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Bullet Points

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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.

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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)

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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.

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(2004 is the year the assault weapons ban expired)

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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.

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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.

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Categories: Violence
  1. Deana
    December 21, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    Great article, Daniel!

  2. John Doe
    January 16, 2013 at 11:30 am

    It does not matter if 80% of the people want to ban guns. We have a republic and a constitution that gives the correct process. I highly suggest that politicians follow it or they will cause the people to envoke what the second amendment was really designed for. AND it’s not for hunting!

    • January 16, 2013 at 12:32 pm

      John Doe, thanks for commenting. If you read my article carefully, you’ll notice that I never called for banning guns – just tighter regulation of them. Also, there doesn’t seem to be any prominent public figures with real political influence seeking a national gun ban. So without any substantial political movement pursuing a major revision to our 2nd Amendment you can probably relax your paranoia of impending tyranny.

  3. John Doe
    January 16, 2013 at 12:55 pm
  4. John Doe
    January 17, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Daniel, we don’t regulate the 1st amendment, why would we do the second? There is a statement in it that says “Shall not be infringed” I’m really starting to feel infringed. What regulation do you propose that would cure our problems? How do you explain the gun violence in Chicago that doesn’t even allow guns? Gun sales have skyrocketed since the messiah has taken office yet, crime has gone down. You can twist the statistics any way you like. How does a “gun free zone” make us safer? Why would Providence RI want to impose a ban on all semi-autos when obviously that didn’t work for Sandy Hook? Can you explain the logic or lack there of? What magical law will legislate a criminal into morality? I used to take my 22 rifle to school. The principal would lock it in his office then hand it to me at the end of the day and say, “Have fun plinking!” Daniel, what has changed? You tell me… When you can answer that, I think you’ll know the answer to our problem.

  5. John Doe
    January 17, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Daniel, I don’t need you or anyone else telling me how many guns or rounds of ammo you feel is best for me. You are simply a left elitist who thinks he has some sort of magical insight into life that I will just never understand. I am a free man. A patriot and I love the constitution and until the second amendment is abolished or interpreted by our future left leaning supreme court, I will never comply with what people “think” is best for me. You folks are going to start a civil war because guys like me have just about had enough… You will be easy prey! You are a sheep!

    • January 17, 2013 at 1:01 pm

      John Doe :

      Daniel, we don’t regulate the 1st amendment, why would we do the second?

      We do, in fact, regulate speech to some extent.

      I also hope you agree that the government can legally prohibit citizens from owning chemical and nuclear arms or is that an infringement on the 2nd Amendment? Even Justice Scalia recognizes that certain regulations are consistent with the constitution: “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

      Many of your questions seem to imply I favor a total gun ban or that I think guns are always bad; I do not (“it’s neither possible nor desirable to make America completely gun-free”). If you want to own a gun for your protection that is your right and I support it.

      But assuming you think we can control the type of arms citizens can own at all (e.g. a MOAB, landmines, etc), we just differ on the degree of regulation. For instance, I don’t think universal background checks for purchasing firearms is an unreasonable violation of your liberty.

      Oh and fun fact: starting a civil war is a violation of the constitution.

  6. John Doe
    January 17, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    I looked up Israel and you are correct but you neglect to tell the entire story. Israel men get drafted at 18 years old and trained in gun handling. In Israel, there is a heave military presence everywhere and, if you look at homicides, they are mostly caused by explosives. Based on this, is your comparison to the US valid? I don’t think so… Not in a country where people think fire extinguishers should be in schools in case there is a fire but not armed police or teachers. Also, Governor DP wants to limit all mags from 10 to 7 rounds. Can you explain how that makes us safer? He also wants to limit purchases to one per month. Explain how that will make us safer. If a criminal wants three guns, he only has to wait 3 months and that’s if he only intends to get them legally. You lefties kill me! By the way, if a civil war is created it will be because the constitution isn’t being followed so moot point! Go after the nutjobs on mind altering drugs that commit these crimes and fix that. Today, they issue drugs for everything. People can’t even deal with life anymore it seems. Take a look at the documentary called “Making a killing.” There’s our problem… I knew you were going to bring up WMD. That was predictable. By the way, where are all the other postees?

    • January 17, 2013 at 1:40 pm

      I just brought up Israel to illustrate an example of a type of gun control that might limit gun murders and injuries. I never sought to make a full comparison between the 2 countries.

      Yes, I predictably brought up WMD and other obvious regulations we have that are consistent with 2nd Amendment to correct your misconception that we don’t have regulations of our constitutional liberties.

      For the record, I don’t support every conceivable regulation or think they are all equally effective.

  7. John Doe
    January 17, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    I think lefty guns should be limited to one round. At least when their life is in danger, they can shoot themselves.

  8. John Doe
    January 17, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    Show me a chart on how many potential crimes were averted because the victim simply showed his firearm. (No shots fired) Do you know how many of these events probably go unreported? Your charts are useless. They still don’t explain the simple fact that since 2008 gun sales have sored, especially AR15s yet crime has gone down. You just can’t accept that. Admit it. It doesn’t fit in your agenda.

    • January 17, 2013 at 1:52 pm

      It’s surprising that this has to be even said, but guns and gun control aren’t the only influence on crime. And, for the final time, I don’t support banning all guns. I think guns can serve a useful purpose in self-defense. None of that conflicts with supporting modest gun control measures like background checks.

  9. John Doe
    January 17, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    By the way, I am all for proper background checks. Your heading in the proper direction with that one.

  10. John Doe
    January 17, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    All other proposed gun related limitations are not needed. Sandy Hook occurred in a state that has some of the strictest gun laws. The laws did nothing to prevent it and neither will the proposed clip restrictions, etc… Those laws will only affect the law abiding citizen and hurt business. Proper background checks are needed. Doctors may need to report when a patient has been prescribed certain drugs but still, many use drugs illegally…. There is no “fix all” solution. All I can tell you is that if a person comes at you with a gun, one of your best choices is also a gun. I am sure you are in agreement there.

    • January 17, 2013 at 2:10 pm

      I agree there is no “fix all” solution. I think other restrictions and regulations may have a beneficial impact on violence generally. My above blog post explains why. It’s quixotic trying to “solve” one specific type of mass tragedy like the Sandy Hook massacre.

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