Heartbreaking seems like too small of a word to encompass what happened in Newtown, CT, last Friday. I cannot imagine the grief that those families are going through. I don’t know what it would feel like to get that phone call, to wait at that fire station, to experience true chaos. I do know that what happened in Newtown – and in Aurora, and Columbine, and Fort Hood, and the Wisconsin temple, and the Oregon mall – is the result of a massive failure of public policy.
The gun debate isn’t new. There are common-sense solutions here – solutions that no congressman or president will pursue. It’s not because they don’t know what the solutions are – because those aren’t new, either, and we’ll get to them in a minute. This is negligence as a result of greed: the institutional left pays big bucks to politicians who promise to ban all sorts of weapons, and the NRA pays off politicians in exchange for policies favorable to gun manufacturers. That’s why we’re being told that our policy options are either unregulated guns (NRA), or no legal guns at all (the institutional Left). Under either one of these options, criminals would still have guns. At least the NRA option allows law-abiding citizens to keep them, too.
Meanwhile, nobody is lobbying for common sense. Nobody should have to. The generation that’s been in charge for the past 40 years has completely failed us by creating a culture that refuses to recognize when someone has a real problem, destroying the fledgling mental health care system that we had, and bankrupting the country so that we can’t afford to pay for a solution.
The same generation that’s been presiding over this mess is the one that raised its kids to think they were all special little snowflakes. And special little snowflakes can’t be wrong, they can only be different, and you must be one awful teacher/administrator/doctor if you try to change the behavior of a kid who’s just different. Our parents raised the “don’t judge” generation. We wonder how it could possibly be that nobody stopped a killer before he started. Maybe it’s because we “don’t judge” even when we should. While the blame for this tragedy falls on the shooter alone – and on no one else – those 27 victims might still be here if someone, anyone, had been able to get him in treatment before last Friday.
The past few decades have seen closing after closing of mental hospitals, making the mentally ill homeless and making our cities and towns less safe. The effects of this backward policy are written on our national psyche: We all know to “see something, say something” for a suspicious duffel bag in a train station, but we have no idea where to go or who to talk to about a suspicious living, breathing human being. We’re profiling items instead of people – just like the TSA does when it takes our water bottles but rarely ever catches a terrorist. This strategy is weak, expensive, and dangerous to society.
Maybe one day, we’ll teach everyone how to recognize the signs of mental illness as simply and as often as we teach “stop drop and roll.” Maybe we’ll have a mental health emergency number as well-known as 9-1-1, that would send trained professionals to intervene when a child or a partner or a student has gone beyond anger and has become something worse. If our elected leadership had been doing its job and we had any money left in the treasury, a program like this could be a really great way to spend some of it.
What if we regulated guns like we regulate prescription drugs? An examination is required for you to get them, you are not permitted to have a huge stockpile, and it’s illegal for you to allow anyone else to use them. Just like you have to pass a basic car safety test at the DMV, a similar test for prospective gun owners is probably a good idea. A knowledge quiz only impedes on someone’s freedom only as much as that person is unwilling to learn the topic being tested. You pass that examination, you want a gun for sport or self-defense, you can get that gun. You can take it home because society trusts you to use it properly (and if you don’t, you’re likely only harming yourself, and since you passed the exam, we have a reasonable expectation that you won’t want to self-harm).
To continue with the prescription drug metaphor, we all know that there are some drugs so strong that if you need them; they can only be administered in a hospital or an otherwise licensed facility. No doctor would send you home with an IV bag full of morphine, he keeps you in a place where – even when you can control your own dosage with a pain pump – you’re under supervision just in case something goes wrong. Machine guns are the “morphine” of guns: the very strongest and most dangerous of the bunch. So what if we adopted the same strategy for the most powerful guns as we do with the most powerful drugs?
You’re still allowed to own that machine gun. It’s yours, for only you to use. But you have to keep it in a locker in a licensed facility. You can’t take it home, sure – but you own it exclusively, and it’s not like you have any reason to want to take a machine gun home (you can keep a less powerful gun there) or out into the world (because what would you be using it fr there?). When you travel, you can have that gun shipped to the nearest licensed facility. This is fairly similar to the locker system that most country clubs have for golf clubs. And if there’s one thing our elected officials can agree on, it’s a system that mirrors one at a country club.
There is no money, no lobby, pushing this idea right now. However, it has huge potential for free enterprise to swoop in and make money by increasing firearm safety. Someone has to own and manage the shooting range, someone needs to develop a bulletproof method of locker security, someone has to oversee the shipping of guns from one facility to another. Each “someone” here is another job created, another person working to make sure that guns don’t cause undue harm. We can gain jobs and safety without ever having to give up a gun.
We can debate the merits and faults of gun control for years (as we have been), but we cannot escape the truth that government cannot possibly control which private citizens own which types of guns. It can’t even control its own guns (see: Fast and Furious). The government will never be able to control its own people, either – not that we would even want that, anyway. But through a combination of sensible gun policy and increased access to mental health care, we can stop things like the Sandy Hook tragedy from happening again.