Guns and Health Care (Again)

Politically, Virginia is an interesting state.  As it becomes more urbanized it’s moving from red/Republican to blue/Democratic.  Even where I live, a small incorporated city near a large, primarily rural county, a shift in party preference is slowing happening.  This is particularly true in cities with universities, as the populations tend to be better educated; they have larger numbers of minorities, and they tend to attract higher paying professional jobs.  Nonetheless, the rural counties remain Republican strongholds. 

All of this is background for a recent event that took me by surprise.  On Wednesday, December 4, 2019, 1,800 people showed up at the Augusta County Board of Supervisors meeting to demand that the county pass a resolution to make it a Second Amendment sanctuary.[1]  The concept is predicated on the belief that if the state legislature were to pass a law banning sales of semiautomatic weapons, such as AR-15s, the next step would be require current owners to turn them in or have them confiscated.  A Second Amendment sanctuary would in theory protect law enforcement officials if they refuse to enforce the law.

I won’t get into the details of this newest chapter of the gun debate, although it is worth noting that one of the few bills introduced at the federal level, S.66,[2] if it had passed, would have prevented the sale and import of semiautomatic weapons, but would not have banned possession by current owners.  However, what struck me was the passion of those attending as reported by the newspaper.  There is a real, tangible, gut-wrenching fear among gun owners that the government is coming to take their guns away from them.  The fact that this has not happened, as well as bipartisan agreement that the Second Amendment protects gun ownership, has failed to assuage these fears.  And stoked by gun rights groups[3], gun owners are ever more fervent about gun ownership and less knowledgeable about gun control legislation that can be effective in preventing gun violence, such as waiting periods and background checks.

The argument that “they’re coming to take our guns” goes back to the Cold War era when people were afraid that the communists were going to invade the United States.  It’s the plot of the 1984 movie, Red Dawn, in which Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, and C. Thomas Howell start a guerilla war against Soviet Union invaders.  The theme is so popular, the film was remade in 2012.  The key plot device is that, unlike in other countries, because Americans can own guns and are heavily armed, another country would be crazy to invade us.  I guess it worked, as the Soviet Union never invaded.  Instead, McDonald’s negotiated to open their restaurants in the U.S.S.R.  The first McDonald’s opened in Moscow in January 1990 and was such a big hit, customers waited in the winter cold, in a line more than a mile long, to get their first taste of a Big Mac.  It was a giant step toward détente, capitalism, and the spread of cardiovascular disease.

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of U.S. citizens to own and bear arms.  However, the U.S. government does have the authority to pass laws that prescribe the what, when, and how of gun sales.  For example, Congress passed the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act in 1994, which banned sales of certain semi-automatic weapons; then current owners of such weapons were not required to turn in their guns.  The legislation was not reauthorized when it expired in 2004.  Although, while enacted, the law did not decrease the incidence of mass shootings, it did appear to significantly decrease the number of fatalities from mass shootings, which is the impetus for renewing the legislation.[4] 

What happens if they (for many gun rights advocates “they” is the Democratic Party) overturn the Second Amendment?  Given that the only Amendment to be repealed was the one that established a prohibition on alcohol, the only people who appear to believe this are gun rights advocates.

Nonetheless, this is a passionate issue for gun owners.  I’ve never heard of 1,800 people showing up at a county council meeting for any issue.  As reported in the newspaper article, one of the attendees said he was “very, very concerned that our lifestyle, rural lifestyle, our heritage and our freedoms are being taken away.”  Thus, for those of us who do support legislation to prevent gun violence, it’s important to acknowledge how genuine the concerns and fears of gun owners are.

I admit that I get miffed when gun owners put the onus on Democrats, when its Republicans who often create barriers to gun violence prevention.[5]  It’s Democrats and not Republicans who support legislation to ban the use of “cop killer” ammunition that can pierce body armor.  It’s Democrats and not Republicans who support background checks to curb the sale of guns to people who have prior firearm convictions or who may have severe mental health problems.  It’s Democrats and not Republicans who support waiting periods, which has been shown to reduce suicides.  Given that active duty military and veterans have higher rates of suicide than the general public, this reflects more support for the military than demonstrated by Republicans.  We have laws against drinking and driving, but Republicans support laws that allow people to carry concealed weapons into a bar.  Yeah.  Alcohol and gunpowder; that’s a good combination.  And it has been Democrats and not Republicans who support banning the sale of guns to foreign nationals, which might have prevented the shooting of three sailors at the Pensacola Navy Training Center in early December 2019.

I have no problem with the Board of Supervisors agreeing to make Augusta County a Second Amendment sanctuary.  As one person at the meeting put it, it’s wholly symbolic as the government has not and will not come to take away people’s guns.  I do wish that the 1,800 people who showed up in support of the decree would also show up to support legislation that makes communities safer and reduces gun violence, but that is highly unlikely.  That’s because fear of having your guns taken away is different than the reality of the increasing number of gun related homicides and injuries in our community in recent months.  (As many of the participants are hunters and as it is a rural county, I wish those 1,800 Augusta County residents would come out in support of environmental legislation, but that’s unlikely as well.) 

In an earlier blog article I expressed the opinion that it is highly unlikely we’ll see meaningful gun violence prevention legislation occurring at the federal or state levels.  It ain’t gonna happen.  That’s why I want to reiterate my proposal to tax the sale of ammunition (5¢ per bullet) and gun paraphernalia, such as scopes and mounts, to be used to compensate for the cost of providing treatment to gunshot victims.  About 11,000 people a year are murdered; about 33,00 commit suicide; and another 500 to 800 die from gun accidents.[6]  Although they may die from their wounds, when they arrive at a hospital medical providers will make every effort to keep them alive.  And then there are the 40,000+ people who are shot and survive.  All this comes at great cost to the health care system: about $2.8 billion a year.[7]  And much of this is uncompensated treatment, as gunshot victims often don’t have health insurance or can’t afford out-of-pocket expenses such as copays and deductibles.  Consequently, when it comes to treating gunshot victims, trauma centers often operate at a loss.

I believe in the right to own firearms and I believe that with rights come responsibilities.  No other hobby or sport comes with as great a threat to life as gun ownership.  If we want to maintain this right, then gun owners have the responsibility to compensate for losses that might occur due to the use of these products.  Legislators may not be able to come to agreement over gun violence prevention laws.  However, they should acknowledge the medical costs associated with guns and support legislation to pay for these costs.  I encourage you to contact your legislator to make him or her aware of this proposal and to advocate for such legislation.


[1] https://www.newsleader.com/story/news/2019/12/04/augusta-county-board-supervisors-approve-second-amendment-sanctuary/2615511001/

[2] https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/66

[3] Although the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which is promoting the Second Amendment sanctuary movement in Virginia, claims to be a nonpartisan organization, its positions are 100% in step with the NRA and the Republican Party.  As such, they oppose any and all attempts by state government to address gun violence, even when that might not involve gun ownership, such as increasing funding for mental health treatment.  Conversely, I couldn’t find any information on their website indicating their support of gun safety measures.  That is hardly the actions of a non-partisan/non-political organization.

[4]  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Assault_Weapons_Ban

[5] Notice I’m not using the term “gun control”, as that reinforces the image of the government taking away gun rights.

[6] That’s more than the number of people who die in mass shootings each year.

[7] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/10/03/each-year-the-u-s-spends-2-8-billion-treating-gunshot-wounds/?utm_term=.cf49ff268a90

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