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Guns don't kill people, gun owners do

Let us concede that gun rights advocates have won the argument: guns don’t kill people, people do.

However, there is a certain class of people that merit a greater share of the blame for the mass casualty events our communities have endured. For lack of a more accurate term let’s call them, “gun owners”. As well, we must acknowledge that gun owners are largely responsible (by commission and omission) for the constant blood letting since Sandy Hook (as of 8 May 2013 3,947 have perished since the 14 Dec. 2012 Newtown, Conn. massacre). Daily Kos writer, David Waldman has been tracking accidental firearm casualties since Sandy Hook—a log that reads like an almanac of nightmarish negligence.

In spite of the evidence conveying the hazard of firearms ownership, it’s still useless to debate gun control. At best, it has resulted in a stalemate over background checks. Even gun control proponents admit this measure of accountability would not have stopped someone like Adam Lanza from carrying out the slaughter at Sandy Hook. A background check would not have prevented five-year-old Kristian Sparks from the unintentional slaying of his two-year-old sister, Caroline. Again, guns don’t kill people; but it so happens that the relatives of gun owners do.

Since we are fully convinced of the human culpability when a firearm tragedy strikes, it stands to reason that this is where the effort to curb gun violence should focus. Rather than trying to contain or limit weaponry, our attention should fix upon the gun owning community. Did you know that seventy nine per cent of the massacres that have taken place in the U.S. over the last 33 years were committed by someone who had legal access to the firearm used in the crime? So, why not increase gun owner accountability going forward—especially to other gun owners?

As for the constitutionality of this proposal, here is where gun owner accountability intersects with the Second Amendment—specifically, the often ignored “well-regulated militia” phrase. As has been the case in a number of mass shooting tragedies, the perpetrator profiles as a socially isolated, or outcast, male. Putting the “well-regulated militia” phrase to work would mean requiring all registered gun owners to meet with each other periodically (quarterly, semi-annually—it would be left to legislators to hammer out) to discuss gun safety, maintenance and the function of the gun-owning community within this nation.

The conversation could go in any number of directions. The crucial point of this process would be to help gun owners acknowledge their right to bear arms is not an open-ended freedom. Its parameters involve not just individual liberty, but also a concern for public safety, protecting children, and the effort to keep one another accountable about their firearms-related goals. (Everyone should have goals, no?)

Given a proposal such as this, one could imagine squeals of protest coming from every quarter of the firearms community—consumers, retailers, manufacturers and lobbyists. What is the alternative to shifting the debate? Wait for another massacre and then watch the predictable demand for a limit on weapons, or even a call for confiscations?

Gun owners could do worse than to step up to hold one another accountable. At any given day there’s a James Holmes or Jared Loughner waiting to snap, a stranded soul who could use a reality check of sorts—an intervention should it be needed. If the gun owning community believed in the preservation of the Second Amendment, shouldn’t it do its part to protect this freedom from abuse?

The other consequence of mandating a periodical gun owner meet would be to help them grasp that their right to bear arms can be just as vigorously defended by cooperating with other voters in a political action rather than by clutching a rifle. There is no question how much the fear of tyranny prevails among many gun enthusiasts. Who can be sure, however, if they have exhausted the opportunities that political activism offers? At the very least it requires a willingness to build trust with other citizens that can lead to a governing consensus. How else should a republic like ours survive without its citizens continually at work, developing the contours of consent?