I've written a lot about guns and gun violence over the past couple years, mostly to point out that, on average, keeping a gun in your home does not make you and your loved ones safer. A lot of Americans purchase handguns for the purpose of personal protection, but possessing one actually increases your chances of getting shot.
I just think that's important information for people to have—information that, if properly understood, might alter our collective behavior.
But while my gun posts are usually limited to making this single point—guns don't make us safer—that doesn't stop the gun advocates from angrily accusing me in the comment threads of wanting to confiscate their guns. So I thought I'd clearly state my personal position on gun control once and for all.
First of all, no, I don't want to confiscate all your guns.
I fully recognize that guns are a legitimate tool for hunting and sport (and sometimes even self-defense), and while I've no interest in hunting myself, I have fished and I do eat meat, so I'm in no position to make any sort of moral judgment. Furthermore, riflery was absolutely one of my favorite activities in overnight camp. Shooting a gun can be loads of fun, and there's nothing particularly dangerous about target shooting if done responsibly. So sportsmen should have no fear that Dictator Goldy is going to take away their guns.
I do, however, want to impose further restrictions on purchasing, owning, and carrying guns. I'm not writing legislation here, so I don't want to get bogged down in the details, but I would support closing the so-called "gun show loophole" (require background checks and waiting periods on the purchase of guns from private individuals), allowing municipalities to determine their own carry laws (repeal state preemption), and banning the general sale of assault weapons and large ammunition clips. Perhaps ban the unrestricted sale of all semi-automatic weapons. These are pretty standard gun control proposals. No surprises there. But I'd go further:
Mandatory gun training, testing, and licensing. You know, just like with a car, one should have to demonstrate minimum proficiency and safety skills in order to legally own and operate a gun. Especially handguns. If you're going to carry a deadly weapon around in public for the purpose of personal protection, than you damn well better demonstrate that you know how to responsibly use one. Also, mandatory gun safes and trigger locks. If you're going to keep a gun in your house, you better be storing it responsibly.
I'd also like to see further restrictions on who can legally possess a gun, aimed at keeping them out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill. You know, perhaps Nancy Lanza should not have been allowed to keep such an arsenal in a house that she shared with her mentally ill son. This would be an especially difficult regulation to write and enforce, but I'm pretty sure we could agree to some minimum standard.
But my biggest proposed reform—and by far the most important—isn't a regulation at all. I would like to see a well-funded public/private partnership behind a decades-long public awareness campaign to teach Americans that guns don't make us safer. America's gun culture is strong. We need to change it.
It won’t be easy and it won’t be fast, but it isn’t impossible. Forty years ago drunk driving was commonplace, seat belt use was not, and smoking was the norm. But decades of public awareness campaigns and tighter laws have changed Americans’ behavior for the better.
We need to do the same with guns. If Americans truly understood the risk to themselves and their loved ones of keeping a gun in the house, fewer would. And as public awareness of the risks increased, so would public support for the other reforms I have listed above.
But mostly, we need to de-romanticize guns by challenging their popular image as symbols of masculinity and individualism, and exposing them for what they really are: largely unnecessary tools of death that are much more often discharged in anger, accident, or suicide than they are in self-defense. Guns are a public health hazard, and we need to approach them that way, addressing the demand side of the equation as well as restricting access to the supply.
When I was kid it wasn't uncommon for us to be rolling about in the wayback of the Ford LTD Wagon, as my father chain-smoked Lucky Strikes upfront, windows closed, the car filling up with smoke. That would never happen today. Attitudes change. And we need to change our national attitude toward guns.