DOUG THOMPSON: Firing blind on gun violence

Shutting down federal research a blunder with lingering costs

Posted: March 3, 2018 at 1 a.m.

Fighting someone armed with an AR-15 takes courage. I expect it takes more courage than most people have.

I also expect my views on the matter would be different if one of my kids had died in the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.

It was the duty of Broward County Sheriff's deputies to protect the students inside. There is no disputing that. I am not trying to excuse the school resource officer and at least two other deputies' decision to remain outside and wait for backup. I cringe to think what other arriving officers who did go inside thought of the situation. I also want the investigation's full findings before concluding anything. My only point today is a reminder. Knowing something must be done and making yourself do it are two very different things.

I am no tactician. I have never been close to a live-fire situation. The closest I came was in seventh grade. I found out my school bus driver was an off-duty police officer. Some student as big as a grown man pulled a knife on another student while on the schoolyard. The officer coolly and professionally made the young man drop it -- by steadily pointing a pistol.

Still, suppose I was forced into some sort of gladiatorial contest. The fight was to take place inside a high school, a place with both closed-in areas and wide open, long hallways. Now suppose I got a choice. I could have a bullet-resistant vest and a pistol, or no protection and an AR-15 -- or any other good-quality, easy-to-handle semi-automatic rifle with interchangeable magazines and enough stopping power to be lethal to humans. I would, without hesitation, pick the rifle. For one thing, skill with a pistol takes a lot of practice to attain and more to maintain. Using a rifle comes much more naturally, as any good firearms instructor can tell you.

So no, I do not think posting guards or arming teachers is a simple cure to such massacres. The sight of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., solemnly declaring how Congress would get to the bottom of failure by the FBI and local law enforcement was bitterly ironic. For a disciple of Ayn Rand and believer that government is the problem and not the solution, the speaker's sudden faith in the perfectibility of government institutions was -- interesting.

Now, to any readers of this saying "Aha. You do not think guards will work. You agree with stricter gun control," hold up there. Your interpretation is one view. Here is another. I just argued you cannot always depend on authorities to save your life. I suspect many a civilian found courage he or she did not know they had when the unavoidable alternative was death.

So here is my point: Very few of the people arguing about gun violence have a clue what they are talking about. I do not pretend to be one who does. Note also that I said "gun violence," not "guns." I know a fair number of people who know quite a lot about guns. I also suspect that the first time a gun was pointed at any of them, they would not be nearly so brave as they imagine themselves to be.

Our lack of understanding about gun violence is largely self-inflicted. It is a daily, colossal mistake to ban federally funded research of gun violence since 1996. I wish I knew, for instance, if "gun violence restraining orders" worked. That is a court order you can get -- in one of two states that allow them -- if a relative of yours is losing his mental balance. The Florida shooter practically bragged about his mental instability on social media. The idea of gun violence restraining orders appeals to me because I support the Bill of Rights -- all of it. A restraining order requires a court order to bar someone's access to guns and ammo. No one's rights are interfered with until and unless there are provable grounds to intervene.

Yes, British and Australian gun bans seem to work. Neither nation has our Second Amendment. Also, our federal judiciary gets more conservatives appointed to it each day.

But do limited measures like gun restraining orders work? I do not know. I never will as long as that 1996 provision remains in place. I doubt there is a simple solution to gun massacres. If there is, though, we will never find it in the dark.

Commentary on 03/03/2018