We are a Gun Nation

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COMMENTARY: I own guns. I grew up hunting big game and birds. I killed my first deer at the age of 12.

My father taught me to only kill what I was willing to eat. Part of the process of the hunt was cleaning the game. I learned from an early age that when hunting, the real work started after knocking down the game.

I still hunt on occasion. I love to target shoot. It takes concentration and is relaxing. Millions of American youth grow up this way.

J.R. Lonsway

Courtesy photo

J.R. Lonsway

When I read the story about the Las Vegas shootings, I thought the same as many people: What could possess a human being to do such a thing? More importantly, what could have been done to prevent this tragedy? I had the same thoughts following the shootings in Orlando, Sandy Hook, and the many, many, many, many other mass shootings we’ve had in this country.

Gun control legislation is useless. We can legislate guns until we cover every single facet of every single purchase of every single weapon ever manufactured, and it won’t change the fact that we have an estimated 270 to 310 million firearms in this country, and more being made every day. We are a Gun Nation. Laws that govern the legal aspects of purchasing and possessing firearms are “feel good” statutes. The only people those laws protect us from are ourselves, those who would obey the law anyway.

They don’t protect us from criminals. Criminals do not care about laws; words written on paper mean nothing to them and protect no one. “Law” and “penalty” are two different beasts. Penalties come after the written word of the law has been violated. Never confuse the two.

In the efforts to legislate ourselves into a position where we feel we’ve done everything reasonable to protect us from each other, we have overlooked the elephant in the room.

We can’t legislate mental health.

The guy that seemed “normal” when he purchased a firearm years, months, weeks or days ago may not be “normal” today. We cannot know or control what transformations take place between a person’s ears after a difficult or life-changing event occurs in their personal or professional lives. Some constitutions are more delicate and fragile than others. We have seen enough killing to know that.

Let’s not make this a liberal-vs.-conservative issue. It is not. It is about people dying in a Gun Nation, where those of us labeled as “gun owners” refuse to give up that right no matter how many defenseless people die. My right to own that firearm supersedes your right to live.

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That’s what we are saying, in essence. Doesn’t matter to me if you were at a concert, an elementary school, your place of employment, or any other public venue when a madman shot you, your children, your loved ones, dead. My right to own a firearm is more important than any of that.

This former Marine and retired police officer is far to the right of liberalism, so those of you champing at the bit to write negative comments about my socialist tendencies can wipe the froth from your mouth. I’m merely supporting a position that says, “Put up or shut up.” In other words, let’s either come together as a society and do what needs to be done to stop the mass shootings, or let us shut the hell up and live with it.

There is a solution, and it is quite simple: With certain exceptions, such as military and police, pass legislation that makes possession of a firearm a criminal offense punishable by life in prison, and use of a firearm in the commission of a crime punishable by death. Period. If we want to end the violence, that’s how it’s done.

Sound harsh? Not quite as harsh as dying from a bullet fired from the gun of a mentally unstable person.

Give the public 30 days to turn in their firearms, compensate with fair market value, and after that we start enforcing. Make it illegal to possess ammunition, as well.

Want to write in exceptions for hunters, like other countries have done, and allow single-shot shotguns only, or bolt actions rifles? Fine. But, your firearms stay in the vault at the local police station, and you can only check them (and your ammunition) out to hunt or target shoot. You transport the firearm disassembled in the trunk of your car, or back of your pickup, in a locked container to your destination, assemble them, perform your recreational activity, disassemble, and take them back to the local police station. You have X amount of hours to enjoy yourself.

The restrictions go on and on, but you get the idea. The alternative is to ban firearms and ammunition completely, and the government can compensate those who make their living in the production and sale of them when the factories and stores close down.

There is no in between. Nothing we have done so far has worked, and nothing will because we cannot legislate mental health. We either end it, or we shut the hell up about it.

J.R. Lonsway is a retired deputy chief of police with the City of Las Cruces and the author of two books. He blogs at jrlonsway.com. Agree with his opinion? Disagree? We welcome your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.

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