Monday, March 2, 2009

Is the Issue Guns? Or Gun Violence?

One of the many cool things about Nonviolent Communication is the teaching about uncovering the un-met needs that lie beneath the surface of many heated arguments. What we often find is that underneath the fuss and fury is often a common objective; something both parties can agree on.

I suspect this may be the case with the long-standing argument over gun control, and that the highly charged exchanges are indicative of an inability to get to the underlying needs. For example, I'm thinking most gun control advocates would not really care how many guns are out there if they could be well assured that those guns don't represent any danger to them, their loved ones, or anyone else.

On the same hand, gun owners (the legal ones, anyway) are never going to argue that they have the right to harm someone for no good reason. I think that both parties can agree that we all have mutual concern for the safety of the people we care about, and the real issue is gun violence. Maybe if we shift the discussion to "gun violence reduction" we can all start pulling on the same end of the rope.

Now, I'm not going to add to the speculation about what the Framers had in mind when they crafted the second amendment. What they may have meant by "militia" or "arms". However, I think it's safe to say they had no concept of the lethal nature of today's firearms. And it would be a real stretch to say that today's network of gun owners in America looks anything like a "well regulated militia."

So, with all the controversy around the issue, I propose we drop the historical debate and figure out what we need to do to make things work under the reality that is today. What's it going to take to satisfy the needs of all sides of the debate? If non-gun owners can be assured that there will be no violence from guns, then gun owners can have their guns and not have to keep worrying that they will be taken away. What would that look like?

For starters, we need to acknowledge the true cost of gun ownership in the country, and make sure gun owners foot their share of the bill. Car owners have to have insurance to pay for the dangers of driving. Why shouldn't gun owners have to carry insurance in case their guns are used for violence? Drivers also take driving lessons and pass a safety test before they are given a license. And they have to retake the test every few years. Why shouldn't we expect the same thing from gun owners? Car owners have to renew their registration every couple of years. Why not the same thing for gun owners? That way we can be assured that we can trace gun ownership, just like cars. Yes, some guns will be stolen, just like some cars. But at least we'll have a good handle on which guns are missing and in danger of being in the wrong hands.

And take cigarettes (...Please!). Cigarettes have hefty sales taxes levied in recognition of the cost to society of dealing with the adverse health impact and to discourage smoking. Why not tax guns and ammunition sales to the level that pays for the extra police forces, medical attention and other costs of gun violence? If we accept that gun ownership is a right, let's make sure that the people who choose to own guns pay for the cost to society of exercising that right.

There's also technology to capture and track the "DNA" signature of guns and bullets. If gun owners truly have no intention of using their firearms for violence, then they should not be reluctant to submit to these controls. The only time it would be a problem for them is if they shoot somebody.

But none of these taxes and regulations really do anything to directly reduce gun violence. I'd like to see things like mandatory anger management or nonviolent conflict resolution classes required before someone can hold a gun. Prove to me that you have the skills to resolve your differences without resorting to violence, and I will feel OK about you having a gun.

Obviously, there is a lot of room for creativity here - something the proposed Department of Peace would facilitate. We just need to get past the sloganeering and grandstanding on all sides of the issue and figure out how to make it work for everyone. The sooner, the better.


  1. Yes, much time is wasted in heated argument and attachment to ideals that really are separate from the gun violence. That indeed is the issue.
    That and the underlying factors which bring violence to the surface. There is the place to put the energy of discussion, I agree. jmgNH

  2. Hello, Gawn

    I found your blog post very interesting & also you ve written about peace to your profile, those are very nice words.
    i am Nick Robinson,a community member at Patents dot Com(a comprehensive free patent search engine).
    Will like to talk(through email) to you,is this the right time to talk about or should we talk during weekends ?

    Nick Robinson


    I've long supported the concept of a Dept of Peace.

    I am also often reminded of a line from the Movie and book SHANE.

    "A gun is a tool, like an Ax, A saw or a Shovel. It is no better or no worse than the man using it."

    Ive worked in Corrections and fully agree the focus must be on the Cause not the tool.

    sadly I view you proposel to Tax Guns and ammo not as a method to find the cause but a back door method to remove firearms from honest people and PUNISH the majority for the acts of the few..

    If as you point out the goal is simply to make owners "Pay the Cost" of dealing with the cost to the public of Gun crime I'd suggest you look at increasing the cost of licensed the Autos and drivers that are causing mayhem to the public and raise taxes and fees accordinly.

    I would appreciate it if you could supply accurate figures on the cost of "Gun Violence" to the public.

    This should also include the balancing of cost NOT Incured when firearmes in the hands of honest citizens are used to PREVENT crime.

    Oh yes, anger managment before licensing.. Have you heard of the very real ROAD RAGE?

    I would welcome the opportunity to further discuss these issues with you.


    Mike Marthaller

    D rage.