Thursday 20 December 2012

The Sandy Hook Weapons Law

Let’s write the law!

Earlier in this space, we demolished the arguments of the far right, to the effect that America needs to keep all of its gun rights just the way they are, and that the Sandy Hook attack was really all the fault of the Democrats. Today, we’ll look at what we possibly should be doing next.

Gun legislation could come in many different forms: banning gun capabilities rather than gun brands, banning semi-automatic weapons entirely, restricting rifles more than pistols, restricting guns that are too big or with too many military features, taxing guns, banning big clips and intermediate cartridges, banning cop-killers and body-armor, licensing and registering all guns, giving hunters and home-defenders only the guns they really need, restricting target shooters who have no constitutional protection, background checks for both criminal and mental issues, monitoring gun makers and sellers, controlling gun shops and gun shows and online sellers, beefing up the ATFE, better safety procedures for police and schools and the home (including gun locks), establishing more gun-free zones and less concealed-carry, enforcing legal liability for shooters, better legal and medical control for people who have mental illness and violent histories, strengthening PTSD treatment, and getting a bill through Congress before the gun nuts erect more roadblocks to legislation. This just goes to show how far we have to go, in this fight.


So, what should be in the gun control law? Some ideas to discuss, below. I’m not necessarily advocating all of them, but they’re worth talking about.


Ban capabilities, not brands: we cannot draft a list of banned brands and models, because manufacturers and distributors will just work around it. So specific capabilities must be banned instead.

Banning semi-automatic weapons: that would be difficult. Hunters and home-defense pistols would be heavily affected.

Restrict rifles more heavily than pistols: even Antonin Scalia intimated that pistols were the weapons that were okay for home defense. Rifles can actually be harder to use in such a constricted area, and the probability of collateral casualties goes way up: with the right ammunition, it is perfectly possible that you would take out your neighbor in the next house, or the guy walking his dog.

Weapon size: the 1994 weapons ban (which expired in 2004 thanks to the NRA) restricted pistols weighing more than 3 lb 2 oz.

By the way, what is the rationale for owning a .50 caliber weapon, assuming you’re not hunting Tyrannosaurus Rex, or trying to shoot down a MiG? Perhaps we’re, um, compensating?

Bells and whistles: the 1994 weapons ban restricted semi-auto rifles which had detachable magazines, and that also had other doodads that aren’t really central to the issue, such as folding stocks, pistol grips, bayonet mounts, flash suppressors and grenade launchers. Detachable magazines could be construed as relevant, but the other stuff, not so much. They added all that grenade-launcher stuff just because weapons like that scare people. Not a great bill. We need to ban stuff that is dangerous, not scary-looking.

Tax guns: this would weed out some of the casual crazies. Just tell the Republicans it would make it harder for black people to get guns, and it might pass unanimously.


Ban big clips: this one is obvious, the big one. Unless your hometown is Mogadishu, there is no legitimate need to have the capability to kill 20-30 people at a time, lying around your house.

Cop-killer ammunition: the long cartridges with small bullets, enabling shooters to pierce body armor. One could argue that these rounds are great for home defense, but these rounds endanger policemen, and so does the sale of body armor itself.

Ban intermediate cartridges: these cartridges combine the power of a rifle bullet and the control of pistol fire.


Register and license all guns: just like the rest of the world does. Actually, most of the civilized world won’t let you have guns at all, and they are much safer out there than here in America. That’s why America has half the world’s guns, and almost a hundred gun deaths a day.

Specify the purpose of the gun, and license them accordingly: people who are concerned about home defense get pistols. Hunters get rifles but no big magazines. People who think they’re going to launch a revolution to stop tyranny get psych evals and straightjackets: if tyranny befalls America, today’s gun nuts will either be supporting the tyrant, or will be wiped out by the tyrant’s bodyguards, the U.S. Defense Department. If our soldiers and SEALS can take down bin Laden, they can take down some fat jerky-eating white boy from the Kansas suburbs who thinks he’s the new Patrick Henry.

Restrict hunting weapons to actual hunters: if you go year after year without actually hunting or killing food out there, you can’t keep your hunting weapons. Hunting is clearly not what the framers intended when they wrote the Second Amendment anyway – militias don’t hunt. So restrictions are okay.

Restrictions on target shooters: the NRA can make the Constitutional argument about gun rights for home defense, hunting, or even “resisting tyranny”, but target shooting is nothing more than a hobby.

Background checks: we need criminal checks for all guns sales. But how do we do mental health checks without violating doctor-patient confidentiality?


Take a good look at the corporations who manufacture and sell the guns. Are they doing their business in an ethical way? Would they do anything differently, if they knew we were watching them closely? The big equity firm that owns much of the U.S. gun manufacturing market was probably hoping no one would notice they were Gun Central. Once Sandy Hook happened, they panicked and dumped their investment interest in the guns, in part because they were spending investment money on behalf of a major U.S. teachers union which, as you can imagine, has strong feelings about the Sandy Hook attack. And how many of us shop at Walmart and Dicks?

Gun shops: subject them to unscheduled audits. Currently ATF (now ATFE) has too many restrictions on their ability to monitor gun sellers, restrictions which shop owners exploit. And ATFE needs teeth: it needs to be funded, strengthened and defended from the rightwing gun nuts who have been attacking it for decades. We can’t pass gun control laws and then deny ATFE the power to enforce them. Right now, thanks to the Republicans, ATFE doesn’t even have a permanent boss; decapitating regulatory agencies is a time-honored tactic for politicians who protect crooks and maniacs for money.

Gun shows: too many loopholes for potentially dangerous gun sales. License the dealers at the shows, or shut them down entirely.

On-line gun sales: there are way too many methods for gaming the system, buying guns on-line. That avenue needs to be regulated or closed entirely.


While we’re looking at gun sellers, let’s give the same scrutiny to the NRA. Who they are, which Senators and House members and local politicians take NRA money and allow NRA lawyers to write our laws, how they work to undermine all controls on guns and the people who misuse them. They’re helping to kill 70-80 Americans in an average day, and in 1994 their spending ensured the rise of New Gingrich to the Speaker’s chair, so….yeah, a little scrutiny.

You might also take a look at the companies that have gotten into partnerships with the NRA for things like discounts: Allied moving, Lifelock, almost all of the car-rental companies, and several hotel chains -- Days Inn, Knights Inn, Howard Johnson, Ramada, Travelodge, Super 8, and Best Western.

Also, other gun rights groups that are even more extreme than the NRA, like the Gun Owners of America; these groups have attacked the NRA for not being extreme enough, and for not comparing American gun control laws to the restrictions imposed by Germany just before Hitler came along.


Better procedures and training for local police: due to the pressures of the economy and crippled state and local budgets, things like training and new safety procedures get cut all over the place. That needs to be reversed.

Better procedures, training and equipment for schools: same thing applies. I said ten years ago that if al’Qa’ida wanted to hit us hard, they wouldn’t be knocking down skyscrapers, they would be targeting our schools. Wishing I had been wrong. Governments need to stop treating our schools, teachers and kids like cash cows, easy places to steal budget money because kids don’t vote and Republicans hate teachers.

Also, arming teachers is a stupid idea because the teachers, understandably, are right around the kids all the time, so accidents are more likely. Focus instead on limiting and controlling school entry points. And that in turn brings up another issue: getting sensible, qualified people to draft your safety procedures. Try to avoid the whackadoodles who advocate arming teachers, or people who call for more men in schools (an unarmed man does nothing but give a gunman a bigger target), or people like Megan McArdle who suggested that kids should be trained to rush and tackle gunmen like linebackers, to reduce the body count. This woman, unsurprisingly, has no children. Kids, happily, have more sense: they see a crazy man with a gun, and they run and hide.

Better home security: right now the gun nuts want you to believe that (a) criminals are busting into people’s homes and killing people left and right (not true), and (b) therefore the only thing you can do for safety is buy a gun (also not true). There are a hundred things to do, to make your home safer, and the best thing is, don’t buy a gun. Buying a gun increases the odds that someone in your family will be shot. And that brings me to the issue of gun locks: America has a million kids, and other people who shouldn’t be near guns, living in homes with loaded, unlocked guns. Which is how Sandy Hook happened in the first place.


Gun-free zones: the NRA wants you to believe that gun-free zones are evil because they are open invitations for criminals to commit crimes. Time and facts have proved this to be absurd: criminals won’t go to schools and churches there because there is no potential gain worth the risk. Criminals like to steal valuable stuff quietly from empty buildings, not to shoot people and end up on the 11 o’clock news. Big shootouts inevitably attract the last people any crook wants to see: the police. Again, invariably it is the presence of guns, not the absence of guns, that makes any location more dangerous.

Concealed-carry: ban it! Concealed-carry doesn’t do anybody any good and increases the danger of gun violence. All concealed-carry does is allow cowards to boost their courage without telegraphing to all their neighbors what cowards they are. And do incredibly stupid things, like the Florida guy who went to the local Little Caesars this weekend, heard the guy in front of him complain about the slow service, and…shot the guy. Twice. I mean, seriously, right after Sandy Hook, this guy takes a gun to the local pizza shop! And probably everywhere else he went that day! And then insisted to the arresting officer that he was perfectly within his rights to shoot the guy. You could almost hear the police spokesman rolling his eyes as he said “we determined it did not reach a level where deadly force was required.”

Civil and criminal liability: we need to cut back on local laws that allow people to stand their ground the pump people full of bullets, and then try to escape liability by arguing “well, I was skeered”. It has been proved over and over that stand-your-ground laws increase homicides.

Mental health: there are two things to fix here. First, when Obama pushed his health care bill, the NRA shoved their way into the debate, putting language in the bill which discourages doctors from asking patients whether they have violent tendencies and guns in the home. The NRA was hoping that America wouldn’t notice that the confluence of crazy people and guns is a bad idea, a hope which pretty much ended at Sandy Hook. This Obamacare issue needs to be fixed: doctors need to be able to ask those crazy-plus-armed screening questions. The intersection of insanity and violence is key: a lot of policemen support the Assisted Outpatient Treatment system, a plan requiring people who have mental illness and a history of violence to either (a) stay in treatment or (b) be put behind bars.

Second, the psychiatric community needs to shout to all the world that post-traumatic stress isn’t just about soldiers and Marines: it’s about survivors of domestic violence and abuse, and survivors of violent events like the Sandy Hook attack.

This needs to happen now. In time national grief and anger will ebb, and with it, the impetus to pass a bill. And other issues such as the fiscal cliff fight and the debt ceiling fight could alter the political landscape. There will never be a better time to pass a gun bill. And the NRA knows this: their allies, like Kay Bailey Hutchison, are already trying to play stall ball. So when we need to decide who is complicit in the next shooting massacre…

And it needs to happen at the federal level. Anybody who thinks our state legislatures can handle this, should look at the current condition of our state-level laws on guns. Or on voting rights, or abortion rights, or union rights…

Conservatives, again, have settled on their own explanation for the Sandy Hook massacre: God caused those children to get killed because Democrats made God mad with their Godless policies, and just being, you know, godless. God chose, as his holy instrument, an untreated psychopath with his mother’s gun. In the last week, conservatives have attributed the tragedy to God’s wrath over – fill in the blank -- abortion, gays, Jon Stewart, atheism, political correctness, teachers’ unions, and teachers who are “radicals in the classroom”. They think it’s the fault of the teachers! Let’s go back to the teachers at Sandy Hook, the ones who didn’t get shot to death, the ones who kept their heads and herded their students into closets – let’s go explain to those teachers that they pissed God off so much, that God killed their students. I dare them to go look those teachers in the face and tell them that. That it’s all their fault. That’s conservative thinking for you. They also blamed gays and abortion for Hurricane Sandy, by the way: their notion of the Almighty is kind of Old Testament. In their minds, God is a handy Rube Goldberg machine for equating Democrats with massive death and destruction. Because they think we’re all stupid or insane.

Let the arguing begin. And, no, arguing that “all gun controls are bad” or “all controls are unconstitutional” simply will not fly. The Constitution protects gun rights for militias which take orders from the President. Period. Article 2, Section 2.

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