Let CT's Gun Control Debate Begin: Part II

Last week’s Patch Back on gun control made fodder for several well-reasoned online debates throughout Fairfield County. What do you think will help stem the tide of gun violence?


Will a high-capacity magazine and assault weapons ban make us safer? Are gun owners more or less likely to become the victim of a crime? How can we best protect our schools and homes? What's the easiest way to control guns without trampling the Second Amendment and the rights of law-abiding, gun-owning citizens?

Last week's Patch Back readers had plenty to share (thanks, readers!).

The conversations made two things abundantly clear. The first is gun owners really needn’t fear the government confiscating their weapons, as that isn't on anyone's agenda. The second is gun control supporters have ample reason to hope that a high capacity magazine ban will become reality in Connecticut, if not the entire U.S.

Yet as I monitored the conversations, I began thinking about varying types of gun violence and how advocates on both sides often twist statistics to support their own views. It also occurred to me that although mass shootings garner the lion’s share of media attention, the reality of gun violence that occurs in Chicago, Washington, New Haven, New York, Los Angeles and beyond claims many more lives still. 

This type of violence occurs mostly from handguns, not assault rifles. Two contradictory points here are also abundantly clear: although those who own guns are more likely to be the victim of gun violence it is also true that those who carry guns are less likely to become the victim of someone with criminal intent.

Makes no sense, right?

Yet according to JustFacts.com, a nonpartisan independent research organization, it’s true. For example, JustFacts found that the much-quoted statistic about those who own guns being three times more likely to become a homicide victim is not credible. Yet many pro-gun advocates who claim that existing controls are already strict enough fail to mention the ease with which someone with a fake ID can secure a gun. 

In fact, the Government Accountability Office had a 100 percent success rate buying firearms in five states using false identification that also met the minimum requirements of the federal background check system, according to JustFacts.

Clearly, change is in order.

So where does this leave us? First, one can certainly make an argument that the motivations behind a mass shooter and a common street thug are vastly different; one is likely mentally ill while the other is likely committing a crime for socioeconomic reasons.

Limiting magazine capacity and banning assault rifles at the state level may make it more difficult to commit a mass shooting, but it isn't foolproof and it won’t help with the everyday problem of handgun violence. A shooter using a handgun or two and holding extra ammunition can inflict just as much damage as one with an assault rifle, unfortunately. Isn't there a way to prevent mass shootings while also stemming the tide of handgun violence, which is, overall, a much greater threat to the safety of society?

Plus, although it pains this writer to think about asking Congress to take on anything of this magnitude, shouldn’t any change in our gun laws hold true for all of our citizens? After all, the Second Amendment is a federally guaranteed right. Isn’t buying a weapon at a gun show in a gun-friendly state and then hopping on the interstate pretty easy for a would-be criminal?

Local handgun bans, assault weapons bans and other technology-focused legislation seems to produce one step forward, two steps back results. Some sensible suggestions, many of which were provided by readers, include:

  1. On the federal level, requiring universal background checks, closing the gun show loophole and monitoring sales of weapons and ammunition, even when sold privately. 
  2. Incorporating mental health screening as part of the background check and requiring repeated applications, as we do for driver licenses (“You could write a whole new column about driving requirements,” my husband grumbled after one long commute home). This should include those living in the home with the weapon in question.
  3. Developing safe storage laws and enforcing penalties for those who do not follow them, especially if the un-stored gun is stolen and used in a crime.
  4. Making standard trigger mechanisms that unlock via fingerprint.
  5. Training teachers and administrators in self-defense. One reader suggested tasers or tear gas.  
  6. Requiring gun owners to train family members in the appropriate use and safe storage of weaponry.
  7. Offering a federal gun amnesty program to get as many guns off the streets as possible.

Adding armed guards to schools, as the NRA suggested, may make sense for President Obama’s children, but the idealist inside me is saddened that our kids may have to learn under armed protection. Can we not limit access to weaponry without infringing upon the rights of those who own guns safely and responsibly?

People who purchase guns want them for protection, hobby or sport. Those who don’t want guns will probably never understand the motivations of those that do. But reaching a compromise will require each side to cross the impasse of their own making.  

Sean Goldrick January 24, 2013 at 02:41 PM
Ms. Bigelow, let's review. Here are the conclusions from the study by Arthur L. Kellermann, Frederick P. Rivara, Norman B. Rushforth, Joyce G. Banton, Donald T. Reay, Jerry T. Francisco, Ana B. Locci, Janice Prodzinski, Bela B. Hackman, and Grant Somes in the New England Journal of Medicine (http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199310073291506#t=articleResults): "Although firearms are often kept in homes for personal protection, this study shows that the practice is counterproductive. Our data indicate that keeping a gun in the home is independently associated with an increase in the risk of homicide in the home....the greatest threat to the lives of household members appears to come from within. "Despite the widely held belief that guns are effective for protection, our results suggest that they actually pose a substantial threat to members of the household. People who keep guns in their homes appear to be at greater risk of homicide in the home than people who do not. Most of this risk is due to a substantially greater risk of homicide at the hands of a family member or intimate acquaintance. We did not find evidence of a protective effect of keeping a gun in the home, even in the small subgroup of cases that involved forced entry."
Fred Finger January 24, 2013 at 02:49 PM
There is not one thing that will make us safer. We need a comprehensive plan. Let's start with universal background checks, including checks at shows. Any current gun control measures are meaningless if someone can just walk into a how and leave with a gun. No questions asked. Of course a bill to do just that died in the Senate. If we really want to look for solutions, the general public must stand together. To expect our representatives in Congress to do anything is a waste of time
Lisa Bigelow January 24, 2013 at 09:37 PM
Sean, Thanks for reading and commenting. You are correct. Homeowners attacked within their homes were far more likely to have their weapons used against them. However, research also indicates (in this case, a survey of imprisoned felons) that criminals were far less likely to approach a person on the street whom they suspected of carrying a gun. Contradictory? Yes. True? Yes. Lisa B.
Lisa Bigelow January 24, 2013 at 09:38 PM
Fred, I agree. I think the grandstanding bill put forth today by Dianne Feinstein is just a giant waste of time. But, unfortunately, that's what Congress is all about these days. Thanks for reading. Lisa B.
Sean Goldrick January 24, 2013 at 09:50 PM
Ms. Bigelow, you wrote that, "Homeowners attacked within their homes were far more likely to have their weapons used against them." That is mistaken. It is not home invaders who come in, seize a homeowner's weapons, and use them against him and his family. The research clearly points out that it is the people in that home who either kill themselves, other family members, neighbors or visitors, or who are shot by accident by their own weapons. And that is far more prevalent than having a resident use a gun in self-defense. You also wrote that, "research also indicates (in this case, a survey of imprisoned felons) that criminals were far less likely to approach a person on the street whom they suspected of carrying a gun." Please cite the source and provide a link and a quote. Sounds utterly absurd to me. Are you saying that it is perfectly obvious that a person is carrying a weapon? In most cases, a person carries a weapon that is concealed. So how would someone "suspect" that someone is carrying a weapon, unless he is overtly threatening another person? Further, you suggest that a ban on assault weapons is "a giant waste of time." Yet apparently you ignore the fact that 40% of the gun massacres in this country perpetrated with assault weapon has come since the assault weapons ban lapsed.
Sean Goldrick January 24, 2013 at 10:02 PM
And, Ms. Bigelow, before dismissing a ban on assault weapons as "grandstanding" and "a giant waste of time," please read this: http://www.greenwichtime.com/newtownshooting/article/State-Police-All-26-Newtown-victims-shot-with-4220548.php "All 26 of Lanza's victims were shot with the .223 caliber semi-automatic rifle, said Vance, who bristled at claims to the contrary during an interview with Hearst Connecticut Newspapers." Do you really think that it's OK to see little kids murdered with AR-15's every once in a while? Trying to rid our communities of those deadly weapons is "a giant waste of time"? Those little kids were just six or seven years old, Ms. Bigelow. Please think carefully.
Lisa Bigelow January 24, 2013 at 10:08 PM
Sean. Really? 1. I do cite the source. Please re-read the article. Check out JustFacts -- the evidence is very clear re: the 1982 survey. It is fascinating. 2. This legislation does not address homeowners who commit suicide, only violent crime committed in the home. Homeowners are more frequently the victims of their own weapon in their own home. You appear to think I disagree? 3. CT already has an assault weapons ban in place. I assume you know that. But the statistics on the assault weapons ban are far less clear. I again refer you to JustFacts, which, as a reminder, is a nonpartisan research source. 4. Feinstein does not have the votes to pass that legislation. She knows it and so does anyone else who follows what's going on in Washington. When I say "waste of time" I mean that our country would be far better served by good old-fashioned compromise and negotiation rather than the nasty gridlock that is sure to result from her attempt to grab headlines. All this will do is mobilize gun enthusiasts who will point to her as Example A of what's wrong with liberals. Very unfortunate. Sean, let's be clear. I want to see something positive come from this and I'm sure you do, too. But in order for that to happen both sides have to give. Period. (And if you don't think what I wrote above is "giving" you should check out the Wilton Patch site, where gun-lovers think this column makes me a "stupid" "leftist.". Good grief.) Lisa
Sean Goldrick January 24, 2013 at 10:18 PM
Ms. Bigelow, what was the organization or university that authored the report that you mentioned. JustFacts.com is not a source. I'm not sure which legislation you're referring to. A ban on assault weapons is just that: it eliminates those weapons from communities and keeps them from being used against anyone. Further, I'm sure you are aware that the Connecticut assault weapons ban was terribly porous, so much so that Ms. Lanza purchased her AR-15 legally. I'm sure you would like to see that law dramatically tightened, so that those weapons are eliminated from our society. Right? I don't know that she doesn't have the votes. There are going to be a lot of people pointing out the insanity of permitting anyone to purchase an AR-15. I think you agree that it is madness to permit these weapons to be kept anywhere in our society other than the police or the United States military, right?
Lisa Bigelow January 24, 2013 at 10:22 PM
If I understand the difference between the two technologies, the Newtown shooter's weapon technically is a semi-automatic (meaning: one bullet shot for one trigger pull, it's a "semi" because the gun automatically reloads the next bullet). An automatic weapon continues to fire as long as you hold the trigger down. also, I would love to debate you but I have to run. Here's the page, which identifies a number of reputable sources at the bottom: http://www.justfacts.com/guncontrol.asp enjoy! I find this site enormously useful. and thanks again for reading/commenting -- Lisa
SUV Sister January 25, 2013 at 02:18 AM
Justfacts.com appears to be a right-wing ideologue website, co-founded by a James Agresti. Its main topics are gun control, climate change, national debt and abortion. See This description of Agresti from Amazon.com and draw your own conclusions about the objectivity of the website she references: James D. Agresti is a former atheist who became a Christian after reading the Bible over the course of a year and finding objective evidence for its accuracy. Mr. Agresti holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Brown University and has worked as a designer of jet aircraft engines, a technical sales professional, and a chief engineer of a firm that customizes helicopters. He is a cofounder and president of Just Facts, a research and educational institute dedicated to investigating, documenting, and publishing facts about public policy issues.
dd January 25, 2013 at 02:39 PM
For some appalling statistics on the number of children who die in gun-related incidents please check out http://www.childrensdefense.org/child-research-data-publications/data/protect-children-not-guns-report-2009.pdf Interesting to note how much the number of these deaths dropped between 1994 and 2004 during the assault weapons ban--and then started to rise again. I know it doesn't prove causality, but it seems like common sense to stop selling semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity clips. People who think of themselves as "responsible" gun owners need to ask themselves whether it's "responsible" that so many innocent people lose their lives at the hands of guns each year
Sean Goldrick January 25, 2013 at 03:08 PM
Ms. Bigelow, I went to JustFacts.org, which you pointed out. But that website is a confused jumble of court cases, laws, comments and others. I cannot locate the study that you say is there. Could you assist us by finding and point out exactly what reputable organization authored the study you quote (a study from more than thirty years ago)? Further, Ms. Bigelow, you excoriate Senator Feinstein for proposing an assault weapons ban that you believe won't be passed. Instead, doesn't it make far more sense for you to be criticizing those senators, mostly Republicans, who will refuse to vote for the ban? No civilized nation in the world permits its citizens to keep military-style assault weapons in their homes. Why should we? And, yes, Ms. Bigelow, the AR-15 Bushmaster is, indeed, a semi-automatic assault weapon. We're agreed. Now tell us why in the world those should be legal.
Buck Swope January 25, 2013 at 06:29 PM
@Sean G, I've got an idea, lets make drugs illegal. That would elliminate them from society and we would all be much better off. @dd, how many of those children were murdered with a rifle of any type (covered by the ban or not) by a lawfull gun owner? Not a felon in possession or a stolen gun. Guns have not gotten more deadly in the past 10 years. The type of rifle you wish to ban (semi-automatic, box magazine) has been available to civilians in the US since at least 1950. Only difference is now there are for MORE restrictions. Does anyone else think we sould look at the WHY instead of focusing on the HOW? You can't fix a roof leak by repainting your dining room ceiling.
Sandra January 28, 2013 at 09:11 PM
check out http://www.nyfirearms.com/forums/firearms-news/40842-piers-morgans-lies-exposed.html


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