Stu Bykofsky: Stop targeting guns, owners in safety talks

Posted: December 28, 2012

"WHY DO YOU have two guns?" the friend asks me.

I ask her, "Why do you have two pianos?"

"My pianos don't kill anyone," she replies.

"Neither do my guns," I say.

According to some recently published drivel, I am a "gun nut." I have an "arsenal." I am a "coward." I have "issues" with my "masculinity."

I own a gun, as do 47 percent of American adults, Gallup reported last year. I am not in the NRA. I don't shoot animals. I don't shoot people.

I bought my guns legally, I submitted to background checks and for my carry permit (there are 8 million nationally, according to the Government Accountability Office), I had to demonstrate proficiency with the weapon. I applied for the permit because of threats to my life.

The antigun chorus misfires when it vilifies law-abiding, armed citizens. A majority of NRA members favor an assault-rifle ban. If the overwhelming majority of gun owners were not responsible people, with 300 million firearms in private hands (one-third of them pistols), there would be massacres every day.

The problem is not "guns." The problem is guns in the wrong hands. Those are the people who have to be targeted.

The furor that followed the NRA's self-serving call for armed guards in schools came mostly from people ignorant of a simple fact: At least 23,000 American schools - roughly one-third of all public schools - already have armed security, according to the New York Times. That includes most Philadelphia high schools.

It's a little late to be protesting our virginity.

Do I like armed guards in schools? No. What message does it send about our society?

Unfortunately, an accurate one. What's the cure? There is no magic wand.

Gun violence is an octopus with many legs, and it's foolish to grab only one, guns. We need a multifaceted approach to deal with guns, their availability, mental health and the culture.

Nothing, not even police confiscating every gun in America, will provide a complete remedy, and wishing for a gun roundup is delusional. Guns are in our national bloodstream. Like AIDS, it is not curable, but it is manageable.

* Since many recent mass murderers have been young adults, raise the age at which you can buy guns to 25. It's currently 18 for rifles and shotguns, 21 for handguns. Mandate a three-day waiting period between buying a gun and taking it home.

* Slam straw buyers who illegally buy weapons. Give them heavy jail time. The same for anyone caught with an illegal gun or anyone who uses a gun in a crime.

* Require lost guns be reported to police, limit sales to one a month.

* Ban military-style rifles and clips that hold more than 10 bullets. Close the loophole that allows guns to be bought at shows without background checks.

* Require all states to report people who have been treated at mental hospitals to the FBI national database. The Wall Street Journal reported that only 12 states account for the majority of mental-health records in the database. Most states, including Pennsylvania, are falling down on the job.

* Improve our ability to identify people with mental illness, then provide treatment. It's something we should be doing anyway.

Other countries - such as Canada, Switzerland and Israel - have many armed citizens yet don't produce multiple mass murderers. That suggests a difference in values, or culture, even though we share a Judeo-Christian foundation.

Our "gun culture" is only part of the story. We also live in a "culture of violence," from TV shows to violent rap music to excruciatingly realistic video games to "action" movies where guns, murder, mayhem and sadism are stylized and glorified.

Can we agree the ceaseless repetition of violent images desensitizes the viewer?

As I won't stomp on the 2nd Amendment, I won't shred the 1st Amendment, but I will ask if the entertainment industry accepts any responsibility for producing violent "entertainment" where guns provide "conflict resolution." Are we ready for movie ratings to bar impressionable teenagers from Hollywood's most sexual and violent fantasies?

Will Hollywood contribute to calming the harmful culture of violence by voluntarily portraying less of it, or will it hide as shamelessly behind the 1st Amendment as the NRA does behind the 2nd?

Cultural change takes a long time and requires everyone to pull together to create a safer America.

Responsible gun owners are ready to cooperate. The NRA isn't. President Obama is. How about Congress? How about Hollywood? How about you?


Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Columns: philly.com/Byko

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