January 17, 2013

The Price of Our Failure

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We pay a terrible price for our ahistorical reading of the Constitution’s right to bear arms —11,000 murders, 19,000 suicides and 600 accidental deaths in 2010 alone. In addition, over 200,000 Americans are injured by firearms each year. This has to stop.For anyone who has seen the T.V. show Preppers or listened to Alex Jones’ despicable conspiracy nonsense, the need for gun control must appear obvious. While it may be entertaining to watch a guy who takes Ron Paul’s fear of fiat currency much too seriously stock food and weapons in a potato barn, we must remember that these people don’t exist only on television. These are real people, terrifying people, who seem to believe Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a warning of things to come and the only protection is a massacre-enabling AR-15. These real people can and do purchase real guns, legally. The guns used at Sandy Hook were reportedly owned by such a “prepper” (the killer’s mother). Something is terribly, horrendously wrong.  It’s hard to imagine this is what the framers of our Constitution had in mind. At the time the Second Amendment was adopted, the United States had no standing army, a barely secured independence from the United Kingdom, and citizens could possess guns with a maximum rate of fire of one or two rounds a minute. How would our nation’s forefathers respond to the massacre at Sandy Hook? How should we?Of all the descriptors we can apply to what happened at Sandy Hook, unforeseeable isn’t among them. If anything, the devastating massacre was predictable. Not predictable, as in the specific victims, school, town or even state, but predictable in that, in a country where instruments of mass violence are far too readily available, there will be mass violence. We are enabling it.Our response to Sandy Hook must be to do more to prevent gun violence. New York State’s recently passed gun control legislation is a start. President Obama’s recent statements and executive orders give hope that more will be done to prevent gun violence. However, none of this is enough for the many thousands killed by guns every year. The most promising action from the Obama administration is to end the self-imposed ban on studying gun violence at the Centers for Disease Control. This action gives hope that we may begin to treat gun violence as a public health issue, and begin to confront it with evidence-based policies proven to reduce gun violence within our constitutional framework. But we cannot forget that evidence-based policies that reduce — indeed virtually eliminate — gun deaths already exist. In Japan in 2008, firearm related homicides killed a total of 11 people. For perspective, firearm related homicides kill nearly three times as many people in the U.S. every single day. Also, in 2008, gun accidents killed no one in Japan.  The popular line those who defend the right to possess and carry AR-15s and handguns often resort to is, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” In the same, ridiculous sense that nuclear bombs, hand grenades and cluster munitions don’t kill people, this may be true. But it is also true (and, unlike the previous statement, relevant) that “restricting access to guns saves lives.” Thousands of lives.Whatever gun control the U.S. may legislate must obviously not infringe on the Supreme Court’s current interpretation of the Second Amendment. I submit that there is much we can do to reduce gun violence within this deadly framework. While background checks and prohibitions on felons owning weapons are not addressed in the second amendment, such restrictions are obviously legal, appropriate and inadequate. We must go further to meaningfully reduce gun violence. Further even than an assault weapons ban and a ban on high capacity clips. We should enact mandatory liability insurance for gun ownership, with insurance companies free to charge different gun owners different rates based on age, gender and the type of weapons insured, much like car insurance. Young males (who commit a disproportionate amount of gun crime) would have a higher insurance premium than lower risk gun owners. We should also require references for all prospective gun owners. Citizens interested in owning firearms must get three friends or relatives who have known the prospective gun owner for a minimum number of years to vouch for the person’s character. Additionally, prospective gun owners should be required to seek the consent of spouses or recent ex-spouses.These are but a few of the common sense policy changes we should enact to reduce gun violence. Our decisions on gun control should be based on figuring out why our gun homicide rate is 33 times higher than that in the U.K. and then doing everything we can to close that gap. For every day that we wait, 30 more of our fellow Americans die because of our failure to act. The children of Sandy Hook deserved better than this. It is our responsibility not to fail others like we failed them.

Nicholas Kaasik is a second-year law student at Cornell Law School. He assigns and edits submissions for Barely Legal and serves as The Sun’s Public Editor. He may be reached at nek43@cornell.edu. Barely Legal runs alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Nicholas Kaasik