Guns Are Weapons of Mass Destruction: Lessons of the Newtown School Shooting

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I normally don’t blog about political issues, but today is an exception. Friday’s horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut shows that guns are weapons of mass destruction. It’s time for this country to get serious about regulating them.

Other types of weapons of mass destruction are banned or tightly controlled in this country. You can’t buy a rocket propelled grenade launcher. Nor can the average citizen acquire C-4 explosive. Or nerve gas. Or suitcase nukes. Why do we allow virtually anyone to acquire the weapons of mass destruction that we call guns?

The Second Amendment reads, “a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” This was written hundreds of years ago, at a time in our history when we had just recently won our freedom from Britain after a bloody war. There was a genuine risk that England could attempt to reconquer our country, and thus maintaining an armed populace made good sense.

But today nobody is trying to invade the United States, and if they did they would be met with extreme force from our military. Our biggest danger now comes from inside, from disturbed individuals who acquire weapons of mass destruction, i.e. guns, and who kill innocent children and adults.

Imagine if instead of using guns, these school shooters built themselves suicide bomb vests. Would we not ban or tightly control any components that were necessary to build these vests? Of course we would. After the Oklahoma City bombing the government imposed controls and tagging on fertilizer components in order to reduce the possibility of future fertilizer bombs.

How many more children must be gunned down until the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party are willing to consider genuine and effective controls on guns? Do we need a school shooting every week in order to for our society to decide to make changes? Or every day? I hope not.

The Second Amendment in no way prevents strict regulation of guns, ammunition, and cartridges. Notice the emphasis on, “a well-regulated militia.” This would allow for any regulation necessary to lower the risk to innocent people. We already regulate gun ownership—screening, waiting periods, no fully-automatic machine guns, strict controls on silencers, etc.

So what are some reasonable regulations or interventions that might lower risk of mass shootings?

The first one is to re-institute the assault weapons ban. No hunter or civilian needs a semi-automatic rifle that can fire more than five or 10 bullets. Another option is to ban ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 bullets. This should apply to semi-automatic handguns as well. Again, there is no legitimate use for a civilian where they would need to fire more than 10 bullets.

There are several ways to impose these changes. One would be an outright ban, but politically this might be difficult. Another option would be regulation using taxation. Just as we have significant taxes on alcohol and cigarettes in order to lessen their use, we could have very large taxes on ammunition magazines larger than 10 bullets, and on semi-automatic rifles. If these cartridges each had a tax of $100 attached to it, and each semi-automatic rifle a tax of $1000, the sales would plummet. Manufacturers abandon production of these products.

California has already instituted many of these regulation, and the federal government should consider enacting similar rules.

Stricter legislation might be even better. If we truly are serious about eliminating these weapons of mass destruction, then we should ban not only the sale, but also the possession of large magazines. There would be an interim period during which civilians could turn in these cartridges to local law enforcement, but after that time, the possession of such large magazines would  become a felony.  Companies that manufacture these magazines could offer a trade-in program where citizens could trade in a large magazine for a legal sized magazine. This would be an incentive for both manufacturers and owners to make the swap.

Those who argue in favor of better screening for gun ownership are fooling themselves. All that our current screening procedures do is identify people who have a prior history of documented illegal behavior or disturbed behavior. There is no screening method that could identify those who will commit mass murder in the future, if they have no prior records of disturbed or illegal behavior. So tighter screening methods will not work.

And those who argue for arming schoolteachers are equally foolish. In theory it sounds great, every schoolteacher carrying a weapon and being well-trained to take out the next school shooter. In practice, it won’t work because as horrific as they are, the probability in any one classroom of a school shooter is exceedingly low. This will lead to schoolteachers leaving their guns in their desks, unloaded, and being completely unready to take on the well-prepared school shooter who will be heavily armed, wearing a bulletproof vest, and all too ready for action. Even the average police officer, armed with only a handgun, rarely takes on heavily armed perpetrators, instead leaving that task to SWAT teams who carry much more potent weaponry. And I don’t think we want to arm schoolteachers with machine guns!

In conclusion, guns are weapons of mass destruction and we should regulate them as such. As a society we should ask ourselves how many more innocent children need to die before we get serious about such regulation. We can regulate guns without banning them, and hunters, target shooters, and even people using guns for home defense will not be unduly affected. But Congress needs to hear from people, and I strongly encourage everyone who cares about the safety of children to reach out to their Congressman and their Senator and let them know that it’s time to change gun regulations to stop the mass destruction.

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

4 thoughts on “Guns Are Weapons of Mass Destruction: Lessons of the Newtown School Shooting

  1. Interesting post, but it’s come out that this kid had a history of mental illness.

    Is this really about guns, or is it about a MENTALLY UNSTABLE kid having access to guns?

  2. I don’t think it matters if he did or didn’t have a history of mental illness. If he did, then it points out the major flaws in gun owner screening, and if he didn’t then points out the fallacy of depending on screening. The main point stands: do we want weapons of mass destruction easily acquired by anyone?

  3. Thank you for writing this. I completely that today’s semi-automatic guns are weapons of mass destruction and should be regulated as such. Those who wrote the Bill of Rights in 1791 were not anticipating the guns of 2012.

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