The great gun debate: A reasonable place to start

Washburn Review

For a country so enamored by guns, we are surprisingly uneducated about them. Does adding a silencer to a gun really give it that ‘pew-pew’ sound from the 007 games? What classifies as an assault weapon? Is a magazine the same thing as a clip? What about state and federal weapon laws? How easy is it to obtain a gun in Topeka, legally or illegally?

It’s pretty difficult to ask for an educated public discourse when most American citizens cannot answer these questions. And once the media frenzy begins after tragedies like Aurora Sandy Hook, the average citizen isn’t rushing to the library to learn about gun safety or mental illness; they’re tuning in to ranting pundits and news anchors that may know as little as they do about the issue.

So, how can we begin to combat this shared ignorance? As children, we’re taught by Eddie Eagle to “Stop, don’t touch, leave the area, and tell an adult.” We generally teach kids about guns in the same vein we teach them about drugs: They’re dangerous, so don’t play with them.

And yet, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, half of all students have tried an illegal drug by age 18 – and some have likely fired a gun.

Our education system seems like a good place to start. According to a 2005 Gallup poll, 42 percent of American households possess a firearm, so it’s likely that most Americans growing up will have some experience with a gun. Writing for Yahoo! a week ago, Phil Dotree made the case for required public education on firearms. He argued that early firearm education could “help to dispel some of the myths that lead to impractical gun legislation,” and lead us to a more reasonable public discourse.

In health class – the same time in which we’re learning about why showers are good and how cooties don’t actually exist – we can start dispelling myths about the weapons that kill tens of thousands of us each year. Kids are taught at an early age that guns are unsafe for them. So, an actual lesson in firearms would help to answer why. Kids are already required to take a health class promoting safety and education, so why not add a course that does the same with guns?

Secondly, is it unreasonable to ask that anyone purchasing their first gun must also take a firearms safety and decision-making course? We already require citizens obtain licenses to drive cars; and the CDC projects that by 2015, gun deaths will exceed motor vehicle deaths for the first time in our nation’s history. A license to own a gun begins to sound reasonable.

To obtain a concealed carry license in many states, including Kansas, gun owners must pass a basic safety course to carry a concealed weapon. If we were to expand this to all forms of gun ownership, we could even offer incentives such as free training courses or giving owners a choice to opt-out by proving their aptitude through a test or demonstration.

Once we demonstrate as a nation that our citizens understand how to use guns, then we can begin a discussion to find a middle ground. Rather than fervently shouting at each other from each side of the aisle, we can discuss the issues that breed gun violence: mental health reform, a violent culture, pervasive poverty, and our criminal justice system. Does that not sound reasonable?