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home : opinion : opinion April 24, 2015

4/8/2013 12:32:00 PM
Publisher's Column Solutions require information

When our nation was founded, people faced a totally different world from the one we live in today. Most of them made their own clothes, often from wild game, hunted for most of their meat, belonged to what was known as the "universal militia" for defense against foreign invaders-most notably the English, French, Spanish and Indians-because they opposed standing armies such as we have today. People had to rely on themselves and their neighbors to defend against criminals. It was a far different world from the one we live in today in the United States.

Today, people buy their clothes and their meat retail-even most sport hunters. Today, a "universal militia" comprised of citizen warriors who provide their own weapons is impractical. No one in their right mind wants their neighbors armed with missiles, atomic bombs, drones and the many other weapons of modern warfare. We are today a nation very committed to standing armies as our defense against invaders. Today, we have sophisticated law enforcement agencies as our primary defense against criminals.

The world we live in today is a totally different world from the one in which our forefathers lived when they wrote the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Back in the 1970s when I was doing pre-sentence investigations for the Hennepin County Juvenile Court, youth gang members in the city were often unarmed, and when they were armed it was usually with knives. Over the years as youth violence has increased, they have escalated their armaments in pursuit of "self-defense." As guns have become the weapons of choice, the guns have gotten more sophisticated and numerous.

The deaths of young people have also become more numerous. Assaults with knives rarely resulted in deaths, compared to assaults with guns. Knives never went through walls to kill innocent children in their own homes. "Self-defense" through gun ownership has proven to be an illusive goal for youth gangs.

Guns for self-defense of homeowners doesn't seem to work much better for them than for youthful gang members. While there are rare instances where a homeowner has successfully used a gun to defend a home, in most cases their acts actually result in the gun being used on a family member.

Up-to-date data is almost impossible to find about the relationship between gun ownership, criminal use of guns and gun deaths because the National Rifle Association (NRA) has been so successful in getting laws passed to prevent local, state and federal government agencies, colleges and universities from collecting such data and in getting laws passed making it unlawful for any such information to be published by media or accessed by the public.

While it has been successful in preventing the collection and dissemination of factual data about the relationship between guns and criminal use of guns and gun deaths, the NRA has published volumes of unsubstantiated and misleading information, much of which is just plain bogus, claiming that gun ownership prevents violence and crime. The NRA would have us believe most gun violence is the fault of the mentally ill and criminals. It makes claims about the causes of gun violence that do not stand up to even the most cursory of examinations.

In the United States, on average there are three people killed by guns every hour, 90 on average every day.

Some are killed by mentally ill people with assault weapons as happened in Connecticut and Colorado, but the reality is that people who fit the legal/medical definition of mentally ill seldom kill people. Most of the people who use guns to kill do it to people they had a relationship with or to themselves. They are people who are going through some kind of stressor situation in their lives. They are our friends, neighbors, relatives or even our spouses or our children. Very few of these have exhibited evidence of mental illness until they pick up a gun and kill with it.

When criminals kill someone, it usually makes the national news, so one killing is presented so many places and so many times that almost everyone knows about it. It makes it seem like killing by criminals is very common. The facts don't support that conclusion. Criminals usually kill each other. Few homeowners are assaulted and killed by criminals. But...

That doesn't mean criminals do not have guns. Many gang members, especially adult gang members, and organized crime members carry authorized concealed weapons despite the efforts of their local law enforcement agencies to prevent them from legally carrying guns.

Many law enforcement agencies in our major cities have attempted to deny permits to known gang members and members of organized crime who have not yet been convicted of a crime or who have already served their sentence and been released. The NRA has successfully prevented law enforcement from denying concealed carry permits to these gang members and organized crime members by getting laws passed that make law enforcement agencies denying the permits liable for the criminals legal expenses in forcing issuance of the permits.

I do not have the solution to gun violence, and neither does anyone else at this time, because the NRA uses its clout to prevent everyone from getting data that could help come up with a solution.

Law enforcement agencies and city governments in major U.S. cities want to gather the data so they can take effective action to reduce gun violence.

Here in rural America where guns are really used for sport, we don't appreciate the need for accurate and timely information about guns and gun violence. We only see a couple gun deaths a year. In places where it is a daily occurrence, being able to access accurate and timely information is crucial to coming up with an effective response.

I always supported the Second Amendment, until the NRA began blocking efforts to gather data required to effectively get guns out of the hands of criminals and to effectively identify the causes of gun violence. I now believe, if having the Second Amendment means we can't as a nation study the root causes of gun violence, then maybe it is time to repeal the Second Amendment and replace it with one that recognizes the realities of today's world.

Larry Dobson

Claremont Service

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