Last Tuesday, on Oregon Public Broadcasting's radio's "Think Out Loud" program, host Emily Harris interviewed Penny Okamoto, executive director of Ceasefire Oregon, an organization working to prevent gun violence, and Kevin Starrett, president of the Oregon Firearms Federation, a hard-line pro-gun organization.
The link to the episode's home page: http://www.opb.org/thinkoutloud/shows/reality-guns/. There you can listen to the entire episode as well as download the .mp3 file of it.
In my last post, I examined roughly the first half of the show and interview, with contrasting opinions on how to view a recent accidental shooting of a child and comparisons between death by car vs. death by guns. What follows is a review of the second half....
Next the show took a call from a caller named Heather, from Oregon City (the same city where the accidental shooting had been the week before). Heather described how her two boys had grown up around their father's guns, had been in Boy Scouts and learned gun safety, and had family friends in law enforcement who had guns and shown the boys safety training. Even so, after an incident when Heather's 7-year-old son had found a gun under a friend's parents' bed, and the lack of concern or compassion by those parents when confronted, she asked her husband to remove guns from their own home. She felt her sons were simply too curious and impulsive, just like, well, nearly all children are. They didn't even allow squirt guns.
Yet, despite all of her precautions, Heather's sons had been in the attic and found an unlocked gun there, tucked away and forgotten. Her 15-year-old said to his younger brother, "See, the safety's on. Click, click!" then he pointed the gun at his brother and pulled the trigger, thinking it was unloaded. The gun fired, and the younger boy was shot and injured (eventually making a full recovery). Heather admitted that it was her and her husband's own fault for not thinking to search the attic and took responsibility for the accident. She added that, though some blame lay on the 15 year old, children of that age are not fully developed and mature enough to resist their impulses.
When asked for their reaction to the caller's story, the responses from Okamoto and Starrett once again illustrated a major difference between the two sides:
Okamoto's response: "As a gun owner you need to be prepared to be responsible. When you purchase that weapon, you need to be prepared to say, 'Am I willing to bring this into my house where someone, my son, my daughter, could accidently shoot himself, shoot herself.'" "Some 60% of gun deaths are suicides. That gun owner needs to think about the reasons for having that gun and be prepared to take responsibility. Heather's case was different because they didn't even know there was a weapon in the attic." She later added, "Ceasefire teaches children gun safety in what to do when they find a weapon."
Starrett's response: "This was a situation where there was a terrible shooting that took place because, however well-trained these people felt they had trained their children, it wasn't sufficient. But it is far easier to gun-proof your children than to child-proof your guns." (I disagree with that statement!) "My children grew up in a house with a firearms instructor, and wouldn't in a million years dream of pointing a gun at another person. You have to take into account the maturity and the ability of each child involved." When the host pointed out that the caller questioned the maturity of a 15-year-old, Starrett added, "Well, you know, I have an 11 year-old who would never point a gun at another person. So, yeah, obviously every child is different. Kids go through extensive driver's ed and still go out and get killed in crashes because they have their friends in the car and they drive too fast and they exercise poor judgment. That is a responsibility of the parent to inculcate their children with the best information they can."
The contrasting responses are pretty typical of the two sides, I feel. Like Starrett, most pro-gun folks I've talked to or exchanged comments with on this blog use the "not my child" response. Parents are rarely willing to believe that they could have failed to instill sound judgment in their children -- until it's too late. I agree that children differ in maturity and impulsivity, but even the most responsible child will have moments of impulsive behavior, and you can't very well control the actions of their friends. I'm thinking the caller, Heather, probably would have used the "not my child" excuse about her sons prior to their own accident, too.
Okamoto's response, however, suggests that all gun owners should be prepared for the worst scenario and take responsibility for it. Guns and children don't mix.
[Among gun-owning parents who reported that their children had never handled their firearms at home, 22% of the children, questioned separately, said that they had. When household guns are kept locked up, youths typically know where the key is kept, the combination, or are able to break into the gun cabinet.]
The host, Emily Harris, next asked Okamoto and Starrett, "Do you share some common ground on who shouldn't have a gun, like people who have mental illnesses perhaps, or experiencing them at moment, or people who have felony backgrounds?"
Starrett: "I certainly think that anyone who is pre-disposed to acting violently or is not mentally competent should not have a gun. I think the difference is that I believe that many of the proposed solutions are fantasy. And in fact, I think in many cases are counter-productive. Trish [the Oregon State Police ID Services representative from earlier in the broadcast] was discussing the mental health changes that were made in 2009. Their records are frequently faulty and people who are entitled to guns are denied or delayed." He went on to complain of false-positives, where law-abiding people are confused as criminals and have to defend themselves at their own cost to qualify for gun purchase.
When asked by Emily about "false-positives", Trish indicated that she is "not aware of that being a problem."
Okamoto's response about common ground: "I have no idea. I know we shouldn't have felons with guns, or people with restraining orders, or people who have been adjudicated mentally ill. One of the problems we do have, however, is that when people go to purchase a weapon they go to a federally-licensed firearms dealer, they go to a gun show, they have to have a background check. But if you're a felon, a drug user, any of these prohibited classes, you don't have to go to a federally-licensed dealer, you can just go to anyone."
Emily asked, "Is that the root of the movement to ban guns? How do you handle that problem?"
Okamoto replied, "First, we would ban assault weapons, not guns in general.... But this has nothing to do with banning guns. It has to do with keeping an eye on who has access to weapons. Who's getting these weapons? How are the children getting weapons? You have to remember, every time a child has a weapon ... it's gone through the hands of an adult first. And it's so easy to get weapons in Oregon."
It's interesting to note the difference in the two responses. Both agree that violent people and the mentally ill should not have guns. The difference is that Starrett, and organizations like OFF and the NRA, offer no solutions to do anything about it. Okamoto and organizations like Ceasefire Oregon and the Brady Campaign to Reduce Gun Violence at least offer real solutions, like expanding background checks, increasing funding to update databases with mental health records for those background checks, and child access prevention laws, all of which are actively opposed by the pro-gun side.
Finally, when asked what legislation they would like to see, Starrett replied, "Top priority: to clean up the pistol license system so that people aren't being denied and that people from other states would be welcome here as well [regarding conceal carry permits from out of state]."
Okamoto replied, "Universal background checks and prevention of access by minors."