Gun Control After Sandy Hook: Is There A Middle Ground?

One Sandy Hook dad is an advocate for expanding background checks -- but is also a supporter of gun rights.
By @KtLentsch |
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    Barbara Wells of Shelton, Conn., holds her daughter Olivia, 3, as she pays her respects Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 at one of the makeshift memorials for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

    Barbara Wells of Shelton, Conn., holds her daughter Olivia, 3, as she pays her respects Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 at one of the makeshift memorials for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. (AP/Mary Altaffer)

    Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Conn., last December, a single gun carries the weight of much more than a few pounds. In memory of the lives of 20 children and six educators lost in the mass shooting, issues revolving gun restrictions and gun rights have become the center of a national debate.

    There have been 6,386 gun deaths since Newtown, according to online magazine Slate. This number is a rough estimate based on media reports. According to Slate, 60 percent of gun deaths are suicides, which are rarely reported, and it is likely over 18,000 deaths have occurred since Newtown, based on estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    In April, proposals to expand background checks and ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines failed to get the 60 votes needed to pass the U.S. Senate. But that hasn’t prevented many states from creating their own gun policies. Political figures and advocacy organizations have vigorously debated the need for stricter gun laws or protection of Second Amendment rights.

    With both sides of the debate expressing strong points of view, is it possible to reach a middle ground on such laws and their impact on fundamental freedoms?

    Monte Frank, a Sandy Hook dad whose young daughter survived the attack, is an advocate for expanding background checks and limiting the types of firearms that can be owned by civilians. But he is also a supporter of American gun rights.

    “I am pro 2nd Amendment. I cherish the Constitution. I value the freedoms afforded me by this great Nation,” he wrote in the Daily Kos. “And, I also believe that the Declaration of Independence’s granting of the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness applies to the 1st graders at that elementary school down the road from me.”

    The FBI defines a mass shooting as an incident that kills four people or more. From 2006 to the present, the death toll from mass shootings has exceeded 900, according to a USA Today analysis of FBI records.

    “There are hundreds of people who die every year because of gun violence,” said Leroy Duncan, strategic initiatives coordinator and lead organizer at Protect Minnesota, “whether that’s suicide, homicide or accidental shootings.”

     

    A national outburst

    Like many states, Minnesota pushed for new gun restrictions in the wake of the Newtown incident, but New York was the first state to enact new gun safety legislation. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law increasing sentences for certain gun crimes and expanding the number of guns that fall under under the state’s assault weapons ban. The new law also requires background checks on private gun sales and reduces the legal capacity of magazines from 10 bullets to seven.

    But three fewer bullets may not prevent mass shootings altogether. Although the Sandy Hook shooter used a 30-round magazine, the shooters at Virginia Tech and Columbine High School used 10-round magazines. Extra ammunition was carried and then quickly reloaded.

    Connecticut enacted new laws similar to those in New York, while also expanding background checks to gun-show sales, requiring current owners of high-capacity firearms to register them with the state, and widening mental health research and mental health training for teachers.

    Colorado and California have also initiated safety laws, while other states expanded gun owners’ rights.

    “One of our positions is we would either like to see more security or have teachers who are dutifully trained in firearms to have those at their access,” Eddie Eisler, a representative from Gun Owners of America, said.

    Kansas expanded the types of public buildings where a gun can be carried, allowing educators to be armed in schools.

    Advocacy groups have also been active. After the shooting, Frank, who is also legal counsel to the Newtown Action Alliance, organized Team 26 for the Sandy Hook Ride on Washington, a 375-mile bicycle rally from Sandy Hook to the nation’s capital.

    Frank describes existing gun laws as a “patchwork,” saying state borders are “porous” to illegal gun trafficking.

    “Is unfettered access to military style weapons, 30 round magazines, limited background checks and a weak trafficking law more important than reducing the risk of mass murder in your backyard?” he asks.

    Other organizations wonder the same thing.

    New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg heads No More Names, a mobile project by his gun control advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The project advocates strict but common-sense gun legislation by confronting members of Congress in 25 states over 100 days.

    Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) heads the gun control advocacy group Americans for Responsible Solutions, which held its own mobile tour this summer, visiting seven states in seven days. Although Giffords was wounded in a Tucson, Ariz., shooting two years ago, the group supports Second Amendment rights even while promoting gun safety laws.

     

    An unbalanced scale

    Shelley Leeson, an organizer with Twin Cities Gun Owners and Carry Forum, is a citizen with a permit to own and carry a gun. She agrees with increasing penalties for gun criminals, as well as enforcing denials of the official background check form that is either accepted or denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. But she does not favor new gun restrictions.

    “There are so many things that can be done under current law, we don’t need more laws that criminals will not obey,” Leeson said.

    Leeson believes that mass shootings can be discouraged by allowing more lawful citizens who pass the background check to carry guns.

    The sight of average citizens carrying their handguns in public might make some feel threatened or fearful, but according to a study by two economists at the University of Chicago, “allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons deters violent crimes and it appears to produce no increase in accidental deaths.” If states without right-to-carry laws had adopted them in 1992, approximately 1,570 murders could have been prevented yearly, the study concluded.

    However, other analysts have drawn opposite conclusions. A smaller analysis that appeared in The Atlantic in 2011 showed that firearm deaths are lower in states with stricter gun control legislation.

    Currently, 35 states allow “open carry” without a permit, and rather than ban all gun owners from that right, Leeson believes the government should focus on prosecuting those who don’t pass the national background check.

    “We shouldn’t base our laws on emotion, we should base it on common sense and logic,” Leeson said. “I understand and certainly feel sympathy and sorry for people who’ve been impacted by criminals who use guns, but people get confused with their emotion and try to blame law-abiding citizens.”

    In 2010, the FBI conducted over 6 million background checks. About 73,000 applications were denied, making up about 1 percent of the total transactions. The most common reasons for denial were an applicant’s history of felony conviction or indictment, a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction, or a domestic violence restraining order.

    Of those denials, only 62 cases were considered for prosecution. The most commonly investigated cases dealt with providing false information or the possession of a gun when under a felony conviction or domestic abuse charge.

    Although the majority of transactions are cleared by the background check, some worry about those who slip through the cracks.

    Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old shooter at Sandy Hook, obtained his weapons from his mother’s collection at home. At the Tucson, Ariz., shooting where Giffords was injured, shooter Jared Lee Loughner had passed the federal background check and legally purchased his pistol months before.

    “I think the reality is this is not a problem that’s going to go away,” Duncan said. “Until we are serious about keeping deadly weapons out of the hands of our most vulnerable community members, which is the severely, mentally ill, or our kids … then the trend will continue.”

    Although many groups and political figures will continue to advocate at national levels, Eisler feels states are sovereign and should be allowed to decide their own laws.

    “There’s going to be a balance that has to be found at some point,” she says.

    Frank recalls the gratitude he felt for his family’s safety, but that didn’t mean they were OK.

    “Unfortunately, unless we take measures to reduce the risk of another mass shooting, this will continue to be a frequent, catastrophic and recurring event in America,” he said. “If it happened in sleepy Sandy Hook, it can happen anywhere.”

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      • Beck

        I think public mental healthcare, with the authority to red flag people as gun-violence risks in a private federal database could be a reasonable middle ground.

        Treating gun violence as a medical problem, and empowering new healthcare workers to treat the underlying psychological and social problems behind mass murders is a compromise that’s off the table apparently, because it would be socialized medicine.

        • craig

          No, it’s off the table because we don’t trust the government not to use the health care system against political opponents. (See, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.)

          The same government that claims the authority to imprison or kill people by the mere fact that it has, secretly and without due process, declared them ‘terrorists’ (See, Patriot Act) and that has admitted to using the taxing authority to suppress its opponents during an election (See, Internal Revenue Service) will not hesitate to disarm its opponents by merely declaring them mentally ill.

      • Kristophr

        “Middle ground” requires compromise by both sides.

        You want to ban private sales. Fine. Pick one of the items below to give to us gun owners as a middle ground compromise:

        1) Federal CCW reciprocity ( ALL concealed carry permits must be honored by all states, including NY and NJ ).

        2) Repeal the new machine gun moratorium.

        3) Make violating 2nd amendment rights a federal crime.

      • cargosquid

        Define “middle ground.”
        Now…what kind of “compromise” is valid when one is discussing the infringement of or the giving up a basic right? What type of compromise would the MintPress News be willing to do if we were discussing 1st amendment rights?

        There is really no middle ground. “Shall not be infringed” is the operative part of the amendment. Every restriction is NOT a compromise. The gun controllers don’t want compromise and, in fact, reject compromise, as they did when they defeated the ONLY actually universal background check bill. The anti-rights side lies.

      • TCguns_carry

        A study on violence with guns and which was supported by Obama just released the following findings. Funny, Obama and those who want “common sense” gun control aren’t talking about the findings:

        Some highlights of the report:
        – The majority of gun-related deaths between 2000 and 2010 were due to suicide and not criminal violence.
        – Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals.
        – “Interventions,” such as background checks and restrictions on firearms and increased penalties for illegal gun use, showed “mixed” results, while “turn-in” programs “are ineffective” in reducing crime. The study noted that most criminals obtained their guns in the underground economy — from friends, family members, or gang members — well outside any influence from gun controls on legitimate gun owners.
        – Mass shootings such as the one in Newtown, Connecticut, have declined and “account for a very small fraction of all firearm-related deaths.”
        http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=18319&page

      • TopCat_Texas

        To have a middle gound, you have a common reference. The anti-gun groups want to take away all guns. The pro-gun groups want to reduce violence. So, not sure that you can find something in the middle when the goals are not related. When someone in this conversation uses the term “common sense” you know that there is non-sense to follow.
        If the principal would have been armed and trained, Adam Lanza would not have killed any children. So, a starting point should be to remove the “Criminal Protection Zones” or as the “common-sense” people would call “No Gun Zones”.

      • GMC70

        The fundamental problem, of course, is that the anti-gun forces are not ultimately interested in “common sense” solutions. They are interested in eradicating private gun ownership.

        They won’t say that, of course; it’s political suicide. But it doesn’t make it less true. And their own materials make the point, as they tout the background checks and magazine (not “clip) restrictions as a “starting point.” What is the intended ending point? I know, and they know. I told you. They won’t.

        Compromise and middle ground requires give from both sides. Compromising with the gun grabbers is the equivalent of only giving the robber half of the money in your wallet – for today, at least.

        No. Not any more.

        • craig

          +100.

          Several legislators have proposed measures that have the benefit of being (a) Constitutional and (b) effective. For one, repeal the so-called ‘gun-free zone’ laws that only impede the law-abiding and create an attractive nuisance for the crazies. For another, make it possible for private sellers to query NICS without having to go through a FFL or submit the make/model of firearm being sold (information which is unnecessary for the BG check, and only required to submit to NICS because NICS was instituted as a precursor to gun registration/confiscation).

        • ramrodd

          What dont you understand about

          “Shall Not be Infringed”

      • Pingback: Is There Room For Middle Ground? | Shall Not Be Questioned

      • Wil Ferch

        Yes there is a middle ground, but we need to act upon true facts and figures and strip out the emotionial and often personal-connections purposely made to further an agenda. Example…Bloomberg’s calling for “Commion-sense” legislation when in fact ( for those that dig deeper and don’t succumb to “sound bites”…is anything but sensible as to having a real affect on crime). The same with the educators on “no child left behind”. If you frame the discussion with that starting point, we can never have rational discussion as who would leave a hold behind and how would b e against common sense laws. It’s a rigged starting point developed by the spin doctors.

        Here is a video that cites unfettered FBI stats. Although the presenter is pro-gun, the facts speak for themselves and are undeniable.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ooa98FHuaU0

        Having armed security guards not much different than what is being done to enter government buildings would be a good thing, and if done right would not be overly militaristic looking. Having “Staged” ( instead of “single-point” entry) into schools would also be good.
        And as to loopholes fixed, I would favor applying “Existing law” background checks for 2nd and 3rd level private party sales…just like dine for 1st order new sales.