Issue: Gun and Weapon Control
It is the position of the NewUSA Issues Forum™ that no one has the right to threaten, harm, disable or kill another person using a weapon during the commission of a crime, with the exception of personal defense and defense of other persons. Guns can be one such weapon. Gun control is a topic that engenders strong emotional, philosophical, political, legal and constitutional issues and responses. The use of high powered automatic weapons (guns) to murder innocent children and adults in an elementary school in Connecticut (Dec. 15, 2012) brought to the forefront the problems of crimes with weapons. While there is truth to the statement that "guns don't kill people, people kill people," this simplificatioin does not take into account all circumstances of harm and death due to weapons. If the people of the United States are to confront the problems involving weapons, we are going to have to "get real" about all of the issues involved, and do something about all of them. These include, but are not limited to, the ready availability of weapons, the anger and stupidity of many people who can cause harm under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicants while in possession of weapons, the use of weapons in crimes, the lack of training in the safe use of weapons, improper safeguards in storing weapons, the problems of unrecognized and untreated mental illness, and ta major underlying problem, violent behavior in our population. It is therefore the purpose of this Issue area to address these subjects as separate topics, with initial suggestions provided in some cases by the Forum for discussion and consideration.
- Mandatory Incarceration for the Use of Weapons (including guns) in Crimes
- Carrying or Use of any Weapon (including guns) While Under the Influence
- Mental Illness and Weapon (including gun) Use
- Requirement for Training in the Safe Use of Weapons (including guns) Before Ownership
- Inheriting Weapons (including guns) of Deceased Persons
- Legality of Owning and Carrying Weapons (including firearms/guns)
- Violence and Weapon Use
- Availability of High Powered Assault-Style Automatic Weapons (including guns)
- Research and Collection of Data on Health Impacts of Weapon (including gun) Use and Ownership
- Background Checks on Purchase of Weapons (including guns)
- Liability Insurance for Owners of Weapons (including guns)
- Destruction of Weapons (including guns) Used in Crimes or Available to the Convicted Person
- Mandatory Incarceration for Use of Weapons (including guns) While Under the Influence
- National Lethal Weapon (including gun) Buy-Back Program
It is the position of the Forum that no one has the right to use a weapon of any kind to threaten, harm, disable or kill any other person in the commission of a crime. It is therefore proposed that when a person is convicted of a crime, and has used an identifiable weapon in the undertaking of that crime, mandatory and non-pardonable periods of incarceration shall be assigned for the use of the weapon (of any kind). Incarceration for commission of the crime itself can be adjusted, and a probation for that time can be judicially administered. If one or more persons is threatened during the commission of a crime with a weapon, or testifies to feeling threatened (supported by a counselor), a jail term of one (1) year per person threatened shall be mandatory (maximum of 5 years for multiple persons). If one or more persons is harmed during the commission of a crime with a weapon, a jail term of three (3) years per person harmed shall be mandatory (maximum of 9 years). If one or more persons is permanently physically disabled in any manner during the commission of a crime, a prison term of seven (7) years per person shall be mandatory (maximum of 21 years). If a person is killed in the Commission of a crime with a weapon, a prison term of 45 years shall be mandatory. If more than one person is killed, then the mandatory sentence shall be life in prison, with no allowance for parole. If the person is convicted of killing one or more persons, in the commission of two separate crimes, that person can receive the death penalty from the jurisdiction in which the second crime occurred (if legally allowed).
Accepting that under the U.S. Constitution any citizen has the right to bare arms, there is no reason for or requirement that any person be allowed the right and privilege to carry any weapon while under the influence of alcohol or any other intoxicant or performance altering illegal medication or drug. The risk of other persons to harm by accident or bad behavior, due to any such impairment, is not a situation that needs to be allowed. It threatens the personal rights of any person under risk of such a threat. It is therefore the initial position of the Forum that when a person is found to be in the possession of a weapon, and simultaneously "under the influence" and legally impaired, that person shall be required to immediately surrender the weapon in his or her possession (at that time). Upon legal proof of that impairment, the weapon shall be confiscated, and under judicial order, shall be dissembled and/or destroyed, and its component parts disposed of.
One element associated with harm, disability or death involving the use of weapons is the mental illness of some persons purchasing, owning, or otherwise obtaining weapons. While it appears that mental illness per se is not the major element in harm associated with the use of weapons, we collectively must deal (and spend the money to deal) with the problem of mental illness in the United States. We are now at a time when treatment for mental illness will be receiving parity with medical illness in terms of availability of medical reimbursement. We may not have uniform availability, however, of enough trained and qualified mental health practitioners to deal with the situation, with regard to both acute treatment and also the provision of a continuum of care for mentally challenged and impaired individuals after initial treatment. It is therefore the position of the Forum that financial, therapeutic, and educational resources have to be assigned and developed to enable the proper identification and care of mentally ill individuals, so as to reduce the risk that they will do harm to others using weapons. Input on methods to achieve these objectives is solicited.
One of the problems associated with misuse of weapons and accidental harm due to the possession of weapons is the lack of training in the safe use and storage of the weapons. Organizations that could provide safety training include public safety and military organizations, as well as recognized sporting organizations authorized to do so by public safety officials. It is the position of the Forum that at the time of purchase or transfer of any weapon, either from a registered dealer in an establishment or at a public sale site, or by or from one individual to another under any circumstances (including inheritance), the demonstration of certification of safety training by the recipient will be required. In all cases, the person or entity legally transferring the weapon, and the person receiving the weapon, must both retain a copy (paper or electronic scan) of that certification of training for five (5) years from the date of sale (or transfer). This requirement does not require state of national registration of the ownership of the weapon.
One source of weapons, not regularly discussed, is the distribution of the lethal weapons owned by an individual who passes away. While distribution of this type of private property may be specified in a will, it may also be simply handed over or taken by a family member or friend. The original owner may have been trained in weapon safety and use, and even be licensed to carry, but the persons "downstream"may not be in the same situation. This is a problem that needs to be considered and discussed. An initial suggestion is that the possession of selected weapons cannot be transferred to the possession of any other individual without that individual being able to demonstrate to an officer of the court that they have the appropriate training in safe weapon handling and any laws that apply to ownership and/or posession of weapons, and weapon transport to their place (country, state/city/county) of possession.
Under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, every person has the right to own and legally carry firearms (guns). There is an assumption that with this right, the individuals owning, possessing or having access to firearms will act in a responsible manner, and not place themselves or other persons at risk of harm. It is clear that across our nation, this is not the case. There needs to be an open and public discussion at all levels of government, not about the right to own firearms and other weapons, but who and under what conditions firearms and other weapons can and should be owned by, possessed by, and transferred from one person (or group/organization) to another. It is suggested that this conversation and development, modification and application of existing or new laws should address situations involving a) training, b) past criminal activity, c) mental health status, d) addictive behaviors associated with periods of "loosened" responsibility, e) violent and aggressive behavior, and f) domestic abuse. This topic is to address the generality of the benefits and real problems that can be foreseen with the development and application of such legal requirements. Individual topics can/may be available in the Forum to address each of these areas separately.
Everyone has the right to defend themselves, and those for whom they have responsibility, against violence and the threat of violence. Everyone therefore has the right to prepare themselves to do so. This includes the ownership and use of weapons. At the same time, it is the position of the NewUSA Issues Forum® that no one has the right to threaten, harm, disable or kill someone with a weapon. An underlying problem with misuse of weapons, legally obtained or otherwise, is the propensity for violence in our society. This can potentially lead to a decision by an individual to use a weapon to threaten, harm, disable or kill other persons. This topic area proposes that crimes of violence with weapons lead to mandatory jail sentences, and confiscation of all weapons available to the criminal at any level of judicial decision.
Considerable attention is being focused on the multiple killings (and other harm) that can occur to several persons in one incident when a high powered automatic weapon is used by a perpetrator. While the purchase of truly automatic military-style assault weapons apparently faces considerable paperwork to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and is banned in many states (with new ones being banned), the same is not always the case for semi-automatic weapons that can be purchased and retrofitted to function as an automatic weapon. The current relative ease of purchase of semi-automatic assault-style weapons (that can be altered) and the ammunition for them (high capacity gun clips for example) therefore remains an issue. While ownership of weapons is legally protected by our constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, there is no "requirement" in the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution that any and all types of weapons be allowed in the hands of our citizenry. It is the initial position of the Forum, based on the societal risk and demonstrated damage that has been done to persons using high powered semi-automatic weapons, that the majority of military-style semi-automatic assault weapons should be banned from public display, transport, and use by any person other than those who are currently serving in a public safety or military capacity. It is also the position of the Forum that any weapon that is or becomes identified in legislation as improper for ownership and/or transport, and that is currently in the collection of individuals or organizations, shall not be taken from that collection. However, transfer of the possession and ownership of military-style semi-automatic weapons should be severely restricted to qualified individuals or organizations.
There is concern that research into the adverse health impact of weapons (in particular guns) will lead to laws impacting on weapon ownership. That is very possible. Regulations in the public sector involving health impacts apply to many items that have or can be used as weapons. These include potentially hazardous chemical agents (mutagens, carcinogens, poisons, narcotics, etc., with some being in household products), biological agents (Category A terrorism agents, such as anthrax, smallpox, etc., as well as Category B and C agents), physical agents (ionizing radiation, ultraviolet light , etc.) and destructive physical weapons (fire, explosives, guns, brass knuckles, switchblade knives, etc.) If there is a problem with any agent in the environment that could prove (or is suspected) to be hazardous to human, animal and/or agricultural health, it is essential that we know about the routes of exposure, accumulation of damage, dose involved, etc., so that the risks can be determined, and reasonable decisions made. There is no legitimate reason that this logic should be avoided in the conversation about guns. It is the position of this Forum that appropriate research questions should be developed, respecting privacy and weapon owner's rights, and that such research be allowed, encouraged and financially supported.
The sale of guns by registered weapons dealers requires a national background check. In many states, this is not required when a purchase is made at an open public market, or during a private sale or other transfer (e.g. inheritance or gift) of a weapon. The background, character and mental health situation of a person receiving a weapon can be such that others may be put at risk. It is the position of this Forum that any and all transfers of weapons (in particular guns) only be allowed after a national background check of the potential recipient is performed by the conveyor. This would be accomplished through the services of either a legally recognized person or organization. It should also be a requirement that the person (organization) providing/conveying the weapon maintain written and/or electronic proof that national background check was performed for five (5) years after the transfer, and the person (or organization) receiving the weapon should maintain a copy of that proof of background check during the time that the weapon is in his/her/its possession. It is proposed that the failure of either the conveyor or the recipient of the weapon to make proof of such a background check available, at the request of a public safety official or a court order, should result in financial and possibly other civil or criminal penalties to the person making the transfer (including loss of license to sell).
The Forum proposes that liability insurance be required of a seller, conveyor or owner of a designated weapon, when such weapon can cause threat, harm, disability or death of other persons, and when any such designated weapon is possessed or transported off of the private residential property of the seller, conveyor or owner. The model for this liability insurance system is the requirement for insurance upon motor vehicle registration, and would allow for categorization (to he developed) of different classes of weapons, based on the potential harm that can be associated with harmful use of that class of weapon. Because the insurance system does not impact on ownership and transport of the designated classes of weapons on private residential property, it is considered by the Forum not to conflict with Second Amendment rights of home protection as interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States.
When an individual uses a weapon in the commission of a crime, the weapon can be removed from the possession of the suspected persons by judicial action. It is the position of the Forum that upon conviction for any crime related to the possession of that weapon, the weapon involved should under judicial order be disassembled and all of its parts destroyed. The only exception would be that, if it were judicially determined that the weapon was of historical value, it could be donated by the court to a recognized non-profit historical organization. This would be done with the proviso that the weapon should never be allowed to be transferred (at any future time) into the possession of any other individual or non-historical organization. It is also the position of the Forum that if a person is killed by the use of a weapon in the commission of a crime, any other lethal weapons owned by the convicted person that are determined by investigators to be in the residence or any storage facilities rented or used by the convicted individual, shall also be transferred to the jurisdiction of the court and likewise disassembled and destroyed.
The use of a weapon by a person under the influence of a behavior altering substance, in a manner that can threaten or result in harm, disability or death of another person, can be a difficult situation to adjudicate. However, if there is verifiable evidence of intent to threaten, harm, disable or kill another person, while under the influence, then the use of any weapon that is decided by the judicial system to be such (be it a stone, brick, gun, hand, fork, car, etc.) upon conviction of any crime shall be subject to the schedule of mandatory incarceration sentences proposed for any crime performed with a weapon present.
A federally funded program to share in the cost of the buy back of identified lethal weapons is proposed. A department of the federal government would be funded and authorized to contribute 50% of the cost of each lethal weapon turned in to a local or state agency participating in a weapon buy-back program. The list of lethal weapons and specific components of weapons, and the dollar amounts to be applied for return of each type, would be set at the local or state level, with a maximum federal contribution being reviewed every four (4) years. The federal agency would be authorized to participate during three time periods; April/May (prior to Mother's Day), August (prior to the start of most school years), and November (prior to Thanksgiving). Federal funding would be contingent upon the destruction of all (but historically significant) weapons turned in. The latter would be destroyed if not accepted by a recognized non-profit historical museum.