Sunday, September 23, 2012

A modest proposal for improving our gun laws

First, I am a gun owner. I love my guns. I give them names like zombie killer and the holdout.

I don't have any children, which is good, because my home is littered with guns, swords, machetes, bayonets, hatchets, and batons.

I like to say that the mind is the weapon and everything else in the world is a tool. But a sword is a tool elegantly designed for the sole purposes of stabbing and chopping.

I now sell swords (steel, wood, and plastic ones) at costume conventions. And I have implemented a simple security procedure that would make Wayne LaPierre of the NRA or Justice Antonin Scalia apoplectic if applied to firearms.

If someone under the age of twenty-five (25) wants to buy one of my swords, they must talk to me for at least ten (10) minutes and persuade me that they are mature enough to buy a sword. Even if someone is over the age of twenty-five (25), if I think they are unstable in any way, I won't sell him or her a four foot piece of gleaming steel.

In a nutshell, I believe that the problem with our current gun laws is that there is absolutely no procedure to determine if someone is stark raving mad or if they can even feign sanity for a short period of time. 

Three recent examples of people with borderline personalities who were able to purchase and practice with weapons prior to going on a killing spreee come instantly to my mind: Jared Lee Loughner, Seung-Hui Cho, and James Holmes.

All three of these individuals were obviously disturbed in retrospect. I am willing to wager that a mere thirty (30) minutes spent speaking to someone with any psychiatric training would have raised some red flags.

I live in Saint Paul, Minnesota and the city requires that I obtain a special permit from the police department if I wish to buy a pistol or an assault weapon. I had to wait nearly an hour to obtain the permit. I wasn't pleased about it, but I did it because I wanted an assault weapon. :-)

Is it so much to ask that before a person purchases their first firearm, they have to talk to a psychiatrist or psychologist for thirty (30) minutes? 

Isn't it a reasonable public policy goal to ensure that disturbed people get as much help as society can reasonably afford to give them?

Seung-Hui Cho had a record of being admitted to a mental hospital, if the psychiatrist or psychologist knew about that, they might spend more time with him. They might even have denied him a firearm or requested he get some counseling before approving him for a firearm.

Mr. Loughner appears to have had some sort of break with reality before he attacked Gabbie Lee Giffords. If so, then he is exactly the type of person this cursory interaction with a psychologist is likely to stop from obtaining a firearm and committing mass murder.

Mr. Holmes is a more recent case and a more troubling case.

It is certainly possible that he could have charmed the psychologist and pretended to be totally stable for a mere thirty (30) minutes. He also moved beyond firearms and assembled Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

So admittedly, he likely could not be stopped from committing mass murder by any gun licensing scheme. Indeed, he could have committed mass murder with his IEDs even if every gun in America had been destroyed. But the test of adding a new component to the process of being licensed to purchase a gun does not have to be perfect. It just has to be better than what we are doing now.

The perfect should NOT be the enemy of the good. And asking a prospective new gun owner to spend thirty (30) minutes with a psychiatrist or psychologist seems a minimal burden on the Second Amendment to me. But I'm sure there are people out there who will claim this is an unconstitutional burden on the Second Amendment.

I'd be happy to discuss this matter with anyone who wants to have a respectful conversation about the matter. If you want to have a disrespectful conversation about the matter, we can discuss it at dawn. Be sure to bring a second. ;-)

1 comment:

Patrick Tyler said...

I'm going to agree there should be some way of keeping the psychos from acquiring the tools to carry out their plans. This is certainly one approach to consider, but it definitely smacks of infringement. So, I think it isn't the solution, but a step toward thinking in the right direction.

I would counter with a couple of things. First, maybe a better reporting system involving the kinds of people that knew these guys were nuts to begin with should be involved. I mean, they all had prior contacts with professionals of one type or another who should have raised a red flag long before anyone was hurt.

On top of that, you neglect to mention that not a single one of them legally purchased the weapons they used. Every purchase was in direct violation of Federal law the instant they lied on the BATFE form 4473.