Sunday 6 January 2013

GUNS: Which  ones  should  be  banned  from  being  owned?

The slaughter of twenty innocent children and six teachers at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut on 15, December 2012 by a deranged man has brought us all closer to the realization that something is definitely wrong with the laws in the United States that permit people to keep all kinds of guns in their homes. Since that shooting, another 385 people have been shot in the United States. Chicago has the strictest gun laws in the US and at the same time, the greatest number of gun crimes in the US. 

In 2011, guns were used to murder 8,583 people living in the U.S., according to the most recent FBI data available. Among those murdered by guns, there were 565 young people under the age of 18, and 119 children ages 12 or younger. In 2009, of all the young people 18 and under that died due to a firearm injury of any kind, 43 percent were black and 20 percent were Latino, making gun violence a disproportionately common event among teens of colour, according to the Children's Defense Fund report. As many as 33 people are killed by guns in the U.S. every day. 

Making and selling guns and ammunition is a lucrative business for U.S. firearms companies, which earned nearly $1 billion in profit last year, according to the market research firm IBISWorld. However the prevalence of guns in American life comes at a steep price —more than 11,000 deaths in 2011 that cost the health care system and the economy tens of billions of dollars each year.

It is truly ironic when you think about it. If bridges were collapsing all across the United States and killing thousands of drivers, great efforts would be undertaken to keep the bridges from collapsing. If terrorists were constantly detonating bombs in airports in its airports, you can be sure that its politicians would be working to upgrade its nation’s security measures. If a plague was ripping through the United States, public-health officials would be working feverishly to contain it. But when U.S. politicians learn of shootings going on everywhere, what they do about it? Very little.  If as many people who died last year from shootings died instead as a result of derelict bridges falling on them—well. I don’t have to belabour that point do I?

I can appreciate why many people want to keep a handgun in their homes so that they can protect themselves and their families from intruders but not all countries permit handguns in private homes. The UK, Cuba and China all ban private ownership of guns. Many other countries enforce laws that make it extremely difficult to own a gun, especially if someone has a criminal record. Some countries with strict gun control include Australia, Japan, Singapore and Canada.                        

The total accidental gun deaths for all ages in the United States in 2008 were  592, in 2009, 554 and in 2010, 606. Accidents sometimes occur when children find a handgun in their home. In 1948 I was visiting relatives in Creston, B.C., and their neighbour next door had two children whose father had a handgun in his home. One of his sons began to play with it and it was accidentally fired and as a result, he killed his young friend who was visiting him in his home. His father lost his job as a forest ranger and moved his family out of town.  I was nearly killed in 1950 when a friend of mine aimed my 22 cal. rifle at me when I suddenly remembered that I had foolishly left a round in it.

Assault Weapons

It doesn’t make any sense for the authorities in the United States to permit the sale and possession of assault weapons. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban or Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, was a subtitle of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a federal law in the United States that included a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms—so called ‘assault weapons’. The 10-year ban was passed by Congress on September 13, 1994, and was signed into law by President  Bill Clinton  the same day. The ban only applied to weapons manufactured after the date of the ban's enactment. It didn’t forbid anyone having such a weapon they had possessed prior to the signing of that law. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired on September 13, 2004, as part of the law's sunset provision. There have been multiple attempts to renew the ban, but no bill has yet reached the House floor for a vote which that by itself tells you something about the politicians in the Congress of the United States of which many were financially supported during their elections by the National Firearms Association.

The NRA and the gun manufacturers are locked and loaded in a mutual beneficial financial relationship and the manufactures have donated many millions of dollars into the NRA’s coffers. In fact, in the past 12 months, Rugers has donated $1.2 million dollars to the NRA. The NRA’s 2010 tax returns shows that they earned $228 million dollars of which $100.5 came from membership dues and a further $71.1 came from other sources. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the NRA has led the charge on Congress on gun owner’s rights vs. gun control.
The expired ban was shredded with loopholes, which gun dealers easily exploited. The rifle Mrs. Lanza bought and her son used to killer her with and brought with him into the school in Newtown was a semiautomatic Bushmaster, was a version of the AR-15, a widely popular form of the military’s M-16 and M-4. But it was not illegal, even in Connecticut, which outlaws assault weapons, because it differed from banned weapons in cosmetic details, not in lethality. A revived assault-weapons bill should have stricter definitions to capture more of these lethal weapons than before. President Obama proposes a ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. High-capacity magazines allow someone to commit mass murder in seconds, or minutes, without the inconvenience of having to reload.
Electronic Arts, a company that creates computer games has permitted an arms manufacturer to advertise on its website. Now people searching for guns can find them in the ad on Electronic Arts website.
Why would anyone other than criminals want one of these assault weapons in their homes or carry them when they are outside? They certainly can’t be used for hunting or target practice. The mother of the killer who killed those victims in Newtown owned a 223-caliber Bushmaster rifle which is a semi-automatic rifle which operates similarly as an assault weapon. Why did she buy such a weapon? Ironically, it was used by her 20-year-old son to kill her while she lay sleeping in her bed.  
U.S. gun enthusiasts thronged to gun shows around the U.S. in December 2012 to buy assault weapons they fear will soon be outlawed. Reuters reporters went to gun shows in Pennsylvania, Missouri and Texas, and found long lines to get in the door and crowds around the dealer booths. West Plains, Missouri dealer Keith’s Guns sold out his stock of 20 AR-15 style assault rifles in a little over an hour. It was such a gun that the killer of the victims at Newtown used. This was obviously a mad rush to buy assault weapons even at higher prices and some of the dealers sold their entire stock. I hope that a future ban on assault weapons includes those still in possession of people who bought them earlier. That would be a delicious irony to savor like a tender juicy steak in one’s mouth.

President Barack Obama declared last month that he would make gun control a central issue as he opened his second term. He promised to submit broad new firearm proposals to Congress and to employ the full power of his office to overcome deep-seated political resistance. He will be facing an uphill battle when you consider that many of the members of Congress don’t wish to go against the wishes of the National Firearms Association which helped put them into Congress. Incidentally, the biggest donors to the NRA are firearms manufacturers.
As evidence of the cost of gun violence, President Obama said on December 12 that since the school shooting in Connecticut, guns had led to the deaths of police officers in Memphis and Topeka, Kansas; a woman in Las Vegas; three people in an Alabama hospital; and a 4-year-old in a drive-by shooting in Missouri. “They are,” he said, “victims of violence that we cannot accept as routine.”

Representative Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Denver, is pushing a bill that would ban high-capacity ammunition magazines similar to the ones used in the Connecticut and Aurora shootings. She is urging House Speaker John Boehner to put the bill on the floor, saying the legislation has 140 co-sponsors and she thinks it will pass. Gun control advocates have urged the White House and lawmakers to move rapidly to enact new gun control measures before the killings in Connecticut fade from the public's consciousness. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California has said she intends to introduce a new ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines on the first day of the next Congress in January. It will be interesting to see where the hearts and minds of the senators and representatives are when the proposed bills come up for a vote.

The Republicans and the gun lobby have rabidly opposed any and all gun restrictions, even those that don’t impinge on Second Amendment rights. In the 1990s, for example, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York introduced a bill to levy a 10,000 percent tax on hollow-tipped bullets, the kind designed to tear flesh. Nothing came of it. The members of Congress simply didn’t care.   Congress remains mired in excuses and passivity since they claimed per se that an assault-weapons ban is a nonstarter, Republicans say, “Because ‘assault weapon’ is a vague term [therefore] how do you define [an]assault weapon?” 

An assault weapon is a semi-automatic firearm possessing certain features similar to those of military firearms. Semi-automatic firearms fire one bullet (round) each time the trigger is pulled; the spent cartridge case is ejected and another cartridge is loaded into the chamber, without the manual operation of a bolt handle, a lever, or a sliding handgrip. An assault weapon has a detachable magazine, in conjunction with the gun having one, two, or more other features such as a pistol grip, a folding stock, a flash suppressor, or a bayonet lug. They have pistols such as the Intratec TEC-DC9 with a 32-round magazine that is a semi-automatic pistol formerly classified as an assault weapon under Federal Law. Assault weapons sold in stores are versions of military rifles that are meant to kill people and not to shoot at paper targets, clay pigeons or deer.
Keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill persons

Police in Maryland will soon be able to seize firearms from mentally ill people if the State of Maryland adopts the recommendations of a state task force. The study that was undertaken recommended that an emergency procedure for police to seize a mentally ill person’s firearms or to deny that person the right to purchase weapons be enforced. A court would have to conduct a complete review within 14 days after the gun was seized. This would of course mean better training of police officers so that they will be better qualified to identify people who have mental disorders. I would rather it mean that some police officers undergo extensive training in mental illnesses as I am not convinced that all police officers can make a proper judgment in matters of determining mental illness in someone else.  The panel recommended that doctors, educators, social workers, case managers, probation agents, mental health providers and addiction treatment counselors   should report their concerns about a person’s mental instability when that person makes specific threats against anyone or against people in general. The report stated that “making a threat against someone else, or threatening to commit suicide, is the strongest visible indicator of danger. Such threatening behavior is a precursor to violence and provides a way to identify people who are at immediate risk of committing violence.”

The cause of the recent mass shootings perpetrated by mentally ill gunmen is not the guns themselves but governments, which has antiquated laws that make it extremely difficult for family members who try to help their loved ones with serious mental illness to get well. Such a solution is almost unenforceable in practice. A mental-health group home administrator who has often been frustrated when calling for help said, “There is no mechanism for involuntary admission unless the person is either violent or expresses violent ideas in front of a psychiatrist or police.” Further, there are far less facilities in operation for treating mentally ill people nowadays and that is part of the problem. But even if such a person is sent to an institution for treatment of his or her mental illness, such persons are often released back into society and because many then stop taking their medicine that will help them in their mental illnesses, they get worse and many of them begin killing others. We cannot possibly identify the irresponsible, unstable persons who shouldn’t own guns unless they do something that is so irrational, the presumption that they are mentally ill will surface.

Registration of gun owners

There are two purposes for registering gun owners. The first deals with those applying for a licence to own a gun and the second reason is for the police to have access to such licences so that they know who owns guns.
Background checks by a federally licensed dealer are an essential part of a transparent and accountable system. Responsible owners would be outraged that dealers who cheat and falsify records face only a misdemeanor charge and that it is nearly impossible to catch them at it. Whether sold at a gun show, a pawnshop, Wal Mart, or through Craigslist in the United States, the authorities who grant licences to own guns must be able to identify those whose past crimes or mental illnesses bar them from legal ownership. Responsible gun sellers should demand this requirement to ensure the industry does everything possible to prevent another mass killer from legally owning a gun. Supporters of Second Amendment rights cannot oppose this and at the same time, claim to have integrity. Every state should report mental illness and criminal records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check database. Currently 30 states do not fully report this key information, thus mentally ill people, those with a record of drug abuse and even terrorists can pass a U.S. federal background check and legally buy a gun. Unfortunately 40% of gun sales are private and for this reason, no federal background check is done on persons buying those guns.                          

In Canada, this isn’t a problem because to get a permit to own a gun, applicants must have a police check done and since the information of persons with criminal backgrounds who have not been pardoned, is recorded in the RCMP computer files, (CPIC) and therefore someone with a criminal background would not be given the necessary documents that must be shown to the seller of guns. Further, they must undergo training in the use of firearms and prove that they passed before a permit is issued. Unfortunately, there are no records in CIPIC that shows that an applicant is mentally ill unless he also has a criminal record.

Gun registry

Last March, the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, reversed decades of increasing restrictions on civilian firearms, scrapping the controversial long-gun registry on grounds that it was wasteful and ineffective. Gun laws, the prime minister correctly said, should focus on criminals rather than law-abiding citizens such as farmers and hunters.

Canadian voters seem divided on this issue. They were asking themselves—Is it too expensive to continue? Are firearms in the hands of ordinary citizens a serious threat to public safety? Is registration an effective approach to controlling misuse? How useful was the long-gun registry to police? 

In 2002, the auditor-general revealed that the Firearms Centre had grown out of control. Despite political promises that the program would not cost over $2-million, costs were expected to exceed $1-billion by 2005. By 2012, this had ballooned to $2.7-billion. Such an amount of money would be far better used for other purposes such as building more hospitals and homes for retired people and certainly more facilities for the mentally ill.

There is the claim that long guns are the weapon of choice in domestic homicides, and that registration can help to identify the perpetrator. In fact, the long-gun registry and licensing are rarely needed by police to solve spousal homicides for three reasons: (1) in almost all cases, spousal murderers are immediately identified; (2) firearms are not often used to kill female spouses; and (3) the firearms used by abusive spouses to kill their wives are almost all possessed illegally. Statistics Canada data show that just 4% of long guns involved in homicides were registered. On average, there are almost 600 homicides and 60 female spousal murders in Canada a year. Generally long guns are involved in the deaths of just 11 female spouses since it is usually knives and not long guns that are the weapons used most often to kill women. Statistics Canada found that most spouses (65%) accused of homicide had a history of violence involving the victim. None of those spouses could legally own a firearm.

There has been the assertion is that the long-gun registry is an important tool for the police because they use it 14,000 to 17,000 times daily. Besides mistaking frequency of use with usefulness, this claim is misleading because it confuses the long-gun registry with the Canadian Firearms Registry Online (CFRO). Almost 98% of the queries to the CFRO concern licensing, not the long-gun registry. The firearms registry contains only gun-specific data, such as the make or model.

Statistics have shown that the police recovered registered long guns in only 1% of homicides committed in Canada.  During the eight years from 2003 to 2010, there were 4,811 homicides; 1,485 of those involved firearms and only 45 were long guns registered to the accused. In none of these few cases have the police been able to say that the long-gun registry provided the identity of the murderer.

There is also the contention that the registry tells the police who has firearms. This is false. Neither licensing nor the long-gun registry contains information about unregistered firearms. The most dangerous criminals have obviously not registered their firearms. When police approach a dangerous person or situation, they must assume there could be an illegal weapon. For this reason, experienced police officers have testified that they do not find the registry helpful.

Some foolish people in Canada believe that it would be wrong to destroy the existing records as they might be useful in the future. That is silly to say the least. It isn`t useful nowadays so why would it be useful in the future  Besides, it would be out of date then in any case.
In Conclusion

If the Americans are smart, they will look at how we as Canadians issue gun permits and how we failed in keeping records of gun owners.

I do appreciate why some people feel the need to have rifles, shot guns and handguns if they are hunters, farmers or like target shooting. When I was young and had a steady hand and a sharp eye, I was a marksman and taught rifle shooting and could hit a small bull’s eye every time in a target sixty feet away with a handgun. It was fun. But I am 79 years of age now and I don`t need the excitement incurred when I am target shooting or hunting when I was a young man.  I can`t speak for others of course.  

What I would like to see however are changes in the law that will help us put an end to criminals and mentally ill persons getting access to guns. What I have in mind are severe prison sentences. Here is what I have in mind for those not licenced to have ammunition or guns in their possessions and use them in the commissions of crimes.

One year in prison for having in one`s possession, ammunition or any cartridge holder that will hold eleven or more cartridges. Two years for being in possession of a rifle or shotgun. Five years for being in possession of a handgun or an assault rifle. Ten years if it a gun is fired in the commission of an offence and ten years if a person is illegally selling guns or bringing them into the country. Fifteen years if a gun is used and someone is injured from being shot by a gun. Twenty years if more than one person is injured after being shot from a gun and twenty-five years to life if someone is killed after being shot by a gun.

Now there are really soft headed and soft hearted people who will say that if we imprison these people, we will ruin their lives. Hey, those criminals have no qualms about ruining the lives of innocent victims and their families so why should we care about the futures of criminally-minded people who illegally have guns or ammunition and especially those who use guns on people.

The days are long gone when we could carry our rifles on public buses and no one really took notice of them. Nowadays, we must be ever vigilant and make sure that we are not the victims of criminals and mentally ill persons carrying guns, concealed or not. The way to do that is to hit these criminals real hard and have strong laws that will make it impossible for them to possess guns.    

Americans love the sights and sounds of extreme violence and love watching shoot-em-up movies but they have to come to terms that in real life, shootings bring pain and grief to families and friends of shooting victims. Americans per se have to come to grips with the realization that there has to be stringent gun control to keep the number of shooting victims much lower that they currently are. 

There is nothing that will go to the heart of the matter than seeing the bodies of small children riddled with bullets. 

No comments: