Are Guns Really the Problem?

’Courtesy northwestfirearms.com

’Courtesy northwestfirearms.com

There is an intersting article on The Liberal OC regarding the publishing of CCW permit holders in Orange County. Now, before you push this article aside and run to the Lib, let me tell you they only published a few notable names such as Todd Spitzer and Deborah Pauly (scary, huh?). The gist of the article, apparently, is to show the good sense of our county sheriff in issuing CCW permits while, in some way, trying to equate the Second Amendment to the right to healthcare. While I respect the Lib writers’ opinions, I have to disagree on the issue they bring up. It should be noted The Liberal OC has published a series of articles on gun ownership and the Second Amendment. We are certainly not of the same opinion.

From the Lib article:

We think there are too many guns out there.  The overflowing crowds at this weekend’s gun show in Costa Mesa show Orange County’s appetite for automatic weapons is near insatiable.  We find it fascinating that the same people, the Tea Party Patriots, who so demanded President Obama’s birth certificate, find inquiries into background checks and licenses for firearms an invasion of privacy.  And while gun ownership is a right, so is the right NOT to own one.  When liberals state healthcare should be a right, we’re scoffed at by Libertarians and Conservatives who cling to their guns but fail to acknowledge getting sick is not a choice.

The current upsurge of law abiding citizens to seek firearms is typical anytime an incident such as Sandy Hook occurs and the sitting President and Congress start making noises of further gun control. In the past few days, it has become apparent all the President’s men (and women) are using recent events to push for stricter gun control. Of particular interest is the push to ban “assault style” weapons. That is because they feel it is the easiest “in” to obtaining stricter controls on weapons in the hands of citizens. I am not sure why the writers at The Liberal OC thought that California would be excluded from the run on guns. And, it is not just in that bastion of Republicanism,  Orange County. I suspect it would be difficult to find an assault style weapon (which California already bans most of anyway) for a reasonable price at a store or a gun show. The number of attendees at last week’s gunshow, by the way, was roughly double the norm, based solely on my estimate as an occasional attendee.

Plainly speaking, it is asinine to equate the right to own firearms to the “right” to healthcare. Show me where, in the US Constitution there is a Constitutional right to healthcare? And, please don’t quote the purusit of happiness, etc. That doesn’t fly as it does not enumerate healthcare as a right. There has never been a significant court case, to my knowledge, that even addresses the issue. That leaves healthcare, until the new mandates come in, left largely to the individual. In reality, however, most anyone -indigent or not- has access to basic healthcare. And, it remains to be seen whether the so-called Obamacare will grant any higher access than the current system, at least here in California, already does (I admit, I am no expert in managed care or socialist medicine).

On the other hand, the right to keep and bear arms has been tested and proven, by the highest court in the land, that it is an individual right, not just a state’s right to “keep” a militia armed and ready. That would be the Heller Decision that was quoted by their article, later addressed for the individual states by the McDonald Decision.

So, according to the article we have approximately 409 persons living or working in the county who possess a CCW permit. Add to that another thousand or so off duty peace officers and another thousand or so retired peace officers, all of whom are authorized by law to carry a firearm. In all, there are about 45,000 CCWs authorized by various entities throughout the state of California and probably another 100,000 or so people that are further authorized by law. Still a paltry number in comparison to a population of 38 million.

There is no doubt that California has the most stringent (overall) gun laws on the books. The Brady Bunch gives CA an A+ on their firearms report card. And crime is down, particularly violent crime (unless you look at the Register’s headlines yesterday). Yet, 39 states in the United States have “shall issue” CCW laws that allow any law abiding citizen to obtain a CCW for self-defense. A few states do not require a permit to openly carry a firearm. Arizona and Alaska come to mind. One state, Vermont, does not even have a permit system. Their law says if you have a firearm and want to carry it, do so as long as you are legally allowed to. California is one of only nine “may issue” states where the discretion is left up to the issuing authority.

In Texas, which is a “Shall Issue” state, there are about 123,000 licenses for concealed carry. The population is just under 26 million. That would be only 0.4% of the population. I think other states would probably be about the same. Oh yeah, crime is down across the nation, too.

What is missing here is, how many law abiding, CCW holding citizens actually get into trouble because of their firearms? The Violence Policy Center has a few statistics, although they don’t break them out the way they should be. Let’s just take them at face value for the moment.

From May, 2007 to the present, there were 14 law enforcement officers killed by CCW holders. Of those, one permit was expired and at least two others should not have legally been allowed to carry due to prior convictions or mental illness. There were another 484 deaths caused by CCW permit holders across the country. Only three of those, during the reporting time, were by California permit holders. Oh, wait…. that would be one by a CCW permit holder and two by a security guard licensed to carry his firearm openly on duty (it pays to read these reports rather than just look at the numbers).

Aside from the confusion by the report writers of who exactly is a CCW holder, a closer look would show that many of these permit holders should have been denied a permit that was, nonetheless, issued. And, that says much toward the apathy of law enforcement and the bureaucracy to actually enforce the current laws on the books.

In one case in Washington State, the perpetrator’s family told the authorities years before the incident where he killed 5 people before turning the gun on himself, that Ian Stanwicki was mentally ill. His father told reporters, “The response to us was, there’s nothing we can do, he’s not a threat to himself or others, or we haven’t had a report of it, or we haven’t had to pick him up—call us when it’s worse. And now it’s too late—much worse now, six people are dead.” So, even when authorities are notified that something is amiss (this is not an isolated incident in the VPC report), they sometimes do not take appropriate action.

Add to that the relatively few firearms deaths compared to the number of owners and permit holders and one has to wonder, if the sensationalism the press makes toward each incident were absent, would there still be such a loud call from the anti-gun folks?

Why don’t we address the real culprit, mental illness. Because, one thing I noticed while perusing the VPC report is the high number of mentally ill people that should not have been allowed to possess a firearm at all, much less obtain a CCW permit, had current law been enforced. Certainly, in the mass shootings over the years, the perpetrators displayed outward signs of mental illness or had been previously convicted of domestic violence or other crimes. All of these would have precluded someone from owning firearms in most instances and, in all instances, from obtaining a CCW permit. Until we address the real cause of these heinous acts, mental illness and an apathetic attitude toward enforcing current laws, we will continue to occasionally see them, stricter gun laws or not.

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About Jeff Gallagher

My day job is a peace officer for the 2nd largest law enforcement agency in Orange County. I live in and love Tustin where my family and I have resided for the past 17 years. I am a highly moderate libertarian that despises hardcore Republicans, Democrats and anyone else who is not willing to compromise for the good of the people.

Posted on January 28, 2013, in In the News, nonpolitical, orange county and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Yes, but what are you Libertarians going to scream at us Libs when laws go into effect about locking people up is there is a claim of mental illness made against them? And will the law allow me to claim someone is mentally ill and shouldn’t have a gun even if that person just stays at home and doesn’t go out and threaten people–much like the mother of the Sandy Hook shooter. Laws on gun control and the reporting of mental illness are going to require that some big brains write them. Linda Jennings Date: Mon, 28 Jan 2013 21:51:42 +0000 To: lindacjennings@hotmail.com

    • But, those laws already exist. And, I don’t know one (little l) libertarian that would argue that mental illness needs to be treated. Most though, can be treated without being “locked up.”

      That is a far cry from authorities ignoring the law because, as Vice-President Joe Biden confided to NRA president, Wayne LaPierre, “we couldn’t possibly verify all those forms” gun buyers have to fill out to purchase a gun to insure they are telling the truth. If we have that many unworkable laws on the books, it is time to rethink the laws we have to make them viable rather than just cram more laws down the throats of law abiding citizens.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Jeff – I think the “mental illness” argument is an obfuscation. There’s no doubt that mental illness is an issue, so let’s see some people who are anti-gun control (the majority of Republicans and, frankly, some mixed/conservative state Dems) who are in the pocket of the NRA step up and fund comprehensive mental illness programs – yeah, right.

    Even Antonin Scalia, a strict “intentionalist”/Federalist regarding the Constitution thinks that there should be some limits on the Second Amendment, and that speaks volumes. I personally think (and your post touches on this) that we need to enforce the laws we have on the books – for example, in Illinois, people caught violating gun laws basically get a slap on the wrist. If you knew there was no REAL punishment in it for you, why wouldn’t you violate the law? And as the daughter of a Navy SEAL who grew up with guns, shoots guns, knows what do with a gun, etc…I respect guns but it’s clear to me that not everyone needs to nor should have them, rights or no. And, frankly, there are some weapons people just don’t need to have. Show me a “well-regulated militia” and I might chance my stance. Right now, all we have is havoc.

  3. Columbus Square Mom

    Aren’t you going to post the OC Register’s Article about Heritage Elementary School? They still won’t open the school, but the litigation is over.

  4. I agree with Meg Wolff that the mental illness issue is a smoke screen in a sense. We all know that there is a huge cost for dealing with mental illness that has been ignored by the politicos in general. If you want to deal with mental illness as it applies to gun ownership, there is a large cost to implement any plan and that cost would be borne by we the tax payers. Also, another consideration is what happens when some nut with an axe to grind goes into one of these mega-churches with an AK-47 and opens up at a service. Do we then have to have armed guards at our churches and other public places??

  5. If it wasn’t for the mental illness, these folks wouldn’t be shooting up schools and churches. If it wasn’t for guns, these people would use bombs, knives, and other weapons to do their deed.

    I readily acknowledge that the proliferation of guns make it easier for the nutcase to do damage. But, therein lies the problem. In yesterday’s dog and pony show at the State Capitol, Don Peralta and Darell Steinberg, while making their anti-gun pitch, stood in front of an assault style weapon while the head of the Firearms Division of the Department of Justice complained that there was such a backlog of paperwork for the Armed Prohibited Persons database, they could not possibly clear it for several years and that, only, with an additional 3years and $25 million dollars, could they hope to make a dent.

    Clearly, the cops can’t enforce the laws on the books now. If they did, we might avert more of these tragedies. What makes you think that new laws, laws that are only designed to affect law abiding gun owners, will do anything to help the problem? Again, it is time to look at the real problem, mental health not guns. Enforce the current laws, don’t create new ones that only penalize law abiding citizens.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Jeff, we definitely agree on some things (enforcement of existing laws rather than creating new, potentially ineffective ones). However, I don’t believe the “If it wasn’t guns, it would be X” is a valid argument for continued inaction of any type on gun control.

      Frankly, there’s no evidence at this time that the Newtown shooter was mentally ill. All that’s been discussed is that he had some form of high-level functioning disorder (Aspergers), which in and of itself is non-violent and not classified as a mental illness. So I think we WANT to assume that this type of violence is always associated with “mental illness”, but the harder thing to comprehend is that it’s not. However, I’m not sure what the counter-action is to people fixed on violence.

      • I agree, and we will probably never agree on everything completely, in regard to this issue. If you have been reading my blog for long, you know that I hold libertarian views which include a strict constructionist view of the Constitution.

        That said, your view of Asperger’s as nonviolent is interesting and one I would dispute. There is a rare day when I do not work with kids afflicted with Asperger’s and they can be some of the most violent (although I am not saying that Asperger’s Syndrome always results in violent behavior).

        But, I have to ask, what gun laws, other than those that would severely restrict law abiding citizens from owning weapons, do you think we would need? And, how would they be enforced, other than by confiscation or a prohibition from owning certain types of firearms? And, before you give me the “assault weapons” argument, remember that California has an assault weapons ban in effect now and many hunters use AR type rifles for hunting and plinking. Feinstein’s current proposal would elliminate such guns as the Ruger Min-14, primarily a ranch rifle, by placing it in the same classification simply because it is semi-automatic.

        Oh yes, in regard to the Newtown killing, that young man had accessed his mother’s guns, quite possibly because she did not secure them properly. Certainly, if she had known her son was displaying abberant behavior, don’t you think she should have been more careful? Should law abiding gun owners be further penalized because of her inaction or violation of the law?

      • As I pointed out in my original post, Scalia is as “constructionist” as they come. It will be interesting to see how he reconciles his “constructionism” with the 2nd amendment in any upcoming cases before the court (and we all know that there will be some).

        I have a stepson who has a very mild form of Asperger’s and would vehemently disagree that violence is predominant. Their issues are socialization and difficulty communicating effectively. While they might be prone to outbursts, they are very rule-driven. What I *do* think is interesting is that this group often has difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy – so don’t get me wrong here, I’m not blaming violent video games/tv/etc. – but I do think that any “desensitization” to violence would be particularly impactful (in a negative way) on this population.

        I think I am still shaping my views on what kind of legislation would be most reasonable. I don’t think I support the argument that certain people should be able to own certain types of guns for hunting or sport. I don’t like the government prohibiting anything but at the same time, I don’t see the need for civilians, many of whom are not trained, owning certain kinds of weapons. For example, why did Adam Lanza’s mother NEED a Bushmaster?

        The interesting thing to me is that in the Newtown case, the existing laws worked. He tried to BUY a gun and was turned down. So he accessed what was readily available. I completely agree with you that she should have been more careful. People should not be penalized because of her recklessness. However, regulating home storage and access seems more difficult than regulating overall access. And I think that there are fewer “responsible” gun owners than you think – if more people knew how to use AND protected/locked up/stored their weapons properly, I think we’d see a lot less violence.

  6. Outside of our other thread but still on topic, I just wanted to post a discussion I had with my dad to get your POV. He thinks that we should look at the problem of guns similar to the way drunk driving was treated in the 80s. If you remember, there was a rising pitch of public outrage about drinking & driving. So public interest groups (like MADD) banded together to raise awareness of the issue. Ultimately it became a “zero tolerance” policy, where if you got caught drinking and driving, you didn’t get a warning – you got put in jail and got your license taken away. It became a nightmare.

    So his argument (which I guess other gun owners/supporters make) is let’s enforce the laws on the books AND make getting caught with an unregistered gun or planning any act of pre-meditated violence similar to drunk driving – you lose the gun, your rights to own a gun, and you go to jail. Not sure if this is too much like drug policy, but his claim is that (back to my original post, in Illinois, gun offenders just get a slap on the wrist) there’s no real incentive for them to STOP their behavior. Probably not doing the most thorough or eloquent job of explaining, but an interesting idea to think about.

    He also thinks that gun owners should be required to take a course when they get their gun on how to shoot it and how to care for it (safety procedures).

    Interestingly, he also thinks that there are certain types of guns that people should not have (but not quite sure where he draws the line here, he’s probably more lenient than I am). And another note, he talked a lot about how they train special forces – they put them in video-game like simulations – so I think he has mixed feelings about the prevalence of these super-violent, first-person shooter video games and how they might desensitize people to real violence, but similarly to me, he’s not making any definitive claims.

    • I took this discussion to work with me this afternoon and one of our therapists happened to be there. So, I posed the Asperger’s/violence question to her. She agrees that, while Asperger’s kids may typically have outbursts when their attention is diverted from their task (it’s complex but, if you know Asperger’s you know what we are talking about) they can have an outburst or become angry but, typically, it is Asperger’s dual diagnosed with something else that causes higher violence. Also, those high functioning autistics will display a higher sense of violence. I did remind her of one kid we had that had an evil plan to make a shank from a toothbrush, hide it in his body to take to court, stab the judge and, if he made it out of the courtroom alive, to run off to Arizona. He had a dissertation we found in his cell, complete with graphic drawings (you can’t make this stuff up).

      On your second comment, it might be worth a whole post just to talk about alternatives. I am certainly not an all or nothing kind of advocate and believe that regulation of firearms is necessary just the same as almost anything else. There are just too many people in this world not to have some commonsense regulations. I just believe we have enough on the books now and should focus on better ways to enforce what we have before making new ones that also could not be enforced.

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