Last Friday, a young man in Old Bridge, NJ, left his shift at a supermarket, retrieved automatic weapons from his apartment near the store, returned, and opened fire on his co-workers.
He killed two young people before turning a gun on himself. No existing gun control laws would have prevented him from owning these weapons. Even though he was theoretically covered by military health insurance, it’s unlikely that a psychiatrist would have predicted his actions or been able to do anything to prevent them.
What I see as the problem is that all the arguments, from both sides of the gun control issue, are placing the responsibility for gun control too far down the supply chain. None of the arguments — for or against — take into account that manufacturers produce these weapons, send them on their way, and do nothing about preventing their misuse beyond making mild expressions of regret. The arguments currently being made, for and against, are all wrong in one way or another because they address the effect, not the cause. In my opinion, they all involve faulty reasoning. To wit:
1. If we take away guns, only criminals will have guns: Well, if you discount all the guns that are already out there, you may have a point, but how will the criminals get those guns? Certainly some will be stolen, some will be grandfathered, but the real reasons that criminals will continue to get guns will be that guns and ammunition will continue to be manufactured. All criminalizing possession will do is adding another layer of difficulty to circumvent those laws that are already in place. Both sides cite the number of armed crimes that are committed with stolen or otherwise illegal weapons, but ignore the fact that this number is never shown side by side with the number of acts committed with legal weapons. Nor do we see it alongside the number of acts in which the weapon was not recovered. In short, the number of armed assaults and homicides involving illegal weapons is a subset of all crimes in which the weapon was recovered, which is a subset of all the crimes committed with firearms as a whole.
We can assume that criminals will not be deterred because they have to steal weapons; they don’t have to steal them now. More laws won’t close the loopholes that savvy gun buyers use to stock up, and as long as guns are being manufactured and sold, criminals will be able to get them. Gun manufacturers will be able to find ways around any new laws, as their lobbyists are influential in the drafting of these laws. Their bottom line won’t change. They’ll simply need to be more creative in sales and marketing.
2. An armed population is a safe population: On the face of it, this sounds reasonable, but if you look at places like Detroit, Los Angeles, Camden, NJ, or any number of high crime areas, you’ll see it doesn’t really fly. More guns have not reduced crime, nor are criminals deterred by the fear that their victims might also be armed – they usually are.
Another aspect of this stance is the idea that an armed citizen could save others from a malicious shooter. Look to the recent shootings outside the Empire State building all the victims but one were hit by police fire. The most highly trained marksmen still risk misfiring, ricochet, and incorrect aim, even in controlled situations. Put guns in the hands of people who don’t train and practice vigilantly, and we are not made safer.
Think of it like driving. Everyone has to have behind the wheel training. Everyone has to pass written and behind the wheel testing to get a license. Everyone is subject to the same laws. Do you feel safe on the road, knowing that everyone has a car and a minimum amount of training and the same legal restrictions and liabilities? The biggest difference between this and gun ownership is accountability, and a large part of this comes from restrictions placed upon auto manufacturers. Every car has a Vehicle Identification Number. Every car has a license plate number. Every car has to be registered to an individual driver who will be held accountable for violations committed with that vehicle.
Gun manufacturers just can’t figure out how to put an identification number on a gun that can’t just be taken off, gosh darn it. It’s just too difficult to come up with a way to put a microchip somewhere so that if it were removed, the gun wouldn’t function or be too damaged to hold, or be outwardly visible that the chip had been removed. They’d love to do it, but the technology is just too primitive! Sorry, everyone! Nor do they track where their merchandise goes by the identification numbers that are already in place. The individual needs to register the gun he purchases, but up until that point, it could have gone to or come from anywhere.
These first two points could be addressed by making the manufacturers responsible for keeping a database of all their merchandise, from the factory to the point of sale and everywhere in between. If there were a consequence for weapons going missing or getting into the wrong hands there would be a lot more effort invested in keeping track of those weapons.
3. We need to pay more attention to keeping guns away from people with mental issues: Well, yeah, that. It’s just not realistic, though, and will take forever to implement with the structures we now have in place. The central database of people who should face restrictions is poorly maintained and not always consulted. It’s incredibly easy for a sociopath to legally purchase weapons whether or not his diagnosis shows up in a gun sales database. If he uses his legally purchased gun and his legally purchased ammunition to stage a public massacre, the manufacturers and sellers of said weapons and ammunition are immune to legal consequences.
Instead of relying on voluntary reporting, state by state restrictions by mental health, and spotty cooperation with these restrictions based entirely on the moral compass of the sellers, let’s put the onus on the manufacturers to keep track of this. Let them be responsible for continuing to supply merchandise to distributors or sellers who don’t comply with background checks, or let them be responsible for handling the background checks themselves. When the makers and sellers of weapons pay a penalty for guns being sold to people with documented histories of violent tendencies, they’ll work their behinds off to keep guns out of the hands of people with histories of violent tendencies.
4. Well-regulated militia: Without arguing the nuances of the Second Amendment, let’s go right to the matter of manufacturer responsibility. Let’s not worry about how “well-regulated” or “militia” is defined. In the case of an independent militia that represents a threat to other citizens, the manufacturer’s sales database would be available to federal or state authorities using the established methods and justification for providing such information.
If this group were involved in illegal or terrorist activities, the manufacturer’s records could be used to find the individuals involved and protect innocent civilians. If, on the other hand, this were a group of innocent civilians, their registrations as part of a militia would give them legal protections and time to defend them. Yes, this could be a double-edged sword, but it would be in the gun manufacturers’ best interests to develop a sales strategy that protects second amendment rights and other guaranteed freedoms to defend their continuing profitability.
These laws, written so that no manufacturer of guns or ammunition could avoid compliance by relocating their operations, headquarters, or financial interests outside of the United States, would preserve the integrity of the Constitution and the rights of individual citizens without weighing down the legal process of obtaining firearms for people who should not be held accountable for the weapons misuse by others.
Guns are a product with a highly specified use, and this justifies specified manufacturing regulations beyond what currently exist. Responsible gun owners should be allowed to purchase whatever arms they want, with restrictions placed on the sellers to make sure that buyers meet the qualification of “responsible gun owners” to protect the future of their businesses. Those who have difficulty making a purchase should have legal options to prove their case to the sellers, but it would not be the business of the government to decide whose purchases to restrict. The people with the most to gain from gun sales should also have the most to lose if those guns are misused, and that will render the arguments for or against restrictive ownership laws unnecessary.