Guns Don’t Kill People, People Do: Weighing in on Gun Control

Guns. The topic of 2013 thus far is unquestionably guns… or more specifically, gun safety.

We’ve all witnessed extraordinarily horrific events these last few months throughout the country fueled by mental illness and a lack of firearm security. Days before the heartbreaking massacre in Newtown Connecticut, a young man open fire in the food court of a mall I shopped frequently as a teenager only 20 minutes from my home.

After any event like this it is not uncommon to hear the residents express disbelief that something so tragic could happen in their community. At the risk of being cliche’, I am now one of those people. I honestly never imagined that something like what happened on December 11, 2012 at Clackamas Town Center could ever have occurred. A place that I once felt safe going to on a Saturday afternoon now has a permanent stigma attached to it.

Sure, this mall had its issues in the past. I remember one Christmas around 1992 being terrified to go shopping with my family because a gang-related shooting had occurred the night before. When you grow up in an area where violent events are fairly rare, any shooting is news. But as scary as having a gang banger shooting up the mall was (and I use the term shooting up loosely), having a seemingly “normal” person open fire using a semi-automatic rifle at random is a far scarier prospect.

While some Americans are demanding stronger restrictions on gun ownership, proposing bans on certain types of firearms and relying on government legislation to enforce the law (because that has worked so well for drugs and immigration in the past), I think that there is a huge  part of this issue that is being overlooked completely… mental health.

Let me be the first to say that I am not a fan of guns. I have never owned a gun and really haven’t ever had a desire to be around a gun. But I strongly believe in the 2nd amendment. I also believe that if the US decides to ban specific weapons that it is only going to make those weapons more desirable. Case in point, drug control has not worked, the prohibition did not work and doing the same thing with guns will likely follow suit. People want what they can not have. It is human nature.

I firmly believe that the answer lies in education and prevention. Having no first hand experience in the process of purchasing a firearm I rely on the knowledge of friends and family who are more experienced than I in the gun world. One of our former employees, a veteran of the US Marine Corp., held a second job a local gun store while working with us. He told me once about a young man who rode his bicycle up to the store and rode away minutes later with a handgun. While the idea that this person was able to ride up and pick up a gun almost as easily as ordering a Latte’ at Starbucks is really scary, the fact that this particular young man was witnessed exhibiting clear signs of mental instability at the time of purchase was even scarier. It seems to me that it is harder to get a drivers license than to purchase a gun, at least in the state of Oregon.

Right now under Federal law you can’t own a gun if you are a felon, a fugitive, illegal alien, committed to a mental institution or convicted of domestic abuse. You must also be 18 to buy a shotgun or long-gun and 21 to buy a handgun. But what if you are any of these things but haven’t been caught or in the case of mental defeat, haven’t snapped? If the military and police academy can reasonably determine the competency of those individuals who want to serve and protect why can’t we have a similar testing practice to help keep guns out of the hands of people with mental illness? And why don’t people need to at least pass a test on gun safety? Yes you have to complete a course to carry a concealed weapon but what about all these people who just think a gun is a cool toy to have?

The sad fact is that no one solution will stop every bad guy. Both of the gunmen in the most recent tragedies used guns they stole from others. But why weren’t those weapons secured? How is it that these men obviously bent on mass destruction were able to get their hands on weapons registered to someone else? Gun safes must be a mandatory part of gun ownership! There should never be any easy way for anyone to easily commit a crime with a weapon you are responsible for, period. All the mandates in the world are not going to stop actions committed because of ignorant gun ownership. In fact I think that the guns owner holds partial responsibility for any wrong doings involving the weapon they are responsible for and maybe if the law help gun owners responsible, people would be safer with their guns.

The long and short of this epic rant of mine is that while it is easy to say, “let’s ban guns and make laws to stop the bad guys” that simply will not work for reasons too numerous to mention. Guns should be treated with respect, they don’t kill people – people do!  The problem is not the weapon used, it is the people who get their hands on them and it always has been. Until we find a better way to vet the people who are getting access to any weapon (remember the planes used in the 911 attacks were hijacked with box cutters) more events like Aurora, Newtown and Clackamas will likely happen in the future.

If you own a gun please be smart and keep it stored safely in a gun safe when it isn’t with you. Remember, choosing a good gun safe is equally important, not all can be created equally as illustrated in this video showing a three year old easily opening a few different style safes… SCARY!

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