The Morning After The Night Before

A little follow up to my last post.

Jason Alexander was kind enough to retweet a link to that post, and I’ve gotten an amazing amount of feedback on it, from a number of very nice people. Many of those people think I’m crazy or full of shit, of course, but they were very nice about it. It’s humbling to have so many people have kind things to say about a little piece I knocked out in an hour or so before bed.

I had been keeping mostly silent on the issue of gun control, because it seemed like a dick move to be talking against gun control while people were still mourning their loved ones. Jason Alexander’s post made me realize that that wasn’t stopping the dicks. If reasonable people (and I do try) stay silent, that leaves the extremists to define the debate, and that doesn’t do anyone any good, so I decided to speak up. I’m glad I did.

A few more thoughts.

With the system we have now in the US, everyone has to pass a background check before buying a gun. The check is supposed to prevent convicted felons and people with a history of mental illness from buying guns. That’s a good thing. It can’t stop every nutcase–there are too many who don’t yet have any kind of record–but it’s a good start.

The problem with it is that too many of the relevant agencies don’t submit mental health data to that database. Fixing that seems to be a much simpler, less contentious, and more effective preventative than banning a single type of gun. Just get these agencies to follow the law and submit their data to the national background check database.

Combine that with the purchase flagging system I described last night and I think we could have something that’s pretty effective. (Implementation detail; when a person is flagged for questionable purchase patterns, it doesn’t just tap an investigator. It would also flag that person in the background check database, stopping any further purchases until they’ve been checked out.)

The purchase-flagging database and investigation idea isn’t perfect, of course. It wouldn’t catch everyone. There would have to be controls to keep it from being abused. But it would catch a lot of people. It probably would have caught James Holmes. He was crazy enough that just his voicemail message made a gun club think he was too unstable to be a member.

Whatever we do won’t be perfect. We can’t stop every bad person from doing bad things. But the ones we can stop, we should.

I believe very strongly that people have a right to own the means of self-defense. But I also believe that people have a right to not be shot by some nutcase while they’re just trying to watch a movie. Reconciling those positions is not easy, and anyone who claims it is is either lying or foolish. Or both.

We should also try to live up to the example of the Norwegians; a year after their own tragic massacre they haven’t changed their laws at all. They haven’t panicked.

“The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation.” –Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg

These are tough issues that reasonable people can disagree on, but only by disagreeing reasonably do we have some chance of finding common ground, and a solution.

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