This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: I am a gun owner, an avid duck hunter and am working hard to pass that passion to my grandchildren. My eldest grandson is a solid convert, and I am proud to say that for the past three years the only thing he wanted for Xmas was a plane ticket to come duck hunting with me.
This year, we went to our local sporting goods store to renew his permit, which is required to hunt waterfowl and small game in Missouri. Hunters have to have federal game stamps but there is no federal firearm stamp.
Once a person turns 16 (if born on or after Jan. 1, 1967), he or she has to complete the state’s hunter safety course before getting a permit. My grandson had to take the course at an earlier age as a prerequisite of hunting with me. He passed the course conducted by our state Department of Conservation when he was 13.
That course taught him hunter responsibility and ethics. It also taught him how firearms work and firearm safety, as well as firearm handling skills and hunting techniques. He learned wildlife identification, survival and first aid skills, and awareness about wildlife conservation and management.
This year when we stopped in the middle of duck season at Cabela’s, the parking lot was jammed but we were the only customers in the shotgun shell aisle. Most of the customers were purchasing semi-automatic weapons of the type used at Sandy Hook Elementary. Others were purchasing extended magazines and ammo most commonly used in semi automatics.
My ever-curious grandson politely asked a customer why he was purchasing a semi automatic. The customer said he was buying the gun while he still could.
When we left the store my grandson questioned the use of these guns. “They can’t hunt with those guns can they? Why do they need armor-piercing ammunition? Have any of them ever taken a course like the hunter safety course I took to get my duck license? Do they need a permit to use the guns? I know about the Second Amendment, but what can you do with an AR15 besides hurt someone?”
These questions caused me to seek the counsel of an expert on gun violence. My friend Tom Becker is chief of police of my hometown. He is also a retired FBI field agent and instructor at the FBI Academy.
My initial question was, “Is there sensible legislation that could help prevent another Sandy Hook Elementary?”
The following are significant points made by the chief in our ensuing conversations:
- Tragedies like Sandy Hook can never be completely eliminated. We can only hope to minimize the number of incidents and the number of casualties by passing thoughtful and meaningful legislation.
- Mental health professionals need to act when they identify a potential active shooter. Doctor/client privilege is designed to protect the rights of the patient. Is a doctor obligated to tell authorities about a patient that presents a potential danger to society? The NRA has blocked funding for Center for Disease Control for a study on the epidemic of gun violence,
- Reliance on social media and texting by young people may contribute to feelings of isolation in some. They exchange messages rather than socially interact.
- Many violent games are played alone. These games can become addictive. Individuals with problems can have difficulty remembering that the game has ended. Similarly, violent movies and video games can affect those rare isolated individuals devoid of normal feelings. Only since the rise of violent movies and resultant games have active shooter situations increased dramatically.
- The Association of Police Chiefs supports a ban on semi-automatic weapons, extended magazines and armor-piercing ammunition. The association also strongly favors universal background checks and opposes concealed-carry permits being issued with no training requirement
- There is a real danger of untrained armed citizens attempting to use weapons to intervene in an active shooting. A citizen with a concealed carry permit may not realize that he will be seen as a potential threat by responding officers or others who may also have concealed carry permits.
- Because of improved training, police are adept at responding to situations involving people with mental-health issues or special needs. Police should know about individuals whose behavior may indicate a serious problem.
- Law enforcement has access to databases of known criminals, suspected terrorists, known sex offenders, and persons on the no-fly list. They have no database on persons who have exhibited antisocial behavior or are known to have medically diagnosed behavioral disorders.
- In 80 percent of the active shooter incidents in the United States since Columbine, someone has known the intentions of the shooter or shooters. This may have been a friend, relative, doctor, counselor or other acquaintance.
- Parents of children with mental problems should be encouraged to seek help rather than hide their child’s problem. Parents with children with problems need support from both community members and from public and private sources. Frequently mental health funding is an early casualty of budgetary constraints.
- Permitting can be a very successful tool for lawmakers as is demonstrated in the case of hunters.
- Consistency in state laws with regard to training required for concealed carry permits would be helpful for law enforcement.
- Guns are sold on the internet without restrictions. And background checks are almost never done at gun shows.
- Chief Becker has two officers permanently assigned to school liaison for active shooting incidents. Administrators, faculty, students and parents need to know their school is prepared.
- St. Louis County Police Department’s Tactical Operations offers annual active shooter training. Officers who attend go through scenarios designed to mimic an actual incident where responding officers come from many different departments.
- A majority of gun owners in this country and a majority of NRA members favor sensible gun legislation.
The time is right for action, and to demand that everyone take responsibility, to the extent possible, in preventing legal firearms from falling into the wrong hands. It will be interesting to watch whether legislators have the will to act in the interest of their constituents, and whether they have the courage to buck the money they receive from the gun lobby.
So far in Missouri, the only action to date by our legislature is the introduction of legislation to relax our current guns laws. What are we missing?