Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Middle Ground For Gun Control: Gun Safety

A Nevada middle school is the latest tragic scene in a long line of school shootings. In Massachusetts, a 14 year-old is being sought for shooting a beloved teacher and disposing of her body behind in the woods. In Texas, a napping nanny left her gun lying around, and her 5-year-old charge accidentally killed himself with it.

In all these cases, the shooters who pulled the trigger didn't buy their weapons. They simply took them from someone who was careless enough to leave their guns easily accessible.

In the debate over gun control, 2nd-amendment advocates say we don't need more gun laws. They say that everything is working just fine. More gun laws will only punish law-abiding gun owners.

But here's the thing. With no laws mandating gun safety measures, a law-abiding citizen can easily leave their gun vulnerable to misuse by somebody else. Only after that gun is used in a tragedy can they be brought up on any charges. Perhaps if laws were in place that were proactive rather than reactive, those people would have kept their guns better secured.

There are many easy solutions. Easy to implement, that is. At least if the gun lobby actually wants to stop their favorite product from making headlines for killing kids.

1. Require gun locks. Gun advocates argue that gun locks are cumbersome in case of an emergency. Okay, maybe. But requiring gun locks on weapons doesn't stop a gun owner from keeping their weapon unlocked when it's attended to. Need the security of that gun in your nightstand when you're going to bed? Sure, leave the gun unlocked while you're right next to it with your bedroom door closed. But when you leave the house, when your kids are playing near by, when you're out running errands... you have a lock on your gun which makes sure nobody else can use it in your absence.

2. Require gun safety classes. Right now, anyone without a criminal record can purchase a weapon. Okay, great. But there are a ton of idiots out there who... well, will think nothing of leaving a gun lying out while a 5-year-old is around. Requiring a gun safety course before a weapon can be purchased won't weed out all the idiots, but it will do two things. One, it will establish a longer period of contact between a gun purchaser and another party-- possibly enough to raise red flags if it seems that gun purchaser may intend to harm someone. Two, it assures that a gun purchaser has at least been taught basic safety and use of the dangerous product they're buying. Not all of the safety issues surrounding guns are immediately obvious-- for instance, if you hold the gun incorrectly, you're likely to break your finger due to the bolt action/hammer engaging. Or you may just shoot yourself not realizing that there's a bullet in the chamber after removing the ammo clip.

3. Offer incentives to gun companies to add gun safety features. Gun manufacturers have plenty of incentive to make their weapons more accurate, lighter, more deadly. One start-up even makes a gun that doesn't require aiming! The thing is, they don't have similar incentive to add safety features to their guns-- the truth is, people who buy guns buy them FOR safety... they don't worry about anything that makes their gun "safer." Giving gun companies a financial incentive to develop smart triggers and other ways to make sure a gun is only fired by authorized users could change the marketplace in a way that doesn't draw 2nd-amendment advocates' ire.

None of these solutions is a panacea... but they are realistic proposals that don't give gun enthusiasts much to complain about. They're basic safety precautions that don't rise to the level of gun licensing or restriction. Instead, they seek to promote responsible behavior. They won't stop gun violence, not by a longshot... but these policies can reduce the cases of gun violence that use a carelessly secured weapon, which is a goal that both gun control advocates and the gun lobby should be able to agree with.

UPDATE: Some gun owners on Reddit gave me some enlightening responses, which I want to briefly address.

As several commenters pointed out, most guns do come with some kind of lock. However:
"Trigger locks can be defeated with zip ties or a set of car keys. You are angling to create legislation just to create a false sense of security."
Well... a lock that's easily pickable? That's a problem, no? We can't beef these up? Well, no, because...
"Adding "safety features" to guns makes them less safe. It makes them more complicated and difficult to use, which means you are more likely to have a broken(dangerous) gun, or not be able to use it properly(also dangerous)."
The concern here seems to be, if someone breaks into your home, and is standing over your bed, you don't want to have to fiddle with a gun lock. I get that. But what about when you leave the gun at home, unattended? Leaving it unlocked presents a big hazard. Requiring a key to start your automobile doesn't prevent you from driving, and despite how "complicated" a key ignition system is, it rarely malfunctions.
"Could I just point out that each of these cases seem to involve criminal negligence(which as the term "criminal" might indicate, is illegal), and one case is attempted/successful murder?(also illegal) So the law already discourages and punishes this behaviour."
My issue with this argument is, irresponsible gun owners don't expect their guns to be used in a crime. They don't leave their guns unattended despite the possibility of being charged for criminal negligence. The act of being irresponsible with a gun, by itself, is not illegal, so one may think nothing of the possible implications of a possible crime in a possible future. If leaving a gun unattended and unlocked were illegal, then it might get people to think twice. Of course, enforcing that law would be nearly impossible in practice-- which is why I'm not advocating for it. I'm only for putting the onus on gun manufacturers to encourage gun responsibility by making gun locks a mandatory on every gun and pushing for the development of reliable and secure smart triggers. Apple figured out how to use your thumb to turn on your phone, smart triggers shouldn't be too much of a stretch.
 We're beyond the "middle ground" already. Gun owners have been the only ones giving in and compromising since 1934.
Guns are a lot different now than in 1934. A lot, lot different than they were in 1776 also. In order to pull off a mass shooting in 1776, you'd have to have about 12 muskets on you. So its a bit naive to think that as technology develops, the law should stay exactly the same. There are legitimate concerns about how modern advances have transformed our forefathers' shotguns into the modern weapons of today, weapons that have capabilities not designed for sport hunting or self-defense, but for warfare.
"The truth is there are more gun owning parents than pool owning parents but more kids drown every year by a large margin. If this is a humanistic appeal that has nothing to do with personal motivations to control, influence, or inconvenience all members of a hobby then you will be happy to know you can drop this devisive issue and save more lives by legislating pool ownership."
No kid takes a swimming pool to school and kills dozens of kids. Everything has its dangers, yes, but not everything is designed to kill. That's what a gun is. It is designed to kill. We shouldn't pretend otherwise because it's convenient for our argument. A gun is one of the only things with the capability of inflicting mass casualties in a short period of time, much more so than a knife (which requires close proximity and some degree of physical superiority). The other things on that list? Cars, bombs, poisons... things that are all regulated to some degree. It's fair for someone to believe that gun access should be unfettered, but its pretty disingenuous to compare apples to oranges by equating guns with pool ownership.
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