Blog | Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Gun control and gun violence

I’m writing now in the wake of another tragic shooting here in the United States. For most of us, we have never experienced the current pandemic of senseless violence that we read about and visualize every day. I challenge you to find a newspaper tomorrow morning, or listen to a news broadcast, that will not report on dark and pernicious inclinations and accomplishments of evil practitioners.

If that challenge is not sufficient, then find an American over the age of 70 to attest that the world is better today than it was during his youth.

I listened to the every word that President Obama said at the ceremony honoring the fallen Navy Shipyard personnel. He spoke well, and his reference to congressional inaction with regard to gun violence didn’t trouble me at all. It was beyond shameful when craven congressman couldn’t pass any piece of legislation in the wake of the Newtown catastrophe. This was a bipartisan failure that broke Congress’s already abysmal performance level.

I’ve never been a gun control supporter, and I’m still not persuaded by their arguments. I do believe that some classes of weaponry should not qualify as an absolute constitutional right of law abiding citizenry. Should folks be able to purchase unlimited numbers of weapons and ammunition? Explain why background checks somehow don’t apply to gun shows and private sales? I have some flexibility on these issues.

Although I would support some restrictions on gun ownership, I do not accept the views of gun control zealots that lack of restrictions are responsible for recurrent episodes of senseless violence. Somehow, these folks demonize the NRA while they give a free pass to Hollywood, the video gaming industry and the music business, all of whom bathe us with violence every single day. Do we believe that the media can’t influence us, especially those of us whom might be vulnerable? To those who deny that media can influence our behaviors, explain why gazillions are spent on advertising for this very purpose.

Criminals will not surrender their weapons or fail to procure new ones because of more restrictive laws. These guys do not obey laws. That’s why we call them criminals. Get it?

Outlawing assault rifles, red meat for the gun control crowd, will keep these guns from law abiding citizens, not others. And, even honest gun control fanatics admit that these classes of weapons account for a very small percentage of violent American deaths, which are largely caused by handguns. That’s where our collective outrage should be focused, although this is a more difficult and elusive target.

I’m hostile to the argument that’s often issued as a question, “Who needs an assault rifle”? The fact that it is a right means that there is a legal entitlement that doesn’t require an explanation for exercising it. How often do courts permit speech, for example, that many of us don’t understand the purpose or need for its expression. Indeed, having a right means you don’t need an explanation.

I am aware that no constitutional right is absolute including the Second Amendment. Personally, I do not feel that I should be entitled to purchase unlimited numbers of any kind of weapon available. But, if I did so, I don’t think that I would be threatening the fabric of America society.

As far as keeping guns from the mentally ill, a goal that every thinking person supports, explain how you would do this. I don’t have a clue. What’s your definition of mental illness with regard to this issue? Depression? ADHD? Having seen a psychiatrist or a counselor in the past year? On Paxil or similar medicines? Being regarded as a loner in school? Being moody? Should a family history of mental illness be relevant?

While there have been obvious lapses in mental health that we should address, it’s an easier task to look backwards after a catastrophe has occurred and recognize missed opportunities than it is to do so prospectively.

I vigorously support stronger background checks, even if this is not a proven remedy for reducing gun violence. These are guns, not toothbrushes. Guns can hurt people. Stronger background checks by themselves would not restrict weapons that eligible folks can purchase and should be palatable to the pro gun crowd, in my view. I am perplexed that one can purchase a weapon and not be required to have sufficient training in its safe use and storage. Cars can hurt people if not used properly. You cannot obtain a driver’s license without demonstrating that you know the rules of the road and can manage the vehicle safely. Should we relax these requirements?

The explanations for the horrible violence that is our new reality are deep and complex. Gun ownership may be an easy target, but I think that this argument misses the mark.

What do you think? Do you think that the primary reason that so many thousands of murders occur in America each year is because of lax gun laws? While I’m willing to listen, that argument is no bull’s-eye for me.

This post by Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, appeared at MD Whistleblower. Dr. Kirsch is a full time practicing physician and writer who addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.