Thursday, December 20, 2012

Some Things You Might Not Have Considered About Guns

The thing that has broken my heart as much as the horrific shooting in Connecticut last week is the vitriolic disagreement with which my fellow humans have debated about how best to prevent YET ANOTHER tragedy like this to occur—especially when the topic is guns. 

 Here are some things that have been said, and please keep in mind I’m posting these without regard for accuracy – it’s just a representative sampling of what I keep stumbling across:

“The guns are already out there, you can’t take them back. Don’t even bother trying to ban guns.”

“The woman bought guns to supposedly keep herself and her family protected, yet died at the hands of her family with those very guns.”

“The AR-15 (the primary weapon used in Connecticut) is not anymore deadly, accurate, or easy to use than any other firearm available.”

But they do blame alcohol, which is why it's illegal to drink and drive.
 “Last year, handguns killed 48 people in Japan, 8 in Great Britain, 34 in Switzerland, 52 in Canada, 58 in Israel, 21 in Sweden, 42 in West Germany -- and 10,728 in the United States.” 

“You could ban guns but then they would find out how to make bombs out of fertilizer and fuel and blow the objects of their anger away. You could ban fertilizer and fuel but they would figure another way since most of these perpetrators are bright but warped. It is the people that we have created in the last 30 years of enlightenment that are the problem, and until you address why this happens now and not in 1960 when I was ten you are deluding yourself. It is a cultural malaise of a troubled nation.”

“I fucking hate you anti-gun idiots.”

“I believe that a national consensus on gun control could put a damper on easy gun acquisition and start to choke off these repeated mass shootings. Just like illegal drug use, theft, drunk driving and so on, we don't just say that we're surrendering because it’s hard.”

 “Schools are armed in Switzerland. They have the lowest crime rate and it’s required that the citizens are armed. They are even provided an assault rifle. It’s smart. An armed society is a polite society.”

 It's so sad...it's a heart issue, not a weapons one. The only answer...Jesus.”

“If the teachers had been armed like they should have been, Adam Lanza would have at most killed only 2 people instead of over 20 before one of the teachers shot him!!”


 “Guns don’t kill, people kill.” 


“Banning guns will not stop a psychopath. They will use whatever they can get their hands on to kill. Look what happened in China.”

“Someone's "right to bear arms" is not more important than a child's right to grow old enough to get to middle school, have her first kiss, see Santa or light the final candles on the Menorah.” 

Back and forth, back and forth… everyone talking… and not a whole lot of listening.

The reason I don’t belong to a political party is that I need to be certain I’m making my own decisions, guided by faith, ethics, morals, research, and logic, rather than by simply towing a party line.

My knee-jerk reaction to the tragedy in Connecticut was: “GET RID OF THE GUNS!!!” This phrase was screeching in my brain, sloshing in my stomach, wringing out my soul.

But… people who I would otherwise respect had some things to say that opposed my own personal reaction, so I did what I always do in situations like this: I researched the hell out of it.

And I’m going to tell you some of the interesting things I found, things I didn’t know before, on both sides of the argument, and I’m going to be as objective and emotionless as possible.

The first thing I found is that there is a general misunderstanding among gun-control advocates about the primary weapon used in the Connecticut shooting, and in particular, what the term “semi-automatic” means. When I researched the gun that was used in the shootings I saw a picture of it that made my heart jump into my throat. I thought what does it say about us as a people that we would allow a weapon like this to be accessible to anyone? It might as well be a nuclear bomb! In my mind, I saw Tony Montana with a couple of those bad boys tucked under his armpits and blowing away everything that was dear to him.

But the quote above, “The AR-15 It’s not anymore deadly, accurate, or easy to use than any other firearm available” compelled me to research further. This person had other things to say too, and was compassionate in his delivery and seemed to be a very knowledgeable gun enthusiast. But he didn’t explain why the AR-15 no different than, for instance, the pistol that my father kept in his nightstand. In my mind, it was about as different as a heat-seeking missile is from a firecracker.

But I discovered that although the AR-15 is designed to look like the fully-automatic version, like what the military would use, it’s not the same at all. (I don’t know why it has to look so scary. Because it’s cool to have something that looks terrifying? Because it gives the holder a feeling of power? Ayyy, that is speculation; strike it from the record.) The military version of this weapon really can shoot Tony Montana-style. But even with the military version you can’t just hold the trigger down and go all willy-nilly because the barrel will overheat and the gun will jam. The AR-15, a semi-automatic weapon, is different. You have to squeeze the trigger for each shot. One squeeze, one bullet.

How is any of this even relevant when we’re talking about the lives of our children??? It is relevant, my dear fellow gun-haters. It’s relevant because if you’re arguing about gun control with a gun enthusiast from a perspective where you are envisioning a Tony Montana-style shoot-out, like I was, you are arguing from a place of ignorance, and are therefore going to be less persuasive in your argument.

Whenever you argue from a place of ignorance, your argument loses validity.   

But I have some problems with the AR-15, even after being satisfied that it isn’t what I thought it was:

1)      It’s convertible. You can make it automatic. Just writing that makes me want to puke. But I’m going to try to stay calm, reasonable… rational. I won’t call anyone a wacko for putting up a YouTube video on how to convert your AR-15 to fully automatic. Really. I won’t.

2)      It’s not a hunting weapon, at least not traditionally. There is plenty of debate on that, but just Google it if you don’t believe me.

3)      It’s not a defense weapon. Well, it could be. But isn’t it a little cumbersome to keep that thing in your night-stand? It’s freaking HUGE.   

My final determination on the type of gun used? Neutral. A semi-automatic hand-gun with a significantly less nefarious appearance would have had the same disastrous outcome. (UPDATE 12/22: See MadWoman comment below for why I've changed my opinion on this topic - AR-15s ARE more deadly than other types of semi-automatic, because of the extended magazine capability.)

One of the pro-gun arguments circulating the internet is that in Switzerland, everyone is required to have a gun and keep it in their home, and yet they have a much lower fire-arm related death-rate. Well, actually… not that much lower. It’s about a third of ours. Based on the repeated shares in my Facebook newsfeed, I was expecting statistics closer to that of Australia, whose fire-arm related death-rate is only 10% of ours, or United Kingdom, which is only 2.5% of ours (both countries have very strict anti-gun laws). In Switzerland, there is mandatory military conscription during which nearly all men are required to join the peoples’ militia and receive military training, including weapons training. Storing the weapons in the home is part of the military obligation.

The Switzerland argument is an irresponsible comparison to make, because the circumstances between our two countries are so vastly different. Unless you’re in favor of mandatory military conscription in the U.S., then please stop making this argument. I would actually be okay with a law that permits gun ownership only if you’ve served in the military and have undergone extensive weapons training. Many people in this country own guns and don’t have a clue how to safely operate or store them. Lanza’s mother was one of them.

Gun advocates make the argument that banning guns or imposing more restrictions wouldn’t be effective because a) criminals don’t obey laws anyway and b) that would only take the guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens, leaving them defenseless. This is a valid point. It wouldn’t be fair to take a gun away from a law-abiding citizen who owns that gun solely for defense or for hunting, and stores the gun safely. (That’s a whole other argument: Is it possible to store a gun ‘safely?’) And it’s true that criminals, by definition, don’t obey laws. Psychopaths couldn’t give a rat’s ass about laws. They will do whatever it takes to get a gun, or two, or three, legal or not. The gun in the Sandy Hook shooting was illegally obtained. But it was obtained easily from someone who legally obtained it and did not store the weapon in a manner safe enough that it could not be ‘illegally obtained.’

The other argument that I’ve seen is that guns are simply an instrument; the real problem is the person holding the gun. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This is absolutely true. Guns don’t kill people all by themselves. No one thinks that. And of course mental health needs to be addressed. But I’m not talking about mental health right now—I’m talking about guns.

Guns don’t kill people, people kill people... guns just make a much more efficient job of it. Like a nail-gun instead of a hammer. Obviously if a carpenter can’t get his hands on a nail-gun he’d settle for a hammer. But you don’t have to be Einstein to know which tool will bury the most nails.

Hence, if you’re advocating the right to own a firearm, do not use the phrase “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It is an argument that is like Swiss cheese: Full of holes. Don’t talk to a gun-control advocate about how that crazy person in China used a knife, and how crazy people will use whatever they can get their hands on. No one died in the China incident; you’ll unwittingly be arguing against your own case.    

I’ve seen a staggering number of people come out in favor of arming teachers. Maybe it’s true that a psychotic would-be killer would reconsider his decision to enter a school if he thought he would meet resistance in the form of gunfire. But considering the possibility of armed teachers from a purely statistical perspective, totally wiping emotional subjectivity out of the picture, if that’s possible: If teachers are armed, it is a statistical certainty that there will come a time when a teacher or a student, gone off their rocker, will abuse that weapon and we will see similar carnage to what we have witnessed at Sandy Hook. It isn’t just a possibility; it is a statistical certainty.

Here is a brief excerpt from an article that has a pro-gun-control bent:

“The National Rifle Association is quick to associate more guns with less crime, saying that since the early ’90s, when many states relaxed their weapon laws, violent crime has dropped 70 percent.  Despite the rampages on campuses and military bases, as well as the hail of gang bullets in Chicago that has killed over 200 so far this year, the national murder rate is at a 47-year-low.

A study in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that the gun murder rate in the U.S. is almost 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populous nations combined. Every one of those nations has stricter gun control laws.

Among the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 80 percent of all gun deaths are American deaths and 87 percent of all kids killed by guns are American kids.”

That’s nice that the U.S. murder rate is at a 47-year low, huh? But what about the other stuff? That last statistic, standing alone by itself, is the most jolting bit of information I have come across. I can’t just ignore that information and curl up with my gun under my constitution blanket. I have to look at those numbers and wonder how to change them.

But we can’t just throw the constitution out the window. We can’t take away a responsible hunter’s prized gun that he keeps under tight lock and key. We can’t take away a single mother’s pistol that she keeps for protection because she lives in a rough neighborhood and can’t afford to live anywhere else. Can we? Anyway, even if our government suddenly decided to enact a complete ban on guns, it’s not as if we can simply zap all the guns and make them disappear in a puff of smoke. Try taking a gun away from someone who really isn’t keen on surrendering it. That probably won’t end well.

So what are we supposed to do to form a compromise that protects 2nd amendment rights and still keeps innocent people, especially children, safe?

1)      School accessibility: There should be one and only one entrance to a school during school hours, and it should be sealed by either an iron gate or a bullet-proof door, similar to a bank. Visitors should have to show I.D. and be buzzed in like in an apartment building. This system would be much cheaper and safer than the idea of metal detectors or trying to arm and train teachers. A trained security guard is another compromise (between no guns at all, and handing out pistols to the staff).

2)      Gun control: Making schools less accessible won’t stop a crazy person from shooting up a mall, movie theater, or playground—God forbid—because apparently nothing is off-limits. We need to enact tighter gun control laws, and enforce them. Get over it, gun-lovers. You’ll get your guns; just prove you’re sane first. Everyone who wants to own a gun should be required to take a class and pass a test on gun safety, and should be required to prove they passed it. You liked the idea of Switzerland being armed to the teeth and having less shooting deaths, right? Well, they’re all trained. Added bonus: this is a whole new potential commercial sector, and would be great for the economy: Gun safety. If this training were mandatory, gun aficionados could make a solid living running gun safety schools.

3)      Public Awareness: Once upon a time, there was litter all over the place. It was ugly and unseemly; downright impolite. Then the government ran a big campaign on TV that told everyone why it was a good idea to stop littering. And it worked! Our streets and highways are surprising clean considering the traffic that traverses them daily. Same thing with smoking; we’ve had a measurable reduction in smoking in this country since public awareness campaigns showed us disgusting pictures of shriveled lungs, and people talking in a monotone through a hole in their throat. Seatbelts. I wear a seatbelt today because in the 1980s, my TV told me to.

So why not run a public awareness campaign about gun safety, with an emphasis on the safest and most secure way to store your firearm? There are plenty of people out there living in ignorance—not that they are stupid or unwilling to do the best they can to be safe—they just need a little nudge, a reminder of how best to keep a gun out of the hands of a sociopath, an angry jilted lover, a curious child. Unfortunately, studies have shown that teaching children about gun safety is ineffective. Even after repeated admonitions to never touch a gun, a curious child will still pick it up, aim it at himself or someone else, and pull the trigger. It’s the adult’s responsibility. 

I know guns aren’t the only issue, here. Maybe we just need a scapegoat on whom to pile our dismay. I’m sure I’ll spend the next week researching mental health in the United States. It's how I cope; I research. 

I hope that, regardless of which position on guns you take, I’ve said some things about guns that you hadn’t read or thought of previously. I hope I was successful enough in my mission of detachment to convey my message in an objective way. I know I slipped up a couple of times. Sorry; I’m a mom.

And if it wasn’t clear enough… After all my research, after opening my mind and carefully scrutinizing both sides of the issue: I AM ANTI-GUN. There. I said it. I hate guns, I hate that they make it so easy for us to kill one another. I wish even the military didn’t have a need for guns. From the deepest longings of my soul, which is that we could all love each other, love each other’s children, be tolerant of and kind to one another, and give freely of ourselves for the betterment of those who are less fortunate… my insane and hopeless dreams that taunt and torture me relentlessly… guns literally shoot holes in them.

But… I know my hopes of ridding the world of guns are ridiculous, impractical, and unattainable, and so I’m willing to compromise.

Are you?

Let’s debate -- with compassion. Please leave your thoughts in the comments below or on the Facebook page.

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23 comments:

  1. I LOVE THIS POST AND YOU. I want to point out a few things that are very important. An AR-15 holds a magazine of 20 to 30 rounds. There are magazines available that would actually hold 40 to 50 rounds. THIS IS SUBSTANTIAL. It's not about how many times you have to pull the trigger. Some of these triggers are so hair thin that pulling them requires almost no effort. When comparing that to a normal handgun, you instantly realize that a normal handgun holds about 6 to 9 rounds of ammo. So you could pull the trigger 9 times, then have to unload that magazine, pop another one. Plenty of time for people to run away. That's why the assault style weapons are MORE DANGEROUS. MORE AMMO. As for gun safety, I agree, to own a gun you should have to pass a class. And finally, all guns should be stored in FINGERPRINT SAFES. Unless someone cuts my finger OFF and carries it over to my safe, they aren't getting my gun. I share fingerprints with no one. I share my gun with no one. Problem solved.

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    1. You are absolutely right. I actually had that in there too, about the magazines, but the damn thing was already 8 single-spaced pages long! Maybe I'll go back and add it in there anyway. Screw brevity.

      The safe idea is genius.

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    2. Most pistols actually hold more than 6 to 9 rounds unless you are intentionally picking out the ones that do not. Most "standard" capacity pistols hold 10-18 rounds with the exception of revolvers, deep cover concealed carry pistols, and older military semi-automatics. Exception to the rule would be the VA Tech shooting where he was more successful than others with a 15 round 9mm pistol and a 10 round 22LR pistol. They found 17 empty magazines at the scene and 32 people died as a result. Restrict magazines, then people will carry more of them or carry more guns so they don't have to reload. I think the primary way to fix the problem is to go all the way to registration, confiscation, and increasingly restrictive self defense laws. My problem with that is the affect it has on all other aspects of life. I don't really worry too much about myself now, I am 240 and I can scrap pretty well if the other person doesn't have a gun, I am more worried about making sure that my wife is on at least equal ground if faced with a situation where calling and waiting on the police takes too long. I have safes for all of my pistols and firearms as the madwoman describes except I would never use a biometric safe. These biometric safes have a key that can override that can be used. Compared to the fingerpad combination, they can't be used in an emergency with a bandaide one, glue on your finger, a cut, blood, sweat, ...well you get the idea can keep you from getting to the firearm in an emergency and it doesn't make it any more secure from a thief because they can still break in, take the safe and open it later. It does keep it out of the hands of youngsters and casual thiefs which is the primary purpose. So, I beg to differ, problem not solved. Not an effective means for storage of a self defense weapon that may actually see use. http://kontradictions.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/why-not-renew-the-assault-weapons-ban-well-ill-tell-you/

      Another person looking for truth and trying to solve the problem.

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  2. And one more thing. Maybe we SHOULD start requiring a mental aptitude test for guns...then, like we moms have been saying for 100 years, we'd have a written test to prove some of these buffoons shouldn't be parents either! HA! LOL.

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  3. Very thoughtful post and I say, Thank You.

    I wish the conversation could be so sane in other places.

    We have 2 gun safes- you need the combo and a key to get into them. As a child my Dad always kept his firearms under lock and key. There were no accidents in our home because of that.

    I don't know what all the answers are- but your ideas resonate with me.

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    1. I think combination safes would be an equally effective deterrent to the fingerprint idea. I am definitely not a fan of keyed access by itself. Anyone can find a key. Thanks for commenting! I'm so happy that people have been so thoughtful and compassionate in their comments. I was sure I would get hate-mail! :-/

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  4. I love your piece. We think alike. ONly you used your research to prove my point, I thank you. I will use you as a reference the next moron who argues with me on gun-control:)
    And thank you for bringing this piece to my attention and loving my Throat Punch Thursday:) XO

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    1. This week's TPT was especially good! ;)

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  5. What a great blog. I appreciate having details to go along with your opinions and I do agree that we need to do something about gun control. Hopefully more people will have the same reaction. :)

    New follower here and love your blog!

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    1. Thanks so much for commenting and following. I'm so reassured by the thoughtful comments I've received so far, between here and the Facebook page. xoxo

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  6. A friend of mine shared my post on guns on her Facebook page, and then a friend of hers had this to say. Based on his comment, I'm really not sure he actually read the post. But everyone has a right to their opinion...

    "I read it - but it glosses over a very basic issue that anti gun advocates can't defend against so the only recorse they have is to manipulate the discussion out of its context:

    The 2 Ammendment is not about what projectile is appropriate for Hunting, Self Defense, sport, or anything else... it is simply the right to bear arms. Period. So the entire controversy about what gun is appropriate or not is a straw man tactic.

    "Straw Man:" A made-up version of an opponent's argument that can easily be defeated. To accuse people of attacking a straw man is to suggest that they are avoiding worthier opponents and more valid criticisms of their own position: “His speech had emotional appeal, but it wasn't really convincing because he attacked a straw man rather than addressing the real issues.”

    Lastly:

    The U.S. National Academy of Sciences released its evaluation from a review of 253 journal articles, 99 books, 43 government publications, and some original empirical research. It failed to identify any gun control that had reduced violent crime, suicide, or gun accidents. The same conclusion was reached in 2003 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s review of then‐ extant studies.

    [T]here is no consistent significant positive association between gun ownership levels and violence rates: across (1) time within the United States, (2) U.S. cities, (3) counties within Illinois, (4) country‐sized areas like England, U.S. states, (5) regions of the United States, (6) nations, or (7) population subgroups . . . .”

    Harvard Law... but what do they know about research right?

    http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf"

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  7. I'm British - perhaps I don't have the right to comment on your situation in the US, except for the fact that I'm a mum, and a human being, and my heart broke just as surely as yours all did over those tiny lives being snuffed out.

    So here's a few thoughts: We hear all the time about America being "the land of the free". This marvellous blog post has correctly pointed out that the UK has very strict gun control. Do I feel any less "free" because of those restrictions? You gotta be kidding. I probably feel more free than if I was looking over my shoulder my whole life wondering which lunatic might be stalking me and my family with a semi-automatic weapon he's purchased on a whim in his local store.

    As it happens, my husband owns a shotgun (he shoots clays with a few local farmers). Before he was allowed to keep that weapon at home he had to apply for a license. Then a policeman came to interview him (to assess his state of mind, his maturity and attitude to owning a weapon, our family situation, the exact method of storing the gun and ammunition securely and his reasons for owning the weapon). Every two years he has to renew his license and be interviewed again. At any stage, if the police are at all disatisfied, both his license and his shotgun can be removed.

    Does this rather long-winded and stringent process make us feel our "rights" are being infringed? Do we whinge about not having "freedom" to own and use our guns however the hell we want? Hell, no! I thank God that we live in such a careful society.

    Would those people in the US who bang on about "their right to bear arms" be prepared to introduce a similar process? And if not, why not?

    The United States is no longer the Wild West, that fledgling, frontier society in which settlers needed a dozen weapons to fight off the circling Apaches. You're a modern, sophisticated nation. It's about time attitudes changed and gun owners matured and adopted a more responsible attitude.

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    1. I think the hardest obstacle we Americans face is that the guns are already out there. Millions and millions of them. We've gotten ourselves into quite a pickle.

      It's really refreshing to hear this perspective. Thanks so much for your comment!

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    1. Well that's nice. I just tapped my touch-pad to get my laptop's screen to pop-up, and it effing deleted your comment before I had a chance to finish reading it. Grrr. I saw enough to know that it was positive, so... thanks! =)

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  9. Just a point about larger magazines. As someone with training in weapons, military and as civilian, I can say honestly that the time it takes to change a magazine is NOT enough time to run away or take out the attacker. A magazine change only takes a second or two at the most.

    So yes, larger magazines are a concern because they hold more rounds, but the smaller magazines don't present enough of a slowdown to really impact the situation.

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  10. As an American citizen (living in Alabama), I support an intelligent, competent, mentally healthy individual's right to own a gun for safety or hunting. As an elementary school teacher, I am 100% opposed to arming school personnel, even with extensive training. Security guards, okay, but not the rest of the staff. Too many guns, too many children, too much at stake. I also agree with the policy in the UK that you must attend an interview and prove that you keep your weapon and ammunition stored responsibly. That is an appropriate compromise in my eyes. Thanks for your post, your research, and your calm, thoughtful opinion.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment! It's so reassuring to know there are other level-headed people out there!

      xoxo

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  11. I know I am late reading this, but I was on vacation. Just wanted to say that I appreciated your break-down of the issue. It seemed very fair, especially after you revealed that you wrote all this with a hatred of guns-- I couldn't have guessed that unless you'd told me at the end. So bravo! You are a better journalist than most of the people who went to school for it!!

    Also, I just have to say that I encounter the well-trained, safety-conscious type of gun-owner more often than not. (Not that that's a scientific sample or anything. I choose my friends well. ;-)) I agree we need to figure out a way to make sure these uber-responsible people are the only ones who can buy a gun, and I like your ideas about education, both in marketing campaigns and in mandatory classes for gun-owners. I mean, they won't give you a driver's license without passing two tests, right??

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    1. I agree we should allow 16 year olds to purchase as many handguns as they can afford and have CCW licenses after taking a handling test and a basic gun law/deadly force class to use their firearms in a public place. Wait don't vehicles combined with speed, alcohol, inexperience, etc... kill tens of thousands of people a year? Maybe we should speed limit our vehicles to 55 mph if they are registered, put breathalyzers on every vehicle, make it a felony to diable it or blow for someone else, and make it a mandatory annual written and driving test to maintain a license. We could save lives, seems rather inconvenient and restrictive, but no more than most of the stuff recommended in the comments and it would save just as many lives. Most people recommending insanely restrictive gun laws don't own them now and won't be the ones trying to jump through the hoops if the laws are passed. It is easy for me to say we should restrict and regulate things that I believe make me safer that I don't participate in or believe are important as an American too. Primarily because I have no vested interest.

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  12. I LOVE that you researched and prosted this info. I also wish we could just make them all go AWAY but I know that is not an option. I also know that little boys are all drawn to guns, no matter what we do. My boys have learned about gun safety through Cub Scouts and they take it very seriously. I don't know why people are so afraid of having reasonable safety requirements. Keep up the fight!

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    1. Yeah, this was my most-researched post. Took freaking FOR. EVER. to write. lol

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