YOU CAN’T DODGE BULLETS—OR THE GUN DEBATE

The current, intensified debate on managing gun violence in the wake of the tragic Parkland, Florida school mass murder has become so politicized, I felt the best way to deal with it was the same way I handled the topic that launched this blog—with fact-finding. As with the healthcare debate, the issue is thorny and complex, with everyone pointing to their favorite devil and often ignoring the others.

Like many others, after learning of the latest soul-draining tragedy, I felt compelled to reexamine my own beliefs. To be transparent, I’m a 2nd amendment supporter and enjoy target shooting and the ideal of self-defense. The more I listened to both sides, the more I recognized I didn’t have enough facts at my disposal. So what are they, really? We have to look at all the devils.

The 2nd Amendment:

For: The times are different than those of our Founding Fathers with a stable government. We have too much gun violence. Te 2nd Amendment has increased the amount of guns available (we have an estimated 300,000,000) and created a toxic “gun culture.” We have more gun murders per capita than any other country. Per the recent CDC gun research study, “The U.S. rate of firearm-related homicide is higher than that of any other industrialized country: 19.5 times higher than the rates in other high-income countries.”

Against: The Founding Fathers recognized an armed citizenry as a major bulwark against tyrannical government, having just freed themselves by dint of arms. Today, we are not immune, particularly as the size and power of government continues to grow, insinuating into more and more areas of our lives. History shows us that the first step any despotic regime takes is to disarm the populace. The number of lives saved far outweighs the number lost. That same CDC study showed, “Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year…in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008.” The number of gun homicides annually has been in the mid 10,000s and has been steadily declining since the 1990s. The number of suicides has been roughly a third higher, and flat.

Gun ban/confiscation:

For: Reducing the number of available weapons reduces gun and violent crime. It’s common sense, and the Australians did it in 1996 with favorable statistics. While other factors play a role, gun ownership in the U.S. is the ascendant culprit. The idea that factors such as violent gaming play a large role is unsubstantiated.

Against: The statistics regarding the Australian gun confiscation/ban do not clearly demonstrate efficacy. Per FactCheck.org, “Australia banned certain semi-automatic, self-loading rifles and shotguns, and imposed stricter licensing and registration requirements. It also instituted a mandatory buyback program for firearms banned by the 1996 law…. In all, more than 700,000 weapons were surrendered.” Indeed, the number and rate of homicides has fallen. However, there is no consensus on whether the laws reduced homicides and gun violence and homicides (and suicides) because the decline began before the laws were enacted. In addition, the violent crime rate remained steady. Guns aren’t the problem, people are. There are already enough laws on the books. They need to be enforced. Mental health is a major issue and exposure to game violence at an early age. Mass murders have been linked to violent video games.

AR 15s/ “Assault weapons”/large capacity magazine ban:

For: No one needs these weapons for self-defense. They are over-kill, more deadly, and their availability makes it easier for the demented and criminals to commit mass murder. They should be restricted to the military and law enforcement. The Australian ban/confiscation discussed above demonstrated that while there were 13 gun massacres (defined as killing of 4 or more people at one time) in Australia in the 18 years before the laws were enacted, going forward there were no gun massacres. The U.S. has more mass shootings than anyone else. This must stop. The U.S. leads the world in per capita gun ownership and violence from mass killing.

Against: David Leyonhjelm, a Liberal Democratic Party member of the Australian parliament, wrote in a piece for the Australian Finance Review, “The full truth is that Australia’s close neighbor New Zealand – a country very similar to Australia in history, culture, and economic trends – has experienced an almost identical time period with no mass shooting events despite the ongoing widespread availability of the types of firearms Australia banned.” He also indicated that there were several mass murders by other means, principally fire. Per sources quoted by Snopes.com, “…the authors of studies cautioned that NFA-like [Australia-style gun control plans] wouldn’t necessarily achieve (and have not achieved) the same results in the United States, in large part because Australia’s geography makes it much easier to control the flow of arms into the country.” The statistics are overstated. Per capital mass shootings place the U.S. 6th or 11th (as of 2015).

“‘Something’ must be done”:

For: The pattern of mass killings appears to be intensifying and past responses have been inadequate.

Against: Policy is not best instituted as a visceral response to an egregious incident, as it is more likely we will enact laws that are overbearing, ineffective, and redundant. The most recent mass shooting highlighted not the absence of applicable laws but failure on many levels to enforce. It is noteworthy that the most deadly mass shooting in 2007 (Virginia Tech) involved handguns and not assault rifles (hence resulting in no political outcry against the NRA). We need to step back and see if the problem is with implementation of the laws already in place or if other causes besides the presence of guns are major contributors that have been inadequately addressed.

Potential solutions:

We all agree “something must be done.” We differ in just what that “something” is. Just as most gun control advocates are coming from a place of compassion (although some are being manipulated by groups with a larger, left-wing agenda), the same is true of most gun-rights supporters. Branding the latter as evil, uncaring about the kids, or Neanderthal is unfair and unproductive. Using kids, usually the least informed, most easily manipulated, and most motivated by “feelings” as front-men (or women) in a campaign for gun control is political and unproductive.

Enforce existing laws: Before blindly promoting more gun control laws, the laws already on the books must be widely and honestly promulgated and discussed with the general public, and the failures to enforce them also be widely publicized. This is necessary so there can be a public discussion of the processes necessary to fix this

Deal more decisively with mental illness. Gun violence restraining orders (GRVOs) should be universally instituted.

Increase our school security: Protect our schools. Get rid of the notion of “gun free zones” that only paints a target on our most vulnerable. Trained securtiy personnel and yes, willing teachers, should have the necessary tools to halt active threaths. Again, we must honestly publicize the extent to which the failure of local authorities and the FBI contributed to the recent mass killing by allowing someone who should never have been allowed to purchase any weapon to acquire the AR-15, and address this.

Do not name mass shooters in the media. There is ample evidence that these monsters are motivated by fame and publicity.

There are also some changes that are less likely to be effective but are worthy of discussion, such as raising the age of purchase of semi-automatic rifles from 19 to 21. I believe this would turn out to be largely ceremonial as the evidence cited above suggests that this will have little, if any, impact on overall gun homicide and violent crime rates. And while in theory it will make it more difficult for younger sociopaths to commit mass murder, this hasn’t been proved and the effectiveness of such a policy will likely take a very long time to assess. Against implementing this is the compelling argument that people this age are permitted to serve in the military and vote.

Also worthy of debate but much less likely to have a substantial impact is closing the widely publicized gun show “loophole.” Again, this would likely be largely ceremonial, as this mode of acquisition of weapons of mass destruction is extremely unlikely based on the statistics. However, opposition to this measure is often cited as proof that gun rights activists are blindly against what is perceived as “reasonable” gun control. It’s possible from a public perception standpoint that the benefits may outweigh the “slippery slope” concerns (not entirely unfounded in this political climate) against it.

Finally, stop the virtue-signaling. It must be recognized that measures being clamored for against the AR-15s, and semi-automatic rifles in general, will have little impact with respect to overall gun violence and homicide. If the goal is to stop mass shootings, a laudable one by any rational person’s standards, the cost to our rights and the under-publicized benefits of ownership of these weapons by law-abiding citizens, must be factored into the equation. Especially since the value of outright bans of additional classes of weapons beyond automatic is unproved and may even be detrimental. In any case, simple-minded, reflexive, “feel-good” policy-making and name-calling must stop. We shouldn’t be “shooting from the hip” on this issue.

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4 Responses to “YOU CAN’T DODGE BULLETS—OR THE GUN DEBATE”

  1. Ira A Heller Says:

    Quote from above:

    “The number of gun homicides annually has been in the mid 10,000s and has been steadily declining since the 1990s.”

    Check out chart included in this article. It is always easy to pick and choose data points to support specious arguments.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/04/02/guns-are-now-responsible-for-the-largest-share-of-american-homicides-in-over-80-years-federal-mortality-data-show/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.baa2fa3c0233

    • heartheaded Says:

      This piece does not refute the data that homicide rates have seclined but makes the point that gun-rellated hoIcides relative to other hoIcides has spiked, that thiis is volatile, and that it could be the beginning of a trend.

  2. Ira A Heller Says:

    It specifically refutes the quote that “gun homicides…have been steadily declining”.

  3. heartheaded Says:

    Perhaps, but need actual numbers and in many cases the statistics conflate homicides and suicides, and sometimes justifiable homicide (I.e., self-defense).

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