We Americans are shooting each other so frequently that to keep track we categorize shootings by type, subtype, and number of people shot per incident. Was it a school, restaurant, church, workplace, or home shooting? Was the motivation hate, non-hate, or unknown? If hate, what type of hate, racial, religious, ideological, or domestic? If non-hate, was it insanity, suicide, drug-related or other? Was it a mass shooting (3 or more deaths) or not?
Is this a problem? What is a problem? A problem is a situation that someone thinks something should be done about.
I observe almost unanimity of agreement that we have a gun violence problem. The argument is what to do about it. The basic equation looks like this:
Gun plus shooter equals death.
What’s the solution?
Some say the problem is the relatively easy access to the most effective killing devices, either assault rifles or pistols with high-capacity magazines. Only military and law enforcement should have these weapons. Pass laws banning them from civilian use.
Others say no, it’s mentally-disturbed people, the shooters who are the problem. We already have enough laws regulating these weapons. We need to strengthen and better enforce those laws. And besides, the rulebook says it’s my right to have as many guns as I please.
The thing is, these two camps are equally divided, and we have designed our system such that if this is the case, nothing can be done. In other words, we find ourselves in a paradox, a catch-22 where we have designed the problem to be, at this juncture, insoluble. We are self-paralyzed.
The rulebook says it can be rewritten. But to do that we have to have a supermajority in agreement. We can’t have a 50-50 split of opinions by Americans and our representatives in Congress. Bear in mind that lawmakers, no matter what ill we might think of them, are only doing what we want them to do (I am speaking collectively here, not what you and I individually desire).
So the answer lies in the collective will of the American people. Why aren’t we solving this problem? Three possibilities: Again speaking collectively, we are either insane, stupid, or don’t care. I don’t think we are insane or stupid, so it must be that we don’t care. That is, we don’t care enough. Gun violence is not a priority. We vote for our representatives based on issues we care more about than our kids being murdered in school.
I have a couple of suggestions, but first let me say something about that tiresome fallback, the Second Amendment. It says:
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.
What was Madison’s intent? I am not a mind reader but I do understand English grammar. The words say that citizens can possess arms so they can come together as militias in times when the security of their state or country is either threatened from within, say by a tyrannical federal government, or from without, by a foreign entity. The last phrase, then, is dependent on the first. But the first is ignored by those who claim the right to possess any number of weapons of any type for any reason or purpose. Note that the Second Amendment does not preclude a citizen from owning a nuclear weapon! Is that a good idea? If Madison had been sufficiently prescient, would he have approved of arms available to citizens today, or that we would use those arms to murder our own kids?
Thankfully, we have federal and state laws that restrict certain types of weapons citizens can own – machine guns, mortars, and tanks being examples. But even these can be owned if one has the money and patience to adhere to regulations required.
Let’s talk solutions.
The best solution, as indicated above, is repeal and replacement of the Second Amendment. But considering today’s political climate, that’s not realistic.
What about the shooter part of the equation? To me, this is the most difficult because it involves human psychology and mental well-being, the most complicated and unpredictable forces in the known universe. Trying to predict the next active shooter is virtually impossible. A person who seems perfectly normal today could succumb to depression (or worse) tomorrow. It happened to me, so I figure it could happen to anyone. Fortunately, my depression did not involve harming other than myself. We have more work to do on the shooter; I’m not suggesting otherwise.
Now to the gun. If you’ll forgive the trite business metaphor, the gun is low-hanging fruit. It’s the easiest part of a complex problem to tackle. I don’t buy the argument that because rapid-fire guns with high-capacity magazines are only one element of the mass-killing equation that we have already done enough to regulate their use. No, we haven’t done enough. We could require more-thorough background checks and longer waiting periods for purchase. We could ban new sales of assault-type rifles. We could make them more expensive by adding federal tax on top of state sales taxes. We could require annual re-registration, close gun show loopholes, and make unregistered private transfers illegal.
We could also call, email, or write our representatives to let them know how serious we are about solving this problem. For my neighbors in District 1, don’t bother contacting Andy Harris. I tried that and found by his form-letter reply that he thinks Maryland already has sufficient gun laws on the books.
Technology to the rescue?
Here’s an idea I think could work for new gun sales. My car has an electronic door lock which functions only if my key is close the car. We could require all new guns capable of accepting high-capacity magazines to have electronic trigger locks such that if they are within the vicinity of a target-rich environment like a school, restaurant, place of worship, stadium, or any place where crowds gather, the gun cannot fire. RF signals (WIFI?) could communicate with the gun either from the protected location or by satellite using GPS data. Only law enforcement personnel would have weapons in which the electronic lock feature could be cancelled.
One more element: Yesterday the Tennessee legislature expelled two of its members for violating house decorum in protesting the recent school shooting in Nashville. Of the three protesters, two of which were black men, the other a white lady, only the black men were expelled. In a state with a long history of racial bigotry we should ask why.
Maybe I’m getting desperate. I don’t know about you, but I think having our kids murdered in school is beyond intolerable. We cannot let this remain business-as-usual.
Bob Moores retired from Black & Decker/DeWalt in 1999 after 36 years. He was the Director of Cordless Product Development at the time. He holds a mechanical engineering degree from Johns Hopkins University