Thursday, February 15, 2018


Political Mayhem Thursday: Guns and Cowardice

There have been 18 gunfire incidents at schools this year, including the 17-death horror in Florida yesterday. For schools that started on January 3 and got MLK day off, there have been 30 schools days so far this year.

30 school days. 18 incidents of gunfire-- mass shootings, suicides, a kid shooting off the security guard's gun-- bullets and schools. More than one every two days. And yes, that is an accurate figure for incidents of gunfire at schools this year. It's appalling.

"Thoughts and prayers" apparently are not working.

One of the arguments against doing nearly anything about school shootings--other than training kids to be terrified of school shootings--is that any one "fix" won't prevent them all. It's a dumb argument. In criminal law, which is pretty much the science of trying to limit tragedy, nothing we do, nothing, ever "prevents" a category of crime. We settle for the little we can do to make things somewhat better. And that saves lives, if we do it right.

Here are four things we can do.

1. Ban assault rifles--semiautomatic rifles capable of accepting a large magazine-- like the one used in Newtown and again yesterday (and in the Las Vegas shooting, and the Pulse nightclub). They were banned before, from 1994 through 2004. These guns are designed to allow a soldier to enter a building and shoot a lot of people; there is a reason they are a favored weapon for urban combat-- and those are the same characteristics that make them ideal for school shooters. Yes, there are a lot of them out there already, but it makes sense to staunch the flow now.

2. Close the gun show loophole, and require background checks for all gun transactions. When I was a prosecutor in Detroit, I went to a gun show out at the Gibralter Trade Center in Macomb County. It was a building full of unregulated gun dealers, and one book stall with titles like "Kill 'Em All" and "So You Are Going to Prison." I was appalled. I still am.

3. Stop hobbling the ATF as they try to do their job. Congress, goaded on by the NRA, has stood in the way of modernizing gun tracing: the picture above depicts the file boxes they deal with instead of computers. There is no national database; instead there is just a guy named Charlie. Seriously, that is all we've got-- a guy named Charlie, a small staff, and a bunch of paper records in boxes.

4. End the effective ban on federal funding of research into gun violence prevention. Yup-- in 1997, a law was put into place that has been interpreted as barring public money from being spent to figure out where this public menace comes from. This is crazy, and the NRA's motivation is clear: to protect the status quo regarding guns in America, which includes kids getting gunned down every other day at school.

Do politicians care? Well, no. No, they don't.

And if they can't do these little things, it is worse than not caring. It is cowardice.

Follow the money.

End of story.
Call me cynical but the arms dealers of America have bought and paid for their politicians. The politicians are useless. They will do nothing. In fact, they protect the arms manufacturers at every turn. No. Nothing will happen.
Thanks Mark for saying the things that are unsaid when the Governor, the Mayor, the police chief, the FBI agent, and an array of public officials gather for the TV cameras.
I am deeply sickened every time there is a mass shooting by their performance.

Whether it is one death or multiple deaths we should have the ability to know to what extent the massive supply of guns has had. Those who have the duty to protect us pretty much know the answers. They remain silent. You are right, they are cowards but even worst than that I think that they are complicit.
Building this database would not be difficult; entering the mountains of data would be the monumental challenge.

I still believe that gun owners should have to carry liability insurance on each firearm they own or purchase. It would be expensive. And if they aren't going to ban the sale of assault rifles they should at the very least place an age restriction on their purchase. Obviously they are not a good match for hormonal teenage males.

There should also be some automatic moratorium on the sale of guns following a mass shooting. Before a hurricane, once a state of emergency has been requested/declared in a State, homeowners insurance can't be issued. Perhaps something similar gun sales on the back end of a shooting.
Why not a product liability law. If a manufacturer's product and the intermediate marketers' product, is used improperly, require that $1,000,000 be paid by each to each of the victims or their families. The product is inherently dangerous.
It is heartbreaking to witness yet another mass shooting aftermath routine. One that has become disturbingly predictable…candlelight vigils, homemade memorials, tears, hugs, calls for thoughts and prayers. A routine I doubt holds any therapeutic value for those who lost a loved one and promises absolutely nothing for the next mass shooting that is most likely being planned right now.
It is mind blowing to find out that the AR-15 rifle used in the attack was purchased legally, at Sunrise Tactical Supply in Florida, that “no laws were violated in the procurement of this weapon” by account of the special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Miami. And even more mind blowing, if that is even possible, in Florida an AR-15 is easier to buy than a handgun!! “Mentally disturbed” The Don tweets, yet the federal government cuts on funding and supporting mental health keep on coming. To call politicians indifferent cowards is too nice. I’d suggest they got to work every day amid a crowd of fellow Americans knowing they may be sitting next to one who might just be carrying a gun…and that he might not be in a good mood.
Thanks for that GQ article on the lack of a database, and those amazing people who work around it to provide police with information. That story should be everywhere right now! I had no idea and I bet a lot of people--including legislators--have no idea.
Just a note-- if you want to leave a critical comment, that's fine. Just leave your name. I'm pretty much done with cowards right now.
When I was young and had my first firearms lessons, gun control meant one thing: keep the pointy end away from anything you don't want to destroy. Obviously recent history has shown that the era of personal responsibility governing firearms (if it ever existed at all) needs to be augmented by national legislation.

After reading many (many!) personal opinions on what to do in the wake of all these shootings, I more or less agree with you. It is outrageous that the FBI doesn't have a computerized system, and that there is a moratorium on gun violence prevention studies (two things I didn't know until I read your post). It's also outrageous that a 19 year old--a person our country's laws prevent from buying alcohol--was able to buy an AR-15 legally, regardless of mental health concerns. Additionally it seems to me a no-brainer that any modification that makes an otherwise legal firearm fully-automatic (bump stocks) should be illegal. It's these policies that need to change first--tomorrow if possible.

Unfortunately (as with almost every policy) the devil will be in the details. For example, how do we define 'high capacity magazine'? I think we can all agree a drum of 100 rounds is excessive, but Hawaii, Maryland and Massachusetts' restrictions to ten rounds seems equally excessive (the standard capacity of America's favorite handgun, the Glock 19, is 15 rounds. Good luck convincing an already suspicious Glock nation they need to replace their magazines). Finding the middle ground seems difficult here.
And then there's the ban on assault weapons that will need to be reworked to be effective and credible. Looking at the provisions of the 1994 Act, to me a bayonet mount has nothing to do with the deadliness of a weapon; the ability to fire successive rounds from the shoulder without reloading does. Perhaps we define assault rifles (or whatever term we use to describe the banned firearms) as any semi-automatic, shoulder mounted firearm, regardless of capacity--perhaps including wrist mounted pistols but not including smaller calibers (.22LR, etc) that are used mostly for target shooting. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I do think we'll have to think critically about what is banned if we want the legislation to do anything.

With all of that said, I do think this is an historic moment, and we're seeing a lot of people (myself included) evolve their thinking on guns. The real question will be what we do with it.
Professor Osler, I understand your position. However, I am called to avoid cowardice and explain my own views on the issues you raised.

While I hope for a reduction in gun violence generally, and school shootings specifically, I am the descendant of many different persecuted classes. Religious, ethnic, and class oppression were all reasons most of my ancestors fled to North America. The Soviets and Nazis burned the homes of my Finnish grandparents during WWII. My Moravian ancestors living in North Carolina were chased out of the state out to Indiana, and then were attacked again and fled to Peoria, IL. Bad actors have subjected my family to tyranny, and I do not want to allow that to happen to my family. Access to military-grade armaments protect the liberty my family has sought for centuries, which we finally achieved with my parents. While I pray for Christ's peace to reign on Earth, and abide by the philosophy of non-aggression, I am always concerned with my ability to legally defend myself, my community, and my family from others' aggression. To wit, I need strong evidence that a limitation of my gun rights will not be abused and that it will be effective before I will support it.

To your points, I would respectfully submit the following:

>Ban assault rifles--semiautomatic rifles capable of accepting a large magazine
/I have a number of issues with this first point: semiautomatic rifles account for a low number of total homicides in the United States relative to semiautomatic handguns. Additionally, what capacity constitutes a large magazine? Could gun manufacturers get by this regulation by producing internal high-capacity magazines and simply selling stripper clips? Would it be better to instead allow high-capacity magazines, but limit possession/ownership of the number of magazines?

>They were banned before, from 1994 through 2004. These guns are designed to allow a soldier to enter a building and shoot a lot of people; there is a reason they are a favored weapon for urban combat-- and those are the same characteristics that make them ideal for school shooters.
/But they were really designed to take advantage of lightweight polymers. The military uses 3-round burst/automatic fire, unlike the AR variants available to the majority of US citizens. The short barrel length isn't far-off from other rifles, and pistols are much more manageable in close quarters.

>Yes, there are a lot of them out there already, but it makes sense to staunch the flow now.
But the reality is that the AR platform is the most popular rifle platform in the nation. People across the US use ARs for smaller game hunting. Also, what constitutes the gun itself? Will barrel replacements no longer be sold? Or just lower receivers? If people can purchase replacement parts for their ARs, won't they just be able to build new platforms from individually-purchased parts?

>Close the gun show loophole, and require background checks for all gun transactions.
What about intra-family transfers? I am very open to requiring background checks for all commercial transactions, but I worry about poorly-crafted legislation making gifting guns to relatives illegal.

>Stop hobbling the ATF as they try to do their job.
Agreed. No reason the government, if performing background checks, shouldn't be allowed to retain records they collect.

>End the effective ban on federal funding of research into gun violence prevention.
Agreed. Knowledge is power.

However, three critical questions:

Do you have any thoughts about Gun Violence Restraining Orders?

Why not work on de-stigmatizing mental health issues and increasing access to affordable mental health care? This could also serve to combat the suicide crisis, drug addictions, domestic violence, et cetera.

What can society do to prevent home manufacture of gun parts from increasingly-sophisticated 3-D printers/milling machines?

Anyway, thank you for reading this, it turned out much longer than I had intended.
---Alex Landreville
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