While we’re between mass shootings, I thought my fellow Americans might like to be riled up about gun rights and gun control. Here we go…
Gun violence in the United States is a problem that needs a solution. Unfortunately, a number of powerful forces have found a way to keep literally any effort to address gun violence through change in the way we legislate and regulate the purchase/sale/ownership of guns in the country.
Me, and my relationship with guns…
I grew up in a Pro-2A family. At age 8, I caused a major problem with my family by refusing a ceremonial .22 that was a gift to every boy from my Grandpa at that age. I didn’t want a gun. I wanted a scanner for the computer.
I’ve grown up around guns, and I’ve had them in my life for my entire life. I’ve been hunting several times, for several types of critter, and it’s something that I don’t enjoy, because it’s fuckin’ boring. Still, our lifestyles revolved around hunting. Wyoming schools usually give a hunting holiday to students in the fall. It’s a big part of the way of life in Wyoming, and that’s something I’m used to.
But, as a human with a brain, my views on guns have evolved, as I realize that there are places and people in the world that do not have responsible gun ownership cultures that permeate every facet of their lifestyles.
The real world has revealed itself to be a place that is not full of responsible gun owners, like those that populated Star Valley, Wyoming. There is no culture around it, no respect for the weapon, and no respect for the power that wielding a gun gives the wielder.
Now, before the NRA sends an army of #cuck #maga #snowflake #2a assholes to my doorstep, I want to state, for the uninitiated, that yes–there are responsible gun owners all over the United States. What I intend to explore is that there are people at all levels of the gun safety-gun ownership spectrum, but they all currently have the exact same access to the exact same level of fire power.
The gun-friendly world I grew up in had zero tolerance for irresponsible gun owners. Guns were unloaded before they were stored. Guns were kept in safes. Parents taught and supervised their children as they learned about guns, and a gun’s role in a household–just as their parents taught and supervised them.
If we lived in a world that was like the community I grew up in, I don’t think our gun violence problem would be as it is today.
So let’s think about the problem…
As it stands in the United States, it is incredibly easy to purchase a firearm, and accessories for that firearm, including ammunition for those firearms. It is easier to buy a firearm without setting off bells and whistles than it is to buy two boxes of Sudafed.
The ATF Form 4473 is, provided to the gun purchaser for completion prior to a firearm purchase. The form asks the buyer a bunch of questions that are (usually) already known by the government, such as “Have you ever been convicted in any court of a felony, or other crime for which the judge could have imprisoned you for more than one year, even if you received a shorter sentence including probation?” and “Are you a fugitive from justice?”
The form also contains questions that are intended to easily identify potentially-criminal behaviors like “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana, or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?”
Maybe. Maybe not. If I took an Adderall during college, should I check yes? Jeez, I was just trying to study better and it was only once. I’m not a criminal–and surely that’s what they’re driving at, right? I’m just going to mark “no.” After all, it says below that any person “who answers ‘yes’ to any of the questions 11.b. through 11.i. and/or 12.b through 12.c. is prohibited from purchasing or receiving a firearm” and I want to leave with this gun, the fastest way is to just mark no and move along.
The document is filled out, and there is no attestation of certainty under penalty of perjury. The document is weak, and it only catches dumb criminals because it’s a stupid gutless piece of paper that is only useful in hindsight.
Fixing the problems…
We have a background check system for purchasing guns: the National Instant Background Checks System, known as NICS.
NICS relies exclusively on submitted records on persons who may be qualified from receiving firearms. NICS can only render decisions on information it has available. The Wikipedia page for NICS notes that, typically due to a failure to aggregate information, two mass shootings have occurred that should have been disqualified by NICS.
Fixing the flow of information has been proposed in the Fix NICS Act of 2017. This legislation was supported by the NRA. The act is relatively gutless. The primary locus of control was for penalizing downstream agencies for not reporting relevant information to NICS. These duties to report are already in place, and so the bill effectively has no effect on the effectiveness of the system.
Penalizing downstream government entities sounds good on paper, but if the agency doesn’t report something to you, how are you going to penalize them? Would they just come up to you and say that they’ve been very naughty and in need of a penalty? Probably not.
NICS is a step in the right direction.
So what do we need to do? My idea? Throw computer science at the problem. For computer systems tracking convictions, indictments, etc, they need to automatically report this information to NICS, and remove the human margin of error completely. This data needs to be pushed into the system, leaving no time for gaps in data availability.
Tracking transactions needs to produce tangible intelligence automatically, via machine learning. Heuristic profiles for gun buyers should be developed and modeled, and the system should become extremely efficient at identifying patterns of purchase that are out of the ordinary for that buyer.
For example, if someone has never purchased a weapon before, they should be able to buy a gun, and a data-determined reasonable amount of ammunition for it–akin to buying a printer and an ink cartridge.
But, if I walk into a store, as someone that has never purchased a gun before, alarm bells should go off when I attempt to purchase extreme levels of ammunition, such as the James Holmes case that led to the Aurora, CO theatre shooting.
If I walked into Staples, and asked for the fastest printer they sold, and every ink cartridge for it, they would have reason to believe that I am performing an unusually high volume of printing. Perhaps they would perceive me as a publisher of a zine.
Modernizing the NICS system, by automating inter-agency communication, would not “impede” the right to bear arms–if anything, it would expedite processing for a vast majority of responsible gun owners.
In cases where states have implemented their own NICS programs, data gaps can also form when a transaction or update in a State NICS system is not synchronized with the Federal NICS system quickly enough. These cases make it possible to cross state lines and exploit old data in the background check system. Real-time submission of data is crucial for the reliability of a system like this. Realistically, a federal system with satellite state systems is a bad design for a system like this, as it violates the consistency principle of database systems–two identical queries should never produce different results.
Support for a solution
Here’s something I’ve learned: the Pro-2A crowd is a gullible cabal of very-marketable consumers. This might sound like a sweeping generalization, but the data suggest otherwise: the moment a gun violence story enters the news cycle, gun sales go up and ammunition sales go up. Frenzies around impending gun legislation cause gun shortages, ammunition shortages–and then, like clockwork, those interested in buying guns and ammo will say “There are no guns! There is no ammunition! That didn’t take long–they’ve already started taking away our guns!”
The obvious response is to hand the person a sheet of tin foil–so they can fashion a hat. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it is one of the best, most time-tested example of one, because it happens every time news of gun violence takes over our airwaves (which is increasingly frequent).
Here’s a fun activity…
Take the NRA’s biggest current deflection: The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Now, replace the word “gun” with literally any product, and see if it doesn’t just sound like a marketing ploy to twice as many products.
The only way to stop a bad guy with a hamburger is a good guy with a hamburger.NRA Logic
The gun show loophole is another obvious weakness in the federal system of controls surrounding firearm ownership for one reason: while an ATF 4473 is completed, it is not called in to NICS, and there is no duty to report the facts on the 4473 after the gun show. Any number of disqualifications for gun ownership can be misrepresented, and that misrepresentation will never be checked.
Should a gun purchased at a gun show ever have its chain of custody questioned, the gun shop is expected to have the 4473 on file for twenty years. Penalties for not having the 4473 which is a pittance compared to the real obligation that we have to our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. A recent statistic shows that an American has a 1 in 315 chance of death due to gun violence.
In recent years, nothing with regard to Americans dying by gun violence has changed, except the frequency and magnitude of mass shootings.
At the moment, the only thing that seems to change minds on the issue is personally experiencing gun violence, as Josh Abbot did after the Las Vegas Shooting in 2017, or losing a loved one to gun violence.
We have lots of non-intrusive high-tech options that would make gun buying more efficient and hassle free for 99% of consumers, while simultaneously increasing compliance with laws that are already on the books.
With almost 100% statistical certainty, I can predict more gun violence jamming up our news cycles before anything meaningful occurs.
Our options are to protest with our speech (calling senators and representatives, spreading the word), and to protest with our wallets (an effort to boycott the organizations supporting the NRA, for example)
The solution lies in legislation, and changing the way we run the show. But hey, if President Trump can single-handedly attempt to suspend the 14th amendment on a technicality, I think the Second Amendment is also ripe for review.