As a gun owner I am frustrated that some positive ideas for helping stop mass murders are being left out of the conversation. As we again search for ways to prevent the deranged from slaughtering people in malls, schools, and churches, we find we have had this debate before. It’s like watching a shouting match between partisans on a cable show. One side wants more gun control. The other side points out that more guns mean less crime. One wants a new “assault-weapons” ban. The other points out that the one that was on the books from 1994 to 2004 didn’t reduce crime. One wants something, anything, to be done to make them feel safer. The other wants to keep their constitutional freedom to protect themselves and their loved ones. One says the authorities can protect us. The other points out that even if a police officer could always be on the scene within two minutes, two minutes is a long time when someone is trying to shoot you.
Armed citizens, of course, do prevent crime. For example, just last week at the Clackamas Mall in Oregon, Jacob Roberts murdered two people before his gun jammed. As Roberts tried to clear the jam he saw Nick Meli, who has a concealed-carry permit, pull out a handgun and aim it at him. Meli says he didn’t fire because he was afraid of hitting someone behind the murderer. However, he is certain that Roberts saw his handgun. He is also sure that this is what prompted Roberts to use his next shot to kill himself.
Anti-gun advocates counter that they don’t want Wild West–style shootouts. So the debate stagnates. The gun-control advocates are emotional for good reason — they want the killings to stop. The gun-rights advocates are just as emotional — they too want the killings to stop. Meanwhile, gun owners want to be able to protect themselves not just from armed thugs, but also from other aggressors who are stronger than themselves. As Colt’s ads said back in the mid-19th century: “God made men, but Samuel Colt made them equal.”
So let’s step forward right out of these points of view for a moment and onto common ground. Consider what President Barack Obama said in Newtown: “In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement, to mental-health professionals, to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have?”
What about engaging gun owners? The National Rifle Association (NRA) estimates there are 100 million gun owners in America. An October 2011 Gallup poll found that 47 percent of American adults keep at least one gun in their home. Americans own more than 300 million firearms. In both recent shootings — in the Oregon mall and the Connecticut school — the killers used stolen guns. How about working with gun owners to make sure guns are stored safely? How about allowing those with concealed-carry permits to defend fellow citizens? Aren’t these choices? After all, currently more than 8 million Americans have concealed-carry permits.
When gun-control proponents feverishly demand that law-abiding Americans give up their right to self-defense as the price for a disturbed person’s heinous act, then free, law-abiding gun owners necessarily find themselves on defense, as they’d rather not be left defenseless. There is a better way.
As gun-control advocacy groups and politicians focus solely on gun control, the NRA, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), and others have been left with the task of teaching firearm safety. While Hollywood and the video-game industry sell gun violence, somehow those preaching gun safety and self-defense have become the bad guys. This demagoguery is counterproductive.
Here are five things gun-control advocates and gun-rights groups should be able to agree on to help prevent a future Columbine or Sandy Hook.
1. A national campaign for gun safety. When an epidemic of drunk driving bloodied our highways, we didn’t demonize car owners and pass bans on automobiles. We worked with the American people, stiffened penalties, and had national campaigns explaining the problem. We talked about designated drivers and hotlines for alcoholics. We treated the American people as adults. We showed a good, moral path to follow.
We need to work with gun owners in the same open, honest way. The NRA, for example, has training programs for law enforcement and teaches children what to do if they encounter a gun. The NRA also maintains rules for shooting safely and storing firearms responsibly. The NRA is a large membership organization because of all the good it does. For example, it isn’t difficult for anyone to find NRA-certified shooting-safety courses. Just go to nrainstructors.org and use the website’s search tool to find courses near you. The NRA Training Department has a network of more than 65,000 instructors, 3,800 coaches, and 1,700 training counselors spread out across the nation. Presumably this has contributed to the fact that gun accidents are rare and have been declining for decades.
Instead of demonizing the NRA, the government should work with it on a national campaign to encourage gun owners to store their guns safely. A trigger lock, for example, prevents the trigger from being squeezed until the lock is removed with a key. Gun owners can also store their guns in safes or in “quick-lock” safety boxes with combination locks. They can store their guns separately from ammunition or with a component (such as the bolt) removed. Current NRA safety training urges that any gun kept only for sporting purposes be rendered temporarily inoperable before it is stored.
It isn’t now known how Nancy Lanza stored her guns, but it’s reasonable to assume that if they were stored safely in any of these ways, her son, Adam, might have been stopped before he ever acted.
This solution has been suggested before. The problem is that anti-gun groups and many politicians want to mandate that firearms be stored so that they can’t be readily accessed in an emergency. Such legislation would prevent gun owners from using their firearms to protect themselves and their loved ones.
Mandates that firearms be kept inoperable aren’t even constitutional. In 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Washington, D.C., law (Hellerv. D.C.) requiring that all guns be kept locked or otherwise inoperable. The Court found that such regulations make “it impossible for citizens to use them for the core lawful purpose of self-defense.”