On Thursday this past week, Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly, the founders of the gun control group Americans for Responsible Solutions used the Pope’s visit to further their agenda. They quoted the Pope’s congressional address out of context to get donations for their political action group.
The quote they used was “Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society”. The Pope was referring to the international arms trade. The U.S is one of the largest exporters of arms in the world, and inevitably either due to negligence or chance some of these weapons fall into the wrong hands. A great example is the loss of thousands of Humvees and dozens of tanks and armored cars to ISIS after they routed the Iraqi army. The Pope’s message was targeting these situations. He was trying to address how much suffering these weapons can cause if they fall into the wrong hands. Small arms are the real weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear missiles stay in their silos, and bombs are rarely dropped. It is small arms shipped by Russia, the U.S, Great Britain, and China that allow dictators to come to power. They enable genocide and suffering on a scale rarely seen. He addressed the U.S congress about this issue because 31% of exported arms originate in the U.S. Stopping these weapons from falling into the hands of future mass murderers and dictators was the Pope’s real message.
Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly took this quote and tried to apply it to U.S gun lobbying. They in effect compared gun owners, and people purchasing firearms to mass murderers and tyrannical dictators. They are basically calling all gun owners criminals. They assume that people buying a gun are going to “Plan to inflict untold suffering…” which is completely wrong. As a gun owner myself I find this particularly offensive. When I bought my rifle I had no plan to use it to inflict “Suffering on individuals and society”. I bought my rifle so I could participate in a hobby that I love. Just because someone owns a gun does not mean that they have mal intent. Sure some people purchase guns with the intention of defense, but defense does not equate to offense. The Pope’s message does not transfer to the U.S. So why did they use it? Money. That is the basic answer. The founders of ARS tweeted “Heed Pope Francis’s message not by giving to charity, but rather, a super PAC”.
Taking advantage of the Pope’s visit to raise money for their Political Action Committee by taking his words out of context is bad enough. What made what they did terrible was intentionally comparing gun owners to some of the most immoral and violent people in the world. Explain how a man buying a handgun to protect himself–and doing so legally at that—compares to a dictator buying crates of high powered military rifles to suppress his people and kill political dissidents. Hopefully ARS will realize that alienating the firearm community will only add difficulty to any attempt at gun control.
This past weekend Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) decided to abandon his push for new gun control regulations which would make background checks mandatory at gun shows and private sales. The bill had bipartisan support, but has been unable to pass in the legislature.
After two years of fighting, Senator Toomey has given up on his bill. Though background checks appear to be the logical step to reduce gun crime, they have serious flaws. Over two thirds of all firearm deaths in the U.S are suicides. How could a background check prevent that? Even if medical records of suicidal thought are shown in background checks, can you refuse someone their second amendment right on the grounds of suspicion? The American public seems to agree. In a recent CNN poll, 56% of registered voters lack confidence that new gun legislation would keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill. 58% of voters doubt new gun laws would keep firearms out of the hands of criminals. Public support for new legislation is falling. In another CNN poll only 51% of people over 50 think it is too easy to get a gun, while only 37% of people under 50 think the same. Americans are beginning to see that gun violence cannot be legislated away.
Besides the lack of public support, background checks are extremely ineffective at keeping firearms from criminals. First, criminals can steal guns. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms 10-15% of firearms used in criminal activity are stolen. Second, criminals practice what is called a “Straw Purchase” in which a person who can legally buy a firearm purchases it for someone who legally cannot. Recently Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) suggested that gun dealers be held criminally responsible for firearms they sell. I suggest instead that purchasers be held responsible for their purchased firearm. If people could be charged for crimes committed with their purchased firearms then perhaps straw purchases would be prevented. If private sales between two people had to be done through an FFL (Federal Firearm License holder) dealer, than background checks would be practically universal anyway. If records of sales were kept by FFL’s than ownership of a firearm could be documented effectively and assist in police investigation. Such reform is unlikely however, and its effectiveness is uncertain, but what is certain is that background checks alone will not make much impact. Vester Lee Flangan, the man who shot two people on live T.V passed his background check.
A big fallacy of gun control is that we try to control the guns because we know we cannot control people. We try to legislate away a problem that is deeper and more complicated than anyone would like to admit. Passing bans on specific types of firearms, or specific cosmetic features on firearms is a solution for the intellectually weak. Instead of addressing the root of the problem they give a false sense of security by targeting firearms that account for less than three percent of all firearm deaths. At least Senator Pat Troony made an attempt to pass real legislation, but the American people have lost faith.
In a recent article titled, Lessons From the Virginia Shooting, Nicholas Kristof argues for increased firearm regulation in the U.S because at the current death rate it is a public health issue. Mr. Kristof makes some very good suggestions for future regulation, but some of his suggestions are contradictory and show a lack of insight into why people own firearms.
Kristof mentions that “We do not need a modern prohibition” because it would “Raise constitutional issues and be impossible politically” while at the same time suggesting that the U.S follow Australia’s lead on gun control. According to Australian statute, a good and substantial reason must be presented in order to own a firearm which in effect banned the possession of one. Quite contradictory when he mentions constitutional issues. Similar legislation to Australia’s has been enacted in the U.S and repealed in the courts. The key difference is that in the U.S owning a gun is a right not a privilege. So trying to compare the U.S to other nations in terms of policy is not easy because limitations on a right are far more difficult to enact than limitations on a privilege. A better suggestion would have been to follow Switzerland’s example. Switzerland has one of the highest percentages of gun owners in the world, with just one-seventh the firearm death rate of the U.S. In Switzerland when purchasing a firearm a permit is required that specifies what you are buying. As long as you pass a background check and are of age you can purchase a firearm in Switzerland. Where their legislation is unique is that ammo is regulated. A gun owner may only purchase ammo for firearms they own. The most unique act is that the government actively supports adolescents to train with rifles. They subsidize ammunition sold on Federal Council licensed ranges, but require that it all be used there. This is a perfect example of good gun legislation because instead of punishing gun owners for shooting, they are encouraging education about firearms while at the same time controlling ammunition obtained outside of ranges. In the U.S it is the opposite, ammunition on ranges is heavily taxed, sometimes up to 50%, while at gun shops it is cheap and easily available.
Also, Kristof’s suggestion that “Smart Guns” be supported shows his lack of understanding for the purpose of owning a firearm. Many gun owners purchase a firearm to protect their home, family, or self. What current “Smart gun” technology does is make that harder to do. The only easily available and inexpensive “Smart gun” tech available is the Magna-Trigger system for specific Smith & Wesson revolvers, and the Magloc designed only for the Colt 1911A1. Both of these systems require that the operator of the firearm be wearing a magnetic ring on his or her finger that will release a lock on the trigger and allow the gun to fire. The problem with this solution is that it requires the magnetic ring to fire. What if a criminal breaks into your home and attacks you. When you aim your firearm ready to defend yourself or family the trigger won’t move. Then you realize you forgot to put your magnetic ring on, and your only means of defense is useless. If this does not sound like an issue than ask yourself why law enforcement is exempt from legislation requiring this type of safety. It is because it is unreliable and not cost effective. Anything a “Smart Gun” can prevent can also be prevented by training, proper storage, and responsible use of the firearm. Perhaps instead of inventing a new technology we should invest in firearm training and handling like the Swiss do.
Common ground needs to be found between the anti-gun and pro-gun factions in government to create responsible, reasonable, and effective gun legislation. The type of misunderstanding that occurs between these two groups inhibits any form of legislation from being passed. If they could sit down and address each other’s concerns then perhaps this country would not be stuck with what Kristof calls “Demented” gun policies.