Tuesday, December 18, 2012

You Asked My Opinion On Guns & Control Laws

So, some folks have wondered about my take on gun control in light of the shooting at Newtown, CT. Yes, I have one, and I fully expect my opinions to fall into the heaving maelstrom of other opinions, lost forever in the storm of loud voices. But here you go anyway.

Since you bring up gun control... Frankly, I was a bit shocked when I purchased my own guns. I have four: a shotgun, two Glock handguns and a .223 assault rifle. When I purchased them, I only had to provide the exact same credentials as I do when I buy a bottle of wine. With the shotgun purchase, the only reason I needed to provide ID was to verify my credit card. With the handguns and rifle, they said they’d run my ID through the FBI gun check database, which I assume they did, and I walked out of the store 15 minutes later with shiny new weaponry. The only registration I have are my receipts for the purchase. Maybe the serial numbers are now listed in the FBI’s records. I don’t know. I hope so. There’s no way for me to check. I certainly haven’t been asked to update the attached information such as my address or phone number since then, even though it’s changed.

That I could purchase weapons so easily is kind of scary. What’s even scarier is the other folks that can just as easily purchase them. If someone has a history of violent crime and is banned from having guns, it’s perfectly easy for them to get a friend to legally purchase a gun for them. But here’s the problem: they’ve already committed a crime that landed them in the “banned from guns” category. Here’s an even scarier tidbit: many acts of violence in the throes of mental instability go unreported and are treated as part of an “illness” rather than “violence.”

The FBI database used for gun checking is full of criminal names and conviction histories. Fine. No problem. What it doesn’t contain are the thousands of folks who have clearly demonstrated suicidal, homicidal or just plain violent behavior. As an emergency room nurse, every day I see people who are PEC’d (Physician’s Emergency Commitment). A PEC means that someone is mentally or emotionally “gravely disabled” (quoted from the PEC paperwork). And as other emergency personnel know, often the individuals need a revolving door. In other words, psychiatric patients unstable enough to require a PEC often return again and again after threatening their family or pulling a knife or gun on their parents or beating up their grandmother (no, I’m not kidding).

“Yeah, yeah, mental health sucks, blah, blah, blah; we’ve heard it before,” you say. I’m not talking about mental health care, per se. What I want folks to realize is that of all the hundreds of people cramped into emergency rooms right this minute under a PEC, none of that violent behavior (also read as “warning signs”) will go reported to the FBI or any other agency besides maybe the coroner’s office who can extend a PEC to a CEC (Coroner’s Emergency Commitment). Because the warning signs of mental instability are being treated as a disease rather than a prelude to violent behavior, such individuals are protected by HIPAA laws, that prevent the release of information about the individual’s actions that landed them under a PEC or CEC. Further, sometimes family members need treatment for their fractures, lacerations, contusions or other injuries that led up to the trip to the hospital in the first place. In other words, the unstable individuals have already committed violent acts! But press charges against their loved one? Treat it as a crime? Oh heavens, no! That’s their baby; he’s not a criminal, he’s just ill.

These gravely disabled people, with a concrete history of violence and antisocial behavior but no criminal convictions, can walk into the same gun shop as I did and purchase whatever weaponry they want just as easily as I did. They may be next door to you right now, or behind you in the checkout line, or visiting your children’s school as you read this.

Much hype is made over other countries' gun control laws and lack of violence by guns. “Japan, for example, has almost no gun violence,” you point out. Terrific! They have a well-known respect for discipline and maintaining order. We could use some of that here, to be sure. Since we’re focusing on only one thing in your argument, I’ll mention only one thing too: the Japanese culture, with its low gun violence and well-disciplined people, are also the folks who had absolutely no problem with murderous suicidal kamikaze pilots in World War II. Guns in Japan? Nearly nil. Great! The culture that produced kamikaze? Going strong. Think about that for a while.

If you check statistics, the US is way down the list of gun-related homicides per capita. Number twenty-eight on the list, in fact. Meaning what? That twenty-seven countries with stricter gun laws have more gun-related deaths than the US per population. Further, as has been pointed out many times, Sandy Hook Elementary is a “gun-free zone,” as were all the schools, malls and public places that have had mass shootings in recent years. Connecticut has, in fact, some of the strictest gun laws in the country. Yet twenty-seven people are dead. Didn't really help, did it?

So what to do? Enact laws banning all guns? Do you really think that will get them off the street and out of the hands of violent, criminal or mentally unsound people? “Well, at least there would be fewer guns to go around,” you reply. Let’s look at another example: we’ve banned heroin, crystal meth, crack, and LSD. Has that ban gotten them off the street?

If it was up to me, I’d include some better information in the FBI gun checking database. Include the folks who have a history of violent mental instability. You’ve been PEC’d or CEC’d? Into the “banned from guns” list you go! Yes, this may require revising HIPAA laws. HIPPA may protect an individual’s personal mental health history, but it’s your health that’s at stake when a mentally gravely disabled individual walks out of that gun shop with his shiny new weapon.

Further, I’m not sure that arming teachers is the way to go, but I’m guessing that more than a few grieving families are wishing right now that one or two Connecticut teachers were armed.

Restrict guns more? Absolutely. Ban guns altogether? Hell no! Encourage and provide proper gun training easily and cheaply? For sure!

As a parting thought, how many times have we read the headline about a ‘Killer Goes On Murderous Rampage In School/Mall/Office” or other gun-free zone. Compare the number of times you’ve heard that to the number of times you’ve heard “Killer Goes On Murderous Rampage At Local Gun Show.” Don’t think I’ve ever heard that.

Stay tuned for more commentary later.

1 comment:

Thomas Perez said...

To add to what you have written, people don't seem to understand the 2nd amendment. The intent of the founding fathers, having just fought a war against a tyrannical government, was to put rights in place to allow the people to fight another tyrannical government, even if that government was the newly created United States. The people were given the right in case they needed to form a well regulated militia.

But "assault weapons" aren't mentioned in the amendment. Correct, but they envisioned the people being able to own weapons of similar capability as that of the military's weapons as that would be who the people would fight in the case of a tyrannical government. So the founding fathers built a "future proofness" into the amendment. But if you want to limit the rights to only weapons available at the time, then we should get rid of Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Assemblies of God, the Nation of Islam, and Scientology. After all, they were all formed after the 1st amendment was written so they shouldn't be covered by the 1st amendment.

Isn't the 2nd amendment outdated because of the increase in technology? Well, no, and for the reasons above. But if you'd like to consider that amendments can become outdated, I'd suggest looking at the 4th amendment. The 4th amendment was never designed as a protection for criminals to run meth labs in their houses. Perhaps the 4th amendment needs a refresh. Perhaps the police should be allowed to stop and search people without probable cause. If the goal of taking away rights is to make the country a safer place, there's several ways to do it. Ban specific weapons from legal gun owners and, over time, the lack of availability will finally trickle down to the criminals who won't turn in their newly banned weapons. They just won't be able to get any new ones. I'd guess we'd see the effects of that plan in 10-15 years. Or we can reevaluate the 4th amendment. You'll probably start to see the effects of that plan almost immediately.

The 2nd amendment is an easy target. But stop trying to take away my rights because you choose to not exercise yours.