As of this writing, the unanswered question is how Chris Harper Mercer obtained the gun he used to kill 10 people at Umpqua Community College.
The police easily reconstructed a profile of Mercer, and it’s a chillingly familiar one: Young male, antisocial, withdrawn, without real relationships, mental problems that his family and others recognized.
So how did he get his guns? Did he buy them legally? Did his mother get them for him? The New York Times reports that when a reporter asked a neighbor whether he ever saw Mercer with a gun, the reply was “I’d rather not say,” which sounds like he was thinking “Yes, I saw him with a gun and I knew he was crazy and now I feel like dog meat.”
“I’ve been waiting to do this for years,” Mercer told a professor before gunning him down, according to a CNN report. Combine this statement with the ease at which he operated his firearms and the fact that he had three with him: two handguns and a long gun, which is a gun with an extra-long barrel. Consider all these facts and we can only conclude that someone who knew he was unbalanced also knew he liked to pack. It defies reason to believe that none of the people who suspected this kid was mentally ill knew he liked guns and had a few.
We cannot, however, blame mental illness for what Mercer did. Nor can we blame his parents, do-nothing neighbors or guidance counselors at whatever schools he attended. We shouldn’t even blame the gun dealers who sold the weapons, assuming that they followed all existing laws at the time.
The blame falls fully on the laws themselves—correction, the lack of laws regulating the sale, ownership and use of guns in the United States.
Even though the federal government banned the use of tax dollars to study gun safety years ago, enough research exists to state unequivocally that the more guns there are in a society, the more people will die and be wounded by guns. Nations in which there are few guns have lower rates of gun deaths. The United States with the highest number of guns in the hands of its citizens has the highest number of gun deaths per capita a year.
It’s true that criminals will get guns no matter how few guns there are afloat in society. It’s also true that no one can stop the psychopath or spurned lover who wants to take out a dozen or more people with a spray of bullets
But if we had fewer guns, we would have fewer deaths, fewer mass murders and fewer crimes committed with firearms. That’s tragically clear from the available research.
We need to act on virtually every front on the local, state and federal levels to control the distribution and use of firearms. Here is what I would propose:
- Increase the wait time for firearms purchases to a month and make the application process more rigorous.
- Require gun owners to get a license with testing requirements at least as rigorous as those required to drive a car; include a psychological test as one the requirements.
- Ban the sale and use of all automatic weapons and ammunition.
- Make all states participate in a national gun registry and implement an active campaign to improve the information in that registry.
- Ban private citizens carrying firearms on all college campuses and in all public buildings, modes of public transportation, arenas, movie theatres, other entertainment venues, restaurants, malls and retail outlets.
- Ban carrying firearms by employees in their places of employment or their employer’s parking lots, unless as a requirement of the job.
- Repeal all “stand your ground” laws.
Evoking the Second Amendment has always been a canard. The National Rifle Association and others opposed to gun control laws make two mistakes: 1) They wrongly infer that infringe means “can’t regulate”; 2) They misunderstand that the stipulated purpose of private ownership of firearms in the Constitution was to allow participation in a militia (volunteer army).
Despite what the gun lobby says, the gun control issue is not a matter of personal freedom, unless you propose that people should have absolute freedom to do whatever they like with no constraints regardless of the impact on others. No, gun control is a matter of safety and the social contract by which we all agree to follow certain rules for the good of all of us.
As it turns out, only about one third of American households own guns, down from more than 50% in 1978. Almost 90% of all Americans and three-quarters of NRA member support stiffer gun control laws. Thus, less than one third of the country is bullying the rest of us to accept guns and the death and destruction they bring.
It’s time for the voters in the two-thirds of all households without guns to let their elected officials and the candidates know that if they want the vote, they better support implementing tough gun control laws.