In Isle Royale National Park’s Visitor Center, on the largest island in Lake Superior, there are many moose skulls on the wall.  Such is not surprising; since 1997 a few hundred moose and a few dozen wolves have been completely isolated from the mainland.  It is one of the longest, most intensively studied predator-prey relationships in existence, but the wolves are dying off, a tragedy and a controversy as to whether new ones should be introduced, a raging controversy, both sides passionate about what to do.

Ironically, how we usually handle this and other hot button issues is summarized right on that wall.

Two skulls are very close together.  Indeed, it takes a little while to see that there are two, for there are so many antlers around them.  Then, it becomes strikingly clear what happened.  Two moose, probably in rut, fought over a female.  Their antlers locked, and they were unable to disengage.  Their destiny was not to win or lose.  No, their destiny was death together, fighting futilely to exhaustion and starvation, easy prey for wolves.

We might learn from that, if we weren’t so busy locking our own horns to realize we and those with whom we argue may both lose, prey for our common enemies.  Red-Blue, Conservative-Liberal, Pro Gun-Anti Gun, Republican-Democrat, one side-other side.  Take your pick, apparently, because there no longer seems to be much common ground, except there is, if we start looking.  If we choose to keep fighting, the wolves of the world will pick us off, because we will be too busy playing the futile game of trying to convince people who won’t be convinced, rather than finding a new solution, missing opportunity after opportunity.

That is why when Facebook put an ad on my site saying “Stand with Hillary and take on the NRA,” I didn’t add my name.  I will admit I have no love for the organization and am against their current agenda (which wasn’t always the way it is today).  But I know that without the NRA’s help, yes help, we aren’t going to solve the issue of mass shootings.

I’m going to assume that no decent American wants to hear about another mass killing.  It doesn’t matter whether the individual is an Oath Keeper or one who wants firearms banned.  No reasonable person wants the shootings to continue.  Simple solutions proffered by both sides won’t work, but we are a technologically developed country with many who are experts about firearms, their manufacture, use, safety and locking mechanisms, as well as tracking them. We have experts in firearm safety, human behavior, system and study design.  We need all of them.

It is not likely that we will be soon be able to determine which mentally ill person is a likely mass shooter. Maybe with better mental health care we would slightly alleviate the problem, but  many of those who harbor violent urges don’t seek help.  They don’t see a problem.  Additionally, we aren’t likely to pay for the cost of mental health care, even if we returned to institutionalization of the 1950s, which was a dictatorship over people.  Without doubt, it would solve a lot of problems: homelessness, some shootings, extra police work, and many emergency department visits, but at the cost of liberty to many.

Cars are dangerous, too.  Thrice as many die in the US every year from automobiles than from murders due to guns.  Notice my use of numbers.  These are facts.  If we allow research into gun violence to again be done, the way it once was, we would operate from facts, less from emotions and inaccurate numbers.

Guns are the major cause of suicide, and twice as many die from suicide by gun than murder.  Only the most callous would say that those who want to kill themselves should do so and be done with it.  These callous people are online, and we need the help of ISP and other computer experts to deal with the harmful byproduct of anonymity on the Internet. No reasonable gun advocate or anti-gun advocate wants to see firearms used to commit suicide.

We once had poorly engineered automobiles.  Indeed, Ralph Nader became famous with “Unsafe at any Speed.”  Improved engineering, better materials, seat belts, air bags, ABS, and side protection have cut the number of motor vehicle deaths 40%, despite a significant increase in the population (the number per 100,000 has fallen 60%).  We haven’t eliminated the problem.  One may wear a seat belt and die in a MVA, but the probability is less.  We don’t know who the 20,000 survivors are because of safer automobiles, but if we had 52,000 deaths a year, we would do something about licensing people, drunk driving, safer roads, and better auto engineering.  Oh, we did have that many deaths, and we did act.

So, this is where the firearm experts are needed.  Here is where the NRA is needed.  Here is where every responsible gun owner is needed.  We need ways to prevent people misusing firearms.  Yes, it is impossible to do it perfectly, but yes also, we can find a way to improve our current situation.  If we had 5,000 gun deaths from murders a year, it would still be too many, but it would be better than what we have now.  If we had 5,000 suicides a year from guns, it would still be too tragic, but it would be so much better.  If 30, rather than 60 children died from accidental GSWs, it would still be too many, but 30 fewer devastated families.

I’m weary of arguing.  It is not the time to “Take on the NRA.” Like the man with the wind and the Sun, if I blow harder, he will only pull his coat tighter.  No, it is time for the NRA and its membership to be invited to the table, to offer engineering and other solutions that have a chance of being tried and tested.  Who should own what?  How is ammunition regulated?  What should be written down, and what not?  How do we do background checks and maintain privacy?  What are ways to deal with this problem that we can a priori postulate what we think will happen and then count to see if it did happen?  Wouldn’t that be an improvement over what we aren’t doing today?

I want the mental health community to be at the same table to offer suggestions.  I want researchers to design studies showing how we might determine if a possible improvement works.  I want security experts and IT at the table, too.

Legislation may have to come from a Republican Congress.  Only a Republican in 1972 could go to China, and I think only a Republican Congress can write such legislation.  They need help from the Democrats, but at the same table, with the goal to decrease gun violence in this country and at the same time not limit responsible firearm ownership.  It is a tall order, given the money involved in making firearms and the emotions when somebody is gunned down.  However, given where we are today, we can’t do much worse.

Like the moose, we can lock antlers and hope to win, bloodied but victorious.  Or, we may end up together on the ground, helpless against our enemies.  We can use what’s in our skulls to solve the problem, with leadership and risk taking.  It’s our choice.

The two moose were programmed to fight.  They didn’t know one of the consequences.  What’s our excuse?

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