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Update: July 17, 2007

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Solutions to Gun Violence Can Be Found

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Photo by: J. Star; CC License
Everyone is going to have their say about the VA Tech shootings and it was predictable that those who believe in stricter gun control laws would use it as a rallying point for their cause. That doesn't make them wrong, though perhaps disrespectful and ill timed.

If you stop to consider what is being proposed, it's clear that stricter gun control laws won't stop incidents such as this one from happening again. Those laws are aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of people who we already know aren't responsible or stable enough to own them. The sad fact is there is no way you can prevent people who haven't gone south mentally from getting a gun if they were moderately normal at the time of the purchase.

You can't predict a mental breakdown with gun control laws, it just ain't gonna happen. It takes the wind out of the sails and forces you back to the drawing board.

Before I get into that, I'd like to note that there is significant precedence in this country against the second amendments guarantee of the right to own and bare arms -- specifically laws that forbid convicted felons from owning them.

To my knowledge, no court has ruled that these laws were unconstitutional, meaning there are circumstances and precedence for the abolishment of citizens owning firearms. I mention this because it is the number one defense for gun-rights advocates, even though it is fundamentally unsettled as a matter of law.

Likewise, courts have upheld states right to revoke voting rights from felons, even though the constitution makes explicitly clear that the right is not optional.

To return to path I was taking, I openly ponder the options left open for controlling radical gun violence. If we assume that banning private firearm ownership is out of the question for the time being, there is one option left open that could cleanly escape the second amendment and the entire constitution for that matter: ammunition.

While the right to own the weapons themselves may be constitutionally protected, no such right exists for ammo. It is well within the governments power to begin regulating the sale of ammunition so tightly that only a very select portion of the population would be eligible to purchase and own it.

Going above and beyond the so-called "carry" permits, the government could require extensive and regularly occurring training and testing, similar to what authorities are required to complete in order to carry a gun. If they felt the urge, Congress could prohibit civilian access to ammunition altogether, and there would be absolutely no legal recourse available.

You could defy the law and make your own, it's not an obscenely difficult process, but the point is people such as the VTech killer aren't in a condition conducive to spending a couple of weeks making their own ammunition.

While that is a solution, that doesn't mean it is a good one, or the right one. I can think of other things we can do to mitigate the inevitable mental breakdown and subsequent spree of violence. Had the man responsible for the VT murders not had access to a gun, he very well may have found other ways to express his rage and people might have still lost their lives.

I do not agree that allowing more guns into the populace -- that being primarily students or teachers -- is the solution to the problem. Undoubtedly you'd be placing weapons into the hands of the untrained and the unrestrained. Whereas a police officer may shoot to wound with the intent to apprehend, a frightened and untrained student might very well go for the kill shot (to the head), miss, and die anyway.

Worse yet, they may not clear their line of fire, and end up killing even more innocent people in the room directly behind the target.

In an atmosphere of extended confusion, it's conceivable that students may not know who the killer is, and their own classmate who is also carrying and possibly firing a weapon may be mistaken for the truth threat.

One ricochet, a pane of glass breaking and showering over your head, and you may end up in a firefight with your best friends instead of the killer.

One of the reasons I don't particularly approve of an armed citizen militia is that such a thing went the way of the dinosaur when our society evolved to the point where we created institutionalized protection services. In other words: police.

They go through training so that mistakes are minimized, and even so, it is not uncommon to see reports of police ignoring procedure or making mistakes with the ultimate result being the death of innocents. Even the police with their training and interest in protecting the public above all else, with their inevitable errors, how can we expect untrained citizens to do anything but make the situation ten times worse?

We must recognize that not all problems are literal in a way that can be boiled down to somebody not doing their job. Good people go bad all the time, it's the price we pay for not having a complete understanding of how the human mind and heart work.

This wasn't necessarily the fault of the campus officials, or police, or students, or the mans friends. I'm sure as often is the case, a multitude of things went wrong all at the same time. The pertinent thing to do is study the events that led up to the incident, and learn what we can from it.

To wrap this up, I would suggest that if students are so scared that they feel they have to be armed, I'd suggest taking the time to research alternative "less than lethal" defense tools. And yes, I'm talking primarily about tasers. Not the stun guns that require you to be within striking distance of the attacker, but the pistols that fire darts attached by wire to the weapon you hold in your hand.

They are expensive, they are controversial, but they are only rarely lethal, and have never been medically proven to be directly fatal. Not only would they allow you to protect yourself, they allow you to do so without placing other people in harms way.

I imagine that tasers are generally not allowed on a college campus, and that is one of the things we should be actively discussing this month -- not the quickest way to put more guns on the street or defending the rights of the insane to pack heat.

We are not living in the wild west where the only option to keep yourself alive is to have a bigger gun than anyone else. There are weapons you can buy that can do the job without killing or endangering anyone else. There are options available, but only if we choose to look beyond the thirst for revenge and the need to have the capability to retaliate in kind.

I choose to believe that the people who have died would want us to discuss how to prevent this from happening again in ways that aren't akin to simple reciprocation. We are smart and adaptive animals, we should use our ability to learn from this tragedy, or we're doomed to repeat it.

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The text of this article is Copyright © 2006,2007 Paul William Tenny. All rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Attribution by: full name and original URL. Comments are copyrighted by their authors and are not subject to the Creative Commons license of the article itself.