In an editorial last week after the San Bernardino, Calif., horror, we asked readers to respond with practical and reasonable suggestions to address the problem of gun violence in America.
You were not shy about doing so. We received dozens of thoughtful letters — and a surprising minimum of rants — which gives us hope that actual conversation about these issues can be possible. Here is only a sampling of the early responses. We’ll continue to publish selected letters in the days to come.
Guns on Kansas college campuses
Parents now have more to be concerned about than sexual assault, drunken behavior and the other usual list of freshman challenges. Now you can add guns to the list.
As a consultant to sororities and fraternities, I field questions from parents about everything from hazing to sexual assault. After talking to a group of parents recently, a mom called to tell me that she’s scratching the University of Kansas and Kansas State University off her daughter’s hot college list.
“I can’t send my daughter to a school that thinks it’s ok to carry a concealed weapon,” she shared.
Currently, the Kansas Board of Regents policy prohibits students, employees and visitors from bringing weapons of any type on university property at schools in the regents’ system. And it also applies to those licensed for concealed carry of handguns. In 2017, weapons will be allowed, and the only way to stop anyone who is packing will be to install security and staff at building entrances.
In 23 states (including nearby Iowa, Arkansas and Oklahoma), the decision to allow weapons on campus is made by each college or university. Lawmakers claim it’s an extension of student rights to be packing.
The arguments by the gun rights advocates are insane. My favorite is an argument that “packing” a gun will help women protect themselves from potential rapists. Yet, the majority of rapes happen with a woman who knows her attacker. No bogeyman is jumping out of a bush here. This one is right up there with a guy who suggested we give every incoming woman a rape whistle.
All dogma aside, lawmakers obviously haven’t been on a college campus recently.
So tell me Mr. Out of Touch Lawmaker, how is this really going to work? Do you expect a resident assistant in a dorm to pack and carry? Should we install metal detectors at the entrance of every campus building? Ever been in a hot crowded college bar in the early morning when a fight breaks out? Now add a drunken college kid with a gun.
Do we install armed guards at the entrances to sorority chapter houses? Require not only smoke alarms, but high resolution cameras to catch the active shooter in action?
Do we require freshman to take an active shooter education? Many schools do. I know! Let’s give professors bulletproof whiteboards! Yep,for real. Professors and teaching assistants at the University of Maryland have them.
The Kansas Board of Regents are apparently drafting a policy modification to address this ridiculousness. Let’s hope they can find a way to keep our kids safe.
I’m sick of the rhetoric and empty platitudes. I have one simple goal that I need you to join me on: Add your name now to urge Congress to take immediate action against gun violence.
It’s absurd that suspected terrorists — individuals deemed dangerous enough that we won’t let them fly on planes — can buy guns; that the dangerously mentally ill can walk into a store and buy ammunition; that anyone can buy a firearm without undergoing an effective background check.
It’s horrific when, after all the tragedy we’ve witnessed, elected officials still cower to the National Rifle Association and powerful gun lobby and refuse to move forward on literally lifesaving, common sense gun safety legislation that has the broad support of Americans of all stripes.
There’s nothing controversial about saving lives.
Americans on both sides of the aisle have reached a breaking point. Inaction on gun violence is no longer an option. Click here to demand Congress take immediate action to stop gun violence.
My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims from San Bernardino, Calif.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and the hundreds of shootings in communities across our country that haven’t made it to the headlines — as is my promise to take real action to stop gun violence. Thank you for standing with me.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill
Gun laws essential
I applaud The Star’s effort to gather public input and ideas to reduce gun violence in this country. The problem, of course, is multi-faceted and stems from problems imbedded in our culture, system of mental health, regulatory atmosphere and elsewhere.
However, I want to concentrate here on the regulatory problem. I am a gun owner, hunter, collector and former National Rifle Association member.
I canceled my NRA membership in the 1980s when the organization opposed banning of Teflon coated bullets — designed only to penetrate protective police vests. Teflon-coated bullets had no sporting purpose.
The NRA long ago stopped representing the interests of individual members and has evolved into an organization supporting the gun manufacturers. I believe that if an independent and reliable poll were taken today, the rank-and-file individual members of the NRA would support common sense regulation of firearms.
There are many sensible, incremental regulations that could be implemented, going back to registration and waiting periods for the purchase of handguns, including all military assault weapons under that same system of registry, limitations on magazine capacity, closing the gun show loophole, voluntary buy-back programs, and legitimate research and data gathering. But the NRA opposes any and all increased regulation.
The NRA may have crossed a line with its recent opposition of banning suspected terrorist on the “no fly” list from purchasing firearms. I think that might create significant backlash. It certainly should.
The NRA has always used fear of weapons confiscation as a premise to oppose sensible laws regulating firearms. But recent years have seen the argument made that any regulation just does not work because criminals do not obey the law. That rationale, which has been successful , absolutely makes no sense.
Should we eliminate all traffic laws promoting public safety because a few people will not obey them? Laws have always been enacted in the interest of public safety because a minority of people do not comply. Laws do have somewhat of a deterrent effect.
Many of the things the NRA says are true: “Laws won’t keep guns from criminals.” “Guns don’t kill; people do.” “Mistakes can be made with systems doing background checks or people on a ‘no fly’ list.”
But regulation is a price we must pay as a civilized and regulated society. As a society, we must act, in whatever small incremental means possible. And remember, gun ownership is not a God-given right (as some say). It is a right granted in this country by our government, established by the U.S. Constitution, defended by Supreme Court decisions, and with that granted right comes the responsibility to regulate it.
Close loopholes in laws
While there are numerous causes of gun violence and solutions to address it without impeding the rights of responsible gun owners, the most obvious ones are closing major loopholes in current laws making gun access too easy for the wrong people. We must:
▪ Expand background checks to include the 40 percent of gun sales that don’t require one — including some gun shows and all Internet sales. Ninety percent of Americans support this change.
▪ Require gun sellers to complete background checks, regardless of the time required. Currently, if a background check is flagged for scrutiny, federal law allows a sale to proceed if research is not complete after 72 hours.
Additional solutions include:
▪ Reverse laws passed in Missouri and Kansas that expanded open- and concealed-carry rights without license and training requirements and lowered the age of concealed-carry.
▪ Encourage citizens to examine voting records of elected officials and support candidates who champion common-sense gun laws.
▪ Allow and fund research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into gun violence as a public health issue.
▪ Collaborate with national and local groups that share the vision of reasonable gun laws, so the people’s voices can speak as loudly as the special interest groups now dominating the conversation.
Against Gun Violence
Mental health services
Mass shootings have become the norm, many by young men who needed mental health treatment but did not access it. To solve complex problems, we need thoughtful discussion, not polarizing comments. Working together we could make an impact.
Some substantive changes are:
1. Currently, more than half of all who request treatment for mental illness do not get help. When someone in great risk asks for mental health treatment, that person should be provided immediate and ongoing treatment.
2. Traditional mental health treatment does not appeal to many young people who are at risk. Providers need to develop new approaches to attract this population.
3. Many people at high risk do not voluntarily ask for treatment. Outreach programs are needed to engage this group, so that when family or friends know there is a problem, mental health providers can respond.
4. Even after outreach, some people will refuse treatment, even though they clearly need it. Involuntary outpatient commitment to treatment should be used in those rare occasions. Missouri and Kansas do not use involuntary outpatient treatment, though laws are on their books.
5. People who are dangerous and/or have low impulse control should not have access to guns.
ReDiscover is a community mental health center serving Jackson County, helping more than 1,200 people on an average day.
A push for legislative change only goes so far when the perpetuation of an unhealthy gun culture blocks reform. We need regulation, but the problem is more than legislative.
The solution must be as well. To facilitate a cultural shift, we should prioritize gun safety and reject marketing gun violence to children.
Sometimes to change the next generation you need to work with the next generation. Empowering childhood by rejecting the romanticization of guns, advocating gun safety and facilitating healthy dialogue about the rights and responsibilities of gun ownership can help shift an unhealthy gun culture into a culture with guns and a control on gun violence. While the shift won’t be swift, it can be lasting.
There is a communication breakdown among adults regarding guns. Parents may disagree about how to protect our kids, but we want to protect them just the same. If we allow kids to grow up with respect for guns as a deadly tool, without glorification, maybe we can raise a generation of gun smart voters.
Disarming Childhood is community-driven effort to empower children to shape a safer future by rejecting the cultural glorification of gun violence and advocating youth gun access prevention.
Making unified effort
It is abundantly clear that the current political climate and makeup of the Congress has stalled any chance to enact reasonable, sensible gun legislation, such as universal background checks, to curb the increase in mass shootings in this country. By some estimates, so far this year, there has been more than one mass shooting a day.
That’s shocking enough, but it would be more shocking if we, as a civilized society, did nothing to curb, if not stop, the carnage we are witnessing. I would suggest that gun violence be viewed and treated as a public health issue, not unlike the health/welfare issues raised by the known harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use.
In addition, any enhancements to gun safety should and must also address mental health as part of the problem. Our health agencies — the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health — should work with the gun manufacturers to promulgate regulations that would link mental health issues with gun safety.
I suggest, too, that we should treat assault-type weapons and large magazine clips, readily available to the general public, as a life and death matter, much the same as the Ebola virus was immediately addressed by our health agencies. If the Ebola virus can be contained, why can't the health agencies make a parallel priority for the safety of U.S. citizens?
Much as the fight to curb the harmful effects of the tobacco industry's products and to contain the Ebola virus from becoming an epidemic, the health agencies can have a voice in gun safety. I know that not every gun law or regulation will prevent all gun violence but I do believe that a large majority of Americans do believe that assault weapons and large magazine clips have no place on our streets, movie theaters, shopping malls or in our schools.
I know regulation is nasty word in the gun industry and among gun lobbyists and I acknowledge that you can't stop all gun violence but, for the love of God, we should at least try — but we are not.
Guns for safety
Eliminate Gun-Free Zones. Gun-free zones are a deadly fallacy.
In most mass shootings the shooter specifically planned for the massacre to happen at a gun-free zone. The net effect is that gun-free zones publicly invite the criminal to a target-rich environment, where the victims cannot effectively fight back because they are the law-abiding citizens who do not carry guns. Gun-free zones are guaranteed fatality zones for law-abiding citizens and innocent victims.
Encourage concealed carry for law-abiding citizens.
Violent crime is actually reduced when more law-abiding citizens are armed. Hardened criminals confess that they fear an armed law-abiding citizen more than they fear the police (“More Guns, Less Crime” by John Lott; “Gun Facts” by Guy Smith). In the United States, every 13 seconds a crime is prevented by a law-abiding citizen using (and in most cases merely brandishing) a handgun.
It is impossible to identify one nation in the world that imposed a handgun ban that did not subsequently experience an increase in violent crime, even gun crime.
Rev. James “Jim” T. Meadows
End game playing
Don’t blame the guns, the Rebel battle flag or President Barack Obama for the recurring mass shootings. People should support an active-shooter deterrent program, coordinated through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Ask all law enforcement groups, U.S. military, local and state governments and the National Rifle Association to participate. Have hotline numbers for reporting suspicious activity, such as the behavior changes noticed in the San Bernardino couple behind the recent mass shootings.
Implement the powers Homeland Security has, for no-knock warrants and immediate seizure. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln infringed on the rights of habeas corpus. Let the active-shooter deterrent program do the same thing. If someone needs to be held without due-process, hold them.
Get severely mentally ill people the treatment they need as we used to especially ones who tend toward violent activities, like the Sandy Hook shooter.
Implement trained Homeland Security guard programs for schools, shopping malls and all active shooter target areas.
Hire guards willing to sacrifice their lives, such as former military. Reinstate some Republican tax cuts, to fund mental health facility expansions, training for security guards, and all of the needs an active shooter deterrent program will require.
All of the tools to stop mass shootings, are right in front of us. Let’s use them, and stop playing the blame game.
I have been around firearms my entire life and I am an avid sportsman.
A “magic bullet” solution to gun violence might not be achievable in the current political climate. However, steps to improvement are obvious and would be easy and cheap to deploy and could potentially bring parties in this polarizing situation closer together.
I propose mandatory safety training for all new purchasers of firearms in the form of a classroom training session for those buying guns for hunting, self-defense or collecting and range qualification.
Focused on the legal responsibilities of ownership, and the safe storage, transportation and capabilities/operation, this path could reduce accidental incidents and provide a forum for further evaluation (physical, mental, emotional) of participants by instructors. If an individual were deemed of questionable fitness, the instructor could refer to appropriate authorities for further background checks. “Nothing to hide, nothing to fear.”
A fee would be charged to the participant and a portion of this would go to a fund for victims of gun violence. People would re-qualify every 10 years, and those currently holding a valid hunter safety card or other appropriate, documented firearms training certification would be exempt. All other gun owners would have two years to complete the class.
This proposal would create additional positive discussions and lead to jobs to improve the economy.
Don’t blame religion
“Islam doesn’t kill people; people kill people.”
It’s an adaptation of a motto gun rights advocates use to defend against government obstruction of a freedom. But, it’s not as if gun rights advocates need bumper sticker slogans to guarantee that freedom.
They have the Constitution. In it is a straightforward and tested guarantee.
Similarly, Americans have a freedom of religion. So, don’t worry.
If something bizarre happens, and Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump is elected to be president, the judicial branch, the U.S. Supreme Court will check the executive branch.
Require smart guns
American gun control policy has failed because of loopholes, the influence of the National Rifle Association, and a patchwork of state and local laws. We need strict, new federal laws.
Even then, because guns have flooded our streets for too long, new laws will not cure our shooting epidemic overnight. Likewise, as long as private gun ownership is allowed, gun violence will exist — but, it’s still time to pass laws that will reduce it for our kids and grandkids. Universal background checks and assault weapons bans presumed, I would also:
▪ Revise the Second Amendment to prevent distortions of its original intent by adding five words, as suggested by Justice John Paul Stevens: “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving in the Militia….”
▪ Tell your extreme-right, red-state congressional representatives that they don’t represent your views on resolving gun violence. Silence implies agreement.
▪ Legalize the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s efforts to research gun violence as a public health issue.
▪ Prohibit those on a terrorist watch list from purchasing weapons or ammunition.
▪ Limit the amount of ammunition that can be purchased in a given period of time and outlaw online ammunition sales.
▪ Require the sale of smart guns, which can only be fired by their owners.
▪ Use my tax dollars to fund gun buyback programs all across the country.
▪ Give tax credits to law-abiding gun owners who volunteer to put their names into a gun registry and who agree to limit their purchases of ammunition.
I am just a human being, retired public servant, spouse of a social worker and a history buff. We should have a serious discussion about the Second Amendment’s meaning, and then modify its language to correct a badly flawed Supreme Court decision. The founders were talking about a well-regulated militia, not untrained citizens.
Anyone on the federal no-fly or terrorist lists should be prevented from buying a gun or ammo. All gun and ammo sales, in person and online, should be done only after a background check, which is kept for five years in a federal database.
Ammo is restricted to a maximum 10-shot clip, no armor penetrating or other ammo stronger than that needed to kill a deer should be permitted for citizens.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other others should be able to use federal funds to study gun violence, its causes and possible solutions.
Gun and ammo buybacks should be encouraged at all levels of government. Mental health systems should be fully funded and students given behavioral tools to handle conflict without violence.
A retired city employee
Teach your children
Mass shootings will not be prevented by adding more laws, for criminals will not be deterred by “gun bans” or “gun free zones” if they have no qualms with murder. What criminals do fear is a victim who is willing to fight back.
We should learn from places like Switzerland and rural America, where guns are prevalent, yet gun crime is low. Their success stems from their culture and their people.
People should be educating their young about gun safety and the correct purpose of a weapon. People should be speaking out about family and neighbors who they know are suspicious or dangerous. People need to cooperate with the police and seek help for those who need it.
People need to be willing to fight back to save their own life as well as the lives of others and not hold back those who are willing to do so. People need to instill fear into the ones willing to cause them harm.
Start a new NRA
There is no “silver bullet” to stop shootings. It will be a combination of ideas (hopefully many supplied by your readers) that will eventually bring gun abuse under control.
My contribution: start a new organization called “The Original NRA.”
When I was 12, the National Rifle Association sponsored a hunter safety course. The instructors were great. The lessons taught about safe gun handling stay with me to this day. The pair of teachers were quick to see kids who weren’t ready to handle firearms, and they let their parents know. In short, they were screeners making sure only responsible people carried weapons. We need an amended form of this today. Everyone should have to take a similar course only beefed up to include a “psychological screener” and access to computer databases to eliminate criminals, folks with known mental health issues and people on a terrorist watch list.
Once you have passed the course, you are issued a special photo ID that must be presented to purchase ammunition or firearms or a hunting license. If anyone attempts to buy or sell (including gun shows) said items without this documentation, should go to jail, and pay $200,000.
The NRA is best equipped to provide this service. Though the NRA is correct — people kill people — today’s NRA mutation objects to keeping the “wrong” people from having guns. It wants more killing to sell more guns, which leads to more killing.
Former NRA members need to start a competing organization that provides this education and screening function. I would certainly pay dues to this outfit and volunteer time.
No gun-free zones
There is one common denominator with all the mass shootings that have taken place the last several years (actually going back to Columbine): They all have taken place in “gun-free zones.” You never hear of someone storming a police station for a really common sense reason. They are probably going to encounter armed resistance very soon after entering the building.
I would scrap all “gun-free zone” signs (especially in schools and government buildings and replace them with the following: “WARNING: This facility is protected by several trained conceal-carry individuals throughout the building.” Then back that up by actually having several trained concealed carry individuals in the building.
The people who commit these mass shootings may well be crazy, but they are not stupid. They always strike at a target that is a sitting duck (unarmed), and then usually stop shooting and kill themselves when the “armed” police arrive.
I’d like to suggest five measures in no particular order of feasibility:
1. Institute a national gun buy-back program with a sunset date. This worked well in Australia, and it would take firearms off the streets without any of the usual “the government is coming to take our guns” drama.
2. Require in-person threat screenings (not just background checks) with specially trained mental health professionals for anyone who wants to buy a gun. Of course, this would require a massive commitment of resources to open firearm screening centers nationwide, but using computers and webcams to allow the same live interviews would reduce costs.
3. Consider using data mining and behavioral profiling to identify high-risk behavioral patterns (i.e., people who purchase assault-style weapons and military gear and have social media feeds that talk about racist, violent or extremist ideology). Together with live screening results, this process might flag individuals who warrant deeper investigation, surveillance or even intervention.
4. Increase community-level resources to foster in-person conversation and social connection, allowing people to feel less isolated and get to know the people they might otherwise regard as threats. This might include pressing websites and social networks to institute transparency policies about user names and moderation policies on comment boards and walls in order to eliminate the bubbles of unchallenged hate and delusion that now proliferate online. At the same time, community “Let’s talk” programs would get people out of their homes and face to face, especially with people who do not share their ethnicity, religion or political affiliation. Getting to know each other and care about each other is an antidote to killing each other.
5. Finally, a federal blanket ban on the sale and possession of assault weapons and ammunition. No one has any legitimate use for these machines of death.
Improving health education in the schools could help prevent shooting disasters in the years to come. These people who were clearly suffering from mental illnesses were not helped by our current educational system.
Teachers have been discouraged in the past from informing parents to get children tested for mental health issues. Many children who’ve severely needed help did not receive counseling.
The past several years students have been removed from physical education, music, art and health to try to improve reading and math scores.
Health education teaches mental, emotional, social and physical health to prepare children for life. In a health education classroom students learn decision-making, defense mechanisms, goal setting, communication skills, refusal skills, making friendships, conflict management, preventing stress, preventing violence and abuse, health and safety skills, alcohol and drug prevention, managing mental and emotional health, growth and development, self-esteem issues, suicide awareness, fitness concepts, and nutrition.
Our current requirements for health education are limited to one semester for 12 years of life. Olathe middle school students went from a quarter class of health to 10 hours of health instruction and some of that was online only.
Limit ammo amounts
Instead of taking an either/or approach (total gun control or unrestricted access), why not admit that both sides have legitimate concerns: gun violence is out of control and citizens have a constitutional right to bear arms. These guidelines seem to accommodate both extremes:
1. All guns and ammunition must be registered based on their use: a) Handguns (personal); b) Rifles (hunting); c) Assault weapons (recreational).
2. All buyers are subject to background checks, which vary in scrutiny based on the classes above.
3. All owners must pass a certified class for proper gun use and safety, which must be renewed on a timely basis, depending on the class of gun.
4. Owner permits must be renewed on a timely basis (from yearly to five years).
5. Certain people will be prohibited from owning guns (mental disorders, terrorist background, some criminals)
6. The amount of ammunition will be limited based on the classes above.
7. Selling a gun to someone without proper permits (including resale) is not only illegal but also subjects the seller to the same legal consequences as the buyer if it is used while committing a crime.
With a dose of common sense, these guidelines can be fine-tuned to satisfy the need for safety from gun violence without sacrificing the right to bear arms.
I believe the time has come to stop the sale of killing machines to the public. You should not be able to walk into a store and buy one. I would do the following.
1. A three-month waiting time to get any gun.
2. Complete background check.
3. Limit ammunition to 20 rounds. Hunters fire fewer than five rounds per year.
4. Raise the price of ammunition to $10 per round.
5. Use this added cost of ammunition to help families of gun violence.
6. Repeal the Second Amendment. Rewrite it for the 21st century.
7. Ban all automatic and semi-automatic weapon sales to the general public.
The short answer: Bullet taxes. Bullet serial numbering. Mandatory Firearms Accident Insurance.
The long answer:
It’s naive to believe people will never again find ways to quickly kill many other people at random with all the many technical possibilities. The 2013 Boston Marathon attacks showed us that a commonly available pressure cooker, random metal shrapnel and a little Internet research can enable one to create a device capable of as much or more damage than a handgun. But that doesn’t negate addressing the problems that gun proliferation create.
It’s logical that reducing lethal capacity is a good starting point, but we’ve seen this concept skirted by what I’ll simply call “business as usual” without assessing any direct blame (who wants to take the credit?). Our country cannot face the gun lobbyists and their broad interpretation of freedoms allowed in the Second Amendment. Many will rationally argue that the people who do this sort of thing can’t be stopped by anti-gun laws anyway. And to some degree they’re right.
But why should bullets be so cheap, readily available and completely untraceable without expensive scientific investigative methods? If we were to tax them to a point where one had to make a significant investment, gun owners (legal and illegal) would likely have enough for defense but not obliterate anything whenever they’re having an off day.
Second, why should bullets be so anonymous? We insist that cars have licenses. You can track that information down and find the owner if he runs his vehicle into your property. But if someone randomly shoots a bullet into your window at night, the casings may as well have been sent from a ghost. Bullet serial numbering and heavy fines for non-numbered ammo would give a better means of accounting for and controlling the wild proliferation of random bullets.
Third, we require it for drivers but not for gun owners: insurance. If a car can inflict thousands of dollars worth of damage and the owner has a responsibility for that damage, shouldn’t gun owners be required to do the same?
Who pays for all the damage caused by these kinds of mass shootings? Who is responsible for lost guns? Gun owners enjoy freedom, but freedom can only exist with responsibility. Insurance to cover the potential damage, and stiff fines/sentences for those without it, isn’t asking anyone to surrender freedom so much as provide some level of responsibility for the possible danger their property may inflict. The plus side of this is perhaps gun manufacturers could join the insurance industry.
If we make gun and bullet ownership difficult to afford, responsible through taxation and somewhat accountable through insurance, we might begin to see positive changes in gun violence over time, but this idea only works if we strictly enforce it and strictly punish those who would likely harbor weapons and ammo without IDs and proper insurance.
Christopher L. Messina
Business owner and Army veteran