As I have said in my column before: If it were up to me, I would outlaw guns and football.
Both cause unnecessary injury and bodily trauma. In a civil society, there is no need for either. As a realist, I understand that both guns and football will be a part of our society in the foreseeable future.
President Obama, as president, understands political realities. He knows that currently there is no chance that an assault weapons ban will be renewed, and if he wants to prevent Sandy Hook-type shootings, he has to go for the low hanging fruit – something the public will be willing to support.
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As our collective attention span is short, and the memory of Sandy Hook is waning, President Obama wisely used the 100th day anniversary of the shooting to bring attention to one of the few avenues of gun-control legislation he has left: the universal background check.
The idea of a universal background check makes all the sense in the world. One poll showed that 80 percent of all gun owners agreed with it, and 90 percent of the entire adult population in the U.S. percent agrees with universal background checks. President Obama said in his White House speech this week, "Now, in the coming weeks, members of Congress will vote on whether we should require universal background checks for anyone who wants to buy a gun so that criminals or people with severe mental illnesses can't get their hands on one. They'll vote on tough new penalties for anyone who buys guns only to turn around and sell them to criminals. … Why wouldn't we want to make it more difficult for a dangerous person to get his or her hand on a gun? Why wouldn't we want to close the loophole that allows as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases to take place without a background check? Why wouldn't we do that?"
Why wouldn't we want to close the loophole? Currently, only six states have universal background checks for all guns purchased. Of course, just like so many other items for purchase, the Internet provides a way that people can get around the law. That needs to also be addressed. The Campaign to Close the Gun Show Loophole has gathered statistics showing that gun shows are the second leading source of guns used in crimes in the United States. Their data shows that "felons were associated with selling or purchasing firearms in 46 percent of the gun show investigations and that firearms that were illegally diverted at or through gun shows were recovered in subsequent crimes." These crimes included homicide and robbery in more than a third of gun-show investigations. The campaign has also showed that because gun shows are a loophole, criminals know they can purchase guns at these shows. The shows are a major trafficking channel that has turned out to be the second largest gun source per investigation.
This week the attorney general in New York obtained an agreement from the operators of gun shows in the state to provide background checks for guns and to make sure the guns are somehow tagged to show that the background checks have been performed. In the absence of federal law, this is the kind of leadership that we need. If you want a gun and know you can't pass a standard background check at a licensed gun dealer, then show up at a gun show and you can get what you want. No more in New York, the attorney general says.
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Would a universal background check have prevented Sandy Hook? Most likely not, since the guns were registered to the shooter's mother. Would it have prevented the shootings in Colorado? Yes, especially if the current "duty to warn" case law is extended so that clinicians who are concerned can notify the data base about who can and can't purchase a gun. All of us who have worked in mental health know who those people are and the people who should never own a firearm. Most of the "patients" are like leaky faucets, and it is obvious that they should not be allowed to purchase or own guns.
It is time to empower the clinicians and first responders to be able to make a studied judgment and keep mentally disturbed people from owning firearms. Although, we don't know the circumstances of the Sandy Hook shooter and his mental treatment, my guess is that we will find he had extensive interaction with mental health clinicians. His mother had the guns, but maybe we need to go even further and tighten the law so that households should not have guns if a resident of that household is deemed someone who should not own one. Radical? Perhaps it is, but it would be a lot safer for those who stand to lose their lives from crazy shooters.