An Open 'Letter' To The "Biden Commission" on Gun Violence

President Barack Obama passes Vice President Joe Biden after speaking on the economy and the deficit, Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, i
President Barack Obama passes Vice President Joe Biden after speaking on the economy and the deficit, Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Dear Mr. Vice President:

You and others have now been tasked by the president to study the issue of violence caused by guns in this country, its causes and its solutions, all within a month's time per presidential directive. In making this appointment, President Obama recognized that there must be a way "to reduce the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country every single day". As we all know, this entire area has become a very hot button issue, with scores of comments and opinions going back and forth, some heated. Piers Morgan's interviews of guests on his evening CNN shows recently are just one example in the media-pundit world. Articles on the subject on The Huffington Post and in other major dailies are too numerous to count, but they bring out the incessant vitriol, passion and rhetoric not seen since the days when the Affordable Care Act was debated at town hall meetings.

You have heard and been exposed to it all since your days as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced her assault weapons ban that became law in 1994. So I would be merely repeating what you and your commission members already know: One side says how dare the government take away our guns; there should be more of them on the streets of our communities, not less, since they will protect us even more, including training teachers to use and have them. Conversely, there are those equally determined, like New York City's Mayor Bloomberg, who say that we must do more than exists now to get guns off our streets. Bring back the federal law banning assault weapons that expired eight years ago, for example. A panel of the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals within the last several days ruled (Moore et al. V. Madigan (Nos. 12-1269, 12-1788 (Dec. 11, 2012)) that Illinois' ban on carrying concealed weapons in public was unconstitutional in light of the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Heller (554 U.S. 570) interpreting the Second Amendment and held applicable to states in McDonald v. City of Chicago, 130 S. Ct. 3020 (2010). Writing for the appeals bench, noted conservative jurist Richard Posner found that inasmuch as it is constitutional to carry weapons in the home for purposes of self-defense that is considered most acute, there is no difference in the Second Amendment's treatment to having guns in the home than to carrying them concealed outside the home. Posner opined, "A right to bear arms [the words within the Second Amendment] thus implies a right to carry a loaded gun outside the home". How absurd, though with the stroke of his pen, the Illinois statute fell. An appeal is being considered.

The answer to gun violence is complex and multifaceted, as if a pie with various slices to cut. Right after the holidays, Sens. Feinstein and Frank Lautenberg will be introducing bills in the Senate to do away with assault weaponry and limit the number of rounds (bullets) that a magazine clip can hold. That's a good start. Such legislation needs to be part of any solution despite NRA folks telling us that people kill, guns don't. Of course, the retort to this is that if guns were not around and more difficult to acquire for those citizens intent on using them as an instrument of death, injury and destruction -- a "weapon of mass carnage" -- there would be less (mass) killings and injury. Another very good suggestion is to ensure background checks for all who wish to purchase guns, with interlinking computer data bases, including those in the military, that track all of these individuals. These suggestions have been in the news for days so excuse me for reiterating them here; they do, though, need to remain in the public's consciousness.

Another piece of the pie is mental health and what needs to be done to improve it, all to ensure a gate through which those not entitled to gun purchase or acquisition due to some sort of mental issue cannot enter.

But what we do not hear or read about is placing criminal responsibility upon anyone wishing to purchase or own a gun if it is not properly purchased maintained, secured and used without causing injury or death outside the protection of one's person or property by that purchaser or by use of another with the owner's permission. What's wrong with placing such a sword of Damocles over the heads of all gun owners whose commitment is to use their purchase responsibly? After all, there are all sorts of laws on the books that call for criminal punishment if an instrumentality is not used for the purposes intended, like a car that speeds into a pedestrian causing injury or death. Yes, it is true that murder is a crime punishable by death. That, however, is the "end" product of all sorts of "means" related to firearms that lead up to the culminating act of pulling the trigger. Those means are just as deserving of a law criminalizing conduct before a gun is fired as it is afterwards. Certainly the Second Amendment does not forbid enforcing responsibility for a right to bear and keep arms. Concomitantly, consider similar enactments for those who sell guns at whatever site, including over the Internet and at gun shows, who do not properly obtain a background check and confirm the person's ability to purchase and acquire such weapons.

While guns intended for protection of home and property as well as for sport is constitutionally protected, it remains to what the scope is of this protection, i.e., whether carrying concealed weapons in public is similarly constitutional. That day may soon arrive if the Illinois case goes to and is accepted by the Supreme Court. However, whatever you and your fellow commission members arrive at after your study, let's hope it reflects what would be an everlasting legacy to the 20 children needlessly killed along with the six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, as well as to all innocent victims who took a life-ending bullet from a murderer's weapon. Let all their lives not have perished in vain.

Thank you for listening, Mr. Vice President.