Tag Archive: Australia Gun Laws

Another Day, Another School Massacre

gun control

Cartoon by Scott Bateman

The latest school massacre took place in Florida. A nineteen-year-old former student opened fire as school was dismissing, killing seventeen students and teachers. I watched one of the cellphone videos that was shot during the shooter’s maniacal rampage. I listened as teenagers whimpered and screamed, hoping that they would avoid injury or death. I wept as I watched the video, but my sorrow quickly turned to anger. I knew that before the sun rose on a new day that several things would happen:

  • Democrats would call for stricter gun control laws.
  • Republicans would say now is not the time to talk about stricter gun control laws.
  • The NRA would decry the shooting, but reject any and all calls for gun control reform.
  • Evangelical Christians would flood social media with “thoughts and prayers” comments.

What do we know about school shootings? Is there a pattern or some sort of common denominator? You bet there is. Let me list a few of them:

  • The shooters are overwhelmingly young, white male students. Many of them come from dysfunctional homes.
  • Many of the shooters had mental health problems, often untreated.
  • The shooters were either bullied or viewed as social outcasts, not fitting into the cliques that dominate public school life.
  • The shooters used the internet to access materials that helped them plan the shootings.
  • The shooters used the internet to research past shootings, often finding inspiration from the carnage perpetrated by other shooters.
  • The weapon of choice is the AR-15 or similar type guns.
  • Most shooters used large capacity clips for their weapons of choice.
  • Most shooters had large amounts of ammunition on hand.

Now, after reading this list, is there anything that our government leaders can do to put an end to the violence? Yep, there is, but unfortunately, thanks to the NRA and a number of congressional Republicans, what should be done will be ignored. These cowards will, instead, call for armed school guards and extensive school security. Some of these NRA-fearing men and women will even call for the arming of school teachers and custodial staff. After all, what better way to put an end to school shootings than add more guns to the equation, right? What could possibly go wrong?

The NRA — a Chihuahua-sized group with a Rottweiler bark — and its lackeys will remind Americans that the Second Amendment is sacrosanct, suggesting that gun ownership without restriction is a sacred right that must never, ever be infringed upon. Democrats will point at the Trump administration, blaming them for doing nothing about school gun violence. They will rightly point out that a Republican-controlled Congress passed legislation that made it easier for people with mental illness to purchase firearms. What these self-righteous liberals forget is that Democrat Barack Obama inhabited 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for eight years, and in his time there nothing was done to meaningfully combat school shootings. So please, stop with the political finger-pointing. Both parties are neck-deep in the blood of school children, and they should be ashamed of themselves for their paralytic inaction.

I grew up in a home where shooting firearms were very much a part of life. My dad was a police reservist, and my brother was the Marshall of Tombstone, Arizona, for many years, and also a detective. I started shooting guns and hunting while I was still in elementary school. I bought my first gun — a bolt-action Mossburg .410 with a modified choke — at the age of twelve. I, at one time, owned numerous shotguns, high-powered rifles, and a smattering of handguns. When I was a young man, my dad owned a gun store in Sierra Vista, Arizona. I worked in the store from time to time, and on weekends I would accompany my dad as he set up tables at area gun shows. Dad’s store gave me access to a plethora of firearms to shoot, everything from a .458 Winchester Magnum to a .22K Hornet. I enjoyed hunting and target shooting with my dad, one of the few things we did together.

I wrote the above so that unaware readers would know that I am not some Commie liberal out to take away everyone’s gun. I do not currently own any firearms, choosing instead to do my shooting with a camera. That said, I don’t look down my nose at people who own guns, nor do I think they are to blame for school shootings.  Solving gun violence in schools requires political courage and moral certitude. It requires our rulers to act in the best interest of the people, and not the interests of the NRA, Winchester, Remington, Smith and Wesson, or Glock.

people killed school shooting

Some of the people killed in the Florida school shooting

So what can be done?

First, universal background checks must be strictly enforced, connected to a nationwide database. Gun purchasers should be screened for prior convictions of violent crimes, especially domestic violence. Gun purchasers should be screened for mental health issues. Mental health providers should be required to flag patients with mental health issues which make them a danger to themselves or others. The U.S. military and the VA should be required to flag all soldiers who are being treated for PTSD or other mental disorders that make them a danger to themselves or others.

Second, all guns should be licensed. All new purchases should have a seven to fourteen-day waiting period, allowing sufficient time for background checks to be performed. A database of those who purchased and those who owns guns should be available to law enforcement.

Third, all open-carry and concealed-weapon laws should be repealed, putting an end to the Wild West mentality in many states and communities. Only law enforcement should be permitted to carry firearms in public.

Fourth, the manner in which the government and insurance companies handle mental health treatment must be changed in ways that make it possible for people to get prompt, ongoing, and comprehensive care.

Fifth, school leaders must address the ongoing bullying crisis in public schools. Teachers must be taught to be aware of bullying and to take steps to stop it when they see it happening.  While I suspect it is impossible to put an end to cliques, school must do a better job fostering inclusiveness. Perhaps it is time to put an end to the jocks-rule mentality that dominates most schools.

Sixth, semi-automatic firearms such as the AR-15 should be immediately banned. Any firearm capable of firing large volume bursts should be banned. There is no legitimate reason for anyone to own military-style firearms.

Seventh, large (high) capacity magazines and clips should be immediately banned. There is no legitimate need for owning guns with large capacity magazines, nor is there any reason for owning clips holding dozens of rounds of ammunition. It also goes without saying that bump stocks such as the ones used in the Las Vegas massacre should be outlawed.

Eighth, politicians should be banned from taking financial or in-kind donations from the NRA and the gun lobby. The NRA, along with the Ted Nugents of the world, are part of the problem. These promoters of the means of violence should not be given larger-than-life influence over the political process. (As my editor mentioned to me, this would surely not pass constitutional challenge. Fine. Let’s reverse the effects of Citizens United. Let’s make public the names of ALL campaign donors. Let’s ban corporate donations, soft money, and the other endless ways politicians hide who and where donations are coming from. In fact, let’s federally fund elections and limit campaigning as Great Britain does to a short time before time election day. In other words, GET THE FUCKING MONEY OUT OF POLITICS!)

If the United States wants to put an end to gun violence in general and school shootings in particular, it must look at how countries such as Great Britain and Australia have crafted their gun control laws and act accordingly. Tinkering at the edges, making meaningless, superficial changes to gun laws is not the answer. The rest of the Western world looks at the United States and thinks that the Yanks have gone bonkers. Can they not see what must be done to put an end to gun violence in their schools? Those of us who don’t suck at the teat of the NRA know what must be done. It is up to us to force our political leaders to stop the blood flowing in the hallways of our schools. If our elected officials won’t act, then it is time for us to get men and women who will. Doing nothing or next to nothing is not the answer.

“Laws Don’t Stop People From Doing Bad Things,” Says a Local Law Enforcement Officer

The title of this post is a verbatim statement made by a gun-loving, middle-aged white Republican who likely voted for Donald Trump. This man, a member of local law enforcement, recently attended a meeting that I happened to attend as well. Prior to the start of the meeting, several government officials were discussing gun laws and firearm restrictions. One avid Trump supporter happily lent his support to the President Trump’s lie that cities with stringent gun laws — Chicago, in particular — have higher crime rates and firearm-related violence. (Please see Gun Laws, Death and CrimeIs Chicago Proof That Gun Laws Don’t Work? Chicago Toughest on Gun Control? A Claim Shot Full of HolesLaw Center to Prevent Gun Violence.) The member of law enforcement chimed in with several anecdotal stories about gun violence and firearms laws, and then, uttering the most absurd thing I have ever heard come out of a policeman’s mouth. The man said, “Laws don’t stop people from doing bad things.”

Having business before this government body, I thought it unwise to interject my pinko-commie-socialist-liberal thoughts into the discussion. I thought to myself, just another day in the right-wing nirvana of rural Northwest Ohio. Nothing I could say would change hearts and minds, and saying the wrong thing could have a negative outcome for me business-wise. Later that night, as I sat in my recliner thinking about the day’s events, I found myself becoming angry over what the police officer said. How dare a man who swore an oath to uphold federal, state, and local law, and to serve and protect local citizens say that laws don’t stop people from doing bad things. If this is truly the case, why not repeal all laws and let the man with the fastest draw and the straightest shot determine social order and freedom. Is this police officer so blinded by his support of the gun lobbies’ misinterpretation of the Second Amendment that he cannot see the importance of having laws? Surely, he thinks we should have laws prohibiting murder, rape, robbery, and sexual abuse. I highly doubt this officer is a libertine. Born and raised in this area, this officer has been deeply influenced by the political, religious, and social mores of rural Ohio. Why, then, would he emphatically state that laws don’t stop people from doing bad things?

If asked, I am sure that the officer would limit his statement to the efficacy of gun laws. Why, I ask, limit making laws to firearm regulations? Laws don’t stop some people from murdering, raping, or molesting children. Is this reason, then, to do away with laws that make such behaviors illegal? Of course not. So it is with gun laws. It is certainly true that gun laws don’t keep motivated criminals from securing firearms. That said, limiting access to certain firearms, accessories, and ammunition, would make it harder for criminals to use them, and in doing so, would save lives. Outlawing semi-automatic assault rifles and high-capacity clips, along with having universal background checks and severely restricting handgun ownership would go a long way in putting an end to mass shootings, and would also, in time, reduce criminal gun violence. One front on the battle against drug addiction and opioid-related deaths is regulating/controlling legal drug supplies, and aggressively going after those manufacturing, distributing, and selling drugs illegally. We know that this is the only way to put an end to the opioid crisis, so why, then, do we not use the same approach to gun violence? That current gun laws are often ineffective is agreed by one and all. But the answer is not to say, fuck it, and give up on attempts to craft effective laws that respect gun owner rights while at the same time putting an end to gun violence. If progressive countries such as England, Australia, Spain, and Japan can drastically reduce gun violence through legislative means, surely the United States can do the same. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Japan has a per-hundred-thousand homicide rate of .31, Spain .66, Britain .92, Australia .98, and the United States 4.88. I ask you, in that set of numbers, which one stands out to you?

Laws may not stop people intent on harming others from committing crimes, but imagine, for a moment, a society without laws and enforcers of law. Imagine a world where all disputes are settled by violence, and the people with the most powerful means of violence win. Why, we would be living in a world much like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or The Walking Dead and Mad Max. It is our laws and their enforcement that give structure and order to our society. Baptists should have the freedom to worship as they wish and not fear being murdered while they pray. Country concert goers should have the freedom to drink beer and sing tunes about women, beer and trucks and not fear being gunned down. All of us should have the freedom to go about our daily lives and not fear being murdered in our homes or at the grocery. The only way to protect our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is to have laws that are enforced for the common good. Until our political leaders stand up to the gun lobby and pass legislation restricting gun purchase, ownership, and use, we should expect continued mass shootings and gun-related crime and violence.

We, the people, have the power to stem the flow of blood in our streets. It remains to be seen if we will do so. Surely, twenty-six dead Baptists is enough to force the issue, right?  Surely, the mass shootings and gun violence of the twenty-first century, when taken collectively, will lead to systemic, nationwide change, right? Surely, now is the time to tell the NRA to go fuck itself, right? How many more people must die before we demand Congress and state legislatures send the gun lobby packing and begin to enact comprehensive gun regulation?

Hey, did you see what Trump tweeted?

Jon Stewart, John Oliver and The Daily Show Take on America’s Gun Culture

 

Several years ago, The Daily Show produced a three-part series on America’s gun culture, gun violence, and how Australia successfully regulated firearms. Given the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas and congressional inaction of meaningful gun control legislation, I thought it important to share these videos with readers.

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About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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No More “Thoughts and Prayers.” It’s Time to Address the Murderous American Gun Culture

las vegas massacre

Another mass shooting in America, this time in Las Vegas. Senseless carnage and death, perpetrated by a nondescript white man using semi-automatic rifles armed with high capacity  magazines to rain terror down on the heads of concert-goers. Billed as the worst mass shooting in American history — surpassing the Pulse Night Club massacre — the shooting has aroused social media, filling it with comments from people who, not knowing what else to say, utter the most empty, worthless phrase ever to fall from human lips — my thoughts and prayers are with the victims of ____________.

I understand why people use the thoughts and prayers line. When faced with human savagery and carnage, we search for something, anything to say that might bring the slightest comfort to those harmed by violence. Uttering these words makes us feel better, right? There’s nothing more we can we do for the victims of terrorist attacks or hurricanes, so we throw some empty words towards the sky, knowing that, based on past events, our words will do nothing to change what happened. No matter how many good thoughts or prayers we send out into the netherworld, nothing changes. Why is this? Millions of Christians believe their prayers are heard by God, ignoring that the fact that he never answers them.

What did prayer do for the victims of recent hurricanes? Countless prayers were uttered for the victims in Puerto Rico, and what did God do? Nothing.  Mass murderers continue to mow down their victims with impunity. Prayers are uttered. God will do nothing as the next murderer or terrorist plans to maim and murder countless people. As far as I can tell, the only prayers answered by God were those prayed by Evangelicals during the 2016 presidential election. God indeed heard their prayers, blessing America with the forty-fifth president of the United States — Donald Trump. Outside of Trump’s election, God seems to be sitting on sidelines as his creation is ravaged by global warming, war, famine, drought, terrorism, and gun violence.

At the heart of the Las Vegas mass shooting is America’s insane love of guns — more specifically, our worship of a deified interpretation of the Second Amendment. Mention regulating the sale, type, and use of firearms, and the NRA crazies come out of the woodwork to defend their right to own firearms without ANY restrictions (even though recent studies suggest that a majority of gun owners support stricter gun laws).

Gun lovers, using a faulty understanding of the Second Amendment, demand the right to buy and sell guns at will. (Please read Gary Wills’ insightful article on the Second Amendment, To Keep and Bear Arms.) Attempts to restrict gun sales and use are met with hysterical cries about liberals and communists coming to take away our guns! During the 2016 election, right-wingers talked about using “second amendment remedies” to violently overthrow the federal government if the wrong people were elected. The right man won, and as thanks for helping him get elected, Donald Trump loosened gun laws, making it easier for mentally ill people to buy firearms.

Nevada, home to the latest mass shooting, has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation. I am not suggesting that stricter laws would have kept Steven Paddock from murdering and wounding hundreds of concert-goers. No single event can be used to justify stricter (or looser) gun laws. We can, however, take a big step backward and look at gun violence in general and begin asking questions about how best to lessen violence perpetrated by people with handguns, long guns, and semi-automatic weapons. Doing nothing is no longer an option — a refrain I have been singing for the past decade.

First, voting Americans need to understand that only seven percent of gun owners belong to the NRA. Now, this doesn’t mean that non-NRA gun owners don’t support the NRA’s agenda — many of them do. What it does mean is that the NRA plays a larger-than-life part in the gun law debate. Certainly, the NRA and its constituents deserve a place at the table, but it is time for Americans to see that the NRA is more of a chihuahua than a pit bull.  Once our political leaders realize this, they will quit fearing NRA retribution if they support strengthening gun laws.

Second, I would like to see the United States adopt similar gun laws to those found in England or Australia.  I realize that gun laws must be changed incrementally, but surely our political leaders can stop their bickering long enough to enact meaningful, progressive gun law reform that protects the right to own firearms, while at the same time strengthening gun registration laws (requiring ALL guns to be registered), putting an end to unregulated private gun sales, unregulated gun shows, and the sale of military (and military-like) firearms and accessories.

Australia strictly regulates gun sales and ownership, restricting firearm use to:

  • Sport/target shooting
  • Hunting
  • Primary production
  • Professional hunting
  • Handgun or clay target shooting (including licences held on behalf of juniors)
  • Employment as a security and/or prison guard
  • Official, commercial or prescribed purpose or for a purpose authorised by an Act or Regulation.

England, which has the one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world, has strict gun control laws. According to Wikipedia:

Fully automatic (submachine-guns, etc.) are “prohibited weapons” and require explicit permission from central government to permit ownership. Generally, such permits are not available to private citizens. Semi-automatic rifles over .22 in (5.6 mm) and pistols are similarly “prohibited”, although there are exceptions for short barrelled breech-loading semi-automatic and revolver pistols for use for the humane dispatch of animals (classed under section 5). There are also very limited exceptions for pistols both to preserve firearms of historic or technical interest (classed as section 7 firearms) and to enable use by elite sports teams. Semi-automatic shotguns are restricted to a magazine capacity of no more than two shot and is held under section 2 of the Firearms Act, although a ‘multi-shot’ shotgun can be owned under section 1 (restricted firearms and ammunition) of the Firearms Act. Where the term ‘multi-shot’ is used, this refers to either a Semi-automatic or pump action shotgun with no restriction on magazine capacity. All other rifles and their ammunition are permitted with no limits as to magazine size, to include: target shooting, hunting, and historic and muzzle-loading weapons, as well as long barrelled breachloading pistols with a specific overall length, but not for self-defence; however if a home-owner is threatened they may be used in self-defence, so long as the force is reasonable. Shotgun possession and use is controlled, and even low-power air rifles and pistols, while permitted, are controlled to some extent. A Firearm Certificate issued by the police is required for all weapons and ammunition except air weapons of modest power (of muzzle energy not over 12 ft·lbf (16 J) for rifles, and 6 ft·lbf (8.1 J) for pistols). Shotguns with a capacity of three rounds or less (up to guns with a magazine holding no more than two rounds, in addition to one in the chamber) are subject to less stringent licensing requirements than other firearms and require a shotgun certificate; shotguns with higher capacity require a Firearm Certificate.

Possession of a live firearms round can lead to severe penalties. Live firearms ammunition, other than most shotgun ammunition, may only be purchased and possessed with the authority of a Firearm Certificate. Shotgun cartridges can be possessed by anybody over the age of 15 but no licence is required to hold such ammunition so long as the cartridges contain 5 or more shots. However, a licence covering possession of a firearm capable of firing shotgun ammunition is required for purchase.

The droning tropes of the NRA — if you outlaw guns and only outlaws will have guns, guns don’t kill people, people do, to name a few — must be met with deaf ears, If we can regulate everything from automobiles to soda pop, surely we can come up with new laws and regulations that make it harder for mass murderers and garden variety killers to obtain firearms. I see no justifiable reason for Americans to own semi-automatic, high capacity magazine military-style weapons, nor do I see any reason for ordinary citizens to have access to concealed carry permits.

Nicholas Kristof had this to say today about the Las Vegas massacre:

After the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, the impulse of politicians will be to lower flags, offer moments of silence, and lead a national mourning. Yet what we need most of all isn’t mourning, but action to lower the toll of guns in America.

We don’t need to simply acquiesce to this kind of slaughter. When Australia suffered a mass shooting in 1996, the country united behind tougher laws on firearms. As a result, the gun homicide rate was almost halved, and the gun suicide rate dropped by half, according to the Journal of Public Health Policy.

Skeptics will say that there are no magic wands and that laws can’t make the carnage go away. To some extent, they’re right. Some criminals will always be able to obtain guns, especially in a country like America that is awash with 300 million firearms. We are always likely to have higher gun death rates than Europe.

But the scale is staggering. Since 1970, more Americans have died from guns (including suicides, murders and accidents) than the sum total of all the Americans who died in all the wars in American history, back to the American Revolution. Every day, some 92 Americans die from guns, and American kids are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway of Harvard.

So while there’s no magic wand available, here are some steps we could take that would, collectively, make a difference:

1. Impose universal background checks for anyone buying a gun. Four out of five Americans support this measure, to prevent criminals or terrorists from obtaining guns.

2. Impose a minimum age limit of 21 on gun purchases. This is already the law for handgun purchases in many states, and it mirrors the law on buying alcohol.

3. Enforce a ban on possession of guns by anyone subject to a domestic violence protection order. This is a moment when people are upset and prone to violence against their exes.

4. Limit gun purchases by any one person to no more than, say, two a month, and tighten rules on straw purchasers who buy for criminals. Make serial numbers harder to remove.

5. Adopt microstamping of cartridges so that they can be traced to the gun that fired them, useful for solving gun crimes.

6. Invest in “smart gun” purchases by police departments or the U.S. military, to promote their use. Such guns require a PIN or can only be fired when near a particular bracelet or other device, so that children cannot misuse them and they are less vulnerable to theft. The gun industry made a childproof gun in the 1800’s but now resists smart guns.

7. Require safe storage, to reduce theft, suicide and accidents by children.

8. Invest in research to see what interventions will be more effective in reducing gun deaths. We know, for example, that alcohol and guns don’t mix, but we don’t know precisely what laws would be most effective in reducing the resulting toll. Similar investments in reducing other kinds of accidental deaths have been very effective.

These are all modest steps, and I can’t claim that they would have an overwhelming effect. But public health experts think it’s plausible that a series of well-crafted safety measures like these could reduce gun deaths by one-third—or more than 10,000 a year.

It’s too soon to know what, if anything, might have prevented the shooting in Las Vegas, and it may be that nothing could have prevented it. In some ways, these mass shootings are anomalies: Most gun deaths occur in ones or twos, usually with handguns (which kill far more people than assault rifles), and suicides outnumber murders.

But in every other sphere, we at least use safety regulations to try — however imperfectly — to reduce death and injury.

In every other sphere, we at least use safety regulations to try to reduce death and injury, Kristof said, and he is exactly right. We need to do something besides sending up more meaningless thoughts and prayers. Change requires forceful, meaningful, bipartisan action. And if our elected officials refuse to act, we need to shame them out of office, replacing them with legislators that put people over ideology and value saving lives over collecting donations.

I am not anti-gun. For many years, I was a gun owner. My brother is a retired police officer, and my father was an auxiliary sheriff’s deputy. My father was a lifelong gun owner and seller. Dad owned a gun store in Arizona, and frequented gun shows to buy and sell firearms. As a teenager, I manned many a gun show sales table. I am sympathetic towards private gun ownership. That said, I am also sickened by the carnage and havoc perpetrated by people who were able to buy firearms and ammo with minimal or no regulation. Nineteen children a day are wounded or killed by firearms. In 2013, there were 73,505 nonfatal firearm injuries and 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms” — more deaths than by car accident.  Enough of the carnage! No more thoughts and prayers! It’s time for action. The NRA will certainly object, but it is time for thoughtful, caring Americans to ignore their protestations, and work towards putting an end to gun violence.