Saturday, December 15, 2012

Not The Time For Numbers

The statistics that tell us mass murder and school shootings are rare offer very little comfort this weekend...

Along with the rest of our nation I'm numbed by the unspeakable tragedy that devastated the community of Newtown, Connecticut, Friday morning.  For now we'll mourn for murdered children and grieve with their families.  We'll take great pride and small comfort in the knowledge that several adults at the school died rushing the gunman in an unsuccessful attempt to stop him with their bare hands.  In time we'll learn more about the nature of the shooter's brutal derangement; knowledge that will come much too late for the 26 victims, their families, and their community.

Already there are pleas for more gun control - and less gun control - from each end of that debate.  Some plead for another assault weapons ban, while others ask that teachers and other adults be allowed to carry concealed handguns in school.  Ironically, while they go about it in different ways, people on either side of this culture war issue seek to create a sense of safety and control in the face of fear and uncertainty.

While this debate is likely to rage on for some time, there is one idea upon which I hope all parties can agree and then do something about today:

Persons suffering from psychotic delusions or personality disorders that make them a danger to themselves or others should not have access to firearms. 

This is not a blanket indictment of the mentally ill.  Most mentally ill persons are at greater risk of being the victim of a crime than they are to commit one.  However, while very few persons with mental health problems or personality disorders commit mass murder, almost all persons who commit mass murder (other than criminal massacres, go figure) have a serious mental illness or suffer from a dangerous personality disorder.

Under federal regulation and state laws persons with serious mental health or drug abuse issues are not allowed to purchase firearms.  Persons named in protective orders are not allowed to buy guns and they are also supposed to surrender any they possess.  These details are supposed to be verified before a firearm purchase is permitted, but dangerous people can and do defeat these safeguards.  Regrettably, the madmen who killed 32 at Virginia Tech, six in the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords, and 12 in Aurora, Colorado bought their weapons while they could still color inside the lines.

Preliminary reports tell us the three guns used by the shooter in Newtown belonged to his mother and that he used one to kill her before leaving their home.  It's not my place to question her decision to own firearms, but I question her judgment in allowing her disturbed son access to them.  She would too, if she were still alive.  The rifle used to kill two and wound another at the Clackamas Town Center Mall was stolen from its owner by the shooter.  The AR-15 is a lawful implement with a variety of legitimate applications, but I question the owner's storage precautions.  I imagine he will too, for the rest of his life.  How might our world be different today if the guns used to commit these recent horrors had been locked away behind the armored door of a gun safe?

What about you, your family, and your friends?  Do you own firearms?  Do you know anyone who does?  What have you done to prevent these powerful tools from falling into the wrong hands and being used to perpetrate evil?  Do you have a sturdy safe in which to protect your guns from theft, misuse, and tragedy?  If you keep a pistol for personal defense do you store it in a lock box only you can open?  If you're an anti-gunner, instead of arguing with your gun-owning friends and relatives about the need for new gun laws, how about convincing them to buy a gun safe instead?  If you're a fervent proponent of the right to keep and bear arms, instead of rushing out to buy another assault rifle before the next gun ban, how about using the money to buy a safe large enough to secure all the guns you already own?  Think on it.  It's something every one of us can do without giving up an inch from our respective positions on the gun rights issue.