The mass shooting that took place in Sandy Hook, Connecticut earlier this month, one of the worst in United States history and the seventh that took place in 2012, has brought gun control to the forefront of American consciousness.
President Obama has promised new gun control policies by early 2013; in the mean time, gun sales have spiked across the country, where 300 million guns, both legal and not, are estimated to be owned.
America is the most heavily armed country in the world, and the Supreme Court has upheld the individual right to bear arms numerous times. Guns aren’t going away, but we can mitigate gun violence. What we need are better gun owners.
What if we changed the way we see gun owners in America, specifically those who are licensed to carry? What if we upped their responsibilities? What if they were trained on par with police officers, or even soldiers? What if we felt safer knowing that some of our fellow citizens were not only armed, but looking out for us, ready to protect us, our children, our families and friends?
What if we put the “militia” back in the Second Amendment?
In Connecticut, concealed carry (CCW) pistol permits are available to those who pass a criminal background check, those who have not spent time in a psychiatric hospital per court order within the 12 months preceding application, and those who are at least 21 years of age. Applicants must complete an eight hour basic pistol course and practice live fire. They must also be photographed and fingerprinted. A “suitability clause” allows authorities to deny an application or revoke a permit if they feel a person should not have or carry a gun; similarly, a state statute also permits law enforcement officials to seize a person’s firearms if they are reported to be a danger to themselves or others. If denied a permit, applicants are able to appeal to the Board of Firearms Permit Examiners, comprised of seven members who have been appointed by the governor. CCW permits are good for five years, cost $70.00, and are issued within eight weeks.
A pistol permit, eligibility certificate, or supplemental firearm permit is required for the purchase of handguns, and shotguns or rifles are available to those 18 year of age sans permit after a waiting period of 14 days. The state has bans on some semiautomatic rifles and selective fire firearms (guns that have modes for both semiautomatic or automatic fire), save for those purchased before 1993. Machine guns are permitted within the state as long as they are registered annually, however, the law states that ammunition can not be in or near a machine gun, nor can a machine gun be taken from the owner’s place of residence.
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
These regulations make Connecticut one of the stricter states in terms of gun laws – for example, in Arizona, no permit is needed to purchase guns or to carry openly or concealed as long as one is 21 years of age, and there are no bans on assault weapons.
Still, Connecticut’s gun laws had little bearing on the Sandy Hook shooting. Adam Lanza was not eligible for a firearms permit due to his age. He did not own guns, and the ones he had, though purchased legally, were obtained illegally – he stole them from his mother, then used one on her.
Adam Lanza was not a gun owner or a permit holder, but the Sandy Hook shooting still begs for tighter gun laws and better firearms training. By state law, Lanza could have walked into a gun shop and bought the very same rifle he used to kill those 27 people, as long as he passed a background check and waited the required 14 days. It’s time to require permits for all firearms – especially semiautomatic weapons.
How did Lanza gain access to his mother’s guns? We still don’t know, but it’s possible that they weren’t properly secured. If this was the case, it’s arguable as to where responsibility lies – is the too lax gun owner to blame, or do we look to the system that allows for lax gun owners?
It is improbable that an eight hour training course could sufficiently cover all the aspects of owning and carrying a gun – handle, operation, maintenance, security, the ethics. This eight hour course is the sole training required for five years of a Connecticut CCW permit, and as long as the permit holder renews on time, this eight hour course is all that’s needed for a lifetime of gun ownership.
Maybe gun owners should not only be better trained but extensively trained. Maybe their training should be on par with local police, who train twice a year, are expert shooters and handlers, and are hyperaware of the ramifications of firing a gun at another person. Gun owners of this caliber could make us safer; they might even be able to halt a mass shooting.
A handful of iconic cases exist where civilians were able to successfully halt a shooting rampage, and in these cases, most of these civilians had been trained in the military, law enforcement, or security operations. In 1997, the assistant principal at Mississippi’s Pearl High School subdued a 16-year-old gunman – the AP was a member of the Army Reserves. A church security guard and former police officer took down a shooter outside a Colorado church in 2007. In 2008, a U.S. Marine took out a shooter in a Nevada bar.
Mass shootings begin and end with guns. Shooters are either killed or subdued by armed personnel, or they take their own life. This fact could bolster the argument of getting rid of guns altogether, or it could point to a more reasonable avenue – creating better gun owners and better gun laws, and maybe allowing guns in places we haven’t in the past. After all, what does a gun-free zone do to deter a killer? Responsible, well-trained gun owners are not what threatens a society; in fact, gun owners can be a threat to violence and those poised to commit it.
The exact intent of the Second Amendment is debatable, but the wording clearly connects one’s right to bear arms with “the security of a free state”. In 1791, a tyrannical government was the most daunting threat to this security; in 2012, when seven mass shootings took place throughout the U.S., we find that threat within our communities. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the significance of the “well regulated militia” cited in our right to bear arms. Perhaps it’s time to treat gun ownership not just as a right, but as a duty one chooses to take on, a duty to protect one’s self and one’s fellow citizens.