I just apologized to my daughter. She went through active shooter training at her school a few days ago: “Run – Hide – Fight.” I was sorry that she lived in a world where schoolkids have to worry about getting shot, and that I hadn’t done anything to change this in the past. But the time to act is now, because it has happened again. Another mass shooting, more kids dead, more thoughts and prayers, more intensive media coverage and flags at half-mast. I am writing this blog because I can’t stand the fact that this will not be the last time this happens- kids who were home this weekend will be the victims of gun violence at some point in the future.
I write this as someone who believes in the second amendment. As someone who owns guns and has taught his children firearm safety. As a fighter pilot I carried a 9mm on my person while flying combat over Iraq. I have many friends who are responsible gun owners and great citizens. Until a few years ago I was an NRA member, because the local shooting club required membership. Because of a continuous stream of alarmist emails they sent me warning that the government was “coming to take my guns,” I resigned. I am not alone in my resignation; in 1995 former president George H.W. Bush famously resigned his membership, claiming that the NRA “deeply offended (his) own sense of decency and honor.”
The reason I have hope that this time will be different than previous mass shootings is because the young people are speaking out. Maybe the attention they are being given, and their righteous anger, will finally break this endless cycle of violence. They didn’t create this deadly mess, adults did, but hopefully this time the adults will start to act like adults and do something to protect them.
With that hope, I offer suggestions below of actions that should be taken to prevent gun deaths. We have the equivalent of eleven 9/11s worth of gun deaths in America, EVERY YEAR. You only need to reduce that number by less than 10% to prevent a 9/11 magnitude tragedy. EVERY YEAR.
- A gun buy-back program. The federal government should allocate $1B to buy guns from individuals willing to sell them. This would amount to 0.025% of the federal budget. Let’s say that the average cost to the government per gun is $1,000, that would be a million guns out of circulation. 1,000,000. And that would save lives, by reducing homicides, suicides, and accidents.
- Improve the system of background checks. Make a streamlined national system that is quick and efficient, and have it applied to all firearm sales. Critical information including criminal records, mental health treatment, and social media activity need to be a part of this system. If individuals “fail” a background check after they have purchased a weapon, require them to turn it in.
- Develop a common-sense policy to restrict weapons and devices that are clearly designed for mass killing and not for hunting or recreational shooting.
- Require a license to own a gun, that includes a safety training course, certification from a mental health professional, and a thorough background check. You need to have a license to operate a vehicle, fly a plane, go scuba diving or parachuting, and even operate a small drone commercially. But not to own firearms.
- Increase the minimum age to purchase handguns or assault style weapons to 21.
- Impose a federal tax on the sale of firearms. This will reduce the number of weapons on the street and will allow gun safety measures to be funded.
- Similarly, use technology to identify patterns in behavior, to include purchase history, that could indicate a potential problem. The recent Las Vegas shooter had amassed such an arsenal that any software checking purchase records would have raised a red flag.
These ideas are important to me personally, as I have been threatened by an individual with a firearm on several occasions, and authorities did nothing about it.
We can’t prevent all gun violence; there are over 300 million guns in America, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to prevent some. Regardless of whether or not the government acts, gun manufacturers should take unilateral action by stopping sales of assault weapons and devices that are designed to convert “normal” weapons into assault weapons. Companies like Sea World and Ringling Brothers have made tough decisions to stop some of America’s most iconic shows, in the name of animal rights. Surely the gun industry can reduce sales by a small fraction in the name of saving children’s lives.
The reality is that Congress will not take action until politicians start losing elections because they do not act on gun violence. Until now, the only elections that have been lost were by those members who have voted for gun control. The NRA is without a doubt the most powerful lobbying group in the most powerful nation on Earth. They have had 100% success in dictating gun policy in America for over 3 decades now. Every time there is a shooting you can see politicians choosing their words very carefully because of fear of the NRA. But the NRA doesn’t elect government officials, people do. So, if you think that we should have sensible improvements to gun policy, tell your elected representatives. And if they don’t respond, elect someone else.
Unfortunately, the NRA has strayed from its original purpose of promoting gun safety and training. Politicians are literally paralyzed into inaction by the NRA. I’ve had a chance to talk to many folks at very high levels of government, and when I mention the most moderate or sensible gun control ideas, their response in unequivocal: “the NRA will never allow that to happen.”
Though I am no longer an NRA member, I have a request for those who are- stop paying your dues until the organization makes a commitment to reducing gun violence. The old argument that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” just doesn’t cut it. Are Americans 20 to 40 times more violent by nature than the rest of the developed world? No, we just have WAY more guns than anyone else. Were the kids in Florida frantically texting “I hear a mentally ill person” to their parents? Nope. They were texting “I hear gunshots.” And the nightmares the survivors will be having for many years to come will include the sounds of gunshots. If you are happy with the status quo then do nothing; the landscape of guns in America in 2018 perfectly mirrors the NRA’s vision. But if you see a need for change, start by demanding change by hitting the NRA in the pocket book. And then stop re-electing representatives who refuse to act.
My 30+ years in the Air Force were dedicated to protecting Americans from threats overseas, but this is a battle that needs to be fought here at home, in the media, in Washington, and in the courts. I hope that the brave teenage survivors in South Florida will continue to speak up and will be heard by their representatives in the government. Because if not, the image above will continue to represent a national tragedy beyond words.