I'm reposting this piece, originally published in The Daily Beastin November 2014, because there was yet another shooting. A school in Mississippi is on lockdown as I type this. When will enough be enough? When will the NRA admit that the policies and laws they drive are deadly? When can we work together to adopt smart, principled solutions to the gun violence facing our country?
How many shootings will it take before we adopt common sense gun control? A former Navy weapons instructor lays out the simple steps lawmakers can take to make us all safer.
Last week, there was yet another campus shooting. This time, it was at Florida State University. The exhaustingly predictable cycle of mass shooting, recycled talking points from all sides, proposed legislation, insider lobbying, stagnation, and loss of public interest is about to begin and has been repeated far too many times in recent memory. Face it: the gun rights debate in this country is stale.
In May, I talked about how both sides are wrong and said that we need to have some common sense.
Today, I am calling on lawmakers to have some damn courage.
If you feel, like the fringe gun lobby does, that my six-year-old son's life is less important than your right to own whatever firearm and ammunition you want, then say that. Don't hide behind meaningless rhetoric or claim you're ready for action only to back off when the NRA comes knocking. That being said, if you believe--along with a clear majority of Americans of both parties--that modest regulation of weapons designed for the sole purpose of killing humans seems reasonable, that's a pretty easy public position to take.
And before you jump to assumptions, know that I'm no hippie. As a former weapons instructor in the U.S. Navy, I own guns myself--and I want to keep them. However, I believe that our society is overflowing with lethal weapons and that we must take action to prevent more dead kids. Mass shootings are on the rise. Children are dying. When will it be enough to actually do something? Who has the courage to do the right thing--money from special interest groups be damned?
I'll make it easy for lawmakers. Here is the first common sense step for what we need to do, at the state level, to maintain our constitutional right to bear arms while arming ourselves with the tools to be safer in public.
Licensing, to be renewed every five years with full background checks and mental health screenings, is the first step. Adding a checkbox to a driver's license and another form would make this easy to implement. My driver's license tells folks that I am a donor; it could very easily also indicate whether or not I am a gun owner or authorized to carry concealed firearms.
Before you tell me how I am violating your rights by proposing a record of gun owners, note that the constitution does not say that you have the right to bear arms and not tell anyone. We regulate chemicals, elevators, airplanes, and financial transactions--and none of those are specifically designed to kill anyone.
The next step is requiring 40 hours of training prior to license approval. I'm here to tell you that there is little value to having a firearm if one is cannot employ it tactically. I'm not saying we need owners to be trained to the level of Navy SEALs or SWAT teams, but if you claim to want these weapons to protect your home, then you should at least have a baseline knowledge. The training hours should jump to 80 hours for a concealed carry permit. This training should be done by the government to ensure consistency and quality control and should be covered by the tax on ammunition.
And finally, to pay for the licensing process and training as well as the background and mental health screenings, we can add a modest tax to ammunition sales (think five to ten cents per round--a manageable amount). This way, the costs are spread amongst those who wish to own guns.
My hometown city charter calls out public safety as the number one priority; many politicians around the country say the same thing, and I'd like to see them put their money where their mouths are. The question is pretty simple: do your lawmakers have the courage to protect you?
Call your state senators, your assembly members, your mayors, and your city councils. Tell them that you want to protect your kids. You want to protect your communities. Hell, you want to protect yourself. Tell them that, with the stroke of a pen, they can improve safety for their constituents and side with the clear majority of Americans.
And if they try to run you around or brush you off, remember to ask them if they think the right to own as many firearms as one wants without anyone else knowing about it is more important than the lives of America's children--including yours and theirs.