Editor's note: The author was a member of the Rights side of the recently disbanded Gun Rights and Responsibilities Committee, a citizens group that met for 11 months to see if it was possible to reach common ground on specific measures to reduce gun violence. He wishes to emphasize that he is speaking for himself, not for the Rights side of the committee.
I have learned a lot about gun violence in the United States over the past year. Suicide is more of a mental health issue than a gun issue, gun-related injuries and deaths among children have drastically decreased since the 1960s, as have injuries and deaths from firearm accidents.
Gun violence today is caused by criminals and, to a lesser degree, the dangerously mentally ill (DMI). Efforts over the past decades have focused on restricting gun possession by law-abiding citizens (more successful) and criminals and the DMI (unsuccessful). The persistence of gun violence is not surprising since law-abiding citizens do very little gun violence.
I am impressed with how many gun-related injuries and deaths are armed attacks or executions where the shooter has a gun and the victim does not. Very few gun-related injuries and deaths occur during actual gunfights where both parties have guns. (Why aren't gun owners attacked as often as unarmed individuals?)
I propose changing the focus from the gun to the shooter. The shooter needs a gun, a criminal act, and a target to do damage.
How does society prevent the shooter from getting a gun — or disarming the shooter if he gets a gun?
Potential shooters are easy to identify — disproportionately males, age 15-25 years, convicted felons, known street-gang members (the few not included in the prior two categories), domestic abusers, violent paranoid schizophrenics and bipolars with violent manic phases. The trick is how to deal with them without trampling upon their constitutional rights.
Currently, the Chicago Police Department keeps paper cards with information from stops of suspicious individuals that do not result in arrest. (Interestingly, this is how the suspects in the Hadiya Pendleton shooting were apprehended.) Current sociological research has found that interacting with certain other individuals (felons, gang members) puts individuals at increased risk of a violent death.
We know who they are. We need a way to track these individuals. Illinois already has a functioning Firearm Owner's Identification Card (FOID) system in place. Why not create an un-issued FOID card for convicted felons, domestic abusers, known street-gang members (if not already picked up by the first two categories), violent paranoid schizophrenics and bipolars with a history of aggressive manic phases?
This information would then be readily accessible to the authorities — law enforcement, public health, social services, schools, etc. — and the approach would be extendable nationally with each state implementing its own system.
Once the potential shooters are tracked, they can be approached, counseled, provided financial support while learning a skill so they can support themselves, warned, hassled (if necessary) or arrested. Gang members are the vast majority of shooters — get the guns away from them and aid them in getting out of the gangs.
But distract them from violent activity right now by persistent contact and reminders that possessing a gun is a no-no and they will go to jail.
The DMIs are a smaller proportion of the shooters but they cause a large amount of damage in a short time. Their behavioral histories are usually replete with red flags. By personal interview, home searches, review of cellphone and credit card records, etc., gun possession by these individuals could be determined. How do we deal with them without singling them out and treating them unconstitutionally?
There are ways to deal with the DMI that do not infringe upon rights. For example, the psychiatrist of the Aurora theater shooter notified University of Colorado police of written threats against her a month before the shooting. The University Police did nothing because the student was no longer enrolled and not under their jurisdiction. The ball was dropped after a legal identification of a potential shooter was made. Allow the authorities to act when presented with a psychiatric threat.
When gang violence flares up, gang members are "contacted" — the area is flooded with police and (surprise) the shooters head elsewhere until the police leave. A less manpower-intensive form of persistent contact might include phone calls, emails, tweets, letters, randomly generated home visits, etc. In other words, keep them busy so they have no chance to get their gun and use them in a crime.
The past and current gun control focus on law-abiding citizens is akin to looking for your lost keys under the streetlight because the light is better rather than in the dark alley where you actually lost the keys.
I propose focus on the shooters rather than the gun in order to decrease gun violence.
I welcome comments, corrections, suggestions, violent disagreements, name-calling, etc. I only wish I was smart enough to say the above comments are the answer to the problem of gun violence. (If I was that smart, I would be charging $600/hour to tell this to high-level government officials instead of to the Journal readers for free!)
Next week, fewer targets for the shooters.