Gun rights advocates correctly argue that we shouldn’t base public policy off one extreme incident. Tragically, we have enough gun violence every year to justify increasing restrictions on firearms. If one horrific massacre prompts action to reduce the likelihood of future violence at least we’re learning.
With over 300 million guns in the US, the protection of the 2nd Amendment, and the content of public opinion it’s neither possible nor desirable to make America completely gun-free. So what reasonable controls can we strengthen or institute to make America safer?
Wait! I can hear you now: “You haven’t established that gun controls make it safer.” If guns are harder to get, criminals will just substitute another weapon.
First of all, guns make it much easier to kill someone, which is why murder rates and gun murders are highly correlated.
Also, inconveniently for the faith-based belief that more guns lead to less violence, America is the industrialized country that has the most guns and the most violence. Not only that, the late ’80s/early ’90s saw the beginning of a dramatic drop in the number of homes with the types of guns most frequently used in violent crimes. The decline of gun ownership has roughly tracked the decline in violence. (See The Monkey Cage for more)
Not only is there a correlation of “states with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence,” but other researchers studied the effect of the expiration of the Assault Weapons Ban on violence. Since a state level ban remained California, but not in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico it’s possible to determine if having easier access to assault weapons increases homicides in those places of close proximity. Unsurprisingly, it does, establishing more than just simple correlation.
(2004 is the year the assault weapons ban expired)
So, again, what reasonable controls can we strengthen or institute to make America safer?
- A comprehensive assault weapons ban
We’ve already seen evidence that an assault weapons ban prevents some homicides, but gun control opponents usually retreat to mocking people’s ignorance of the difference between assault weapons and automatic weapons. Somehow when they point out that automatic weapons/machine guns are strictly regulated and are almost never used in violent crimes/massacres it doesn’t fully disrupt the cognitive dissonance when they’re claiming gun controls on criminals are both impossible and counterproductive.
- Ban all high-capacity magazines and clips.
If you’re going hunting for anything other than a human, you don’t need more than 10 bullets in one magazine. Curiously, Clayton Cramer, at the National Review argues that high-capacity magazines simultaneously have no advantage to the shooter and that a civilian might need it in a gun fight.
How much actual “advantage” does a high-capacity magazine give to a monster who is shooting unarmed people? Practically none.
While it is rare for either a police officer or a civilian to need 15 or 20 rounds in a gunfight, it is not unknown, and in some cases it is the difference between life and death for individuals engaged in self-defense.
During the riots following the Rodney King trial, many shopkeepers in the Korean section of Los Angeles confronted mobs threatening to loot and burn the stores. Some of the shopkeepers used high-capacity magazines in rifles to avoid taking lives.
Got that? Monsters spraying innocent civilians gain virtually no advantage from high-capacity magazines, but shopkeepers would be practically forced to gun down rioters unless they have “30-round magazines in their rifles.”
- Close the gun-show loophole and make everyone subject to a background check
Here’s a simple regulation. To make sure that anyone with a violent criminal record or certain types of mental illness doesn’t have easy access to firearms make everyone -every time- subject to a background check, a waiting period, and government approved safety training.
- Limit the number of guns a single person can own
Sorry, you don’t need your own personal armory of 30 guns to go hunting or protect your home. It just increases the risk they fall into the wrong hands (or that you’re the problem yourself). Come on, is 5 enough?
- The Chris Rock Solution: Limit the number of bullets a person can own / or tax each bullet heavily
Israel, for example, limits gun owners to 50 rounds annually. This will make it more difficult for criminals and gangs to acquire and mantain bullets, but will leave individuals with enough to protect themselves if they choose to own a gun. If this too severely limits hunters, we could tax bullets, register them, or both.
Every solution I’ve proposed isn’t going to end all violence or prevent all criminals from acquiring deadly weapons, but they should help without curtailing freedoms excessively or without the costs outweighing the benefits. The public policy nihilism some gun rights advocates display is remarkable for the conspicuousness of bias. Right-wingers that would never dream of legalizing all drugs, argue it’s impossible to stop criminals from acquiring guns. How many of those same people think guns and other weapons should be allowed on airplanes because “if we outlaw guns only outlaws will have guns”?
What about solutions that don’t work?
There was not a single adult male on the school premises when the shooting occurred. In this school of 450 students, a sizeable number of whom were undoubtedly 11- and 12-year-old boys (it was a K–6 school), all the personnel — the teachers, the principal, the assistant principal, the school psychologist, the “reading specialist” — were female. There didn’t even seem to be a male janitor to heave his bucket at Adam Lanza’s knees. Women and small children are sitting ducks for mass-murderers.
Somehow my mother who was a quote, reading specialist, and a woman kept her students safe all those years.
- Arm everyone!
Alan Jacobs in The American Conservative counters,
But what troubles me most about this suggestion — and the general More Guns approach to social ills — is the absolute abandonment of civil society it represents. It gives up on the rule of law in favor of a Hobbesian “war of every man against every man” in which we no longer have genuine neighbors, only potential enemies. You may trust your neighbor for now — but you have high-powered recourse if he ever acts wrongly.
Whatever lack of open violence may be procured by this method is not peace or civil order, but rather a standoff, a Cold War maintained by the threat of mutually assured destruction. Moreover, the person who wishes to live this way, to maintain order at universal gunpoint, has an absolute trust in his own ability to use weapons wisely and well: he never for a moment asks whether he can be trusted with a gun. Of course he can! (But in literature we call this hubris.)
It’s not coincidence that nations with less guns have less violence. Steven Pinker in his exhaustive study on violence finds that the more we escape that Hobbesian “every person for themselves” approach the more violence declines.
- More God
Religious extremists like Mike Huckabee and the Westboro Bapist Church think that if we were only more pious as a nation, we’d have less violence. Huckabee argues that if we only taught things like “thou shalt not kill” our society wouldn’t reflect its godlessness in the form of violent massacres. I’ll just assume he’s not aware that the least religious countries on earth are some of the least violent or that violence has fallen since official school prayer was ruled unconstitutional.
Gun control isn’t about banning all weapons. Like so many other Americans, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have fun and learn some skills at a shooting range.
If you want to own a gun, that’s your right, but society has a responsibility to regulate and restrict what you can own for the safety of everyone.