President Obama has set up a commission which he assures us is not a Washington commission. By that he means it will produce something useful. To help the group along and further the chances of effective problem-solving, I will offer these 10 ideas:
1. School safety. Alan Dershowitz is right when he argues there are quicker and less controversial measures than gun bans. He advocates the same type of security you see in office buildings, Congress, etc.: “It’s the reality of life. It’s far less restrictive of freedom if we have that than if we start locking people up based on suspicion, start controlling video games, start tinkering with the Second Amendment in its broadest sense. I think there are things we can do to make our schools safer, and they will require compromises with convenience. But we have to make our schools safer.”
2. Use trained military. Due to the sequestration cuts we are likely going to shove 200,000 service personnel out the door. Among them are certainly security experts, marksmen, and psychologists. Keep them on salary but send them to schools, state and local police and businesses to improve safety in public places. Knowing we have a Marine at our children’s school would make many parents breathe easier. (As an alternative Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) suggests using national guardsmen. Good idea.)
3. Criminal and civil liability. Parents, relatives and guardians who knowingly allow persons with diagnosed mentally illness access to firearms should bear legal responsibility. That might get the attention of some homeowners and drive the discussion of gun safety and security.
4. Mandatory reporting of violent mental illness. We have laws that require school administrators and other responsible adults (e.g. doctors) to report suspected child abuse. The same standard should be applied, requiring a referral to mental health professionals, when these adults witness violent episodes that they have reason to believe may be related to mental illness.
5. Compromise on the gun show loophole. The vendors at gun shows can decide: Either conduct the same background checks as other gun sellers or accept civil liability if the buyer would have failed the background check and then commits a crime.
7. Voluntary advanced certification program for principals. If school principals want to undergo specific training and be qualified to handle a gun and respond in an emergency that should be an option for schools and those principals. Even if not all (or even most) do the deterrent effect (like air marshals) will have some effect.
7. Mental health evaluations. Make certain all 50 states allow for some form of involuntary hold and evaluation for those suspected of mental illness. Many states have such laws with appropriate protections; citizens in all states should have the peace of mind knowing potentially violent, mentally ill persons can be treated.
8. Fund some studies on the impact of media coverage of mass shootings. Do they contribute to other such crimes? Let’s look.
9. Study the impact of the 1994 assault weapons ban. Those who favor its restitution don’t even argue its effectiveness; they assume it. In fact, past studies show it was useless. That evidence should be gathered, re-evaluated and presented to Congress. Passing meaningless legislation is not the solution to anything. In addition, the number of guns that would fit the 1994 description should be compiled with an analysis of how and how long it would take to get rid of these weapons. (Proponents of a new gun ban never like to talk about that real-world stuff.)
10. High capacity magazines. Restrictions or additional background checks for those purchasing them and prohibition of online sales seem a reasonable, limited mechanism for slowing down, if not eliminating rampages. At this point even the NRA should consider whether it is better to give a little and stem the rising tide of anger that would push for stricter gun regulations.
There are dozens of objections (too little, too much, too much federal authority) for all of these. But as a whole they include proposals for media, mental health and weapons. They are in keeping with public opinion, which according to a new Gallup poll, favors “increased police presence at schools, increased government spending on mental health screening and treatment, and decreased depiction of gun violence in entertainment” more than gun bans. Moreover, they are, unlike the president’s zeal for the most extreme measures (gun bans), designed to garner consensus. We could do worse and we likely will.