Monday, October 29, 2018

Do we need a Human Reliability Program for (Certain Kinds of) Gun Ownership?

Barely have we gotten out of the news cycle of the Florida mail-bomber than an extremist, anti-Semite in Pittsburgh shot up a synagogue, killing eleven and injuring four police officers in a firefight before being captured. Robert Bowers apparently left a trail of evidence of his extreme views on social media (and hints of acting out) but unfortunately, the First Amendment protects most of this garbage, as well as social media's right to act as a toxic mind pollutant to the American psyche.

But all this has a price when one also has a stockpile of guns or bombs, as per Bowers and Cesar Sayoc. Perhaps we in the firearms community need to admit, belatedly, that the 2A has two clauses and the first one mandates that the people who universally populate the "well regulated militia" with arms in their hands need to be vetted to make sure they are pointing guns at legitimate adversaries rather than figments of their warped imaginations. How far should we go in the name of preventing these demented clowns from shooting up the nation? That, as usual, is the question.

In accordance with 18 PA C.S. §6109, a sheriff may deny an individual the right to a License to Carry Firearms if there is reason to believe that the character and reputation of the individual are such that they would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety. PA State Police web page.

Bowers apparently left a trail of hate on the Internet. Should we be monitoring the Internet and serving people who sound like they are about to go violently off the rails with Extreme Risk Protective Orders? Should owning certain classes of small arms be contingent on something like a Human Reliability Program? I think its clear that as long as anyone can procure a firearm easily, there is a clear statistical probability that some will go off the rails at other people's expense and the more lethal the firearm, the more the expense. Especially nowdays with politicians, Russian troll farms, and social media activists pouring on political gasoline and handing out matches. What can go wrong?

One could imagine something like a violence triangle as we do a fire triangle. One needs motive, means, and a decision to act, i.e., a defective mental circuit breaker, to go batshit crazy and shoot up a mosque, synagogue, church, school, or whatever your personal choice of imaginary enemy happens to be on a given day. Means plus motive without the mental circuit breaker almost guarantees some "fires" will start. One can remove the means, albeit with some difficulty in a nation with a Second Amendment. One can try to eliminate motive, but in an age of toxic social media, gutter politics, and tribalism, its tough to do that. Mental circuit breakers seem to be in short supply. I was waiting in line for an Rx on Saturday and some other customer simply went off on the poor lady behind the counter, berating her loudly enough for the whole store to notice. Several of us were contemplating the possibility of having to tackle the guy if it got much worse but he stormed off.

So how about this? As Mike Weisser has said, some hunting rifles and shotguns (and probably certain kinds of handguns) are rarely implicated in crimes or mass shootings. How about we go lightly on these lower public risk firearms but examine those guns which seem to beckon for misuse and raise the standards for ownership of some firearms?

To be qualified for the job that I once held for fifteen years in a Federal lab, I had to undergo annual background screening, including a sit down with a company shrink, to ensure that the public and fellow workers could trust that I would not go off the rails at everyone else's expense. Maybe its about time we designed a scaled down version of that sort of process for those who want to own high cap Glocks, ARs, and similar weaponry that can turn a synagogue into a charnel house in a few short minutes. I wouldn't make it prohibitive or expensive, just clear and fair to the gun nuts and the public at large. With fewer mass shootings, such a system should pay for itself, actually, even if Matt DeLisi's numbers are a little hard to believe.

Any takers?

Suggested reading: David Brooks, The New Cold War.