Friday, March 29, 2013

Rizzo's Gun Debate

Before I get into my discussion about gun laws and why they should be altered to make this country a safer place, I want you all to know that I am in no means a fanatic. I own a gun. It was given to me by my brother for protection, and it is in my top dresser drawer with ammunition should the need arise to shoot someone. Do not think for one instant that I would NOT shoot someone who entered my home illegally and threatened to harm myself, or my family. It is a small caliber (.25 I think) pistol with a 9 round clip. I don’t know enough about it to tell you whether it is a semi-automatic or automatic, but I DO know it does NOT have to be “cocked” before every fire.  That being said, I do NOT carry this gun around on my hip (legally, in the state of Virginia, I can without a permit) and I have never fired it. Not even to see if the aim is off.  I do not believe that guns should be completely outlawed like they are in Britain. I DO think this country has a long way to go as far as gun laws are concerned. Let’s look at the second amendment. It states:          A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.  By well regulated they mean capably trained. Regulated, back then, did not mean to be encumbered by laws or government. SO we will reword this. A well trained militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
 First, I want to talk about why this may or may not have been important to add as an amendment to our constitution. Let’s look at what had recently transpired in our country. We, as a country, had just won our revolution from Britain. One of the most important factors in that war was our militiamen. Private citizens who were armed and formed a militia to fight against the British. Most of these militiamen had fought against the indians, or their fathers, brothers, or uncles had. They were well trained. Also, I am sure that, being a new country with a new constitution (which we know some people did not agree with) there were some people who were afraid of government tyranny. What better way to guard against it than to amend the constitution to say to the government that the people could and would rise up if they were being oppressed.  Now, today, I cannot say that this is a valid argument. Most private citizens are not well trained when it comes to using the tools of war. If there were to be an uprising today, it would take one of our major branches of military to lead the charge because we are just not capable of fighting against them. Our military is equipped with state of the art weapons like unmanned drones, tanks, tactical gear, and the government has nukes for crying out loud. There is no way an army of private citizens could rise up and think that they could stand a chance against our government if our branches of military were on their side. SO, in my opinion, that in itself makes void the argument that private citizens need machine guns with 30 round clips in case they ever needed to rise up against oppression. The argument is, a lot of the time, if the government has it then we should have it too. It is our right to protect ourselves from the tyranny that government can sometimes become. I say – good luck getting the uranium and plutonium to arm yourself with the nuclear devices our government has access to. It is not going to happen, and if it does, you won’t have to worry about fighting in a war because you will be in some prison under the ground somewhere for terrorism.
 Another popular argument is for the hunter. They need their guns so that they can go out and kill deer, squirrels, bears, birds, ad nauseum.  I know quite a few people who hunt. Some for sport, and some because they actually feed their families that way. I would NEVER want to take away their guns. I WOULD want to regulate what guns they are using for hunting. The last time I heard, if you had to use an AK47 to kill a deer, then you are doing it wrong. How did people feed themselves and protect themselves from bears before these guns were manufactured? They are just not necessary. So, the hunter’s argument is gone.  Keep your rifles, your pistols, and your shotguns. Keep your scopes and your 10 or 12 round clips. Give back the assault rifles and machine guns, because you just do not need them.
 There are some people who would say that we are Americans. This country was founded on freedom. It is and should be our right to have any gun we want. For this argument, we are going to look into some of the massacres that have occurred over the past couple of decades, and some of the laws and regulations that go into purchasing a gun. In 1999, in Colorado, two teenage boys walked into their high school armed and killed 13 people, injuring 24. It took about 49 minutes from when they began to when they killed themselves.  In 2007 a Virginia man entered his college campus and killed 32 people, injuring 17. It happened in two separate incidents over a two hour period. In 2012, a man entered a theater in Colorado and opened fire killing 12 people and injuring 58 in a 15 minute time period. In 2012, a young man entered an elementary school where he butchered 26 people (20 of them under 8 years old) in less than five minutes. In more than one of these cases it was later found that the perpetrator had a history of mental illness. They were all Americans living with the same freedoms that we all are afforded. So, if we use this last argument, they all should have been allowed to have those guns. I just cannot get on board with that.
 Let’s take a look at what goes into a mental health check when purchasing a gun. Keep in mind that all of the background and mental health checks can be avoided by buying through a private citizen! (It has been estimated that private sales provide for 40% of gun transactions) First, the buyer fills out a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Form 4473 by hand, providing simple yes or no answers to a series of questions about criminal, mental health and substance abuse history. The dealer then queries the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database maintained by the FBI via a toll-free telephone number or through the NICS E-Check System online (in a handful of states the dealer contacts the state police who in turn contact NICS). This instant computer check searches the NICS database for any disqualifying records that would prohibit that individual from buying a gun. During the check, the system does not disclose to gun dealers any actual information about these records. Dealers are simply seeing one of three responses from NICS on their computer screen: proceed, denied or delayed. The specific disqualifications related to mental health are quite narrow. Under federal law, an individual is prohibited from buying or possessing firearms if they have been “adjudicated as a mental defective” or “committed to a mental institution.” A person is “adjudicated as a mental defective” if a court — or other entity having legal authority to make adjudications — has made a determination that an individual, as a result of mental illness: 1) Is a danger to himself or to others; 2) Lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs; 3) Is found insane by a court in a criminal case, or incompetent to stand trial, or not guilty by reason of lack of mental responsibility pursuant to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. . A person is “committed to a mental institution” if that person has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution by a court or other lawful authority. This expressly excludes voluntary commitment. There is no guarantee, however, that a formal record of adjudication or involuntary commitment will find its way into the NICS database. Often disqualifying mental health records go unreported by the states. In Colorado, for example, only about 1% of people who have disqualifying mental health histories have been reported to NICS.
Another problem is that few Americans suffering from serious mental illness ever come into contact  with the “system” or receive treatment for their condition(s). According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 10% of children and adolescents suffer from mental illnesses. Yet only 20% of this group have been diagnosed and are receiving services. Looking at adults, approximately 1 in 17 live with a serious mental disorder such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder. Yet less than one third receive mental health services.  
 So you see, unless you have been involuntarily committed, or judged to be mentally unstable by a legal entity, you can purchase a gun! If you are one of the thousands of people without health insurance and you have mental instability, but cannot afford to go to a doctor, your gun rights are safe! The man who committed the shooting in the theater in Colorado actually gave his therapist a notebook detailing how he was going to do it before he did it. He had been diagnosed as schizophrenic He had no business buying, operating, or being allowed in a home with guns! If you are convicted of a felony in this country, no matter if it is a violent one or not, you are not allowed to occupy the same home or vehicle that any gun occupies. It is an automatic 5 years in prison. If you are a felon and you get out of jail or prison and have to move in with your parents who are NOT felons they have to get rid of their guns. However, if you are mentally unstable, you can be around all the guns you like. This needs to change. I also think that people who are on high doses of medications that cause serious side effects, or are used to control mental stability should not be allowed to be around guns. If you are so nervous that you have to take more than a 1 mg bedtime dose of Klonopin, Xanax, or Ativan then you do not need a gun! I know, because I have been there. I have panic attacks. I was prescribed 1 mg of Klonopin 4 times a day to help me deal with my anxiety. I was a zombie! I am not saying that I could not function on a day to day basis. I am not saying that I did not know what was going on around me. I am saying that I should not have been allowed to purchase a gun while on that medication! It alters your decision making abilities. If your medication has a sticker on it that says you can’t drive a car, then you should not be able to buy a gun! There are plenty of people ( myself included) who have minor problems (such as panic attacks) and find other ways of dealing with them, such as meditation or yoga. Once the medication has been stopped, and you are cleared by a physician then perhaps you could own a gun. I also think we need to start holding these mental health doctors liable for their patients whom they do not report as being possibly dangerous. Before you go off about costs and insurance let me tell you that I am a bleeding heart liberal and I believe that everyone in this country should be able to have the same health care benefits our government receives at the same cost they pay for it! I also think that the mental health system in this country needs to be changed. There are more and more people developing anxiety and depression problems because of stress and pressure brought on by their employment (or lack of) and the stigma of seeing a psychiatrist needs to be removed. More insurances should pay for more mental health services.  I could go on and on. The mental health background checks will do no real good until people start receiving the help they need.

 In conclusion, let me say that I do not think guns should be banned. As I stated in the beginning, I own one. I would shoot an intruder without a second thought. I do think that regulations need to be put into place to take the assault rifles and huge clips off the market. I think we should go back to owning normal rifles and handguns. I believe that mental health and its lack thereof plays a huge role in these massacres that keep happening more and more often. I believe that if you want to carry a gun anywhere outside your home that you should have to be licensed, and that you should have to take more than just a couple hour safety class. I believe that if you own a gun, yearly mental health checks should be required. If you own a gun you should have to recertify for that license just like you do to drive. It should be annual. I think that if the two sides could sit down and come to a compromise using common sense that this would not be an issue. I don’t want to take away your freedom, but I do not want to have to live in fear that an unbalanced kid will show up at school one day with a gun. None of the victims ever thought it would happen to them. None of the perpetrators families ever thought they would do what they did. Until it was too late.
*Please remember when you discuss the 2nd amendment that it was written in the 1790’s. This illustration shows the difference between guns then, and guns today.


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