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Let the Gun Control Debate Begin

Governor Malloy’s State of the State address, the appointment of the Sandy Hook commission and the opening of the new legislative session marked the official start to the debate that will inevitably result in new gun control legislation for Connecticut.

 

This past week, I sat on the floor of the House for Governor Dannel Malloy’s State of the State address at the invitation of State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143).  The room was energized with the knowing smiles of campaign veterans and giddy, apple-cheeked newbies ready to put long-promised campaign ideals into practice.  

Gov. Malloy spent several choked-up minutes speaking about Newtown, the newly appointed Sandy Hook commission and the need for gun control. And although his speech was pretty darned light on the details of how to move the Connecticut economy forward (he actually spent more time waving the flags of accomplishment), he did get the soundbite of the day when he observed that the answer to the gun violence problem is not more guns. 

Last week, and how to best respond to it. Most reader comments—and I read every single one, even if I don’t always respond—were insightful and rational.

Because Patch In and Patch Back are meant to encourage local debate about the issues of the day, rather than reply to each thread I decided to incorporate readers’ comments here:  

  1. Many asked, "Could someone please explain how mental health evaluations will stop crime?" The Sandy Hook assassin used guns taken from his mother, who acquired her weapons legally and presumably would have passed a mental health background check.
  2. Some said, "Maybe the answer to gun control IS more guns." No one talks about the number of people whose lives were saved after an armed citizen took out an unsuspecting attacker. Perhaps trained-and-packing staff could prevent future tragedies.
  3. Others observed, "Are you crazy? No one should have a gun except for members of law enforcement or the military, period." Do you really think your handgun or shotgun is going to keep you safe in the unlikely event the U.S. government storms your house?
  4. And finally: "A killer with conviction will still find a way to kill, gun or no gun." Remember Oklahoma City?

Many readers used statistics to solidify their points, the details of which I did not verify and will not report here. But lest this debate become a retread of I’ll see your safe and legal gun ownership statistic with an equally persuasive gun violence statistic and raise you with a heartbreaking anecdote, let us stop and reflect on some additional considerations.

First, as of this writing, there has been no credible information on the medicine the Newtown shooter may have been taking. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence suggests that he was, obviously, mentally ill. What, if any, treatments were made available to him? Did he engage in or refuse treatment, and why?

Second, law-abiding, gun-owning citizens are exposed to the same violent movies, video games and news every day that gun-owning criminals are. Nevertheless, most gun owners are able to resist these violent influences and make it through their lives without committing horrific crimes (or having their weapons stolen for the purpose of committing horrific crimes). Does this fact render the cultural influence argument moot?

Third, shouldn't the purpose of this legislation be to reduce violence in all its forms, not just reduce the number or type of guns sold in Connecticut? And if that is the case, don't we need to address the serious mental health treatment issue in this country?

The ugly truth is that any current or future Connecticut gun control legislation, no matter how strict, is impotent if a crazed person decides to commit a mass killing. Securing a weapon, is, apparently, a simple matter for a determined criminal.

The nature of these tragedies is such that civilized society is compelled to act. And yet, this compulsion to “do something” often results in feels-good, does-nothing, time-squandering legislation.   

The gun control debate, up until now, has always resulted in a stalemate because both sides are well armed (no pun intended) with equally persuasive statistics and advocates. Nevertheless, the Second Amendment is clear: the people have the right to keep and bear arms and the Supreme Court of the United States has twice ruled in recent few years to uphold #2.

As a result, our best approach is de-stigmatizing psychological illness to encourage family members to seek help for those who need it most and by making that help readily available. Perhaps we should make a thorough mental health evaluation part and parcel of the well visit (let’s put Obamacare to work!). We should also implement an “if you see something, say something” approach to potential public safety threats.

Just to be clear, I’m no mental health expert. But the approaches we’ve used thus far clearly aren’t working. Anyone who would attack a school, or a movie theater, or a military base, or a mall, or an office is clearly in need of treatment.

Finally, let us remember that more legislation is only better legislation if it provides real value and lasting positive change.

DW January 15, 2013 at 02:33 PM
Very well said Lisa. You've done a very good job representing all sides of a very complicated issue in a dispassionate way. That's exactly what we need to accomplish intelligent debate.
Brandon January 15, 2013 at 03:57 PM
I am very impressed with this article!! It has facts and not fear mongoring which you see everywhere else!! It is sad that governor Malloy used this tragedy as a hot button for gun control and as a means to not talk about other issues that need immediate attention. I will be looking for you on twitter. We need more journalists who are Interested in FACTS as opposed to spreading Mis-information and fear. You can find me on twitter @brandonsmith203
RONALD M GOLDWYN January 15, 2013 at 06:18 PM
Dear Lisa, Thank-you for a clear objective presentation.I personally do not have to be neutral in the matter of Gun Control. I'm a Sr Citizen, a 50+years elected Republican Committeeman who was first elected when they were the liberal party in the USA. I've been a handgun owner for also over 50 years and it was originally to be used strictly for self protection. I am also anti- NRA whose organization I belonged to when I was a teenager, but I dislike their political policies. I'm not a fearful conservative who fears that if any move by government toward restricting their use of a gun, then that single step opens the flood gates toward confiscation of all weapons. I'm not going to state what I'm against but rather what I feel will make this country safer. Yes over 30 people die by the gun every day in this country, its only when 20 children are riddled with bullets does it awaken this countries citizens to action. Do you recall that when law and order came to the wild west one of the first things a person had to do was to check his weapons before he could enter the town? And very few objected. We still have that very same 2nd amendment when folks did think that they had to police themselves. Funny, how come the women didn't feel the same way? Well that was 150 years ago, when folks were crazy and didn't know what to call the illness. What is the mental illness called today when one fears the loss of their guns?
RONALD M GOLDWYN January 15, 2013 at 06:30 PM
I'm not competent to judge the mental fitness for owning a gun, so I will not make a judgment in that field. I just wonder how many wives sleep next to a gun toting husband, never get physical and fear that gun violence may ensue against them or their children in a fit of rage? 20 children may still be alive if the killer's mother kept her guns in a safe that she had sole control over. So this is my first rule change. 1) any gun owner will be held both criminally and civilly liable for any use of their weapons, which must be registered with the local police. Once a year those weapons MUST be inspected by the local police to verify that you still have possession of them. 2) Guns don't kill children, but bullets do. I say strictly regulate the sale of the ammunition. Folks don't need a one year supply kept in their homes. Let the government tag the gunpowder so that it is traceable to the gun-owner. 3) I do feel that the US Supreme Court erred in their decision on it being an individual citizens right to own a gun. Why did our founding fathers insert the word militia into the 2nd amendment if it has no role in the meaning of the amendment? The right to bear arms is NOT an unlimited right, so that the government does have the right to say you may not own a working tank without permission. This is enough for now.
CuriousOrange January 15, 2013 at 08:05 PM
Background checks might deter violence if they were universal, periodic, and went beyond court records.
RONALD M GOLDWYN January 16, 2013 at 03:24 AM
In the sale of guns (by licensed gun shops) make it a requirement that the gun be shipped to the buyers local police headquarters where it is registered and stored until the results of the background check is completed. Then and only then may the buyer take the gun home. Outlaw the sale of a weapon by one individual to another. Make the violation of the law have stiff penalties, including possession of an illegal or unregistered gun Make possession of ammunition carry a stiff penalty if the person does not have a gun license. There is no reason for folks like myself who legally own weapons should feear these suggested rule changes.
Lisa Bigelow January 16, 2013 at 11:47 PM
Thanks to all for reading and commenting. I'm sure this won't be the last of my articles on gun control in CT. Curious, I agree that better background checks are essential. They should also be repeated every few years, not unlike getting re-licensed to drive. Lisa
RONALD M GOLDWYN January 17, 2013 at 05:15 PM
Lisa, again you are correct. There are many licensed drivers who are blind, especially senior citizens at night. Licensed gun owners who have become senile or worse after being okay back when they were licensed. But the two main problems are guns used in domestic violence and the criminal possession of guns from private sales and stolen weapons. While over 30 people per day are killed by a gun most Americans are law abiding, but fear government extreme regulation.
CuriousOrange January 17, 2013 at 08:12 PM
Guns are also the leading cause of suicide. A person who passes a background check one day may become depressed years later. Take away his/her gun(s). The Chicago Tribune noted, "America had more than 11,000 firearms-related homicides in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But here's what's brushed aside: In 2011, America had more than 19,000 suicides committed by firearms, according to the CDC."* http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-01-04/news/ct-perspec-0104-firearms-20130104_1_gun-owners-firearm-suicide-rate-strict-gun-laws
Concerned Parent January 17, 2013 at 09:24 PM
When it comes to gun control, the mental health issue is being brought into the mix simply to muddy the waters of the real issue. That is ability to access to these type of assault weapons and the ability to access buildings with them. I've heard arguments that the proposed gun control measures are a "knee jerk reaction". I completely disagree with that statement. A knee jerk reaction would be to ban guns altogether. Opponents of bans on certain assault weapons are bringing the 2nd Amendment into the discussion because they simply want these assault style rifles. Why? Because they have been glamourized and become a designer weapon. We could make the same 2nd Amendment argument about automatic weapons, after all they were banned in 1934. As a state, we need to take control of this problem and pass legislation within CT to addressed this issue. To pass the responsibility to the Federal Gov't is a copout. Even at the local level, ordinances can be put in place and I eagerly wait for a politician who is brave enough to propose one.
CuriousOrange January 17, 2013 at 09:32 PM
I wonder about the truth of the assertion, in the article: "Securing a weapon, is, apparently, a simple matter for a determined criminal." I would say it is a simple matter if there are guns in your home, in your friends' homes, at your place of business or recreation. Where guns are uncommon or under lock and key, access is not so simple.
RONALD M GOLDWYN January 17, 2013 at 10:27 PM
If 19,,000 residents each year commit suicide by gun, then the mental exam that each must pass has a defect. Based on the number of 30 gun related deaths each day it equals 11,000 deaths per year, so the suicides must be in addition to the 11,000. Thus I'm moving closer to our President's position that a stronger mental test is in order to buy and possess guns or ammunition. I'm willing to listen to the argument of why a citizen in defending their castle must have the capacity to have a gun that can discharge 30-100 rounds in 30 seconds. Especially when it is the law to use deadly force only as a LAST resort. Two of my guns are semi-automatics with a 10 round capacity. That means I can discharge 20 shots in 30 seconds before reloading. Even our police don't feel that it is necessary to defend themselves with such firepower normally. I learned last night at the police academy that most patrol officers do carry locked in the trunk of their car a shotgun and an AR15 if they are qualified to do so.. I would like to see all gun owners certified every five years in the weapons they own, just as we have various types of motor vehicle licenses.

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