How Do We Keep A Law-Abiding Gun Owner From Doing Something Crazy With A Gun?

In the aftermath of Orlando and Dallas, Gun Violence Prevention advocates find themselves coming face-to-face with the veritable elephant in the living room, namely, how to prevent someone from using a gun who acquired the weapon legally?  Expanding background checks to private transaction, a worthwhile goal, wouldn’t have made any difference in these two tragedies at all. For that matter, instituting a permit-to-purchase requirement for handguns or highly-lethal assault rifles also wouldn’t have prevented either shooter from getting his hands on a gun.

dallas           Of course Gun-nut Nation has a ready-made answer to this problem, consisting of eliminating all ‘gun-free’ zones and convincing every ‘law-abiding’ citizen to walk around with a gun. So even if a law-abiding citizen like the Orlando shooter yanked out his AR and started shooting up a club, there would be a few armed citizens in the crowd who would immediately respond and bring things under control.  If you actually believe that there’s any truth whatsoever in the previous sentence, do me a favor, okay?  Go lay brick.

Now back to reality.  The problem we face in this respect is both very simple and very complicated.  It’s simple because what we are looking at is an aberrant form of behavior which every year costs more than 30,000 Americans their lives and another 60,000+ Americans their health because gun injuries happen to be the most medically devastating injury of all.  That’s the simple part.

The complicated part is that trying to control or (God forbid) change human behavior through imposing new rules or regulations can work, but only if the rules reflect a collaboration of a large and diverse group of stakeholders, all of whom agree that something needs to be done.  Who had to jump on the bandwagon to cut the fatality rate from auto accidents? Try government, manufacturers, insurance companies, school systems, law enforcement, and most of all, the driving public.  Can you imagine a similar conglomeration of stakeholders sitting down to come up with a set of comprehensive mandates to make it more difficult for Mister Average Joe Gun Owner to do something stupid or destructive with his gun?

And even if you could convene these relevant participants, and even if they could produce some new mandates that might alter the current regulatory environment in a positive way, how could such changes create any kind of barrier to a law-abiding individual who wants to own a gun? Which is why I said above that the Gun Violence Prevention community is looking at an elephant in the living room when it comes to figuring out how to prevent an otherwise harmless-looking and harmless-behaving fellow from taking his gun and going to the extreme.

But I also have a suggestion that might actually make a difference in terms of identifying the elephant and bringing him under control.  And it’s a suggestion that doesn’t need any mandates or regulation at all, just the ability of some concerned individuals or organizations to communicate the following idea.

And the idea is based on what appears to be one thing that most law-abiding, mass shooters have in common before they committed their dreadful acts, namely, that in the run up to their destructive behavior, they divulged their plans to at least one other person who then made the conscious decision not to intervene.  This was true of the shooter at Charleston, true for the shooter who walked into The Pulse, certainly true of the shooter at San Bernardino, I suspect it’s true of so many more.

What we really need is messaging which tells people they need to get involved and alert others if they learn that someone is planning to use a gun in a harmful way.  Conversations, Facebook posts, emails, I don’t care how the possible mass shooter announces his plans.  If you know a gun owner who tells others that he’s going to do something ‘big’ with his gun, don’t just dismiss it as a harmless gesture.  Ask yourself whether you want to be around if and when he moves from words to an act.

3 thoughts on “How Do We Keep A Law-Abiding Gun Owner From Doing Something Crazy With A Gun?

  1. Good point. I once owned and operated a bar in Florida. One day one of my regulars drank a bit too much and spouted off that he was going to get his shotgun and do something stupid. One of his friends followed confronted him in the parking lot and talked him out of it while he had his shotgun in his hands. The next day the customer apologized for his behavior and thanked his friend for probably saving his and other lives. A threat to use a gun should always betaken seriously no matter what the state of mind of person.

  2. My reply is in reaction to a friend who sent me a link, with the following question: “As regards a question I’ve long pondered. Also note the claim of 60,000 gunshot injuries in this statement. That’s another area I want to check out. I’m betting the social cost there (medical care, rehab, disability) is astronomical.” My answer…

    I’ve kinda gotten used to the fact that, as the resident “gun guy”, I often have huge ponderables dropped into my lap in the midst of an already busy day. With this in mind, though, please forgive this very brief answer to a very complex question.

    The 30K dead/greater than 60K injured figures do agree with official figures I’ve seen elsewhere. In fact, injuries have been much higher historically. Keep in mind that more than 80% of everyone who is shot survives the experience. Also note that more than 60% of that 30K figure are suicides, which places actual homicides at a far lower rate than most people think. Okay, on to the blog…

    Mike seems to understand what most liberals do not: that laws have a limit, and cannot solve problems in and of themselves. There is no tweak(s) to the law that can stop such crimes short of an outright ban and confiscation of existing weapons stockpiles, and this is about as likely as a run of requests at barber shops for “The Donald Trump”. I would add that we wouldn’t WANT to do this even if we could, because killers would still find a way to kill, and victims would be all the more helpless, themselves now being disarmed. (Roughly 1.5 million incidents of armed self-defense happen each and every year.)

    Mike also recognizes that all of the proposed “gun control” expansions thus far would not have stopped the latest high-profile shootings. In fact, the shooter in Orlando had passed an FBI investigation and had a valid concealed carry permit on him at the time. Statistically, this is an aberration; such permit holders, as a group, are the most well-behaved group with their guns, even moreso than police. The answer is going to lie elsewhere.

    Where he goes wrong is in his casual dismissal – nay, outright derision – of the idea that more “good guys with guns” in the crowd may have changed anything. In fact, this is precisely what happened quite recently, as detailed here:

    The alternative is a state of pathetic helplessness, a.k.a. “victim culture”, where the public safety is based on the idea that others are responsible for it. Mike wants “back to reality”? Okay, how about Virginia Tech? Campus policy disarmed even those with permits that the state said COULD carry on campus, and the shooting continued until men with guns (police) finally arrived. This is what we’ve seen constantly, but liberals are stuck in the mind box of “if it hadn’t been for the gun” rather than, “what the hell is WRONG with people”? The Bastille Day incident in France graphically reminded ALL of us that you don’t need ANY sort of gun to kill scores of people. Is this real enough for Mike, I wonder?

    But as a firearms instructor who enables people to get concealed carry permits myself, I also stress constantly that guns are not a panacea; they aren’t the be all and end all of security, but one piece in an overall safety strategy, and not even the MAIN piece. They’re the LAST RESORT, when all else has failed. And I think that Mike has zeroed-in on this idea as well, albeit inadvertently. I teach my students the triple As: Awareness, Avoidance and Action, and Mike is plugged-in to the first: BE AWARE. Pay attention to what people say. Pay attention to their attitude. Be observant. Even among people you don’t know, sometimes something might seem odd or out of place, a great example being the weird guy at the mall wearing a long duster coat on a hot day in July. Not a crime, but I’d be keeping an eye on that one.

    Secondly is avoidance: if you see trouble coming, get outta Dodge! A lot of conflict is defused by simply walking away. Or use some de-escalation techniques. How many bar fights were avoided by the sentence, “Hey, I didn’t mean anything by that. How about I buy you a beer”? Be watchful, and avoid trouble. Of course, when it comes to terrorist attacks and disturbed gunman, these aren’t always possible. At that point, you need to have a plan of action at all times. Such a plan needs to include communication: before the gun, have a cell phone. This is easy these days. It enables you to call police AND record evidence for them. No excuse not to have one. Have an escape route in mind; if trouble comes from one direction, know where you can duck out quickly. And, of course, if all else fails, you need to take ACTION: defend yourself. NEVER quit; never stop; do whatever it takes to prevail. This includes armed self-defense.

    In short, I support Mike’s observe/get involved idea. Not that it doesn’t have its problems, but it does have the advantage of being the easiest to implement without adding onerous new laws and upsetting either “gun culture” or the firearm-phobic. The only question being: once a threat is identified, who intervenes and at what level? If someone misinterprets a gun owner’s post when he was talking to someone else about how he busted level 6 in “Doom”, is a greeting by your friendly neighborhood S.W.A.T. team called for? Or the vindictive ex who, in a heat of anger during a messy break-up decides to “swat” their former significant other? Lest we forget, although they cleared him, the F.B.I. had flagged the shooter in Orlando for further investigation. Somebody apparently had an inkling he was not right in the head.

    I’m reminded of the old anti-littering campaigns of the ’60s, with the tearful Indian and messages: “don’t be a litterbug”, etc. Such government-sponsored public outreach campaigns reduced littering, ended accidental deaths by blasting caps (remember THOSE?), reduced forest fires and curbed smoking. Isn’t it possible we could reduce gun accidents and violence of all sorts in a similar fashion, as Mike seems to imply?

    And yes, I was serious: this is the SHORT answer to your question. I think the piece is good data-wise and the author is on to something, although again, I think he’s off-base on armed “good guys”. But hey, that’s a small nit to pick in the overall scheme of things. We gotta start somewhere, so we might as well focus on those areas of agreement, and I more agree than not.

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