What gun advocates should do

Niki, a blogger at The Orbit network, has an article about How to Speak to Your “Anti-Gun” Friends. For anyone that supports firearms — of any kind — it is well worth the read just to make sure that we aren’t being assholes to others.

Side note: Why is it important to not be an asshole? The long answer would require a full essay, or book. The short answer is that, eventually, gun control will be passed in some form. It would be better to have the best possible legislation instead of a law that is ineffective while making life miserable for the average American gun owner.

While I love Niki’s writing in general, this is what she said that really caught my attention:

D) Shooting down (HA!) people’s demands for action because of their lack of knowledge or whatever. If you have the knowledge, use it. SOME THING has to change, and it’s better to make some damn suggestions now than to wait until us “scaredy cats” push some sort of regs that make you roll your eyes and call us “stupid”.

I think her statement is exactly right. She might not know (or she might) the difference between an assault rifle and an assault weapon. Semiautomatic, selective fire, burst mode, and full automatic might be completely irrelevant to her. What matters to them is that firearms that are, seemingly, designed specifically to kill people are falling into the hands of people with the intent to kill large numbers of people relatively fast.

This must stop.

If we actually want gun control to work (and we do. No one wants terrorists or mass murders to have firearms) then we need to put or knowledge on the table to help solve the problem instead of denigrating the people who are determined to make a change. We all should be working together to make the best change possible instead of putting our fingers in our ears (or putting on our hearing protection) and hoping that whatever change people come up just happens to be right.

Progress toward reasonable gun control

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has proposed legislation that goes a long way to securing firearms from suspected terrorists and adding a measure of safety to the people of the United States. The bill has barely survived a vote, but hasn’t received enough support to break the assured filibuster that would await any legislation that would any restrictions to firearm purchases.

Reuters reports:

In a procedural vote, the Senate narrowly rejected an attempt to scrap the plan by Republican Senator Susan Collins to prevent guns getting into the hands of people on two U.S. government terrorism watch lists.

Susan Collins’ bill received 52 votes, but it would take 60 to overcome a filibuster. This indicates that either 8 more Republican Senators would need to join the Democrats in support of this bill, or the bill won’t be able to move forward as it is.

What is the bill about?

On her Senate website, Susan Collins has a white paper (pdf, 1 page) that has the bill’s overview:

1. Gives the AG the authority to deny firearms sales to individuals who appear on the No Fly List or the Selectee List.

The problem with thee No Fly List and the Selectee List is that we don’t know who is on them. We also have no way of removing ourselves if we should happen to find ourselves placed on the list erroneously.

2. Provides a process for Americans and green card holders to appeal a denial in U.S. Court of Appeals and to recover their reasonable attorneys fees if they prevail.

You would have to go to the US courts of appeals (Wikipedia link)? Are you serious? How could the average person ever be able defend themselves against a mistaken claim before a US court of appeals. Even the United States district courts (Wikipedia link) seem an unlikely possibility for the average person.

3. Sets forth a procedure for protecting classified information during the appeal.

No real problem here as long as either the judge gets to evaluate the information or it isn’t admitted as evidence against you.

4. Protects ongoing FBI counter-terrorism investigations by giving the AG the discretion to allow gun sales to go forward to individuals covered by this Act.

Again, no problem here; though I doubt that this would ever be used. Discretion is one of the problems (as I understand it) with the No Fly List. Once a name is on the list, various people have the discretion to remove the name, but no one will do it. They seem to fear that if they remove a name it will be held against them, but if they don’t then they have nothing to worry about. If those dynamics are the case, the discretion to remove a name is worthless.

5. Includes a “look-back” provision that ensures prompt notification to the FBI if a person who has been on the broader Terrorism Screening Database (TSDB) within the past five years purchases a firearm.

That seems only sensible.

Why can’t bill, or a repaired version of this bill, go forward?

We can’t lay all the blame on Republicans. While it is true that many of the Republican politicians receive support from the NRA – a group that hasn’t supported any gun control measures in recent decades – the Democratic legislators haven’t been willing to stand behind even the mildest forms of gun control that are supported by the vast majority of the American people.

From the above linked Reuters article, John Lewis (Wikipedia link) stated:

“It’s not a struggle that lasts for one day, or one week, or one month, or one year,” said Representative John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia and a key figure in the civil rights protests of the 1960s. “We’re going to win the struggle,” said Lewis, who led the House sit-in.

And while that is a commendable statement from an inspirational and legendary political leader, the Democratic party hasn’t been following through with the idea. Every time gun violence reaches the public consciousness, it is only a matter of time before the news media moves on to the next story. And without the constant focus of the news media, the Democratic party moves on to other priorities as well.

As Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said (Wikipedia link):

“Eventually this problem will get addressed again one of two ways: We find a breakthrough, which I will seek, or there will be another terrorist attack which will bring us right back to this issue. I hope we can do it without another terrorist attack,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who supported Collins.

It is important that the politicians stay focused on this bill if this bill is to have a chance. But the politicians won’t stay focused on the bill if their constituents forget all about it until the next attack comes. The NRA doesn’t have that problem. The NRA is laser focused on preventing new legislation and repealing (at least some) of the legislation that is already on the books. Until there are enough people with the same kind of focus on the present problem, sensible gun legislation will either not be achievable or will soon be repealed.

Toward acceptable gun control

If we actually want to get anything done about the problem of firearm use in mass shootings, we need to look at the problem with compromise in  mind. The traditional divide between Democrats who want gun control and Republicans who fear rights being taken away from the public has been to form ranks to stand against each other using Facebook memes as ammunition. Even now, less than a week after the Orlando shootings, my Facebook feed is full of memes from both sides.

Collectively, we need to face the truth that neither position is viable in the long run. If we want a solution before the death rates become so high that we are forced to react instead of act, we will end up with laws that not only work poorly for their intended purpose, but also cost people more rights than they should have to lose.

But now is a good time to look into making changes. A sizable percentage of the United States population is looking at the tragedy in Orlando with the determination to do something to prevent these types of attacks in the future. While the cold, hard reality is that we will never completely decrease the threat to mass attacks to zero, we can reduce the risk that all of us face.

The Houston Chronical reports:

On Wednesday, Trump said he would schedule a meeting soon with the National Rifle Association to discuss proposals to ban people on certain federal watch lists from buying firearms. Trump was renewing a position he first expressed last year after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. But on Wednesday he took it to a new level, via Twitter, by calling for a meeting with the NRA.

Three Republican senators took similar stands. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who is locked in a closely watched re-election battle, told Ohio reporters that he is ready to back a federal ban on weapons sales to anyone on a terrorist watch list if a compromise can be reached. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said much the same. And Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who has worked on bipartisan gun-control legislation in the past and is also facing a tough re-election challenge, announced plans late Wednesday to introduce new legislation after a day of talks with members of both parties as well as gun-control groups.

I would argue that it is irrelevant the reasons why the three Republican senators reached their conclusion. What matters is that they are willing to pass gun control if reasonable gun control is put forward.

So what is reasonable? I think that it should be readily agreeable that people on watch lists — that must be specified in advance — are prevented from purchasing firearms. The reason that the watch lists must be specified in advance is so that it is impossible to create a watch list that simply adds people for reasons other than they are a danger to society. And yes, that means that I believe that the current no-fly list is a good place to start. I would also consider using the various FBI watch lists on the condition that we know more about them.

So where is the need to compromise?

But other GOP senators voted against the measure, citing the concerns of gun rights advocates including Richard Feldman, head of the Independent Firearms Owners Association. He noted that even the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., labored for years to remove himself from the “no-fly” list and that other, lesser known Americans have battled even longer.

That is, in my opinion, a very real reason that we need to find a compromise. If we can be put on a watch list, then we need a way to clear our names and be removed from that watch list. At some point the list needs to be more than just a random person putting people on the list “just to be on the safe side”. At the very least, it needs to be spelled out in the law the procedures necessary to remove yourself from the watch list if you find yourself on it.

If we intend to use the various watch lists that are available to us as a means to deny someone the ability to purchase a firearm, then we owe it to the public to ensure that the list remains as accurate as possible while allowing for corrections when that accuracy fails.

Will that stop all the shootings? No. What it will do is decrease the odds that the next shooter doesn’t have the arsenal to turn the shooting into a mini war zone.