I recently met an apprentice Falconer -- someone trained in "the art of catching wild game in its natural state and habitat by means of a trained raptor." My new friend is very passionate about falcons, as well as the ancient art of falconry. According to the North American Falconry Association, falconry is a highly regulated sport. Because birds of prey are protected by state, federal and international laws, apprentice falconers must go through a rigorous eight-step procedure to obtain a license to become a Master Falconer, which can take seven or more years. This process includes extensive study, rigorous written testing, training under a mentor for at least two years, a hunting safety course and extensive state and federal paperwork.
I was impressed at the dedication required to secure and care for a bird. It made me wonder wonder why the process of purchasing and owning a gun wasn't this extensive. If President Obama used the same regulations that protect our falcons, gun control laws would include: extensive study of the safe use of guns; a two year apprenticeship with a master gun user (ideally police officer or military veteran who understand the consequences of using a gun); a challenging written exam; perhaps a psychological assessment; a course to obtain a hunting license; and yearly paperwork on the status of the gun storage and use. Those who really want a gun could still buy one; they would just have to show their dedication to its appropriate use.
Perhaps we need to add children to the list of endangered species to justify the reasonable regulations of weapons? The Children's Defense Fund reports that 5,740 children and teens were shot and killed and another 34,387 were severely injured by guns in 2008 and 2009. These figures seem to be sufficient to justified endangered status. What if those 40,000 gun owners had been required to pass the regulations outlined above? How many children's lives may have been saved?
I am further baffled by debate about why ownership of a product that is designed to kill shouldn't include reasonable precautions to assure that the mentally ill, drug addicted or chronically violent can't access the product? We have had national debate about the mandatory drug testing of teens to attend school, and many jobs require drug testing, so why not mandatory drug testing to purchase a gun? Is there a law against drinking and shooting?
At the gym yesterday I overheard a young man on his cell phone saying, "I hate that! It makes me want to f**ng shoot someone." He meant it. Life is fraught with emotionally upsetting events. But our nation has developed a conditioned response to everyday events that too often involves physical violence. We get upset and act out. Former Representative Allen West has referred to the index finger as the best gun control. What this rhetoric ignores is that it actually takes a physiological reaction, preceded by a though or emotion, to make the finger bend. Our thoughts and emotions are our cause of violence; our finger is the symptom. The gun is the accomplice. Before we start giving out guns, we should look behind our fevered fight for a weapon to understand what is driving us to want to shoot each other in the first place. We should try to understand the causes of the fear and rage that drives us to strike at each other, rather than give everyone a stick.
As a nation we are at a crossroads. Our next steps will either fuel fear and violence or encouraged reasoned protections to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them. It is time to demand reasonable gun regulations that protect our children as well as those that protect our falcons.