Tighter Regulations on Guns Could Save Lives

Pam Linn

The latest mass shooting has taken the attention of people on both sides of the gun control debate. And, although the FBI is investigating the atrocity in San Bernardino as an act of terrorism, we don’t know that much about its motivation. 

What we do know is that, in spite of the fact that Tashfeen Malik praised ISIS on her Facebook page, the incident doesn’t match the intricate planning of the recent attacks in Paris or, for that matter, the 2001 demolition of the World Trade Center buildings in New York.

It’s too soon to second-guess the FBI, but what we’ve learned from people who worked with Syed Rizwan Farook is that he was well liked, had recently become a father and had a good year. Still, it was more a work place shooting such as the one that spawned the phrase, “going postal.” A well-researched piece by Associated Press in San Bernardino told the whole story:

Farook and Malik fled within minutes of the shooting and police found them four hours later in an SUV that had been spotted leaving the crime. The chase ended about two miles away, and the pair died in a shootout with police. They were armed with assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns. Investigators later found their cache of ammunition and pipe bombs.

What can’t be denied is the ease with which just about anyone can acquire such weapons in the U.S. An October op-ed piece in the New Yorker by Nicholas Kristof called for an “evidence-based public health approach” to the problem. Following a mass shooting at an Oregon college, he wrote, we need to comprehend the scale of the problem: an average of 92 gun deaths every day. “Since 1970, more Americans have died from guns than died in all U.S. wars going back to the American Revolution.” That’s 1.45 million since 1970.

Kristof agrees that former attempts, such as the assault weapons ban, were poorly designed and saved few lives. However, his appeal is for the same model we use to reduce deaths from other potentially dangerous things like cigarettes, swimming pools, cars and such. “We’re not going to eliminate guns in America, so we need to figure out how to coexist with them.”

Cars exemplify the public health approach we need to apply to guns, Kristof wrote. “We don’t ban cars but we do require driver’s licenses, seat belts, air bags, padded dashboards, safety glass and collapsible steering columns. And we’ve reduced the auto fatality rate by 95 percent.” We may have Ralph Nader to thank for saving some of those lives.

Unfortunately, the gun lobby has blocked almost every effort to design guns so that they’re safer. Yet in 2003, Congress barred the government from publishing any information on gun safety and crime rates. Also there’s the problem of the NRA rating members of Congress on their votes for or against any form of gun control. Just about any politician who votes for even the mildest form of gun control can kiss his or her career goodbye.

This flies in the face of what the nation wants. Even current gun owners have urged their representatives to pass universal background checks. It would seem that the NRA owns the Congress in the same way that many industry groups own the agencies meant to regulate them.

Kristof cites a poll taken this year that found majorities favoring more stringent background checks, tighter regulation of gun dealers, safe storage requirements in homes and a 10-year prohibition on possessing guns for anyone convicted of domestic violence, assault, or similar offenses.

For every proposed regulation, we hear from a select few all the reasons why it won’t work. It’s true that some proposals were poorly thought out and probably would be difficult to enforce. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

And every time the gun lobby suggests we encourage more people to carry guns, I cringe to think how many gun deaths average people just making mistakes might cause. Do we need better mental health services in this country? Yes. But some people who don’t meet the criteria for mental illness have serious anger issues and shouldn’t have access to firearms.

Tighter regulations might not have stopped the San Bernardino massacre or some of the mass shootings that have occurred in the past few years. But they might have saved some lives and given hope to others that this country can do better.