not a crime that has been methodically planned, to the extent of trying to get hold of an illegal firearm, then you should be able to very clearly see the difference in the loss of life if the ability to just pick up a set of your mother's guns isn't an option.

If this was a knife attack it is likely we wouldn't need to even try to count the numbers of lives lost today on our fingers, let alone run out of fingers and toes to count with.

America, however, is complicated.

With it being interpreted by many that the founding constitution of the United States is that people have the right to own whatever weapons they wish, to defend their home (rather than other more, in my opinion, logical explanations about freedom to defend the land in a different time), the country and the world need to face up to the realities that actually changing the constitution through a separate amendment to clarify or repeal the second amendment is unlikely.

If Obama had the guts, now that he cannot be re-elected, to start the debate, it is clear the debate would get bogged down in the minutiae for years, perhaps decades. The pro-gun lobby is strong, and the country will always defend the idea of individual liberty. It's not unusual to see more conservative commentators claiming upon these sorts of incidents that it is not the ownership of guns that is the problem, it's that not enough others had guns on them to defend themselves with(!)

Personally, I think Chris Rock said it best...

"We don't need gun control, we need bullet control"
"If a bullet cost $5,000 there'd be no more innocent bystanders!"
"Man, I'd blow your fucking head off...if I could AFFORD IT"

What America needs is to accept that it's constitution is popular on the issue of gun control, those against the easy and legal ownership of firearms need to understand the political and social implications of changing the law in a land where gun ownership has been allowed to spiral out of control for the last century.

But it doesn't need to accept that the ownership, running and use of guns is so easy. Better regulation and checks of those that choose to own guns is a start, but isn't enough. I always despair when governments think checks and balances are enough to keep people safe. CRB checks here in the UK to keep children safe only find out if someone has PREVIOUSLY been a threat, and similarly in the US checks and balances will do very little to stop those people that function very normally until the moment they snap.

The only thing the government can control is ammo.

If the government was to work to put an extremely regressive tax rate on to ammo, it would do a large amount towards stopping senseless mass shootings. The idea of firing off a semi-automatic rifle into a crowd would be a fantasy (possibly quite literally) if the whole magazine would cost as much as to buy a house outright.

But in doing so they'd have to be sensitive to the needs (desires) of citizens for legitimate activities. Those who have guns should know how to use them, and so it makes sense that if people want to go to shooting ranges to practice, or even vent their frustrations, then buying ammo at these locations would make sense to be done at a "tax free" rate. Ammo could be signed out as it is purchased, and it would be a requirement to "buy back" the ammo that isn't used.

As for hunters, specially licensed outlets could sell rifle ammo for hunting purposes, in specific small quantities to registered firearms owners, and be hooked up to a state database of those registered owners at near real-time. The purchasing of "large" quantities of hunting ammo would red flag registered owners and prompt further investigation; indeed if the system is hooked up properly it can be a legal requirement for the store to refuse to sell ammo to someone who is flagged as having purchased excessive amounts.

If America can dissuade ammo ownership, and can utilise technology to have *real* checks and balances on what people seem to be planning on getting up to, it will go a long way to solving it's gun problem while not infringing on it's own constitutional rights.

It could even easily be worked around that someone who is defending their own home is provided, for free, replacement ammo by the government to encourage people to keep only small amounts of ammo with their registered firearms purely for the purposes of self-defense. Those who require larger quantities of ammo for their profession, as well as other selected groups, could easily be exempt from paying such taxes at the point of sale or through rebate.

At the end of the day I hope that the opportunity is seized in the next few months to move this discussion forward, and move it in to a realm of conversation that recognises that yes, we cannot predict and stop when someone loses their self-control...but we can make it extremely unlikely that such a "snap" in their usual judgement doesn't leave so much blood flowing as a result. The answers are within our reach, within their reach, and it'd be a scandalous insult to the memory of these young children if the best that happens in the next year is more checks and paperwork for gun ownership.

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