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Are Guns Really the Problem?



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.

Tragedy Followed by the Blame Game

Sandy-Hook-Connecticut-shooting-vigil-3-jpgColumbine, Colorado.

Santee, California.

West Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.

Newtown, Connecticut.

The list is much bigger, of course. From a news blog at ABC, I count 14 school shootings since 1997. That is only the ones that made the news. Everyone from Piers Morgan to The Liberal OC’s Dan Chmielewski have chimed in on the subject (sorry, Dan, but you are wrong) of gun control. The Brady Bunch could not get their same, tired, message out once again any faster than they did. As expected, the NRA circled their wagons around the 2nd Amendment. The truth is, we have thousands of gun control laws on the books and it did not stop this tragedy (or any other involving guns) from happening. Face it, laws are designed to be reactive. When was the last time you heard a would be criminal or, in this case, nut-job say, “Maybe I shouldn’t kill that person because I might get the death penalty.” I’ve been in law enforcement for over 20 years and have yet to hear it. So, maybe our focus is wrong. You see, the perpetrators of these heinous crimes all have another thing in common. They are all deeply troubled and mentally ill.

Maybe that is where we should focus our discussions.

Mental illness has taken a back seat to nearly every other social issue these days. Yet, there has been a significant increase in the number of people who have been diagnosed with serious mental illness. More than 20 million people suffer a mood disorder such as bipolar and depressive disorder. Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability of kids and young adults. Schizophrenia, which usually manifests itself in men in their late teens and women in their early thirties, affects 1.1 percent of the adult population. And, PTSD is a growing disorder among not just our returning troops but also regular folks who have suffered serious trauma and violent incidents such as rape and assault.

Many of our homeless who, in this county, we turn a blind eye to, suffer debilitating mental illness. Lacking services to assist them,  they wander the streets, are arrested, suffer indignities and scare the hell out of most “regular” people who encounter them. So, what do we do? We cut services to them, of course. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, services are often unavailable or inaccessible for those who need them most. According to them one in ten children live with a serous mental disorder. Yet, the recession (or depression if you see it as I do) has cut spending on mental health services by $1.8 billion dollars in 2011 with deeper cuts over the past year.

From NAMI:

Communities pay a high price for cuts of this magnitude. Rather than saving states and communities money, these cuts to services simply shift financial responsibility to emergency rooms, community hospitals, law enforcement agencies, correctional facilities and homeless shelters.

Massive cuts to mental health services also potentially impact public safety. As a whole, people living with serious mental illness are no more violent than the rest of the population. In fact, it is well documented that these individuals are far more frequently the victims of violence than the perpetrators of violent acts.

However, the risks of violence among a small subset of individuals may increase when appropriate treatment and supports are not available. The use of alcohol or drugs as a form of self medication can also increase these risks.

I couldn’t agree more. California, which likes to think of itself as the social consciousness of the West, cut more than $587 million dollars in 2011 from the budget. That is the most of any state in the union. Worse, since then-governor Ronald Reagan closed the hospitals and cast the mentally ill onto the streets, our mental health services have been some of the worst in the nation. Taking bad to worse via a 16 percent drop in spending at a time when mental health services are suffering a significant increase in demand… well, you get the picture.

While you mull over whether to blame inadequate gun laws, even though there are thousands on the books, or whether to blame mental health or, as Mike Huckabee did, God, say a prayer to whomever your God is for the families who have suffered from this tragic loss. Keep your family safe. No one else will do it for you. The police have no obligation to the individual so don’t look toward them. It is up to you and your neighbors to keep each other safe. In this case, you are your brother’s keeper.

And, ask why on earth our so-called leaders are cutting spending to programs that are necessary now, more than ever.

Our friend, Tyron Jackson, is hosting another event to bring our community together in this time of tragedy. For Tyron, like many of us, it is a time of rememberance, compassion and renewal. He has invited everyone to the “My Kid Is Special! Community Prayer Vigil” on December 17, 2012 from 5:30-6:30 PM at the Tustin Community Center, 300 Centennial Way, Tustin, CA.

On Friday December 14th 2012, our hearts were shattered when the news broke that students and teachers were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut.

Join us on Monday December 17th 5:30-6:30 p.m at the Tustin Community Center as the community comes together to pray for the victims and families of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Also join us as we Encourage, Inspire, Motivate and remind our youth, our children, our students that they are SPECIAL and we LOVE them!

There won’t be any discussions of gun control or mental health. Just our community telling the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School how much we care and how much we are thinking of them in their time of need.