Responsibility Begins at Home

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Obama Administration

Another day, another school shooting, this time in an Atlanta middle school. Not many details yet.

The video is a segment from last night’s Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, and the speaker is David Wheeler, father of Ben Wheeler, a 6-year-old who died in the Sandy Hook massacre. This was testimony in front of the Connecticut legislature.

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Although I’m not sure all of his suggestions would be helpful, one thing he said that I want to second is that it’s not enough to stop the sale of firearms to mentally unstable people. Because at the point that such a person begins a shooting spree, it doesn’t matter if the gun was purchased legally, or illegally, or stolen, or borrowed, or found laying around somewhere. What’s needed is not just to stop sales to someone who might pose a risk to the public, but to block his access to guns, period.

I’ve already said that I think a National Registry of Crazy People is a terrible idea. And as this article points out, most of the time the perpetrators do not fit any profile of a deranged killer until they start killing.

My idea is that if you own a firearm, and you keep it loaded where someone beside yourself has access to it, you are criminally responsible for whatever is done with that gun. Including homicide. Accidents with guns ought to also incur criminal charges. We keep hearing stories about people who shoot themselves, or their children, accidentally because they didn’t know there was a bullet in the chamber — well, you should have known. It is your responsibility to know that.

And I’m talking stiff penalties, I’m talking jail time, I’m talking ruinous fines. Make examples of a few people, and maybe some of these meatheads will learn to check for bullets in the chamber, or stop keeping firearms where their angry adolescent sons can easily get them. And don’t get me started on what should be done with someone who leaves a loaded gun where a small child can reach it.

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28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Bonnie  •  Jan 31, 2013 @5:40 pm

    What is it about these killers that they always choose defenseless children. Also, I think we need to see the pictures of scene of the crime at Sandy Hook. Maybe pictures of the dead 5 and 6 year olds would have an impact on enough people to get the necessary laws on gun safety passed. At a minimum, every Congress person should be required to view the pictures.

  2. David in Philly  •  Jan 31, 2013 @5:43 pm

    My idea is that if you own a firearm, and you keep it loaded where someone beside yourself has access to it, you are criminally responsible for whatever is done with that gun.

    What steps would a gun owner have to take to avoid being charged? Most new guns are sold with a lock which is designed to prevent accidental shootings, not criminal use; i.e., they are large padlocks which can be removed with a hacksaw and enough time.

  3. c u n d gulag  •  Jan 31, 2013 @5:52 pm

    Yeah, I’d be careful with talking about a Mental Health Registry.

    I can see it now, the Conservatives will want to have any one with mental issues to have a large “M” branded on their foreheads – except themselves, but of course.

    And yeah, maha, I agree: YOU bought a gun, or have it around, and it’s yours – YOU’RE also responsible!

    There are a lot of poor schmucks in prisons, serving life sentences, who drove their buddy to the bank to cash a check, only to find that he/she robbed the bank, and killed a few people in the process.

    Your son died, because you forgot about the bullet in the chamber (or, whatever the feck these idiots call it) – guess what?
    After we offer you our condolensces, we’re going to try YOUR for Involuntary Manslaughter.
    A lot of people, and couples, have been charged with at least that, if not worse, for leaving dangerous chemicals, or drugs, around the house.
    No more, “Oooopsie!” I shot my _____________,” and you walk away.
    YOU do some time.
    If there get to be too many of you, we’ll clear out some of the people in prison serving time for pot possession.
    YOU, are clearly much more dangerous to the public welfare, than some kid who was dealing some home-grown pot, to help pay for college.

  4. joanr16  •  Jan 31, 2013 @6:22 pm

    I’ve already said that I think a National Registry of Crazy People is a terrible idea.

    Indeed. Who establishes the criteria for making the list? Will there be a National Board of Psychiatry reviewing lists of loons from every county in all 50 states? And what happens when the Church of Scientology sues for an injunction to suppress the list, because the Church teaches that psychiatry is a fraud?

    My idea is that if you own a firearm, and you keep it loaded where someone beside yourself has access to it, you are criminally responsible for whatever is done with that gun. Including homicide. Accidents with guns ought to also incur criminal charges.

    I think you’re on to something there, as long as the penalties are draconian enough to put the fear o’ god (so to speak) into even the most callow, careless idjits.

    NPR had a piece this morning on the idea of liability insurance for guns, “just like we have for cars,” which I find idiotic for two reasons (and remember, I work with insurance and liability issues all the livelong day):

    1) Insurance never, ever pays for intentional acts. Otherwise we’d all be crashing our cars into the lobbies of banks, because TARP, because Jamie Dimon, because Geithner. Think how much worse the free-for-all would be if insurance covered intentional acts with firearms.

    and

    2) Insurance almost never pays for damage when there was non-permissive use of the insured property. If we allow the reckless owners of firearms to obtain liability insurance, they’ll have even less motivation to change their stupid and dangerous ways. Heck yes, the owners should be liable if a disturbed person knows where the guns are kept and is able to get to them, then goes on a spree. Heck no, insurance companies should not protect gun owners from financial penalties for this.

    I have no problem with anyone, even the NRA, throwing out all sorts of ideas to address gun violence. Just remember that most of the NRA’s ideas are going to be a**-covering crazy talk, once you take a closer look.

  5. c u n d gulag  •  Jan 31, 2013 @7:00 pm

    Bonnie.
    Those photo’s need to be sent to EVERY NRA member!
    Period!!!

    Let them reflect on their guns, and the damage that some of them can do.
    We already know how the rest of us feel.

  6. Tom B  •  Jan 31, 2013 @7:17 pm

    “Also, I think we need to see the pictures of scene of the crime at Sandy Hook.” Were any journalists allowed into the crime scene?

  7. Buckyblue  •  Jan 31, 2013 @8:35 pm

    So much of our responsibility is run thru civil courts, which take years to mete out justice. If you can call it that. Start locking these people up, and maybe they’ll start paying attention. It is criminal to not take care of your firearm.

  8. Chief  •  Jan 31, 2013 @10:58 pm

    The treatment by judges of people who are responsible (? wrong word) for gun accidents is similar to the way drunk drivers are treated. There, but for the grace of god, go I.

    Many years ago, while I was in the Navy, we came home for a visit. And I was over one of Mrs. Chief’s cousins house, he was a police officer and the 3rd person there was the husband of another of my wife’s cousins. And these 2 guys were playing with the cops service revolver. I left and I have never been back to his house. That was 40 or so years ago.

  9. Swami  •  Feb 1, 2013 @1:38 am

    The military does a good job of teaching responsibility with firearms. When I was in basic training I remember my first experience with shooting an automatic weapon( in the semi-automatic mode)- the M16. On the day that we went to the range to qualify in firearms training we were given an extra degree of stress by being told we were going to meet the Range Master and if we were ever going to mess up..this was the last place we’d want to do it. The Range Master was exalted among drill instructors. His smokey the bear hat had a golden braid around the inner circumference of the brim with two highly polished shell casing in place where tassles would normally be. On the outer edge of the brim he had an alternating band of gold and orange thread..I don’t know what that signified other then he was very special.
    The Range Master also had a swagger stick with a .50 caliber shell casing on one end and a highly polished silver tip representative of a bu

  10. Swami  •  Feb 1, 2013 @1:54 am

    My computer ain’t doing well..I’ve got a highly sensitive keyboard or a faulty browser. Sleep tight, folks!

  11. c u n d gulag  •  Feb 1, 2013 @7:26 am

    Ed Koch, the former Mayor of NY City, has just passed away.
    He was 88.

    Love him, or hate him, man, that guy LOOOOOOOVED NY!
    He was dedicated, funny, obnoxious, witty, ascerbic, goofy, stubborn, kind, smart, and aggravating – often, on the same day. Hell, often in the same hour.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_KochHere's his wiki:

    R.I.P. Mayor Ed Koch.

  12. erinyes  •  Feb 1, 2013 @7:58 am

    Author Stephen King said he thinks the leaders of the NRA should be assigned clean up duty after mass shootings, especially ones like the Sandy Hook massacre.

  13. erinyes  •  Feb 1, 2013 @8:11 am
  14. erinyes  •  Feb 1, 2013 @8:25 am
  15. maha  •  Feb 1, 2013 @9:38 am

    What steps would a gun owner have to take to avoid being charged? Most new guns are sold with a lock which is designed to prevent accidental shootings, not criminal use; i.e., they are large padlocks which can be removed with a hacksaw and enough time.

    That would take some discussion. I’d say that if the police report shows a safe’s padlock had been cut through with a hacksaw, that might be a good defense. No system is foolproof. I have also read that many of the safes sold specifically for keeping firearms are ridiculously easy to break into (see article). Exactly what would constitute an acceptable level of security would need to be spelled out. But if you start looking you find way too many news stories every week of children being killed by loaded firearms that were left unsecured. Small children, I might add. And there are way too many accidental shootings that take place because someone handling a gun didn’t now it was loaded. There is no question there are a huge percentage of gun owners in the U.S. who are careless with their guns, and it’s one reason our statistics for shooting deaths are so high. If people want to have the right to own firearms, they had damn well be responsible for them.

    A

  16. erinyes  •  Feb 1, 2013 @9:44 am

    My deceased brother was very careless with his 357 mag.; he kept it loaded on his night stand, and he was very hard to wake up.
    I was impressed with David Wheeler in the film clip;if my daughter had been murdered like his son was, I doubt I could have held it together like he did.

  17. David in Philly  •  Feb 1, 2013 @9:48 am

    But if you start looking you find way too many news stories every week of children being killed by loaded firearms that were left unsecured.

    Yes, those are exactly the situations I was thinking of, as well as suicides. I was just imagining one child accidentally shooting another to death, and then their parents being charged with negligent homicide.

  18. Bill Bush  •  Feb 1, 2013 @9:53 am

    Back when I was still teaching, one of my students told me about visiting another guy in class and playing basketball in the yard. Afterwards, they came in the house and sat at a table in the kitchen drinking tea and making sandwiches. The hosts’s mother arrived, saw that they had sandwich-making ingredients sitting on the table, and pulled a pistol from her purse. She said they needed to clean up the table and just stood there. The table got cleaned. The visitor was still in shock a day later when he told me about it. This level of casual gun threat is what the NRA’s notion of safety by having guns everywhere devolves into. Not a way to live.

  19. maha  •  Feb 1, 2013 @10:51 am

    their parents being charged with negligent homicide.

    It’s harsh, but if that’s what it takes to wake people up, then that’s what it takes. If you start googling you find one news story after another about children killing themselves with unsecured weapons, and often this is not considered criminal at all because the family didn’t break any law.

  20. paradoctor  •  Feb 1, 2013 @9:42 pm

    Prosecute parents for negligent gun homicide? I understand the public-policy logic of this, but it may have unintended consequences. What if prosecutors are reluctant to press charges? (“They suffered enough,” etc.) And if prosecutors exercise discretion, then inevitably there will be (to put it euphemistically) ‘unconscious differential enforcement on ethnic grounds’; i.e. racism.

    But if the 6-year-old shoots someone else’s 6-year old, then everyone will agree; throw the book at Dad. Tragedies en famille are one thing, public disorder is another. This isn’t justice, or even logic, but it is political psychology.

    What is the state of the law regarding negligent homicide involving other machines? The kid starts the car and plunges into a ravine?

  21. paradoctor  •  Feb 1, 2013 @10:05 pm

    Bill Bush: What a horrifying tale. Technically that is assault with a deadly weapon, a felony. If anyone ever pulls that stunt on me, I hope I have the guts to take out my phone, turn on its video camera, point it at my assailant, and say, “Apologize, or shoot me now, or face criminal charges.” The pen is mightier than the sword.

  22. maha  •  Feb 2, 2013 @8:39 am

    What if prosecutors are reluctant to press charges?

    In that case, the unintended consequence is that things are no different from what they are now. However, I suspect some prosecutors would press charges.

  23. paradoctor  •  Feb 2, 2013 @1:40 pm

    And I suspect that some prosecutors would press charges for some but not for others. He’d leave the white family half-self-destroyed, and complete the destruction of the black family.

    Strengthening civil suits, for a kid shooting another family’s kid, will avoid this injustice; but of course would leave family shootings unpunished. (Beyond the inherent self-punishment.)

    Making good public policy is hard.

  24. maha  •  Feb 2, 2013 @1:58 pm

    And I suspect that some prosecutors would press charges for some but not for others. He’d leave the white family half-self-destroyed, and complete the destruction of the black family.

    I suspect that if you checked the overwhelming majority of family shootings are taking place in white families.

  25. paradoctor  •  Feb 2, 2013 @3:08 pm

    I’d expect a 9-to-1 ratio, simply by population numbers. I just tried checking it, got nowhere.

    I still wonder what the state of the law is regarding negligent automotive homicide.

    And regarding Bill Bush’s horror story; a glimpse into a dysfunctional family?

  26. maha  •  Feb 2, 2013 @6:34 pm

    I’d expect a 9-to-1 ratio, simply by population numbers.

    In the U.S. there’s always a likelihood that the law will come down harder on back families than white ones. But I’ve seen data showing that people getting a concealed carry permit or keeping multiple firearms at home for “protection” are disproportionately white, just as serial killers and mass shooters are disproportionately white. IMO one of the reasons the NRA keeps trying to turn the conversation about firearm violence back to crimes is to raise the specter or scary armed black people, when the growing threat seems to be scary armed white people.

  27. Swami  •  Feb 2, 2013 @7:00 pm

    1 in 4 black males in Florida are convicted felons..they can’t own a gun or vote..I don’t know how to put that statistic into a context that makes sense unless there’s some sort of racial bias attributed to it…Best I can do is say..something ain’t right. They give out felonies like candy here in Florida, but 31% of black males?…Something ain’t right!

  28. erinyes  •  Feb 2, 2013 @8:33 pm


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