Monday, May 20, 2024

Common ground on guns

by Bob Brown
| December 29, 2022 12:00 AM

A new year brings with it new hope for a new beginning. As the ancient saying goes, the old has died that the new may be tried. And so we celebrate the happy holiday time in the spirit that the year to come will bring more peace, good will, and good faith.

The outbreak of modern war in Europe will only end with the resolve or the existence of Putin, the war’s perpetrator. Our devout expectation is that more rational world leaders will contain the spread of this conflict.

Here in the traditionally peaceful and protected part of earth, though, there is great violence, too. Civilian perpetrated gun violence has been continuing here for decades, and is worsening. It is no longer even news to a numbed public unless it surfaces as a massive example. The mass murder weapon of choice is an assault style rifle with an extended clip that can equip killers to kill a dozen or a score or more, as fast as they can pull the trigger.

The United States is home to 415 million guns in private circulation. On a per capita basis, that makes us easily the most gunned-up country on earth. And with about 45,000 annual gun deaths, the guns continually do what they are manufactured to do.

U.S. youth are on the forefront of the carnage. American teenagers are many times more likely to be shot dead than similar age teens in our peer countries. Kids 18-20 account for 4% of the American population but commit 17% of our murders. This, when most of this age group can’t buy a legal beer, but easily can an AR-15 style rifle. American civilians of all ages now possess more assault weapons than our military has of the fully automatic version.

There can be no debate that what we are doing for gun safety in this country isn’t working. While there is debate over what we can do about it, now is a fresh time to open rational discussions on guns. The clear purpose must be bringing about greater gun safety.

To begin with, only about 30% of gun owners own or have owned an AR-15 or similar assault rifle. These types of weapons don’t represent the typical American gun owner. Their primary purpose is to kill and maim people. Should they be allowed to be carried in public places?

Opinion polls show that gun owners themselves overwhelmingly favor universal background checks. Should a review of those purchasing an assault rifle be as stringent as those required for adopting a rescue puppy?

What law-abiding purpose is served by a 30 shot capacity clip? Should there be any limit? Where should we draw the line? Courts have found that the Second Amendment is not without limits in its application.

“Red-flag” laws can restrict persons who are undergoing a mental health crisis or are subject to domestic violence protection orders from possessing a gun. Reasonable? Enforceable? Former President Trump expressed his support for red-flag laws.

Mandatory gun-liability insurance is now being considered. So is the increasing manufacture of guns by 3-D printers. Should mandatory safe gun storage laws to protect children, prevent theft by criminals and reduce suicides be implemented? How about standard safety devices on trigger mechanisms?

We have countless safety laws and regulations in this country. Very few have been politicized. Without confiscating guns, or challenging our deeply held gun culture, it is clear that the time is both ripe and right for good faith state and national efforts to find common sense consensus for reducing the unnecessary and avoidable carnage of guns.

Bob Brown is a former Montana Secretary of State and State Senate President. He lives in Whitefish.