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Crime Control or Gun Control?

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"According to the latest polls," Jay Leno cracked, "50 percent of Americans say we are a divided country; the other 50 percent say we are not." Laughter doeth good like a medicine.

If Americans are divided over gun control, we are not over crime control. In order to improve our chance of reaching consensus on one important avenue of diminishing a national problem, should we not accurately define what our problem is? And would it not be prudent to focus our national problem-solving conversation upon that which unites us, rather than that which divides us? Perhaps, then, our focus should rest upon crime control rather than gun control.

We Americans love our guns. (For full disclosure: I have owned guns since childhood, volunteered to serve in Vietnam [101st Airborne Infantry], and own guns today.) The data claim there are 300 million firearms in America (114 million handguns, 86 million shotguns, 110 million rifles). The estimated tally of assault weapons (semiautomatic rifles with military-style features, including detachable magazines holding 10-100 rounds) numbers roughly four million.

We Americans also love our constitutional rights, including the Second Amendment, which reads, "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." And of course, we love law and order, along with our Declaration of Independence promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Homicide, suicide, and genocide, to name but a few enemies of our ideals, clearly work against our individual and corporate pursuits.

Since 1968, more American citizens have died in our country from gunfire than have died in all of our nation's wars combined (from the Revolutionary War, through the Civil War, WWl, WWll, Korea, Vietnam, to Iraq and Afghanistan. [The numbers are 1,384,171 to 1,171,177]). Approximately 1,000 crimes involving guns are committed daily in the U.S., while some 29,000 citizens are killed annually with firearms. Comparable numbers include 155 deaths by firearms annually in the UK, and 168 in Canada. (Per million population, these raw numbers approximate: UK -- 2.5 firearm deaths per million; Canada -- 4.9 per million; U.S. -- 92 per million.)

The first step in any recovery program is the acknowledgment of the problem. We have a problem in America. Yet, the problem, as many have argued, is not so simple as gun control. Mental health issues in America beg for our attention. So do the violent gaming industry, the dissolution of the family, domestic abuse, bullying, and the glorification of violence in our culture. A well-justified chorus of voices begs to be heard. Mutual respect for each other's views and civil discourse is imperative. Although we may disagree on the appropriate emphasis to be placed upon the various components of our multifaceted problem of violent death by firearms in America, surely we can agree that we do, in fact, have a serious problem. While conceding that many of the components composing our national problem are not criminal in nature, could we, nevertheless, not focus our problem-solving upon crime control?

For starters, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act should be expanded. This law demands background checks for all gun purchases from federally licensed dealers, manufacturers, or importers. Mandated computer checks stop the sale of firearms to felons, fugitives, illegal aliens, the mentally ill, those under restraining orders, dishonorably discharged veterans, and other ill-advised carriers. However, the law has gaping loopholes. It allows sales without background checks at gun shows, flea markets, and related venues, where roughly 40 percent of gun sales take place, including the majority of guns used in crimes. Law-abiding gun owners or purchasers should have no objection to expanding background check laws.

The time has come, and indeed, is long overdue, for a national focus upon mental health issues, as well. As we have learned the hard way, the silent killer, depression, is not always silent. Sometimes it screams. Sometimes it kills. Calling gun control a mosquito we are swatting may be overstating a case, but surely we can agree mental illness is a deadly swamp that needs draining.

Assault weapons too closely resemble hunting rifles to have a chance of being banned. It is true that the Second Amendment guards our right to keep and bear arms, but not any type of weapon imaginable. For instance, machine guns are not legal possessions among the citizenry. Nor are bombs. Assault weapons could be banned without violating the Second Amendment. Nevertheless, such a ban is unlikely in America. Is there a more politically feasible idea? Sure.

Killers used assault weapons in 40 percent (25 of 62) mass shootings in our country since 1982, killing an average of 15.6 persons. In each case ammunition magazines holding more than 10 bullets were used, collectively firing more than 1500 rounds. In Newtown, Conn., each child was shot three to 11 times. Only when the killer stopped to reload was he overcome. Would we not be reasonable to limit magazines to 10 rounds?

Is our problem one of gun control or crime control? The time to be united is now.