Gun Debates Don’t Fix People Problems

It’s only a few weeks after  what happened in Aurora that we see it again:  One person steals life from another. He shows the world how little he values life— and he really worships death in cruel and sick ways. Though we are all equally given life, he believes we are not all equally deserving. He is both selfish and self-loathing, and this fuels his rage. He sets a goal to take as many lives as possible and proceeds to build a plan for carrying out his task. He picks his tools, and when his victims least expect it, he springs hatred and death upon them.

This is not a new story; we can’t even get through the first four chapters of Genesis without witnessing murder. We see the story retold in 16th century Mexico with cannons and  few horses. We find it in Rwanda with machetes. We’ve seen it in Japan with sarin gas. We’ve seen it in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. with airplanes, and we’ve seen this story told with guns. Evil is perpetrated by the person, not the tool. We need to stop talking about a ‘gun control’ problem and start talking about the people who use them.

Tools are Tools

A gun in the right hands can protect someone from harm, save a nation, or feed a family. A gun in the wrong hands can kill a person, destroy a nation, and starve a city. It’s a tool, like any other. I shoot some guns for fun, and others I use for protecting my family.   I fly every few weeks for work, and I use a machete often for gardening. Guns, airplanes, knives and horses are all tools.

You don’t blame the hammer for the work of a shoddy carpenter, so why blame the gun for the work of a murderer? We need to stop blaming the tools for the work that the hands do.


We need to fix our language

Let’s quit calling it “Gun Control”

Gun Control? Really? We think we can “control” who uses a gun, and for what purpose? We think we can “control”  the finger that’s on the trigger? Let’s look at what the word really means:

to exercise restraint or direction over; dominate; command.

Let’s get semantic for a second. Do we really think we can ever force restraint and direction, or command how anything can be used? Can we really ‘control’ how someone uses a tool? Granted, in the US, with New York City as an example, it seems as though  the government is attempting to exert ‘control’ over the behaviors of people. Beverages and breasts are apparently controllable in the eyes of Mayor Bloomberg. Is that really going to stop the mother who simply can’t nurse, or the father who really needs his Big Gulp? Really? Can you control how criminals will use guns? After all, non-criminals are exercising restraint with how their guns are used.

Can we please start calling this a “gun usage” issue.  Isn’t that the problem; some people use the guns for bad reasons? Let’s focus on the trigger finger, not the tool.

Let’s learn the labels for our guns

First of all, let me be the first to acknowledge that I am not an expert on guns or gun law. I’m guilty of using the wrong labels and I’m sure that I’m not the only one.

An Assault Rifle is the standard infantry weapon in most armies. The Assault Rifle is fully automatic, it uses an intermediate cartridge, and it has a detachable magazine. The Assault Rifle is fully automatic and can have a selective fire switch for semi automatic. A fully automatic weapon is one where a single pull of the trigger gets you multiple bullets. It is extremely difficult for civilians to get their hands on an Assault Rifle. I’ve only known one person with a fully automatic weapon and when I asked about how he got it, his story sounded a tad like the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy told through government bureaucracy.

An Assault Weapon doesn’t have a strong definition, but we get that definition out of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. An Assault Weapon is a semi-automatic rifle with a detachable magazine and it can have one or more of these:  folding or telescopic stock, a pistol grip, a bayonet mount, a flash suppressor or threaded barrel, or a grenade launcher. The Assault Weapons ban didn’t do anything to define the lethality of a weapon at all; it included specific brands and models, and otherwise referenced firearms that looked like assault rifles. Following this logic, penguins are midgets in tuxedoes. This is a flawed term that we shouldn’t be using at all.

Semiautomatics have been around for a long time and most guns we know are probably semiautomatic. After you pull the trigger, a single bullet gets fired, the casing is automatically ejected, and the next round is automatically chambered. A semiautomatic gun gets its name because the gun automatically performs the steps to get the next bullet in the chamber. Only if it were fully automatic would it then shoot the bullet, too.

Assault Rifle is a two-word term that easily denotes a fully automatic, military issued rifle. Assault Weapon is not the equivalent for civilians. The media and others (like myself) can mistakenly circulate the term “Assault Rifle” because we don’t have a simple term that categorizes the semiautomatic AK or AR-15 together. We need such a term that can keep the media and folks like me from using the wrong one.

We need to fix the debate

Let’s stop building our argument on the second amendment

I’m sure many will think I have the wrong perspective on the 2nd amendment, but this is still my opinion alone. I don’t see the 2nd amendment as the originator of our right to bear arms. I see our right to  bear arms originating in the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. At least in my opinion, the 2nd amendment protects that right, it does not produce that right. In my eyes, the Bill of Rights is a collection of constitutional amendments that protect rights that we already had.

Because I think that our right to bear arms goes deeper than the 2nd amendment, I really do think we need to stop justifying gun ownership with the 2nd amendment. After all, it is possible to overturn the 2nd amendment. It is not easy, but it can be done.

If we can’t argue for why we need the second amendment, some day it could be overturned. Let’s build our argument on the right to life, and position the 2nd amendment as its shield.

Let’s stop regurgitating the 2nd amendment argument

If we can get the idea in our minds that the second amendment is the protector, not the originator, of a right to own guns, we need to stop puking it up every time someone approaches the ‘gun debate’. Every time someone challenges whether we need 100 round drums for an AR-15, we shouldn’t shut the door on the debate by shouting, “2nd amendment says so!” Every time someone questions whether a magazine on an AK-47 should have more than 10 rounds, we can’t cough out “right to bear arms” and turn around. When someone proposes background checks, waiting periods, or even training for guns before you buy them, we need to stop beating people with the Bill of Rights. If we can’t explain why the 2nd amendment protects our right to own a 30-round magazine, or why the 2nd amendment protects our right to purchase a gun without a background check, training, or a waiting period, we destroy the only  shield that protects our right to life.

We have to realize that while the 2nd amendment protects our rights to bear arms, if we can’t form a valid argument against regulations, that goes deeper than this amendment, we’re at risk of losing it altogether. 

Let’s try having a conversation about guns

Folks on the right of the gun debate can’t continue down the path of “2nd amendment says so” any more than the ones on the left can cry  for control. Both arguments are incredibly flawed and neither gets us to a solution. I am truly afraid of losing my right to own guns because no one wants to have a dialogue. If we keep standing on the 2nd amendment instead of behind it, it’ll collapse underneath us when we could have been holding it up. If folks on the right won’t come to the fence to at least have a conversation, the ones on the left will eventually win.

And for you guys on the left, think for a moment that you were in that theater in Aurora. Did a single law protect anyone from James Holmes? Would an ordinance have saved anyone from Wade Michael Page? Laws don’t stop bullets. Laws don’t change the choices that people make. Laws just change how we view those choices. We need to stop fighting evil with legislation.

Let’s Treat the Disease, not the Symptoms

Let’s find the common problem

Wade Michael Page is a veteran of the US Army. He held no college degree.  His mother died when he was young. His criminal record shows a DUI and criminal mischief. He had some misconduct in his military record, though he was still honorably discharged.  He was active in punk bands that endorsed neo-naziism and white power. He was active in hate-based communities. He purchased a 9mm handgun and eventually used it to take lives. His actions are now labeled as domestic terrorsim. He took his own life at the end of his shooting.

James Eagan Holmes had no firearms experience. He held good grades and was working on a Ph.D. His parents are still together.  He had no criminal history. He allegedly filled a notebook with details of his plan. He bought an AR-15, thousands of rounds of ammo, handguns and a shotgun, and chemicals to make bombs. His alleged actions are labeled as a massacre. He turned himself over to police.

The common thread isn’t bullets

Some folks put bullets at the center of the problem. But we have different guns, different calibers, and different complexities of the attack. What we really have in common is the hatred for human life. We have someone who was a member of white-power music bands. We have someone who creeped out a gun range owner enough that he refused membership to James Holms. We have people who showed a pattern of mental instability.

Another man, Charles Whitman, showed mental instability, too. He was court-martialed in the Marines, but ultimately honorably discharged.  He was attending the University of Texas.  After the prescriptions of several university doctors didn’t work, he made his rounds with several psychiatrists. His violent impulses were coming more and more frequently. At last, he gave in.  He killed his mother and wife with a knife, and then entered a clock tower with a sawed off shotgun, several handguns, and a bolt action rifle. He ultimately murdered 13 and wounded 32 others.Whitman’s weapons of choice weren’t Assault Rifles, Assault Weapons, or even semiautomatics according to any law past or present. Any tool is a weapon in the hands of a murderer.

What’s wrong with people?

Mental illness manifests itself in many different ways and leads to many different actions.  I am inclined to think that what happens, sometimes, is that sick people do sick things.

Do I think that James Holmes, Wade Page, or Charles Whitman are necessarily mentally ill? I’m not sure. But there was definitely something wrong with their minds. I don’t know if it was a treatable sickness or an untamable sociopathy or psychopathy. Doesn’t matter. They stopped caring about the lives of others, and then started taking them. It’s something that others should have been able to see beforehand.

What can we do about people?

Why was a gun range operator more in tune with the stability of James Holmes than his own peers in the neuroscience department?  Was the Southern Poverty Law Center really tracking Page? Would the seller have sold the gun if he knew that?

I don’t know what  we can do about people like this. We have a mental health problem that can manifest itself violently. Should mental health checks be mandatory? I don’t think so. Should we look into a person’s affiliation with different groups before issuing a gun? That’s a slippery slope where a ‘questionable group’ can get redefined at every election; we could start with white power and end up at Chick-Fil-A.  More thorough background checks?That still wouldn’t have worked with James Holmes.

What Would Help?

Would Training Work?

I’ve suggested this before. Forget doing it with just rifles.  What if it were for all guns, FFL holders being  the only ones excluded? I don’t know what we can do other than stick a gun buyer in a room with other people for a few hours. Let’s make our civilians better-prepared to respond to a threat. Let’s see if firearms instructors, and even others in a room, can notice if something’s off with a person.

Maybe we’ll catch something with the guy that’s had to go through four trainings in a month for an AR-15, an AK-47 and two handguns. Maybe the guy that’s a little too glib about shooting people. Maybe someone has unhealthy undertones about a government official.

Do I know what we’d do in a training class where someone thinks that a buyer doesn’t need his gun? No. I don’t.

Should Schools Pay More Attention?

Would it really help if schools, teachers, and professors had a platform or a place to share concerns about their children? Maybe. Would it help if schools could report both bullies and the bullied? Do most schools even offer a place to share concerns about violence?  What should the schools do when they see violent students? When do they need to report violent behavior, if ever?

Are public schools really eliminating counseling and psychological help from their budgets? If we’re scared about violence in the one place where the teachers can’t be armed, wouldn’t it be important to keep counseling on the payroll?

What if the Parents Paid Attention?

Especially in the Columbine shootings, parents were shocked. What’s wrong with reading your kids’ diaries? What’s wrong with checking their Facebook accounts? Who says a child has a right to privacy on their cell phone? What if the next shooting is planned out on their laptop? Would it be worth invading the privacy of your child if it could save lives?


I don’t have many ideas on where to go, but I want us to focus on the real problem. It’s a problem with people— and maybe we’ll find the answer by focusing on the person, instead of the tool.




  1. //

    Frank, I think you take a reasonable approach to this whole topic. I find myself in the same camp. We need to do something, but banning guns is not the answer. I think there is something that might help, along iwth the training, which is necessary. When I applied for my gun license I had to submit letters of reference to say that I was competent and safe to be a gun owner. Of course the letters needed to contain enough information so tha they could be verified. This kind of requirement might offer a way to keep guns out of the hands of some of the crazies and plotters. It’s not terribly onerous for the applicant, but it does offer a way to bring the human element into the process.

    1. //

      Thanks Benjamin,

      I’m really split down the middle with your suggestion. One the one hand, I really don’t like regulations and restrictions that make it harder for law-abiding civilians to protect themselves. So on one side, I want to use the ‘2nd amendment argument’ and state that my ability to own a gun is protected under the second amendment. On the flip side, if I go past the 2nd amendment and look at what it really protects, I don’t know that a license or letters-of-recommendation are truly preventing my ability to protect a right to life.

      On one hand, I see that a ‘letters of recommendation’ approach could be dangerous; if I’m being threatened by an employer I don’t want them to have to write such a letter, nor would you want an abusive husband to write one for his estranged wife. Additionally, I could easily see how this could be exploited, where all members of a white-power group could write letters for each other.

      But again, on the other hand, if James Holmes’ professors were notified that he was buying guns and asked if they thought he were fit to have them, then I think we’d have a different outcome in Aurora. And if someone around Wade Page could tell authorities that he was a member of a hate group, then the outcome could have been different, too.

      So I see a lot of challenges with the ‘LOR’ approach, and my knee-jerk reaction is to immediately shoot it down… but if I really look at what we’re trying to prevent, I don’t know how bad it really is.

      What if we had a mixed approach, where training might be a good idea for all guns, but you only had to get an LOR if you were purchasing semi-auto rifles? That puts handguns more easily accessible to protect yourself, but makes weapons that have the potential to do more harm just a little bit harder to get. Of course, the downside is that someone intending to do a lot of harm just buys more handguns, but maybe we find them in a training class? I don’t know…. let’s think about this some more.

  2. //


    You are at the root of a complex problem here. There is no check box option a or b answer. There is only interpretation of events, actions and attitudes. Neither side of the argument would like this approach because it wouldn’t be nice and tidy in a box. Odly that is probably why a well reasoned approach like this should be considered, discussed and modified for requirements. We need to look at these problems from all sides, not just the talking points fed to us by one political view point or the other.

    I admire your courage and wit.

    1. //

      Thanks, Dave!

      If there’s one thing I want to push for, it’s using our brains to make rational decisions. All I ask is that the cool and level-headed among us do the same; express that problems like massive gun violence aren’t fixed in 2-5 talking points in a presidential debate. It’d be nice to make black and white decisions, but we live in a gray world, so what can we do?

  3. //

    I think these are all really good ideas. Liberty is a tricky thing, and it is tempting to think that one man lives alone in the world, living with his choices and the repercussions of such. I think that this point of view often leads us down a path that is inconsiderate to others. The fact is, as my grandfather was so fond of telling me, that most of your rights end where another man’s nose begins. I like that phrase because it is a good way of seeing that your right to make decisions for yourself is not boundless. I like the point about standing behind the 2nd ammendment and not on it.

    My parents raised me with very conservative views on guns. The concept that gun control legislation only removes firearms from law abiding citizens and leaves them defenseless against those who plot evil is not a new one. With that background in mind, one might consider a time in the U.S. where a person’s protection from evil was his firearm. In those days, “outlaws” were pursued and brought to small town justice (or simply hung from a tree branch, if you were in a wild enough place). This concept always bothered me because it turns a normal person into the judge over someone else’s life. In fact, it turns a biased person into the judge over another person’s life. To me, that’s not justice, that’s simple, ugly, brutal, physical victory. As flawed as it is, I tremendously appreciate that our society is heavily legislated regarding guns. I appreciate that I have reasons, in the event I am harmed, not to sink to the level of the person harming me and take justice into my own hands. On a moral ground, to me that stands very high. It is so easy to sink into a state of revenge. So, beyond the logistical reasons given in a previous article about why arming citizens is probably not the smartest way to go, I think this could be added to the reasoning.

    Something to consider in your attempt to change the discussion from one about gun control to one about gun usage, you might consider a “return to community.” Our mobility as living creatures is extremely high. I think a high percentage of people live a long way from where they were raised. I am a second generation transplant. My parents picked me up out of roots and moved to a new place for new opportunities, themselves, and now I have done the same. The difference is that I recognize the value of community. I got out of my way to know people and have people know me because I have been too often devoid of the way helping others and being helped by others as a matter of course is rich in one’s life.

    This takes a lot of time, especially when you’re not living somewhere the rest of your family lives and you haven’t been there very long. This takes tremendous gumption, too, other people don’t always want to form new relationships with strangers, often they don’t, and they keep their distance in several ways. There is nothing like being accountable to people who have demonstrated their affection toward you in a tangible way, like seeking you out to find out how your day or your week is going on a regular basis and waving to you at the store. It would be nice if we would all make up our minds to get to know our neighbors and our neighbors’ neighbors, but I doubt that would happen. Sometimes it is unpleasant to do so, often times we find ourselves with more obligations, which can be tedious and depleting. We would rather just go home and watch a movie in the evenings. Still, there is no denying the benefits that people who are deeply rooted in a community receive. The little things really matter.

    As such, it might suffice, in the issue of gun usage, to create communities of gun owners and require attendance and participation. It is a hard moral question whether any possible good defends the right of one person to invade another’s privacy. I personally think that very, very little justifies this. I also think that if you are willing to invade another person’s privacy for the greater good, then you should not do so under the protection of law. In no position should you not be liable for the wrong of invading another person’s privacy in order to stop calamity. If it is truly worth sacrificing someone’s privacy to check on them, then it should truly be worth the punishment for doing so.

    If one’s barrier to continuance in a community is that you must socially engage them on a regular basis (go hunting together, go target shooting together, take ongoing education together– there is always more to learn about a gun! My husband taught me that)– etc., then maybe you could nip some of the behavior in the bud. If there are true warning signs that something is imminently happening, there is a community there to catch it, not just a single instructor. You can report that kind of suspicious behavior to the police the same way you would report someone else doing something strange to an appropriate official, and it can be investigated using the due process of law that we currently have in place. There is no test that cannot be foiled, but the test of ongoing community is among the harder ones to cheat. There will always be evil that perseveres, but making that a justification for invading other people’s privacy or taking away their rights is also evil. You can’t fight fire with fire, you always fight fire with water (or other dousing substance). You cannot battle another person’s will with the will of a populace, you must battle his will with persuasion, instruction, community, and internal accountability. If someone takes a willful individual under their wing in a community and gets them busy thinking about all the fun things they’ll do together and invites them to dinner with their family, that individual might be ashamed of their former intentions in the light of the eyes of their new friend. You might never know you averted a catastrophe. Isn’t that how it should be? Now willful individual A has friends and community and every reason to live and value life. It is not the breathing and the heart beat that make life worth living, and you cannot understand that without the presence of others in your life. No spouse or parent or friend can fill this void for another person by themselves, it is worth noting. This void needs to be filled by many others.

  4. //

    Frank, found you via and was pulled right in to the wider web site. I’m another media guy and I wish my writings were one tenth as relevant as yours. Excellent, excellent work.

Comments are closed.