Time for new ideas to prevent gun massacres
Former Bush speechwriter and Daily Best contributor David Frum wrote yesterday that any attempt at gun control should not involve the President – any President – because it will polarize the issue into partisan camps.
He is right.
The problem with guns is cultural, not political. Guns are part of American culture and partisan-generated gun control legislation has never been popular. In fact, public support for gun control has gone down despite the 181 school shootings in the past 30 years. Americans like guns – they own 300 million of them.
But, Americans are also not stupid. Ninety percent of Americans want to fix gaps in government databases that allow the mentally ill to buy guns. Eighty-two percent of gun owners – including NRA members – believe that a criminal background check should be required for anyone purchasing a gun. three-quarters of gun owners support banning people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns; 78 percent believe that concealed permits should only be granted to applicants with no record of violent crimes.
But the NRA and other organizations have used politics to fight these common sense regulations. Their leaders are ideologically driven and have cushy jobs based on fighting all gun control regulation no matter how sensible or popular. And they don’t care about the massacres. The NRA does not even mention the Newton massacre on its web site and Gun Owners of America is actually blaming gun control advocates for the deaths of the children. These people are not going to change no matter how many children are slaughtered.
So let’s cut them out of the issue. Let’s move gun issues outside of the political culture and into the personal culture. Let’s reframe from gun control to responsible gun ownership. Let’s test ideas previously regarded as unthinkable. Let’s try a framework of agreements between parent organizations and gun manufacturers and bypass the politics.
Consider: The Gun Owners of America argues that giving teachers concealed weapons will deter school shooters. The Brady Campaign say that banning automatic weapons and high capacity clips will reduce killings in schools.
What if they are both right but neither happens because of politics?
A teacher or principal with a gun might possibly have shot the killers in Columbine or Connecticut, or deterred him. And maybe the unavailability of automatic weapons and high capacity clips could have prevented him from firing some of the shots that killed children.
We don’t know the answer to these questions.
We need to know. So let’s reframe the issue away from government gun control to what works to save children. Let’s ask the major gun manufacturers and dealers to form a kind of Save Our Children partnership with parents in which the all sides agree to test new ideas.
What kind of ideas? Here are some examples:
- jointly funded research into what drives people to gun massacres
- pilot tests of gun violence deterrence hotlines or community clinics promoted in gun stores and gun websites and gun shows
- a pilot project to train and arm teachers and principals in a test sample of schools,
- a 2 year pilot in which the gun industry prevents automatic weapons and high capacity magazines from reaching the retail marketplace
- a pilot project of gun-targeted security at schools, much as we have in Federal buildings and airports
Congress would not be involved. This would be a partnership between parents’ organizations and private companies, perhaps facilitated by a neutral third party. If some pilot projects worked, we could continue to expand them until they become institutionalized.
The goal – or at least my goal – is to stop the death of children. We have tried for 30 years to tighten gun laws and the opposite has happened. As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I think it is time we tried something different.
And what if it doesn’t work? What if the gun manufacturers take the credit BUT DON’T follow through? Then the next step is litigation based on the principle that the gun manufacturer is responsible for the behavior of the buyer. This worked with tobacco industry and theoretically it can work with the gun industry.
Why not just start litigation now? Because it is expensive and decades-consuming. A cooperative project could make immediate progress while building public support and provide political cover for any litigation that may be needed later. And litigation will fly much easier with the courts if a cooperative strategy is tried first and the gun industry turns it down.
Whatever we do, the same old thing won’t work. We need to try something different.