Running on Empty: What does it look like to ‘come together’ on guns?

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I hate writing about politics. I would much rather reminisce about a childhood long lost and wasted youth. But this, unfortunately, is where we find ourselves.

I guess, strictly speaking, writing about guns – control or rights – is still not writing about ‘politics,’ per say. At least, it shouldn’t be. But, like everything else today, what should be a conversation about protection, danger, threats, and the basic rights of a citizenry, guns have become too politicized to separate parties and agendas from the subject matter.

Still, let’s give it a shot.

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(No pun intended – honestly, everything is so charged with emotional suspicion that it’s hard to write without intense self-editing. Do I say ‘give it a shot’? What about ‘take a stab at it’? Nothing is safe. So let’s just get through this as best we can together and try not to be offended, okay?)

I’m about as conservative as they come, with a little dose of calming common sense thrown in for good measure. But even I can see it’s time to come together and talk about what should be done, if anything, or what should be changed, if anything, to prevent mass shootings.

No, we’re not talking about every day gun violence – like the kind we see all too often in places like Chicago. An entirely different approach is needed to solve that dilemma.

We’re talking about how to keep deranged killers from entering a crowded place and shooting multiple victims in a short period of time. This, of all the talking points being tossed around by political pundits, is one we should all be able to come together on and talk about without reservation – only a single goal of saving lives while preserving rights.

But what does that look like? While we all talk about ‘common sense gun reform,’ I find that very little common sense is in play. We just don’t know how to recognize it. Or, maybe said another way, what does it look like to ‘come together on guns’?

First, we have to think things through with some measure of logic and reason.

No-gun zones will not prevent mass shootings. I understand that a growing group of people are uncomfortable around guns (so many are no longer raised around them for hunting, sport, and self-defense like we were 30 or 40 years ago), and seeing these idiots walk into Starbucks or Wal-Mart (Springfield, MO) with intimidating rifles on their backs just to provoke people doesn’t help. But think this through for a minute.

Who really thinks that a mass killer is going to walk across the Wal-Mart parking lot, approach the front door with loaded rifle raised, and jerk to a halt when he sees the ‘No Weapons Allowed’ sign on the wall?

“Darn it. Guess I can’t do it here.”

Really?!

In fact, one thing we’ve learned from so many shootings across the country is that many killers select no-gun zones because the possibility of encountering armed resistance is low. If anything, no-gun zones increase the chance of a mass shooting taking place on the premises while simultaneously decreasing the chance that a legally armed citizen – like we saw take place in Springfield this week – can intervene and possibly save lives.

(Yes, I understand the idiot that walked into the Wal-Mart in Springfield was likely looking to cause chaos, not shoot anyone, but that fireman intervening with his weapon may have stopped a future shooting. After all, this nut job was dumb enough to arm up and stroll into a Wal-Mart after El Paso. What would he do next? If not today, in the future?)

The age-old line applies most directly to no-gun zones: If you make guns illegal, the only people that will have guns are the criminals.

If you prevent citizens from carrying guns in a public place, the only people that will follow the rules and not carry a firearm are the people willing to protect you. The people likely to carry out a mass shooting will just chuckle at your cute little ‘no weapons’ sign and stroll right on in.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t do something.

Semi-automatic, high-capacity rifles have become too dangerous for personal use. I get it. I believe whole-heartedly that Americans have the right to own guns, and as soon as we let the government determine the types of guns they can own, the erosion of that right begins, dangerously so.

But, folks…this ain’t working.

Responsible, good men not only protect their families, but they also stand up and admit when something is wrong. There was a time when the population of the United States could handle ‘assault-style rifle’ ownership (yes, I get the issue with the term, but for the sake of this column, let’s just go with it), but that time has passed. Today, the young men of America are not raised in a way that prepares them to be responsible with firearms that can kill so many so fast. Not enough young men, anyway.

In Dayton, the killer was able to shoot nearly 40 victims in just 30 seconds. If the overwhelming amount of law enforcement officers present had not subdued him so quickly, he could’ve doubled that total in less than a minute without even stopping to reload.

That’s insane.

As conservatives, we always preach the need for armed and trained security in public areas, especially schools. But in this downtown district, they had that. Multiple officers – already on the scene – were able to take down the shooter in less time than it takes you to dial and place a 911 call. Our approach worked.

And he still killed 10 and injured nearly 30 more. And he did it for one simple reason. He had a weapon that allowed him to do it.

(I know, I know…the illegal-in-Ohio high-volume drum was a big factor. We’ll get to that later.)

Think about this for a minute. My hunting rifle is a Marlin 30/30, gold-trigger edition. At my best, I can maybe fire all 7 shots it can hold, reload, and begin firing again in that time. Maybe less if I’m really gettin’ on it. And that includes a significant firing pause while I load more shells – a pause that would allow more people to get to safety if a shooter was using this weapon – and dealing with a kick that, I assume, is more pronounced than the AR-15. That doesn’t even account for the jarring effect from repeatedly cocking the lever-action mechanism that will undoubtedly impact accuracy.

There’s just no way to compare the carnage done by the killer’s weapon to the hypothetical damage done by a hunting rifle. Eliminating the availability – or at least greatly restricting it – of such weapons would absolutely reduce the damage done by these insane killers.

But only if we can keep them out of their hands.

Background checks are not 100%. Contrary to popular belief, we already have significant background checks. Not in all states, but we have more than we think we do. But for them to work, they must be respected. Take the Parkland tragedy for instance.

The Sheriff, in an attempt to enact an Obama-supported strategy to interrupt the ‘school to prison pipeline,’ reportedly prevented his officers from issuing citations during their numerous calls to the shooter’s residence and school. As I understand it, a number of those incidents – if handled correctly – would have created a paper trail picked up by a background check.

Instead, an initiative encouraged officers to circumvent standard procedure, and as a result, the background check that should have flagged this shooter as an unsavory character found nothing to prevent his purchase.

The background check was in place, but the paper trail it needed to do its job was absent because political motivations – at the federal and local levels – intervened without proper regard for the consequences of seemingly uninvolved mechanisms.

For universal background checks to work, current laws and procedures that they rely on must be respected and left alone, unimpeded.

Mental health professionals are not the answer. I am a licensed mental health professional, and without going into detail, I can tell you that the practicing counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists (and others), as well as the system they work within, are woefully unprepared for the duty of protecting America from potential shooters. There is no strategy or tool or survey capable of detecting potential shooters, at least not with massive amounts of intolerable errors on both sides.

And the practitioners themselves – well, let’s just say they are, at best, inconsistent. No two professionals practice the same way, and rarely do they agree. Asking the mental health profession to be a stop-gap for our mass shooting problem simply won’t work, and it would likely create more problems than it would solve.

Red flag laws, however, might work. If family members and mental health professionals are able to initiate a fair and legal review of an individual’s ability to safely own firearms, many potential threats could be uncovered. Often, a licensed counselor becomes uneasy about a client’s access to firearms, but without an imminent threat possibility, the counselor has no legal or ethical ability to break confidentiality – privacy protections that, yes, extend to the court system – and intervene. And clients are very good at hiding the existence of such a detectable threat.

A red flag mechanism could change that by giving counselors and family members an ethical, legal option for initiating a review of a client’s ability to own firearms. But to be truly effective, it’s going to get into some uncomfortable areas. Namely the concept of protecting the privacy of minors.

How many times have we heard of concerns that surfaced during a shooter’s time at public school? What if the school system had the ability to call in Social Services and conduct a weapons safety review of the individual and his/her home? This isn’t that different from a wellness check conducted when abusive behavior is suspected. As long as the right review-triggering mechanisms are put in place for administrators, it could save lives.

Think this through. If a student engages in violence and threats that appear at least credible enough to involve law enforcement or put other students at risk, wouldn’t it make sense to involve Social Services? And wouldn’t it make sense for Social Services to enter that review process armed with the ability to specifically and legally discuss the juvenile’s ability to responsibly own or have access to a firearm? And wouldn’t it make sense for such an individual to go through a review process to get firearms access back once it’s removed?

And that’s the kicker. When we start talking about restricting or removing an individual’s right to bear arms, we must make sure we have a fair and accessible methodology in place to restore that right when appropriate. If so, we can save a lot of lives by acting sooner rather than later while also protecting the rights of our citizens.

Some laws need to be enacted and enforced at the federal level. I am all in when it comes to state rights over federal rights, but there have to be some exceptions. Take the Dayton case for example. Many would argue that it was the high-capacity drum used to hold 100 rounds of ammunition (or more?) that gave the shooter the ability to inflict such damage, not the weapon itself. Such a magazine is illegal in Ohio, but the shooter was able to obtain it anyway.

I don’t know how, exactly, he circumvented the law, but it can’t be that difficult to imagine, right? How hard is it really to drive across state lines and make a purchase, or order something online in a way the state is not equipped to stop? Making certain laws enforceable at the federal level allows multiple mechanisms to stop such purchases from reaching the buyer – like customs agents – and makes it much more difficult to take advantage of state-to-state law discrepancies.

No, this would not be limited to high-capacity magazines. Yes, it would include other accessories like bump stocks as well. But that just makes sense, too, right? I mean, if we’re really all about applying common sense, wouldn’t it be logical to outlaw a firearms accessory that gives a legal weapon the same capability as a weapon the state saw fit to ban?

I think so.

Commonsense can prevail. We hear a lot about ‘commonsense gun reform,’ but the idea that we all agree on what that includes is more a myth than reality. At the risk of sounding arrogant, here’s what it should entail.

1.Universal background checks. If there’s something in an individual’s history that we all agree should prevent him or her from owning a firearm, shouldn’t we allow the system to find such a grievance? This includes buying firearms at gun shows and person-to-person sales. I know, it’s inconvenient, but if we accept it’s need, we can find a way to make it palatable. For example, absolutely it would be cumbersome and inconvenient if an individual at a gun show had to figure out how to conduct a background check on the spot. But do we really have to make them? Imagine a system that required you to, instead, fill out basic information online, or in person if you want to wait, before gaining a ticket to access a gun show in the first place. My wife likes to attend a traveling antique event called Two Friends and Junk. She has to pay for entry or get a ticket to go in. Why can’t we require the same level of entrance scrutiny to a gun show?And I know, this wouldn’t solve person-to-person sales, but can’t we figure that out too? If I’m going to sell a gun to someone, I wouldn’t balk at having the peace of mind that I sold it to a responsible individual. At least as much as could be provided by simply filling out a basic information form on a government website about the buyer.

There are ways to do this with minimal effort. We just have to accept that it makes sense for us to do it.

2.Red Flag gun laws. This is a no-brainer and long overdue. We already have laws on the books that allow us to hold individuals at risk of committing suicide for a certain period of time. Often, family members or friends initiate that process. In Missouri, it’s commonly referred to as ’96-ing’ them because of the 96-hour hold window. Shouldn’t we also have the ability to initiate a fair and structured review of an individual’s mental ability to responsibly own firearms to protect the lives of others? As long as we do so with a due-process based, easily accessible method for correcting errors or restoring rights when appropriate, this also makes sense.

3.Federal laws we can agree on. For the most part, we can agree on some commonsense restrictions on firearms and firearm accessories. Can’t we agree that high-capacity magazines like the types used in so many mass shootings should be banned everywhere? And can’t we agree that bump stocks and similar weapons-altering items shouldn’t exist? I know we can come up with reasons these items should be allowed in a free society – and I would probably agree with you – but if we are truly being honest with ourselves, we know that what we’re doing now just isn’t working. And despite our love of state rights, there are some things a federal agency is better equipped to handle. That’s why we have a union of states to begin with.

4.A ban on assault-style weapons. I know this is bound to be the one most of you disagree with – and I get it (in fact, my own wife disagrees with me, citing our shared fear that when you give an inch, the wrong people will take a mile and once you start banning weapon types, it won’t stop there) – but again, what we’re doing now is not working. It’s not. When a nut job has the ability to shoot almost 40 people in 30 seconds despite the heavy presence of armed police officers, it’s time to do something. And here’s the kicker – the one you will all hate.

We can’t just ban future sales of these weapons. If we actually want to make a difference, we have to do something about the ones already in circulation. I’m not talking about a buy-back or confiscation effort. The country wouldn’t stand for that. But something – maybe an ownership freeze that would not allow the transfer of such weapons for an exploratory period of time, or extra restrictions or scrutinization on the individuals allowed to own such weapons. I don’t know. But we have to do something about them or a sales ban will be toothless. Let’s start talking about what to do now, amongst ourselves – the conservative gun owners who believe in protecting our families and our nation – before more stringent approaches are thrust upon us.

I don’t know if what I’ve laid out will help, but again – we must do something. The evidence is before us. I know that many of us believe that our right to bear arms is rooted in providing a defense against tyranny. I believe that. But let’s be honest. Modern warfare has changed the game.

No, I’m not talking about nukes and other outlandish ideas that would never be deployed on domestic soil. And I know that the government and military command structure would invite chaos if they asked troops to act against Americans. But let’s be real for a moment.

If it ever gets to that point, there’s no way a group of armed citizens is going to win such a conflict. We just won’t. But it’s no longer about that, is it? It’s about the threat of violent chaos.

Imagine what would happen if an American government ever attempted to use military might to enforce…anything…on an armed population. It wouldn’t matter if we were armed with AR-15s or hunting rifles.

The results would be catastrophic, for all sides. That existing threat – of an armed populace – is our defense against tyranny. And we don’t need AR-15s with 100-round drums to maintain it.

And we don’t need them to protect ourselves.

It’s time we stepped up – as conservatives, as men and women committed to protecting our children – and took hold of what’s happening in this country. We claim to be better prepared than the left to lead in a time of tragedy after tragedy.

It’s time we start acting like it and lead.

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