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Creating Common Ground on Gun Control

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By Liam Madden

Part of my frustration with the gun control conversation is that liberals have their hearts in the right place but rarely know enough about guns to make effective policy. Banning assault weapons as a main strategy assumes there is a meaningful difference between what qualifies as an assault weapon and any other semi-automatic firearm. It feels like liberals hear ‘assault weapon’ and picture Rambo, but as a former Marine, I see that it is sadly true that most of the violent tragedies very easily could have been — or were — committed with firearms that don’t qualify as assault weapons. Therefore, what liberals hold as the beacon of good gun control policy — banning assault weapons — is not likely to achieve much else than pissing off conservatives.

As an independent, one who has at least some knowledge of firearms, although I haven’t owned a gun since I left the Marines, here is my offering to the policy conversation. Hopefully we can expand the framing of the debate to create some middle ground to actually move both parties into action:

1. Mentally ill people should have severe restrictions on firearm use.

2. Schools need former Marines guarding them. It’s a sad fact but the only thing that would make me feel safe with my children going to a school at this point. I don’t like the idea of militarizing schools, but I don’t see a near-term alternative that actually protects our most precious beings.

3. The Second Amendment should remain intact — restricting gun ownership for 18–20 year olds, Vermont’s most recent measure, is unconstitutional. I’m not judging it as a bad idea, but I need to call a spade a spade. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say “the people, 21 or above” have the right to bear arms. If you can be drafted into military service, and have your income taxed, you are entitled to every constitutional right, and the state does not have the authority to abridge that right.

4. The Second Amendment refers to “a well regulated militia,” i.e., a community of people who impose discipline about the use of deadly force. That, to me, means that the RIGHT to bear arms comes with RESPONSIBILITY to bear arms as part of a community of ethics.

In practice, firearms for hunting or self defense (pistols) should be allowed in homes and personal lives. Firearms with military applications should not be allowed in homes unless people receive multiple references from a “local” community of ethics on firearms. In lieu of actual militias, we should be able to verify from among our community interactions who is responsible enough to privately keep a weapon with the capacity to cause mass violence.

5. Hunter-gatherers prevented sociopaths from destroying their cultures by having close relationships throughout the entire community. If we want to prevent more tragedies, our communities need to become strong enough where people who become dangerous get help way before they inflict harm. This is a systemic issue that needs a systemic response.

What made those-hunter gatherer communities work, in this respect, was total transparency. Everyone knew everything about everyone. It was impossible to hide malicious or dangerous habits. In our modern society, we can either achieve that total transparency with dystopian government surveillance, or, preferably, through strengthened local communities. In some respects, this kind of transparency, afforded by our small town networks, may be a reason we had a near miss of school violence in Montpelier last week, instead of a funeral. In the community-of-ethics scenario I outline above, I am clearly urging us toward the latter.

Liam Madden is an independent congressional candidate who formerly led Iraq Veterans Against the War and won M.I.T.’s Solve award for sustainability innovations.