There are some strangely missing laws that would prevent many gun deaths, by making the irresponsible handling of guns illegal. They wouldn’t be opposed by the anti-gun lobby, I hope, because they have nothing to do with restricting gun ownership and possession. They are simple, obvious, and consistent with jurisprudence in other areas of the law. Yet nobody is talking about these measures, because the debate has already been pitched at a hysterical level characterized by over-reach, exaggeration, demonization and polarizing rhetoric. When a policy controversy reaches this decibel level, nobody listens, and nobody can think. Everyone adding to the volume—grand-standing politicians, screaming talking heads, phobics on one side (“ARRRRH!!! GUUUUNS!!!) and paranoids (“They want to take our guns and make us their slaves!!”) is responsible for keeping rationality at bay, and contributing to future tragedies like this one:
From The Mail Online…
“A 19-year-old woman accidentally shot dead her brother while posing with a gun for Facebook photos on New Year’s Eve. Manuel Ortiz died instantly after being shot in the head at about 6am on Monday morning….Police said 22-year-old Ortiz and his sister Savannah Ramirez arrived back at the home they shared on New Year’s Eve after spending the night drinking. They were with two other people when someone in the group pulled out the handgun to take photos with it.
“It is not known if the group knew the handgun was loaded….
“Police say she has been questioned and released pending further investigation in the case….Phoenix Police Sgt Steve Martos said the victim’s sister would likely be charged with manslaughter if tests conclude she had alcohol in her system.”
What’s wrong with this story?
This: What do you mean, Sgt. Martos, that “the victim’s sister would likely be charged with manslaughter if tests conclude she had alcohol in her system?” She’s guilty of manslaughter whether she was drunk or not, or should be. She was either playing with a gun, not knowing how to properly use a gun, while knowing it was loaded and deadly, or without ascertaining whether it was loaded and deadly, which is just as bad. Yes, this is an accident, in the sense that it was not intentional, but it was the result of criminal recklessness, ignorance and stupidity by everyone in the room—conduct, in other words. The gun didn’t kill on its own. Elsewhere in the story, Matos sadly reflects on how she will have to live with the fact that she killed her brother, with the unstated conclusion, “she’s been punished enough.” No, she hasn’t. And if the laws were severe enough on people who do what she did prior to killing her brother, as well as the gun owners and others who allow people to do what she did, her brother might be alive today.
I see no reason why there shouldn’t be tough national laws that decree that:
- Handling a loaded gun, legal and licensed or not, without proper training is a criminal offense, carries stiff fines and the possibility of jail time;
- Playing with, fooling around with, or otherwise using a gun, yours or anyone else’s, for any purpose other than its intended and legal purposes is similarly illegal;
- Anyone who allows a person who is untrained, unlicensed or otherwise unqualified to hold and handle a gun not belonging to them will be fined and/or imprisoned for doing so, whether any harm comes from the incident or not;
- Anyone who is present when an individual who is untrained, unlicensed or otherwise unqualified to hold and handle a gun does so is required by law to 1) leave the premises and 2) immediately report the incident to the police, with failure to do either constituting a criminal act, make such individual legally co-responsible for any illegal conduct or harm that occurs;
- Anyone who owns a gun and is negligent in storing, securing, and otherwise preventing the possession, handling or use of that gun is jointly and criminally responsible for any crimes or harm to individuals or property that result from the use of the weapon. Negligence will be defined as “if the wrong person gets a hold of the gun or guns, the owner is negligent, no matter what measures he or she took to prevent it”—that is, strict liability. If someone gets to use a gun that belongs to you, you are responsible, and it doesn’t matter if you had the gun completely disassembled in a bank safe guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. This would mean that the gun-owning mother of the Sandy Hook shooter, had she not been shot dead by her deranged son before he went on his murderous rampage, would have faced murder charges for allowing a disturbed young man and her legally acquired guns to be under the same roof.
Too harsh? Hardly. Nobody on either side of the gun divide denies that guns can be deadly, and the obvious first step toward minimizing the frequency with which guns are deadly in unproductive ways is to place appropriate responsibility squarely on the shoulders of gun owners to prevent irresponsible conduct involving their guns. You want your Second Amendment rights? Fine. But nothing in the Second Amendment says that you should not be required, on pain of imprisonment, to avoid letting criminals, madmen, children and fools cause death, tragedy and mayhem with your gun.
Dealing with gun violence in the United States could and should be an exercise in collaborative problem-solving, not hysterical finger-pointing. The combatants who refuse to acknowledge that are getting people killed.
Facts and Graphic: Daily Mail
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