Op Ed

5 Ways to Reduce Gun Deaths

It’s not about mass shootings, but about stopping the quieter deaths that happen daily.

By - Oct 16th, 2017 02:40 pm


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.

The numbers tell the story of a silent epidemic of gun death ignored by the media and seemingly unknown by most of the public. In 2015, there were 475 deaths in mass shootings (defined as four or more deaths in one shooting). Compare that to 12,942 killed in homicides, accidental shootings and murder/suicides plus more than 22,000 suicides by firearm. 2015 was not an aberration. On average there are 22,000 gun suicides per year in America, an average of 121 per day; more than 10,000 homicides; 600 woman shot to death by intimate partners, and over 2,500 children and teens a year killed with guns.

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.

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14 thoughts on “Op Ed: 5 Ways to Reduce Gun Deaths”

  1. GRNPAKWH says:

    What we need to do is get the guns off our streets and to this end I suggest a constitutional amendment. Replace the second amendment with one that reads like this: “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.”

  2. Armatus Rebellio says:

    Tired trope is tired. Not one of these things would have prevented any mass shooting to date.

    Universal Background checks.
    “Requiring background checks for private gun sales … can reduce gun sales to felons, straw buyers … or buyers with misdemeanor domestic abuse convictions.”

    Washington state and Colorado passed Universal Background Check laws that extend to private part transfers. They had little effect because they were, at their heart, unenforceable.

    “Straw buyers”… The sole purpose of a straw buyer is to circumvent the background check.

    Here’s a list of straw buyers and the results of their crimes.
    Robyn Anderson was not charged with a crime for transferring the three guns she had bought in a straw purchase for the Columbine killers.

    Emanuel Romo receive probation for was convicted of the straw-purchase of a pistol later used to shoot Milwaukee Police Officer Brandon Baranowski.

    Marcus Wheeler, a felon, killed Omaha Police Officer Kerrie Orozco with the gun he gave money to Jalita Johnson and told her what to buy.
    Jalita Johnson received one year of probation.

    “The man who purchased the gun allegedly used to shoot a pair of Milwaukee police officers received two years in federal prison”

    Mark Manes, who knowingly sold a TEC-9 to minors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in the Columbine High School massacre received 6 years.

    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.”
    [citation needed] Did the study ask how many were already gun owners or are you just presenting a half truth and hoping the reader will make the leap?

    Safety locks:
    “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.”
    Just because the 9th circuit held that mandatory locking a gun is constitutional doesn’t mean that it is. Remember the 9th held that a person who already owns a gun is still subject to a mandatory waiting period to “cool off”. This is what they call “common sense.”

    “prevent a child’s playing with the loaded gun that grandma bought for protection”
    Yes it might. But it puts grandma at risk.
    Heller has held there is a right to having a gun in the home for protection. A gun locked is, by definition, not available for protection. I’m sure you’ve never Googled “home invasion” before.
    If a child negligently accesses a gun and causes harm, the law can be used to punish those allowing negligent access. You cannot legislate against stupidity.

    Mandatory registration:
    “The legal consensus is that mandatory registration does not violate the Second Amendment.”
    Only in the 9th circuit.

    “Mandatory registration could be used to require a gun owner to undergo certified safety training in the safe use and storage of firearms”
    Why is registration needed? Would you be against a firearm owners safety card that proves the owner has had safety training?
    What purpose does registration serve? The Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA) made registration illegal. Yes it can be changed. Yes it will be tough.

    “It could also verify the gun buyer has a safety lock if legally mandated.”
    The ATF already requires that all guns be sold come with a safety lock. (This is ignorance approaching deceit.)

    Smart Guns:
    “The technology is here for guns that only the owner can fire.”
    Not in any practical sense. No law enforcement agency uses “smart gun” technology.
    There are some proof of concepts, but nothing (anyone who knows anything about firearms) would trust their life to.
    When a 3/10 of a second can mean the difference between life and death, are you willing to trust your life to the technology that unlocks you iPad?
    For now, “smart guns” are a unicorn.

  3. Vincent Hanna says:

    Ah yes the same tired trope that nothing works so nothing should be done. This story proves that isn’t true. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/10/australia-gun-control/541710/

    The Deputy Prime Minister at the time, a conservative and a gun owner himself, spoke to NPR earlier this month and reiterated many of the points in this story. Saying nothing can be done is nonsense.

  4. Armatus Rebellio says:

    Yes. The Australian gun confiscation. I will admit, if you eliminate all the guns, you will eliminate all the gun deaths.
    There’s an easy 5 step process to doing that, and a somewhat more difficult 6th step.
    You should immediately get to work on that. We’re not Australia. We value our liberty here.


  5. Armatus Rebellio says:

    From the “We gotta DOOOO something” department.
    In 2015, 10,265 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (29%) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.

    That’s nearly the number of firearm related homicides. All illegal, all totally preventable.
    Are truly willing to DOOOO something about that?

    How about universal breathalyzer interlocks? You just have to blow into a tube before your care starts.
    Of course this doesn’t work for drug impairments, so just a tiny blood sample. This also doesn’t eliminate straw breathers. You’re less impaired buddy puffs for you and off you go. What about Smart Car technology so only the registered owner/breather can operate the car? Doesn’t infringe on the right to operate a motor vehicle because there is no right to operate a motor vehicle.

    Vincent would be all for this, am I right?

  6. Vincent Hanna says:

    They didn’t confiscate all guns. Apparently you can’t read. Typical gun nut.

  7. Dennis Grzezinski says:

    GRNPKWH is correct. All we really need to do is follow the requirements of the United States Constitution, as stated in the 2nd Amendment. Unfortunately, the made-up history spouted by the late unlamented Justice Scalia, falsely claiming to be an “originalist,” utterly distorted the meaning of those quite straightforward words. As long as there is a majority of unprincipled so-called conservatives willing to radically alter our legal system, none of us is likely to be safe from the flood of guns — ranging from the Saturday night special cheap handguns to the military weapons used by mass murderers.

  8. Armatus Rebellio says:

    Vincent Hanna: I did not say Australia confiscated all guns. I said Australia confiscated guns.
    The “all” reference was solely scoped in the second sentence: eliminate all guns, eliminate all gun deaths.
    Which means: Leave some guns, leave some gun deaths. Apparently you cannot comprehend.

  9. Armatus Rebellio says:

    Dennis Grzezinski Have you read the Heller opinions? Both majority and dissent?

    GINSBURG, and JUSTICE BREYER join, dissenting.

    The question presented by this case is not whether the Second Amendment protects a “collective right” or an “individual right.” SURELY IT PROTECTS A RIGHT THAT CAN BE ENFORCED BY INDIVIDUALS. (emphasis added) But a conclusion that the Second Amendment protects an individual right does not tell us anything about the scope of that right.

    Even the dissenting opinion agreed that the second amendment guarantees the individual right to bear arms not contingent with service to the militia.

  10. Tyrell track master says:

    LOL. Having spent time in Australia, I can assure you there is at least as much, if not more ‘liberty’ there than in the US.

  11. TransitRider says:

    Armatus, you grossly misstated the position of the 4 dissenting justices in Heller. You said, “Even the dissenting opinion agreed that the second amendment guarantees the individual right to bear arms not contingent with service to the militia.”

    It most certainly does not!

    Instead, it said the 2nd Amendment ONLY provides an absolute right to own guns “for certain military purposes”. The sentences immediately following your citation make this clear:

    “Guns are used to hunt, for self-defense, to commit crimes, for sporting activities, and to perform military duties. The Second Amendment plainly does not protect the right to use a gun to rob a bank; it is equally clear that it does encompass the right to use weapons for certain military purposes. Whether it also protects the right to possess and use guns for nonmilitary purposes like hunt­ ing and personal self-defense is the question presented by this case.” (emphasis added)

    According to those 4 justices, the 2nd Amendment ONLY protects gun ownership in connection with militia service, and the right to bear arms is wholly contingent with service to that militia.


  12. Armatus Rebellio says:

    “When each word in the text is given full effect, the Amendment is most naturally read to secure to the people a right to use and possess arms in conjunction with service in a well-regulated militia.”

    You are correct. While I don’t agree with the dissenting opinion, the dissent is arguing the right to bear arms is wholly contingent with service to that militia.

  13. Michael Schwister says:

    Growing up in Wisconsin we never had a problem with our gun ownership. Transporting firearms was legal if the arms were unloaded and cased. If not, you were in violation of the law. If you were at home and confronted with a burglar, you had a right to protect yourself. But if you shot this burglar, he had better fall inside your home because a fleeing burglar was no longer a threat to your life. What we do now is insane. Cops used to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys because only the bad guys had guns on the streets. Wyatt Earp had more sense than the entire US Congress. But then he didn’t have to deal with a government bought by the arms industry. We never felt threatened that “our guns” would be taken or that our rights were being violated. My, how the radio can make us see things that aren’t based in reality.

  14. steve again says:

    The Book: Living with Guns made an impression on me as it examined the history of 2nd amendment and the history of challenges to gun restrictions that it has been involved with. Among other things, it suggests methods of containing guns and containing the debate and assertions about guns that run on
    without much reality check. In general, it seems that the current perception of the 2nd is very far
    removed from the everyday experience of the original writers. At that time, it was not questioned that
    people on the frontier needed guns for hunting and for protection, but local ordinances barring guns and other weapons in cities or other locales with a local police force were also common and unchallenged. The first truly legal cases of 2nd amendment and individual rights came in the twentieth century. For myself, I am most concerned with States writing legislation that precludes local laws or referenda that could limit ownership and use – say in an incorporated area. While the 2nd is fairly clearly addressing the validity of states having their own militias (which G. Washington complained of as useless in the Rev. War, and which now seems to be institutionalized in State control of the National Guard) the idea that gun ownership, concealed or open carry, and protection from the same could be pre-emptively removed from local consideration as needed or desired seems
    reckless and far from the orginalist intention. Have these laws (FL is the one I have read the most about) been challenged? Can the State Legislature prevent us from enacting local laws for our own protection or perceived safety? I have questions, not answers!

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