Are firearms laws compliant with the Second Amendment possible, and can any such regulation actually save lives? These are the two questions central to the great American gun debate – well, the ones worth asking, anyway. There’s always the asinine “Can’t we just get rid of the Second Amendment?” But that’s hardly constructive.
Endeavoring to answer “yes” to both questions, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a 20-page report addressing the problems he has observed in the state and offering 12 recommendations to reduce gun deaths. While a few seem either suspiciously close to infringing liberty or simply unlikely to succeed, most of the suggestions on DePasquale’s list are – unlike most proposed laws granted the descriptor by the anti-gun left – common sense.
The Right Mindset
Of the 1,555 firearms related deaths in 2016, 63% were suicides.
Of the 1,555 firearms related deaths in 2016, 63% were suicides.
The first thing that stands out about DePasquale’s approach is that he focuses less on the weapons themselves and more on the various factors that might lead to violence, with seven of the 12 suggestions relating to the gun owner’s mental health or education. The closest any of his ideas comes to prohibiting the sale of firearms to anyone is insisting that sheriff’s departments more thoroughly vet concealed-carry applications for false information and that firearms dealers look for signs of suicidal behavior.
The overwhelming theme is that gun-related deaths in the state are primarily caused by mental health issues and lack of firearms education. DePasquale wants to expand access to mental health care – especially in rural communities – and mount a “culturally responsive public awareness campaign” to reduce the stigma of seeking help. All victims of suffering violence at home should be assessed and, if needed, connected with domestic violence programs for help and protection. The state should support hospital-based violence intervention programs that reduce the likelihood that victims will seek retaliation or suicide, or feel ashamed of what happened to them. He also hopes to see all physicians trained to screen their patients for risk factors.
Each of those includes the use of tax dollars, so they’re the borderline issues for those of us who only give in to the extortion – that is, pay our taxes – to avoid the government’s violent response should we fail to do so. And training doctors to talk about guns with every patient is worrisome, though DePasquale claims the discussions should focus on coaching patients on the proper use and storage of firearms, including not shooting themselves or others in fits of depression or rage.
A Good Education
In addition to the various mental health approaches, DePasquale recommends the Game Commission expand its hunter education program on firearm safety and create a voluntary program to train people on safe weapon use and storage.
While there’s an increased tax burden in the additional training programs, this might be one of those times when spending a little more up front actually results in money saved – not to mention lives. Over the last ten years, firearm-related deaths – whether they be suicides, accidents, or murders – have cost Pennsylvania taxpayers $1.5 billion in medical costs. From a strictly financial perspective, it doesn’t take many prevented shootings to pay for the state-wide education programs.
He advises everyone store their guns unloaded and locked away while not in use – and he wants medical professionals, police officers, and gun dealers to do the same – but does not suggest any law requiring storage restrictions. Let’s face it, that’s really not a bad idea.
Keep the “home-defense gun” out, loaded, and ready to go – otherwise, it’s useless as a defensive weapon. But what about your 12-gauge turkey gun, the .30-06 bolt action rifle for taking down deer across hundreds of yards of open fields, or the .444 Marlin lever gun for hunting in the brush, or the 8-gauge you inherited from your great-grandpappy but are terrified to shoot – never mind the handful you own just because they’re cool and you can? (Disclaimer: A better excuse might be needed for the spouse!) Wouldn’t it be best to keep those unloaded and locked in the safe?
In addition to the aforementioned increased scrutiny to concealed-carry applications, DePasquale also wants to see Pennsylvania participate in the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), which tracks the bullets and guns used in crimes in much the same way CODIS does DNA and fingerprints. Requiring all law enforcement agencies in the state to report all firearm data discovered at a crime scene to NIBIN builds a profile for each weapon. This gives investigators the extra information they need to link multiple crimes by the same perpetrator, and could easily lead to the capture of more violent criminals. Since NIBIN actively tracks only the guns used in crimes, it leaves the privacy of law-abiding citizens intact.
To further streamline investigation, the governor should sign an executive order that requires the state police to issue quarterly and monthly reports on lost and stolen guns and firearms-related criminal activity. This is another one of those that necessitates more tax-funded work, but again, it might just pay off in both dollars and lives.
DePasquale shines a light on a sad statistic in Pennsylvania: Of the 1,555 firearms related deaths in 2016, 63% were suicides. That’s pretty close to the national average. In 2016, the CDC reports that there were almost 60% more gun suicides than murders. Of the 19,362 homicides, 14,415 (about 74%) were shootings. Of the 44,965 suicides, 22,938 (around 59%) were by bullet.
But as sad as that is, there might not be much that can be done. While some of his suggested programs could well turn those considering suicide around, seeking to prevent those who are a threat to themselves from getting guns probably won’t save many lives – if any.
There are a lot of variables that go into a population’s suicide rate. However, let’s take a look at the U.K., Scotland in particular, where very few firearms are available to the average private citizen. According to the Office for National Statistics, there were 10.1 suicides per 100,000 in the U.K. altogether in 2017. Scotland’s 2017 per capita number is identical to that of the U.S. in 2016: 13.9. Since firearms are so heavily restricted – with handguns being banned nearly entirely with only a few rare exceptions – those who saw no other solution simply chose an alternative method. Hanging was the number-one choice, with poison being a close second.
On the Right Track
While DePasquale’s list of recommendations may not be perfect, it certainly seems he’s on the right track. Rather than attempting to ban firearms in general – or even to restrict who is allowed to buy them – he acknowledges the real problems: mental health issues and a lack of education. His suggestions, whether they work or not, at least address those issues. And of course, it is refreshing to see proposed solutions to the gun violence problem that don’t boil down to “repeal the Second Amendment.”