When setting out to solve a problem it behooves us to understand what the problem is and, as importantly, is not. Let's talk about the recent mass shootings and the heightened gun-control rhetoric surrounding them. Is the rhetoric putting us on the right track? Well, let's ask a few obvious starting-point questions.
The problem of gun violence: Is it a unitary phenomenon, or a mixed bag? Clearly it's a mixed bag. We have guns in the hands of gang members in cities with the most and toughest gun laws in the country. And we find the highest gun murder numbers and per capita rates in those same cities -- Chicago and Washington, D.C., for example. Will putting more and tougher laws on the books make these criminals suddenly become law-abiding citizens?
We have guns in the hands of the mentally ill. Will more and tougher laws cure their mental illness or eliminate their deranged desire to act out their murderous impulses? And, besides, how would you know who they are and how to stop them? How do you keep them from obtaining the guns of family members they may or may not be living with?
We have thorough-going background-check laws on the books not being followed by those responsible for doing them. Will passing more laws suddenly make such checkers more responsible? Our law enforcement and judicial communities are a patchwork quilt of non-communicating computer systems, making it impossible for one jurisdiction to communicate with another about criminal records and who should or shouldn't have guns. Besides, criminals can obtain guns as easily as going to a grocery store or corner market. How will more and tougher laws stop that?
Same with mental illness registries, which are a patchwork quilt of non-communicating IT systems. Add to that the problem of medical confidentiality laws, and we find a complete shutdown of any mental illness information exchange. Gun vendors cannot access mental health registries, nor can anyone else without mental health treatment "need-to-know" privileges. Moreover, since the enactment of the Lanterman-Petris-Short and Short-Doyle laws in the early 1970s, the mentally ill, unless judicially ruled dangerous to self or others, or gravely disabled, have the same rights against forced treatment as any other patient. And the forced-hold thresholds of those rulings are so extremely high as to be rarely met. I myself, in a professional capacity, witnessed involuntary-hold judicial hearings -- both in and out of the prison setting -- and was dismayed by judges ordering the return of clearly dangerous mentally ill to our streets and prison yards.
What about the so-called secondary markets? Again, gun-control laws are already in place to control them. However, the restrictions are circumvented via illegal means by both vendors and buyers alike. Will more and tougher gun laws stop such an illegal trade? Will those inclined to disregard laws will be converted to suddenly regard them with all due obedience?
Gun buy-backs? What value is there in voluntary or mandated buy-backs? How might the mandated buy-backs be enforced? Do we see a multitude of Second and Fourth Amendment problems here? Only those inclined to surrender a gun will voluntarily do so. And those are not the ones causing trouble. Guns are readily and easily available to anyone desiring one, legally or illegally, especially for those who aim to cause trouble. A sociological argument is often made that when an impediment is put in place of a course of action, the frequency of that action is reduced. That truism does apply in many cases, though not with those actions whose goal has a high degree of desirability, in which case efforts toward the goal are increased in proportion to the degree of difficulty of the impediment, and will surmount it. (Have we learned nothing from Prohibition, or from our 41-year and utterly failed "War on Drugs"?)
So before we get all wound up with (and dangerously seduced by) gun-control rhetoric, let's make sure we understand the complexity of the gun violence problem. More and tougher gun-control laws can create in us a false (if dangerous) sense of comfort and security, and by so doing, give free reign to those whose aims are not in our interests.
Brik McDill, Ph.D., of Tehachapi, has spent 40 years in private practice in clinical and forensic psychology. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.