5 Ways to Reduce Gun Deaths
It’s not about mass shootings, but about stopping the quieter deaths that happen daily.
Mass shootings justifiably grab the headlines. Las Vegas: 58 dead, 500+ injured; Sandy Hook: 20 children, 6 adults slaughtered; Charleston, South Carolina Emanuel AME church: 9 dead; Pulse Nightclub: 49 dead, 58 wounded; San Bernardino:14 killed, 22 seriously injured, and on and on. Inevitably, each mass shooting reignites a national debate over guns and regulation of guns.
Also, inevitably, nothing changes. Gun advocates and reformers retreat to their respective corners and legislators retreat to their bunkers while they wait for the smoke to clear and memories to fade. On to the next crisis and the next news cycle.
In the meantime, while the hand wringing, prayers, and debates fill the airwaves, internet and print media, carnage continues in the homes of America. Carnage that dwarfs the number of mass shooting deaths. Suicide by gun. Accidental shootings, murder/suicides with guns. Domestic violence by gun. Children injured and dying by gun.
With over 330 million firearms in the United States (compared to 275 million cell phones), laws will never eliminate gun violence. However, by focusing on the causes of the tens of thousands of yearly gun deaths, laws can be passed that can reduce yearly gun deaths, including:
Universal Background checks. Requiring background checks for private gun sales at gun shows, through the internet or between individuals can reduce gun sales to felons, straw buyers (buyers who can legally purchase a gun for themselves, but are illegally purchasing a gun for a prohibited buyer) or buyers with misdemeanor domestic abuse convictions. A universal background check would have prevented the private sale of the semi-automatic handgun used by Radcliffe Haughton to murder his wife and two others in the Azana Spa in Brookfield, WI.
Reinstate or extend the 48-hour-waiting period for transfer of purchased handguns. A study of suicide survivors revealed that 70 percent of responders said they made the decision to shoot themselves within one hour of the attempt; 24 percent said the decision was made within 5 minutes. If someone without a gun is contemplating suicide, a 48-hour-waiting period could prevent the impulsive gun buy and suicide attempt, something a background check won’t do. The waiting period could also prevent an emotional handgun purchase made to retaliate in a fight or for use in an escalating domestic violence situation.
Safety locks: Background checks and waiting periods are far from perfect solutions. Many households already have guns, giving people access without having to go through background checks or waiting periods. The presence of the gun allows for the impulsive suicide attempt, the shooting of the spouse, the accidental shooting by the child who finds the loaded firearm in his mom’s glovebox or his dad’s bedside nightstand. However, a law passed in San Francisco requiring guns to be kept in locked boxes or equipped with trigger locks was held to be constitutional. Such a law could reduce the distraught teenager’s access to his parents’ firearms and prevent a suicide or prevent a child’s playing with the loaded gun that grandma bought for protection and kept “hidden” under the mattress.
Mandatory registration: The legal consensus is that mandatory registration does not violate the Second Amendment. Mandatory registration could be used to require a gun owner to undergo certified safety training in the safe use and storage of firearms and the real risks of guns in the home. (There is a 3 times greater risk of a gun homicide, 3.5 times greater risk of suicide and 4 times greater risk of accidental death than in homes without guns.) It could also verify the gun buyer has a safety lock if legally mandated.
Smart Guns: The technology is here for guns that only the owner can fire. Straw buyers cannot buy a smart gun and give it to the real buyer, the criminal/prohibited purchaser. Children cannot accidentally fire a smart gun purchased by another family member. A criminal cannot steal a smart gun and use it to commit crimes. A friend or family member cannot loan a smart gun and have it used in a domestic violence situation. Smart guns do not solve the problem of the 330 million guns already sold, but smart guns will give buyers an option to protect themselves and everyone else in the household and would reduce criminals access to guns through straw buys, theft and firearm trafficking.
While none of these measures will eliminate all gun violence, that should not be the test of whether they are sensible policies. If they can reduce suicides, accidental shootings, domestic violence and the availability of guns to criminals, then they are surely sensible. When the gun debate begins to focus on the causes of daily gun deaths rather than the sensational mass shootings, real solutions and real change can happen and we will all be safer.
The U.S Supreme Court did not hold that the Second Amendment precludes any regulation of the sale and use of firearms. A fact driven debate by state and federal legislators focused on addressing the causes of the vast majority of daily gun deaths could easily result in regulations that would reduce deaths without violating the current interpretation of the Second Amendment and allow law abiding gun owners access to firearms.
Patrick Dunphy. 1976 graduate of MU Law School, co founder of Cannon & Dunphy law firm, represented 4 City of Milwaukee Police Officers in 2 lawsuits against local gun store for selling guns to straw buyers.