Archive for March, 2018

March 30, 2018

Keeping Guns in the Hands of the Good Guys 

“Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” 

Though many gun control advocates are probably sick of that popular saying, I’m going to take it as the basic assumption for my line of thought. I do so for one simple reason – it is a true assertion. A gun locked in a drawer and left alone will kill no one – nor will one on a gun rack, or even lying on a table. And it certainly won’t pick itself up and start firing into a crowd of innocent bystanders. A gun requires human manipulation to make it harmful. 

In recent months, with each new shooting, I’ve heard many debates over the gun control question. The arguments from both sides of the issue seem to be set in stone. The only point of agreement I have repeatedly heard is when someone says, “We’re never going to agree on this. I just don’t see it the same way you do.” That seems to mark the end of most of the civil conversations I’ve seen on the issue – and unfortunately, most of the conversations aren’t at all civil, so they usually end with name-calling and tantrums on one or both sides. Any call for “common sense laws” is met with a very formidable obstacle – there is little room for “common sense” when there is no “common ground” in the first place. 

I’ve decided not to talk about gun control, mostly because I don’t want to enter into yet another conversation that ends with the conclusion that the two sides will never agree, no matter how civil the conversation is. 

I will, however, talk about responsible gun management. Call me an optimist, but I do believe this is a point on which we can all agree. Guns don’t kill people; people kill people – and they often do it through irresponsible gun management. When I was an early adolescent, there were often stories in the news about gun accidents in which children found their parents’ unsecured firearms and bad things followed, often ending in the death of the child or a family member. Various minor laws were passed concerning how guns should be stored, and greater attention was given by the gun-owning public to this aspect of responsible gun management. Today, as mass shootings become more common in the news cycle, a similar attitude and approach would surely be welcome. The aim is not to control the guns, but to encourage responsible management. 

I have spent my adult life making my home in Singapore, where some of the tightest gun control laws in the world are very strictly enforced. While I am comfortable in such an environment, I’m also aware that Singapore is probably the last place one might expect to find a potential “common sense” law that could lead to more responsible gun management. That would be a mistake. 

The Law Library of Congress article “Firearms-Control Legislation and Policy: Singapore” includes this note on Singapore’s approach to guns, “Using or attempting to use arms when committing a scheduled offense is punishable with death. The death penalty may also apply to the offender’s accomplices present at the scene of the offense.” 

This law is not without flaws, and obviously would not translate wholesale into the situation in the US. For instance, I don’t support the death penalty, so that aspect of the law is problematic in my mind. However, what I do see as viable is the principle of the law: firing a gun while committing a felony automatically results in the maximum sentence being applied. Perhaps it could go further and tack on an additional number of years to the sentence – so that, say, if a crime such as robbery receives the penalty of X months in jail, then if the perpetrator fires a gun in the course of committing a robbery, the penalty automatically becomes X+Y.

That seems like it passes the test for “common sense.” It addresses the use of guns for criminal activity by putting an additional deterrent in the way of the would-be criminal in the form of maximum, or even compounded, penalties. At the same time, law-abiding gun owners are not affected by the legislation. In other words, it leaves the guns in the hands of the “good guys” and offers some deterrent for the “bad guys.” According to the arguments I have seen by opponents of gun control, this point is common ground the two sides share, since no one denies that “bad guys” should not be allowed to use guns to enact their crimes. 

Legislation of this nature would similarly meet the “responsible gun management” test. It does not seek to take anyone’s guns away, but only to ensure those guns not be used to commit crimes. In other words, it aims at management, not control. 

Obviously, legislation such as this will not address the most pressing gun-related issues of our times. I do not believe any single step we can take at this moment in history will do that. What such legislation would do, though, is provide common ground from which we can then discuss common sense. It does not take guns away from law-abiding citizens who want to protect their homes and families. It does not violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms to defend against tyranny. Rather, it acknowledges that none of these issues will be addressed through guns alone, but only through finding common ground and applying common sense to solve our common problems. 

After all, guns don’t solve problems; people solve problems.   

– Shelly Bryant, 2018