A Few Thoughts on Gun Violence and Liberty

A Few Thoughts on Gun Violence and Liberty July 4, 2011

UPDATE: I totally forgot to include a great resource put out by the Presbyterian Church (USA), Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call. [DOWNLOAD PDF]

First please watch this video  . . .

Now before anyone starts flaming this post and/or does the “What would you do?” taunt, please know that our family has been touched by gun violence, we have lived in neighborhoods where gun violence is very real and we have NEVER felt that the best response for an individual or a community is to have more guns. I am 100% certain that my wife and I will never own a gun . . . NEVER, so that argument with me is a non-starter.

I also know that I am posting this on July 4th knowing that some may deem venturing into the messy conversations about guns and my challenge to how we use and see them in this country is somehow “unpatriotic.” But I would push back and say that one of the ways I understand my own patriotism is to be thankful for this nation-state where we have the freedom to passionately and openly debate the very nature of what it means to be patriotic, so talking about owning guns seems particularly appropriate today.

Two arguments about gun ownership that are often extolled are, “Bad people will always do bad things, so don’t punish the good people” and “Guns don’t kill people, people with guns kill people.”  While there are many arguments about gun ownership that I simply do not buy, with these two I very much agree.  Society will always have individuals who will make choices that bring about pain, suffering and violence upon the larger community, so with this in mind we must be vigilant in creating a culture that makes sure handguns cannot so easily be acquired by people who should not have them.  I am not even getting into the debate about rifles and hunting arms, but just handguns that are so easily attained in most states and used in so many murders and suicides.

I am not 2nd Amendment scholar, but I believe that our individual right to bear arms should be challenged if society deems that we do not have the psychological capacity to make good choices about the use of those arms.  Sure, there are those out there that don’t really care about the ramifications of loose gun laws and see any restriction on any form of fire arms is an assault on American liberty, but let me be clear in saying that allowing this kind of blind distribution of guns in our communities is an assault on my liberty and the liberty of my family.

One thing that I hope reasonable people can agree upon is that we must better deal with the ways in which guns are bought and sold.  There is too much evidence of irresponsible gun purchasing for us not to have rigorous background checks in all states.  One way that some communities have responded is to encourage – and pressure when need be – gun dealers to adopt a “10 point voluntary code for firearms retailers” that is being advocated by a groups such as Pennsylvania’s Heeding God’s Call and Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Could not reasonable people agree that this is a good idea?  Heck even Walmart has signed on and is part of this movement and, for many folks, you can’t get more “American” than that.  Take a read of the 10 points below . . .

The 10 points of the Responsible Firearms Retailer Partnership are:

  1. Videotaping the Point of Sale for All Firearms Transactions. Participating retailers will videotape the point-of-sale of all firearms transactions and maintain videos for 6 months to deter illegal purchases and monitor employees.
  2. Computerized Prime Gun Trace Log and Alert System. Mayors Against Illegal Guns will develop a computerized system that participating retailers will implement over time to log crime gun traces relating to the retailer. Once the program is in place, if a customer who has a prior trace at that retailer attempts to purchase a firearm, the sale will be electronically flagged. The retailer would have discretion to proceed with the sale or stop the sale.
  3. Purchaser Declaration. For sales flagged by the trace alert system, participating retailers will ask purchasers to fill out a declaration indicating that they meet the legal requirement to purchase the firearm.
  4. Deterring Fake IDs. Participating retailers will only accept valid federal- or state-issued picture IDs as primary identification. Retailers will utilize additional ID checking mechanisms.
  5. Consistent Visible Signage. Participating retailers will post signage created by the Responsible Firearms Retailer Partnership to alert customers of their legal responsibilities at the point-of-sale.
  6. Employee Background Checks. Participating retailers will conduct criminal background checks for all employees selling or handling firearms.
  7. Employee Responsibility Training. Participating retailers will participate in an employee responsibility training program focused on deterring illegal purchasers. The Responsible Firearms Retailer Partnership will create an online training system based on WalMart´s training program.
  8. Inventory Checking. Participating retailers will conduct daily and quarterly audits. Guidelines will be based on WalMart´s existing audit procedures.
  9. No Sales Without Background Check Results. Participating retailers would prohibit sales based on “default proceeds,” which are permitted by law when background check has not returned a result within 3 days.
  10. Securing Firearms. Participating retailers will maintain firearms kept in customer accessible areas in locked cases or locked racks.

Now I understand that any restrictions or regulations voluntary or otherwise, make some people cringe, but honestly, these seem like pretty reasonable practices and would not be that difficult to enact. Not only would I think any firearms dealer who adopts these would create better relationships with the community, but would also be able to rent knowing that they are helping to prevent death.

Now again, there are many more issues that need to be dealt with around guns and violence in the United States: disproportionate amount of violence in poor and/or communities of color, recent decisions about violent video game accessibility to minors and how society in generally understands the roots causes of conflict and struggle. But this day, it is my hope that many can at least agree when it comes to who is allowed to own handguns in the United States, in order to have liberty and freedom for ALL, those who see that freedom and liberty as a free pass to perpetuate situations of violence and death have perverted the very nature of that liberty.

And finally . . . for individuals, families and communities who daily struggle though living with the impact and pain of violence in their lives, may you find some glimpse of peace and hope this day.

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