David Wheeler, father of 6-year-old Ben who was murdered in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting…
“Thomas Jefferson described our inalienable rights as life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness – the rights with which we are endowed, for the protection of which we have instituted governments. I do not think the composition of that foundational phrase was an accident. I do not think the order of those important words was haphazard or casual. The liberty of any person to own a military-style assault weapon and a high-capacity magazine, and keep them in their home, is SECOND to the right of my son to his life – his LIFE; to the right to live of all of those children and those teachers, to the right to the lives of your children, of you, of all of us – all of our lives – it is second. Let’s honor the founding documents and get our priorities straight. Thank you.”
WHAT I BELIEVE
I believe all guns should be melted down and turned into playground equipment.
I believe that the people who wrote the Bill of Rights would be horrified by the idea that people are using their words to advocate for some twisted view of “freedom” that comes at any price, no matter how horrific.
I believe that even if the founding fathers meant what gun advocates say they meant, that the constitution is a living, breathing document that has evolved to adapt to the realities of modern society in the past and must evolve now. When the second amendment was written, women couldn’t vote and black people were considered 3/5ths of a human being. Things change.
I believe that your right to own a gun is trumped by the rights of the 22 people in El Paso and the 9 people in Dayton and the 17 people in Parkland and the 58 people in Vegas and the 49 people in Orlando and the 26 children in Newtown and the 10 people in Buffalo and the 14 children in Texas and everyone else’s right to be alive.
I believe that there are lots of issues that feed into the epidemic of gun violence in this country including mental illness, the glorification of guns in entertainment, poverty, drugs, and more but that we won’t be able to do anything about any of those issues if we don’t do something about guns first.
I believe the facts that show that countries that ban or prohibit easy access to guns have dramatically lower rates of gun violence per capita than those that don’t.
I believe that people kill people but I believe guns make it a hell of a lot easier for them to do it.
But I’m also a realist, and I believe that change is incremental. So, knowing the idea of a nation full of shiny gun-metal grey playgrounds is a pipe dream, here are things I believe can be done. The purpose of this page is to provide you with the knowledge, the talking points, and the tangible actions you can take to try to put an end to the scourge of gun violence in United States.
STATISTICS YOU SHOULD KNOW
Here are some of the most shocking statistics related to gun violence. Memorize a few of them so you can have them handy the next time someone wants to debate the topic of gun control with you.
- In this country, roughly 45,000 people die from gun violence every year – that’s an average of 123 people every single day
- People in homes with guns are twice as likely to be a victim of gun violence than people in homes without a gun
- A home with a gun is four times as likely to have a suicide than a home without a gun
- Since 1970 more people have died from gun violence in the US than in all of the wars this country had fought since the country was founded
- Even though it has half the population of 22 of the wealthiest nations on Earth combined, the United States accounted for:
- 82 percent of all gun deaths among those nations
- 90 percent of all women killed by guns among those nations
- 91 percent of children under 14 in those nations who died by gun violence were in the United States
- 92 percent of young people between ages 15 and 24 killed by guns in those nations were in the United States
- Gun violence is now the leading cause of death among children 1-19
- 12 children and teens are killed with guns on the average day
- An average of 50 women are shot to death in a domestic violence incident every month
- In 2017 there were:
- 144 police officers killed by firearms
- 1,000 active duty military killed by firearms
- 2,462 children killed by firearms
- The US death rate for children by firearms is 6-9 times higher than any other developed nation
- Black children accounted for 41% of those killed even though they make up only 14% of the population
- States with the strictest gun control laws have the lowest gun death rates
- States with the least restrictions have the highest gun death rates
- States with strict gun control laws that border states with lax laws have higher gun death rates than States with strict gun control laws that border states with similarly strict laws
COMMON SENSE GUN CONTROL MEASURES
Contact your local representatives and demand that they back common-sense gun safety legislation including:
Comprehensive Nationwide Universal Background Checks
Currently in the United States if you buy a gun from a licensed dealer you must undergo a background check. It takes about 30 seconds and it checks the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) for things like criminal convictions that resulted in prison sentences of longer than one year; a conviction for domestic violence against a spouse, former spouse, or child;regardless of length of sentence; outstanding warrants; a diagnosis of mental illness; US residency; whether there has ever been a restraining order filed against you; and a few other miscellaneous things.
There are several problems with this system. First, it only applies to sales from federally licensed gun dealers and does not cover private sales, many internet sales, or “collector” sales at gun shows in most states. As many as 30% of all gun sales in the United States are not subject to background checks.
Second, the system is only as good as the information being put into it and there is no nationwide standard for how and when that information gets collected. If a person has a restraining order filed against them and then 20 minutes later goes to buy a gun so they can kill the person who filed it, the chances of that order being in the system are essentially zero.
Third, it only covers the limited items listed above. Up until the Las Vegas shooter broke out the hotel window and started shooting at the people at the concert across the street, he had not broken any laws. He could buy dozens of guns, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and openly transport them and there was nothing the current background check would have done to catch it.
What we want are comprehensive nationwide universal background checks, which would cover ALL gun sales including those between private parties and at gun shows; would set a nationwide standard for reporting; and to add red flag reporting (see below) to the database.
Ban Semi-Automatic, High-Powered Assault Style Rifles
Weapons like the AR-15 and the AK-47 are high powered rifles that are specifically designed to be more deadly (see the High Powered Rifles section below). They were banned in the United States in 1994 but the legislation expired in 2004 and Congress has not reauthorized it.
What we want is a complete ban of the sale, manufacture, and importation of these weapons. What we really want is for the guns to be banned entirely, meaning if you own one you have to destroy it or turn it in, like they have done in Australia and New Zealand, but starting with a ban on new sales is a step in the right direction.
Ban High Capacity Magazines/Clips
Most semi-automatic rifles come with the capability to have magazines or clips that contain upwards of 30 rounds of ammunition, sometimes more. It has been shown time and time again that the more often a shooter has to reload, the fewer people they are able to kill because that few moments of “down time” allows people to flee or, in some cases subdue, the shooter.
What we want is a limit of no more than 10 bullets in a magazine.
Require Licenses, Permits, and Training
Anyone who wants to own a gun should need to get a license that can only be obtained after showing they have completed a rigorous safety training and passed both a practical and written test. This is not asking any more than we ask of people who want to drive a car.
Expand the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban Law
In 1997, the US Congress enacted the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, which prohibits anyone who has been convicted of domestic abuse of a spouse, former spouse, or child from buying or possessing a gun. But there are enough loopholes in the law that it is not as effective as it could be. It does not prevent sales to people who have been convicted of beating a girlfriend, boyfriend, father, sister, or anyone other than a legally married spouse or child. It doesn’t apply to people who are convicted of stalking. And most importantly, it does not require a person who is convicted of domestic abuse to surrender their weapons, it just says “you can’t have them” and prevents them from buying more.
Enact Nationwide Red Flag Laws
This would allow a relative to ask a judge to remove firearms and the ability to purchase new firearms from family members who appear to pose a threat. Some states already have these laws in place but a nationwide standard is needed.
GUN CONTROL ADVOCACY GROUPS TO SUPPORT (RESOURCES)
Everytown for Gun Safety
A coalition of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and those affected by gun violence.
Sandy Hook Promise
Dedicated to identifying the signs of gun violence and stopping it before it happens.
Gabby Giffords PAC to advocate for common sense gun control legislation.
Violence Policy Center
Works to stop gun death and injury through research, education, advocacy, and collaboration.
Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions
A research and advocacy organization dedicated to preventing gun violence in our communities.
Stop Handgun Violence
Stop Handgun Violence is committed to the prevention of gun violence through education, public awareness, effective law enforcement and common sense gun laws.
A organization dedicated to reducing gun violence.
YOU’RE PROBABLY MAKING MONEY OFF OF MASS SHOOTINGS
I made the discovery many years back that several of the mutual funds that I was invested in via an IRA and a Donor Advised Fund were with a company called Vanguard, the largest provider of such funds in the world. Turns out that Vanguard is also largest institutional shareholder of American Outdoor Brands (formerly Smith & Wesson), the company that manufacturers the AR-15 rifle and many of my investments included that company’s stock in the portfolio. These stocks rise every time there is a mass shooting because people rush out to buy guns thinking that there were be some sort of regulatory effort to limit them (even though there never is). So, having these stocks in your portfolio essentially means that you are making money off of children being gunned down in an elementary school or Black people being slaughtered at a grocery store.
I asked my financial adviser what we could do about it. He spent some time investigating and has now put me into funds that are ESG compliant. Here’s how Investopedia defines it:
“Environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria are a set of standards for a company’s operations that socially conscious investors use to screen potential investments. Environmental criteria consider how a company performs as a steward of nature. Social criteria examine how it manages relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where it operates. Governance deals with a company’s leadership, executive pay, audits, internal controls, and shareholder rights.”
Basically these are companies that are being socially responsible – ones that you can feel good about making money from. While some of these funds don’t index as high as non ESG funds in the short term (it’s easier to make money from companies that do bad things than good), most analysts agree that long term ESG investments provide lower risk because you can avoid companies whose practices might put your investments in jeopardy. Just look at BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill or Volkswagen after the emissions scandal.
In the years since I switched my investments to ESG funds, I have done as well or better than I would have if I had remained in a non-ESG fund.
Contact your financial advisor or, if you have a 401K through your company, contact your HR department and find out if your investments involve gun manufacturers. If they do, ask to be switched to an ESG fund.
More info on ESG investing here: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/environmental-social-and-governance-esg-criteria.asp
COUNTERING GUN ADVOCATE ARGUMENTS #1: GUN CONTROL DOESN’T WORK (CHICAGO)
When advocating for common sense gun control, the most common argument you’ll hear in response is some form of “gun control doesn’t work,” often combined with some sort of reference to Chicago. This is essentially saying that some states already have strict gun control measures yet criminals still have them.
There are a lot of ways to counter this argument, the easiest of which is to say that what they are suggesting is that because people break laws we shouldn’t have any laws. But that’s kind of a slippery slope style argument and we shouldn’t use it. Instead, let’s talk about the basis of the argument and refute it with facts.
To do so, we’re going to examine Chicago and why its in the situation it is in and to do that, let’s start by asking a simple question: where do illegal guns come from? The answer is fundamental and yet somehow shocking to people – every illegal gun started out as a legal one.
Yes, it is true that Illinois has gun laws that are stricter than many other states. There are bunch of things they do differently like banning people from openly carrying guns, requiring waiting periods, and so on but the primary thing that critics point to is the FOID. This is the Firearm Owners Identification and anyone who wants to own a gun must have one before they purchase a weapon. This requires them to apply to the Illinois state police with small fee and subjects them to background check. So, in order to buy a gun anywhere in Illinois – at a gun dealer, a gun show, or a private sale – you are supposed to have the FOID card ahead of time. This differs from other states who run the background checks at the point of sale and, as we have discussed, often don’t require background checks at all for private sales.
When people talk about how strict the gun laws are, they want you to believe that it is virtually impossible to buy a gun when in fact it isn’t. It’s a little harder and takes a little bit more time, but if you want a gun and you’re not legally restricted from owning one, you can get as many as you like.
Now, let’s talk about gun violence in Chicago. Yes, it is a problem, but when looking at national statistics, Illinois usually rates around 40th in terms of per capita gun deaths. That’s a little misleading because the rest of the state waters down the overall numbers that are primarily recorded in the south side of Chicago. If you were to compare metropolitan areas, Chicago would be pretty high up on the list.
States like Connecticut and Massachusetts also have strict gun laws (in some cases stricter than Illinois) and their gun violence stats are lower even when comparing metropolitan areas. So why do the gun control laws in Illinois seem to have less of an effect than they do those states? It all boils down to simple geography.
Connecticut is surrounded by other states that have strict gun laws. Illinois, on the other hand, is not. And if you look at a map, pay special attention to where the south side of Chicago is. It’s a quick drive – and sometimes just a quick walk – to Indiana, where gun laws are among the most lax in the United States. Indiana does not require background checks by private sellers at gun shows, so anyone – and I do mean anyone from felons to terrorists and beyond – could take a quick jaunt from Chicago into Indiana to buy as many guns as they want and then bring them back to the city to sell them out of the trunk of their car.
There is not some secret manufacturing facility where people are making illegal guns. They don’t come here from other countries. They are made and sold right here in the United States. As I said, every illegal gun starts out as a legal gun but if every state had laws like Illinois, it would be harder for that legal gun to become an illegal one.
COUNTERING GUN ADVOCATE ARGUMENTS #2: “ASSAULT STYLE WEAPONS”
When gun control advocates say they want to ban “assault-style weapons,” gun rights advocates will often say something like “the ‘style’ of a weapon has nothing to do with how lethal it is.
This is a commonly used tactic by gun rights supporters, using semantics to attack the words used as opposed to the actual point that is being made. They believe that by saying you are using the “wrong” words it somehow proves you don’t know enough about guns to have an intelligent discussion about them.
What I find most interesting about this is the pivot that has occurred in this specific argument. Gun control advocates were using the term “assault weapon” or “assault rifle” to describe guns like the AR-15 and gun rights advocates were saying that was incorrect. They say that an assault weapon is something that is fully automatic, meaning that you can hold down the trigger once and it will continue shooting bullets until you let go (a machine gun in old timey parlance). Guns like the AR-15 are semi-automatic, meaning that you have to pull the trigger every time you want to shoot a bullet, but the chamber reloads itself after each firing. This differs from older shotguns for instance because they required the shooter to “cock” the weapon – or move the bullet into the chamber – after each firing.
Fully automatic weapons have been largely banned in this country since the 1930s, so gun rights advocates said that there already is a ban on “assault weapons.” So, gun control advocates pivoted and started using the phrase “assault-style weapon,” but now the other side has pivoted and say things like “the style of the weapon has nothing to do with how lethal it is.”
Fair point. It’s a semantic one designed to distract from the true issue, but it is a fair point. A gun’s “style,” or the way it looks, has nothing to do with how much damage it can do. But they know as well as we do that when we are talking about “style” we are talking about its industrial design and capabilities, not the way it looks.
Weapons like the AR-15 are more lethal than most hand guns for four reasons:
1. Higher Velocity
This is the most important one of the four differences. While there are wide variances because of the wide variety of weapons available, a bullet from the average handgun travels at less than 1,000 feet per second while a bullet from the average semi-automatic rifle like the AR-15 travels at roughly 3,000 feet per second. This means that the bullets can cause more damage and it is easier for a shooter to be far more lethal. It’s simple physics but if you need proof, go drive your car into a wall at 10 mph and then do it again at 30 mph and see if there is any difference in the amount of damage to your car, the wall, and you.
2. More Bullets
While there are some that can hold a few more, the average handgun holds about 8-12 bullets. Semi-automatic rifles can hold three times that amount and some can be custom fitted to hold even more. That means more bullets can be fired before a shooter needs to reload, making it easier for them to kill more people. What we have seen time after time is that the period when a shooter reloads is often when they are taken down or people have a few moments to escape.
3. Better Accuracy at Greater Distances
Another generality and totally dependent upon the skill of the shooter, but semi-automatic rifles can fire bullets farther with better accuracy than a handgun. This makes it easier for a shooter to hit targets from greater distances.
4. Easier Triggers
This is a generality because different guns have different mechanisms, but generally speaking it is easier to pull the trigger on a semi-automatic rifle than it is on a handgun because of the length of trigger pull and/or the weight of the trigger pull. Since a gun can only fire as fast as the shooter can pull the trigger, having a gun with an easier trigger means that it easier for the shooter to fire it faster. The faster a shooter can fire, the more people they can kill.
This article from a radiologist is worth a read but I’ll sum up the salient point. He was on call after both the Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting and the Parkland High School shooting. The damage evident on the scans from victims of the Parkland shooting showed far greater damage than those from the airport shooting. Why? Because the shooter used a handgun in Ft. Lauderdale and an AR-15 in Parkland. All six victims that were transported to the hospital after the airport shooting survived. Many of the victims of Parkland did not.
Need another real world example? In 2021, there was a mass shooting at a supermarket in Colorado in which 10 people died and two were injured. In 2022, there was a mass shooting at a supermarket in Tennessee in which one person died and 14 were injured. The primary difference? In Coloroado, the shooter used a high-powered rifle. In Tennessee, the shooter used pistols.
The type of gun makes a difference.
So, instead of “assault weapon” or “assault style weapon,” let’s use the term “high powered rifle” and know that what you’re talking about are guns that fire more bullets at higher velocities than most handguns. It’s likely that gun rights advocates will pivot again and come up with some reason why that’s not correct terminology either, but you can be safe in the knowledge that they are just playing a semantics game.
COUNTERING GUN ADVOCATE ARGUMENTS #3: BACKGROUND CHECKS AT GUN SHOWS
When gun control proponents advocate for universal background checks, including those at gun shows, gun rights advocates will often say something like “most sales at most gun shows require a background check.”
Technically that statement is correct. Most gun dealers are federally licensed and are required to perform background checks on every sale regardless of if they are in a store or a gun show. Since most vendors at gun shows are federally licensed, most guns sold at gun shows are subject to a background check.
But this is a semantics game. “Most” is not “all” or even “a vast majority.” And this is where the so-called “gun show loophole” comes in. (BTW, gun show loophole is another phrase gun rights advocates will try to use semantics against, but everyone knows what we’re talking about here)
In all but six states (California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island), anyone can by any type of gun through a private sale and not be subject to a background check. In three other states (Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania), only handguns are subject to background checks for private sales. That means in 41 states, any person can buy a gun from any other person and not have to undergo a background check.
To reiterate, in these 41 states, any person – a felon, a terrorist, a convicted domestic abuser – anyone can buy a gun (or a lot of them) through a private sale (at a gun show, for instance) and not have to undergo a background check.
So, let’s go back to those gun shows. Yes, most vendors at gun shows are federally licensed and require background checks for gun sales, but many vendors are not federally licensed and therefore don’t have to perform a background check. They will usually call themselves “collectors” but in many instances these are people who are making a living by buying a bunch of guns from licensed gun dealers (and going through the requisite background checks when doing so) and then turning around and selling them through so-called “private sales” without a background check.
Although there isn’t a lot of research on the topic, a 1999 study by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that licensed dealers make up anywhere from 50-75% of vendors at gun shows, meaning that 25-50% are not licensed. A Harvard study found that as many as 15% of gun sales in this country were not subject to background checks. That equates to more than 5 million gun owners and who knows how many actual guns.
So yes, most sales at gun shows are subject to background checks. What gun control advocates are saying is that they should all be.
COUNTERING GUN ADVOCATE ARGUMENTS #4: LIMITING AMMUNITION MAGAZINES
One of the fundamental asks in common sense gun control measures is to limit the number of bullets a gun can hold, usually somewhere in the 5 or 10 round maximum. Gun rights advocates will often suggest that the number of bullets in a magazine doesn’t matter and that private citizens should be allowed to have the same as law enforcement.
In terms of the number of bullets, see “Common Sense Gun Control Measures” above for an explanation of why it absolutely does matter, but in the meantime, let’s look at the rest of the argument.
The “law enforcement” thing is a dog whistle tactic, using language that is specifically designed to appeal to a segment of the population that most people will miss the meaning of. In this case, what the gun rights advocates are really saying is that someday, the police, the military, or some other jack-booted thug is going to come to take your guns and you need to be as well armed as they are, so you can fight back.
First, let’s take a look at the idea of equity with law enforcement. There are all sorts of things that police officers have access to that private citizens don’t including types of weapons, tactical assault vehicles, communication devices, specially equipped cars, lock picking devices, and on and on. The idea that average citizens have some sort of “right” to everything the police have is not only ludicrous but not supported in the constitution anywhere.
Second, it has already been determined that limiting rights granted by the constitution is constitutional. This is why the second amendment can exist alongside a ban on fully automatic weapons and the first amendment can exist alongside the idea that if you yell fire in a crowded theater with the intention of inciting panic, you can go to jail for it. There is nothing in the constitution that says you should have unlimited access to as many guns and as many bullets and as big of magazines as you want. A five bullet limit may seem arbitrary but it is simple math designed to limit the number of bullets a gun can fire without reloading. When a shooter needs to stop to reload, people have a better chance at survival.
But third, and more importantly, let’s dissect the concept behind the argument. At its core, what that is saying is that if the city, state, or country that you live in passes a law that you don’t agree with, you have the right to not obey it and to use deadly force to resist anyone trying to enforce it. We could be ridiculous and say that means if you don’t feel like the speed limit is too low, you have the right to shoot any cop that pulls you over for exceeding it, but that won’t really get us anywhere.
Instead, let’s apply it to the scenario that they are warning against. If two-thirds of both houses of Congress proposed an amendment to the constitution banning all guns in the United Sates and that amendment was ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures and it became constitutional law in this country that owning a gun was illegal, these people would feel like they had the right to murder anyone coming to enforce that law. If that doesn’t chill you to the bone, something is wrong.