Gun control is one of those topics that brings out the most amusing debates, but not always the most relevant or the most accurate.
One of the big aspects of the plan laid out by President Obama is to "close the loophole" on gun show sales and background checks. If you take the argument at face value, you would be led to believe that all sales at gun shows happen without background checks.
I was one of those who believed that, and I was wrong.
Today I spoke with a the surviving spouse of a client our company provided care for over the period of more than a year before she passed away. Her husband comes by our office now and then to chat, or to bring us bags of citrus and juice that he picks and juices himself. In talking with him, he is a WWII veteran who was in Okinawa when we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
He was raised with guns, competed in shooting competitions, obviously utilizing those skills in the military, and then as an NRA certified instructor in multiple levels of gun use and safety. As it turns out, he is also a regular vendor at a local gun show.
Today our conversation turned to gun control and the controversy it has created on a national level.
We are both registered Independent, but he clearly leans more to the right while I lean about as far left as you can. He was raised around guns, bought and sold guns and at one time said he probably owned 30 or more. I have never owned a gun, will never own a gun, and have told people I would rather be shot dead in my home than own a gun. We both agreed it is simply a matter of personal preference, and agreed that we both completely respected the other's right and preference.
This makes us fairly representative of the debate as a whole.
I told him that I felt that argument that limiting the sale of assault rifles infringes the Second Amendment to the Constitution was baseless and was said to promote fear, which we both agreed has been a huge boon for those who sell guns. He mentioned the increase in price of the weapons such as the controversial AR-15 and comparable assault rifles as customers flocked to by them before our President shut down gun sales altogether (which, of course, will never happen).
He asked what happens to all the "assault rifles and high capacity clips" once they are deemed illegal? Do they get bought back from the public at market value, or are people stuck with something that they cannot use or sell? This is a great question, but you don't hear it discussed in what is supposed to be a reasoned debate.
I told him that the argument is skewed by those who try to use gun violence or gun ownership statistics in the United States, as the vast majority of both statistics pertain to handguns, and handguns are not and will never be part of the discussion.
He asked how they planned to require and enforce background checks on gun sales via the internet, the newspaper, or a garage sale? Yet another good question that nobody is discussing.
Then we came to the matter of gun shows and background checks. I told him that I was in complete agreement with the idea of closing the loophole that allowed people to go to a gun show and bypass the background check process. As I was laying out my case, he was shaking his head. "That's simply not true" he replied. He went on to inform me that licensed gun dealers do background checks even at gun shows, because the current laws require it. He explained that the people who don't do background checks at gun shows are private individuals and that those people make up a scant percentage of the total sales at any given show, a number he believed was 1-3%.
So for every 1,000 guns sold at a gun show, 10-30 are being sold by private individuals without a background check? And this is what we are creating a national crying fit over?
He went on to tell me that private individuals at gun shows are only allowed to display and sell small amounts of actual guns before they are required to be a licensed dealer, which would then require them to do background checks.
I was caught off guard, as this was the first time I had been part of a discussion about gun control that dealt with truth, misconception and the actual issue at hand.
I told him that my frustration with the entire debate was that the actual concern was lost in the rhetoric. Legislation and Executive Order proposed are attempting to slow the seemingly growing trend of mass shootings. It is not about gun violence overall, but the mass shootings such as the one that took the precious lives of 20 grade school kids in Connecticut.
So if mass shootings are the target, then let's look at the commonalities between recent mass shootings. When you do that, there is one issue that rises glaringly to the top, mental illness.
My friend reiterated the long held axiom of the gun rights people that if you lay a gun on a desk and leave it there, it will never kill anyone. He then added the comparison of blaming the car because a drunk driver drove into a crowd and killed 10 people.
And while these examples are a bit tired, it doesn't diminish the fact that in the case of mass shootings, they are accurate.
The shooters at both Columbine and Sandy Hook used guns bought legally by responsible adults. No background check policies would have stopped these instances, and you could debate whether tying mental health issues to the background checks would have prevented the shooters in Aurora, Clackamas, Tucson, or Virginia Tech, so where does that leave us?
Mental health care and the access to it are where the real focus of this discussion should be.
All of these shooters had mental health issues, as evidenced by the fact that they took up arms and decided to kill innocent people, then themselves in all cases except Tucson and Aurora. Some had sought mental health help, while others had not, but the current system failed in all accounts. On this issue, we both agreed completely.
His frustration was that laws were being proposed while existing laws were not enforced strongly enough. He believed these new restrictions impacted honest citizens more than criminals. I argued we weren't addressing criminals, as none of these shooters had criminal records. We were addressing people who suffered a mental break and decided to take many lives in their final moments.
I have stated before that I believe we need stronger enforcement of gun laws, including significantly stiffer penalties for anyone who commits any crime while in possession of a firearm. This debate is also not relevant to this situation, as the only surviving shooters, in Tucson and Aurora, will spend the rest of their lives in jail, if they are not sentenced to death. The penalty for their action is not even a remote thought process for these people, due to the mental illness that supersedes all rational though.
So while the nation has taken sides in a gun control debate that will prevent virtually nothing, the real cause behind the deaths of these innocent children will not be addressed.
Maybe when 100 or more kids are killed by someone who desperately needed mental health care we will stop talking about gun violence statistics and the Second Amendment and start looking for a way to prevent people from reaching a point where the slaughter of innocents before their suicide seems logical.