If the federal government can't tackle the gun issue, perhaps it's time we took it closer to home

Rate of Gun DeathsIt’s that time of year to make resolutions, set goals, map out plans for all we want to accomplish in 2015. It’s Opening Day for everybody’s team.

Here’s my modest proposal: let’s mount effective state-level campaigns to turn gun control into hot-button issues. Let’s make state laws conform to the best of Federal law. I’m not confident in the Federal government’s ability to do anything more on this issue, but there are some existing Federal provisions that states could mirror.

In Idaho, Veronica Rutledge was able to carry her concealed weapon into Walmart because Idaho recognizes her Washington concealed weapons license (She was licensed in Washington). Stores can have their own “gun laws,” and Walmart allows guns. So everything was in order when her two-year old son unzipped her carry pouch, took out her 9mm Smith & Wesson and shot her three times.

In Texas, no permit is required to purchase or own a gun, and the state “shall issue” a carry permit to anyone who is qualified. You can also carry your gun in your car as long as it’s concealed, you’re not going to engage in an armed robbery, and you’re not a gang member. Texas is only #24 on the state list of firearms death rates, but it’s higher than the national average of 10.1 per 100,000 population.

Louisiana and Wyoming are tied for the lead, with 18.1 deaths by gun per 100,000 population. Louisiana does not require permits to own or carry rifles and shotguns. Handguns require no license, permit or registration. There are permits required to carry them, however. Wyoming does not require permits or registration, allows open carry, and issues concealed carry permits to people who want them.

And so it goes across the United States. We lead the developed world in deaths by gun by far. When we have one of our frequent mass shootings, we conduct a moment of national outrage, then we lapse into a legislative coma and waffle in the face of lobbying pressure.

My thesis is this. Perhaps we can be more effective if we work on a smaller scale, with focus on changing (strengthening) state laws. Perhaps if we make this more of a neighbor-to-neighbor conversation, with fewer national media frenzies, we might be able to make some small bits of progress that could save a few lives.

What would it take for gun control advocates to bring about a change in a pro-gun state like (e.g.) Wyoming? It needs to go beyond the rest of us pointing fingers and demanding action. It needs to be a willing and energetic sharing of resources, best practice models, volunteers on the ground. It needs to help Wyoming citizens grapple with their own state legislature, where change has to begin. It needs to involve people from other states who are not afraid to carpetbag, who are familiar with the models from political campaigns of “going into states” where they can help.

Murder by gun (like most criminal acts) has been left to the states to prosecute. Federal law enforcement kicks in for lots of other offenses (e.g. damaging public mailboxes, counterfeiting). We have a sprawling and muscular Federal government with thousands of regulations for all kinds of activities. We do not, however, have an effective national firearms control policy or plan. So we leave it to the states to enforce their own gun laws.

Murder by gun doesn’t happen “out there.” It happens in our country, in our cities and towns and villages and malls and schools and theaters and offices. If our Federal government is unwilling or unable to make any headway against this deadly tide, then the states, one by one, might be the places where we have to take a stand.

Leave a Comment