GUN CONTROL: Is the target practical or political?

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., January 17, 2013 – The one thing that is predictable about our major Parties is their ability to politicize important issues to a degree that impairs rational discussion. The current debate over gun control is just one more illustration. Gun control activists have seized upon recent tragic events to push forward their agenda, while gun advocates have raised the specter of tyranny to argue against it. We would all be better served if the actual problem was well-defined, the root causes were identified, and non-partisan solutions were evaluated.

During the past year, there were a series of events that demonstrated an appalling lack of concern for human life.

On July 20, 2012, a well-armed gunman entered into a theater in Aurora, Colorado. He used a 12-gauge shotgun, a semi-automatic rifle with a 100-round drum magazine (that jammed), and a handgun to kill 12 people and wound 58 others. A media frenzy ensued. It emphasized the deranged appearance and conduct of the accused shooter.

The political response was as follows: flags were ordered to be flown at half-staff on Federal buildings; the major Party candidates suspended their advertising in Colorado for a few days; and President Obama flew to the State, gave a speech, and was photographed with some of the wounded as well as with State officials.

A little more than two weeks later, a gunman entered a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and used a semi-automatic handgun to murder 12 people and wound four others. A media frenzy ensued. The emphasis was on the possibility of the incident being a hate crime.

The political response was as follows: flags were ordered to be flown at half-staff on Federal buildings, and President Obama offered his condolences.

Then, on December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, after killing his mother in her home, and he used three semi-automatic weapons (a rifle and two handguns) to kill 20 children and six adults. A media frenzy ensued. However, this time it exceeded all prior proportions and exhibited a limited respect for privacy.

The political response was as follows: gun control proponents called for a renewed ban on assault weapons and extended clips; Senator Feinstein introduced such a bill on the first day of the new Congress; previous shooting victim and former Representative Gabrielle Giffords initiated Americans for Responsible Solutions (a gun control PAC); President Obama formed a Gun Violence Task Force led by Vice President Biden; and approximately one month later, Vice President Biden presented his recommendations and the President took executive action on 23 of them.

It is difficult to legitimately differentiate the victims. They all lost their lives. However, it took an unfathomable attack on innocent children to provide the impetus to actually take action, and that is a sad indictment of our current political environment.

Massive amounts of money and rhetoric will be thrown at the issue. One Party will decry the inhumanity of the other and the impediment to progress that it presents. The other Party will claim the existence of a dictatorial overreach that threatens our very Republic. Both sides will be wrong, but neither will care. They are more concerned about posturing “wins” that can be leveraged to secure an advantage in the 2014 mid-term elections.

America will continue to suffer.

One side will claim: “Guns don’t kill; people do.” The other side will claim that the existence of guns facilitates the killing. Both sides will be correct to a degree and wrong as well.

Guns are inanimate objects. To paraphrase Newton’s First Law, objects that are at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an external force. Guns, in and of themselves, do not commit crimes. However, to deny their contribution to any crime in which they are used is to deny that reality as well.

The traditional Second Amendment argument is an interesting one on several levels. Its actual language 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.” Until the Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the meaning of the Second Amendment was subject to interpretation. After that ruling, individuals have been deemed to have a constitutional right to possess firearms unconnected with military service and to use such firearms for any lawful purpose. Therefore, unless amended, the law is settled in the United States with regard to an individual’s right to legally own firearms.

The question becomes whether such a right is subject to limitation, and rationally, the answer has to be “Yes.”

In colonial times, the necessity of “bearing arms” to rise up against tyranny made perfect sense. There was a relative parity of weapons. Citizens and military personnel were similarly armed with minor exceptions. That is clearly not the case today.

Unless one wants to argue that citizens should be able to secure fully-armed F-22 Raptors and small thermonuclear devices, it is irrelevant to believe that their possession of even fully-automatic weapons would make them competitive in a military confrontation. As a result, the real point of discussion should center on how to facilitate the freedom to possess firearms for display or for their knowledgeable and safe use for sport, hunting, personal protection, and any other lawful purpose.

It should be noted that in each of the aforementioned tragedies, the weapons and ammunition were acquired legally and the weapons themselves were registered (although in the Newtown incident, the purchases were made by the shooter’s mother, and the weapons were registered in her name).

Given the speculative range of actions that were attributed to President Obama, he was surprisingly restrained within the context of the 23 executive actions he actually took. He was more sensitive than usual to the restrictions imposed on his Office under Article II of the Constitution and paid deference to the legislative authority of Congress under Article I.

However, perhaps the most shocking element of the President’s executive actions lies within the fact that it has taken so long for such recommendations to surface. Many of the recommendations expose what should be an embarrassing failure of common sense.

  • Can anyone believe that it should require a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system or to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations?
  • Can anyone believe that it should require a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system or to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations?
  • Can anyone believe that States require incentives to share information with the background check system?
  • Can anyone believe that law enforcement does not already have the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun?
  • Can anyone believe that the Attorney General should need to be directed to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun “to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks?”
  • Can anyone believe that the ATF has not already provided guidance to federally licensed gun dealers on how to run background checks for private sellers?
  • Can anyone believe that the President of the United States has to encourage law enforcement to maximize its efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime?

These are but a few of the recommendations that pass as necessary leadership directives in today’s political environment. One has to wonder what ostensibly responsible officials are doing in their spare time.

Several other “actions” appeared to be more closely tied to the support of the President’s faltering healthcare initiative than to proactively address violence in America.

There were actually a few directives that seemed worthy of inclusion.

A Presidential Memorandum was issued directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence. If executed in an efficient and cost-effective manner, this could actually have merit. If not, it could become yet another colossal waste of time and taxpayer money.

The President also made commitments to finalizing mental health parity regulations and to launch a national dialogue led by Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius and Education Secretary Duncan on mental health. These two elements at least superficially acknowledge the fact that mental health may be part of the equation.

While gun control may address the low-hanging fruit associated with our Nation’s challenge with violent crime, it merely alleviates the symptom rather than cures the disease. Mental health is far more likely to be the root cause.

Again, guns are a tool. They can be safely used by those who are trained in their use and who respect those parameters. They become an instrument of violence when they are placed in the hands of those who either lack adequate training or who lack the mental capacity to value human life.

Until we begin to more effectively address the training issue to prevent accidents and we begin to identify the drivers in our society that desensitize certain individuals to the killing of another human being or that glorify it as a way to draw attention to a desperately flawed personality, we will continue to suffer the needless loss of life.

Perhaps we have chosen to emphasize gun control because of the cultural relevance of guns within our Nation’s history, but even the elimination of guns will not resolve the real problem. A current, high-profile trial features a Defendant who is accused of stabbing her boyfriend 27 times, slitting his throat, and only then shooting him in the face. The final use of a gun was irrelevant to the victim, who was already dead. September 11th also serves as a reminder that even otherwise innocuous instruments can be used as weapons of mass destruction.

We may also be preoccupied with gun control for reasons more associated with the partisan divide. The issue serves to polarize the factions of both Parties and stimulates a release of passion and money that can be used to maintain and expand political power.

A more bitter pill may be that we focus on gun control because it diverts our attention from a far more painful admission: that we have created a society that celebrates violence. We see it in our games, in our movies, and on television. It has become an essential element of media that sensationalizes the acts and the perpetrators in return for the ratings these stories bring. It is an unvarnished and unrehearsed version of grotesque entertainment that represents the only true form of “reality TV” that exists.

Good deeds go unreported, but no mass murderer will be denied his or her 15 minutes of fame.  Disturbed individuals seek a pathway to be noticed, which may explain the escalating nature of these crimes.

Conversely, individual crime has become so commonplace in some areas as not to merit coverage. In 2012, 512 people were murdered in the City of Chicago alone. While most of these individuals died in isolated instances, it seems inappropriate to give their lives any less weight than we give to the lives of those who are killed under more socially traumatic circumstances.

If we unite in this cause, we can form a more perfect Union that can promote our general welfare by crafting sensible laws that provide for our common defense in order to ensure domestic tranquility so that we can secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves, our children, and our future generations. If we can learn to value each other as equals and to work toward these goals, we will undoubtedly improve our ability to protect and preserve life, to preserve Liberty, and to pursue happiness as we choose to define it. If we look hard enough, we can probably find a few documents that will guide us along the way.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.

This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A President for the People, in the Communities section of The Washington Times.