Gun Control?

The recent massacres in Aurora and Sandy Hook have provoked heated discussions on how to prevent such occurrences from repeating themselves. On one side, typically the left, there's an emphasis on guns as the main threat to public safety. These people want to see the government restricting if not prohibiting gun ownership. The unspoken assumption is that anyone with a gun, even otherwise law abiding, peaceful citizens, is a threat, not just criminals. In some respects, that reflects the left's view of people as requiring government supervision because of their inability to govern themselves. On the other side, typically the right, there are those who see gun opponents cynically using these tragic incidents as further justification for violating the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution's Bill of Rights. My intent is to analyze the situation and what can be profitably done to placate the concerns of both sides even though the philosophical differences over the role of government, i.e., benefactor or threat to liberty, may render an agreement impossible. Ultimately, the problem is not about guns, it's about murder and what can be done to prevent it and ensure public safety.

Guns are an inanimate tool and it's people who kill, as the right is prone to argue. The left knows that, of course, but argues that the tool is far too effective as a means to kill. From their perspective, the government routinely restricts access to other inanimate things that endanger the public or even the individuals using them. So drugs are banned since some people misuse them. Car drivers are trained, tested and licensed, lest they pose a hazard on the road. Motorcyclists typically are required to wear a helmet. The list goes on. So the left could argue that guns are one of the most potent threats to the public, so they should be banned or severely restricted to certain qualified and licensed persons.

Of course, alcohol is a drug that causes untold misery from its effects, yet although somewhat restricted, it's entirely legal. Minors aren't lawfully allowed to consume alcohol, but everyone knows it's easily obtainable. The government is finally starting to realize that marijuana is being used regardless of what the government does to stop it. Automobiles kill thousands, but they're quite useful, even necessary, so the government knows they can't be banned and so does what it can to license drivers. Smoking tobacco kills hundreds of thousands, yet it's still legal and minors are typical users. So not every threat to public health and safety is banned. So why guns, asks the right.

Firearms are ubiquitous. There are over 80 million gun owners in this country, so they're very popular. People love guns and are passionate about them in many instances. That probably frightens some on the left. So to say the government can restrict access to guns, even among minors, is patently discredited by the failures of other government programs to eliminate articles deemed detrimental to society, such as pot. It's like the old proverbial closing of the barn door after the horse is gone. The Lanza child, who perpetrated the Sandy Hook massacre, used his mother's legally obtained guns, just as kids sneak their parent's cigarettes or prescription drugs. It should be obvious that the government cannot monitor each home to ensure that guns or prescription drugs are kept out of the reach of minors. All government can do is penalize adults when their children are caught. Most laws are like that. They can't stop criminal behavior by monitoring criminals. They can only create deterrence by penalizing the commission of the crime. This country has myriads of laws regulating guns and penalizing their illegal use. Creating more laws is the typical bureaucratic solution to helplessness. Clearly, this is not the solution.

Another tact used now is to ban so-called assault weapons. The people who label a gun as an assault weapon are typically those who have never been in the military and have no idea what a real assault weapon is. But the idea is that some guns have a high rate of semi-automatic fire (you fire each time you pull the trigger) and large magazines. And they typically look like a military weapon. The thought is that the combination of rapid fire and a large magazine can result in mass casualties. The facts, however, are that any semi-automatic hunting rifle has the same operating system as a so-called "assault gun" and the size of the magazine is irrelevant. That's because a hunting rifle may have a magazine or clip holding typically three to five rounds but it takes literally a couple of seconds to change a five round clip and then keep firing. Moreover, you can carry several of them unobtrusively since they're small. The AR-15 Bushmaster rifle, one of the favorite targets of "assault weapons" bans, has a 30 round magazine, but carrying replacements is less unobtrusive. It's a large magazine compared to a small clip. The AR-15 may look like a mean military weapon, but it's basically a civilian hunting rifle dressed up in a military uniform.  Even if it were full-automatic (the gun fires as long as the trigger is depressed), firing the entire magazine takes seconds (they fire at about 1700 rounds per minute, so how long would it take to fire 30 rounds?) and most of those bullets wind up going into a small area. Further, the Aurora and Sandy Hook shooters took several weapons to their rampage (Aurora was one rifle and two handguns, while Sandy Hook was four handguns). If you empty one gun, you fire with the next one. No need to reload. And lastly, nobody is firing back, so rapidly changing magazines isn't all that necessary. If your victims are cornered in a classroom and especially if they're children, the shooter can take his time. It's like shooting ducks in a barrel.  It should be clear, then, that banning so-called assault weapons isn't the answer. It will have little impact on casualty counts.

So what does that leave for those who see guns as the problem? Some have suggested the government will go after ammunition since the Constitution doesn't say we have a right to load our guns. Moreover, ammo is expendable whereas guns can last hundreds of years if maintained. Shutting down the ammo plants in this country would render ammo very similar to drugs as a black market commodity. It might take a while, especially if people horde what ammo they have, but at least there won't be as many rounds available as hunters and target shooters use up their stock of ammo and that should restrict the sale of guns. Alternatively, the government can ration ammo distribution to those granted a license. I assume this will be the course the government will take, provided the ensuing public uproar doesn't force them to back down.

On the right, the theory is that an armed citizenry is the best assurance of public safety. They point out that we all have a right to defend ourselves and in the event of a crime upon our person, relying on the police for protection is almost always too late. The police are there to solve the crime. Rarely can they stop it. It behooves the individual, then, to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure personal protection. Guns, those on the right say, are effective deterrents and crime statistics indicate that where gun laws are draconian, crime thrives, whereas in locales where the citizenry is apt to be armed, crime rates plummet.  (The left disputes that finding.)  Taking away the guns of a free people, they say, leaves only criminals and the government with guns, and that leaves the citizen at the mercy of both. After all, when America's founding fathers created the 2nd Amendment, they had in mind the recent revolution in which they used firearms to throw off a tyrannical English government that was abusing their rights. Ensuring that citizens had hunting rifles was a given anyway.

The left scoffs, claiming society would resemble the wild west and too many people would settle disputes by shoot outs. As an example, they need only point to inner cities where murders, even over trivialities, are all too prevalent, even in schools. This may be true, but it ignores the cultural and socioeconomic conditions in those areas that lead, for example, to criminal gangs. In this, they are wont to deprive millions of peaceful, legitimate gun owners of their right to bear arms as a means to prevent a tiny minority from abusing that right.  That's typical of government.  If some person or small group of persons abuses something, the reaction is to ban it for everyone.  The right is more inclined to believe the underlying motive of the left is to disarm citizens in order to ensure their dependence on government rather than themselves or civil society organizations they create.

Moreover, the left believes the social conditions in the 18th Century, where armed citizens were needed to fend off Indian attacks and foreign invaders since militias were practically the only military force, no longer apply. In fact, they say the wording of the 2nd Amendment indicates that the founders were saying the right to own a gun is dependent on being in a state regulated militia. The Supreme Court, after examining the intentions of the framers and studying the wording of the amendment, ruled differently, saying it guarantees the individual's right to bear arms.

Then there are those who say that when the amendment was passed, the single shot, slow to reload musket was the latest technology in firearms and that the very limitations of the weapon prevented massacres. That may have been news to, for example, native Americans, who were slaughtered by those very muskets when used en masse. The left makes the point that a weapon that exceeds the requirements of hunting is illegitimate because its intended use is against people. A five round, bolt action rifle is fine, but a 30 round, semi-automatic rifle is not. The left also claims that modern repeating rifles and pistols were never envisioned by the founders and present a new threat since one individual can inflict large casualties quite rapidly. It only takes a couple of minutes for a shooter to kill and wound many people in a crowd. The right counters by saying the left fails to mention that it's always defenseless people who are slaughtered in large numbers because nobody had the capability to shoot back. Where there was an armed defender present, the carnage was cut short.

But the framers of the Constitution envisioned firearms as not just for individual protection and hunting, but as military weapons to arm a militia that may have to war against their own government if that government runs amok and tramples our rights. They may even have been encouraged that the individual's access to such weapons in our time kept up with, more or less, what the government could field. Muskets, or even bolt action rifles, against M-4's would not be what they had in mind. In reality, of course, the police and the army have weapons that could easily defeat a civilian militia so that disgruntled revolutionaries these days would be confined to hit and run guerilla tactics and perhaps booby traps. And that probably wouldn't make a difference anyway. When the right makes bravado claims about the government having to pry the gun out of their cold, dead hand, they're just predicting the logical outcome of resistance. The army has been battling a lot worse in places like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. There is only one institution that could save the citizen from his government and that's the army. If nothing else, the right should look up the Whiskey Rebellion and see how far that got.

Does the private gun as a weapon of war being rendered obsolete make the intent of the founders obsolete as well? Would they have concluded that the citizenry, being incapable of confronting a leviathan government, shouldn't try? Or would they keep the guarantee of an armed citizenry as a matter of principle? I conclude they would since to initiate the principle that rights not enforceable are not rights at all would endanger other rights. For example, it would be easy for the government to prevent people speaking out against the government and jail dissenters. Does that mean freedom of speech as a right is rendered moot by its vulnerability?

But personal defense, hunting and guerilla war against a tyrannical government aren't the only uses for firearms. Many on the right see a societal breakdown coming, where the government's policies will result in worthless currency, massive unemployment, and in due course, roving mobs fighting with other mobs over food and gasoline, for example. Being armed in that kind of environment may be your only recourse to survive. Then there are those who envision a nefarious government quietly rounding up dissenters in the middle of the night, and a gun may help you escape. While such scenarios seem far-fetched to the left, who seem to genuinely believe that government policies can only result in prosperity and civil rights, there is sufficient historical example to believe otherwise. As it happens, so-called "assault weapons" (which the government laughably defines as having two characteristics, such as a folding stock and a pistol grip) are responsible for about 2% of gun crimes. So why the emphasis continually placed on them? I suspect it's because they look like military weapons and that's what worries the government. An armed militia resisting continued oppression. In effect, gun ownership symbolizes the relationship of government to the people. If the government is the servant and is there as a referee, then it's the citizens who have the power and the right to defend themselves. If it turns out that government has the power to make the citizens into veritable serfs and disarms them, then the tables have turned and it's the government that has all the authority, not the people.

The right generally believes that the cause of gun violence, especially among young deranged men who commit massacres, is attributable to underlying psychological and cultural causes, not the tools they use to inflict their carnage.  In fact, the right claims that virtually all of the perpetrators of mass killings are by young teenaged boys on psychotropic drugs.  (They also point out that these kids are all liberal Democrats, which may or may not be the case.)  The right points to a country like Switzerland, where most people are required to own automatic weapons, and still the country has a very low level of violence.  So, the problem lies not in the availability of guns, but in the culture that produces deranged killers.

In fact, in a list of worldwide homicide rates, the United States ranks about in the middle (number 99 out of 187 countries).  In this country, the homicide rate varies considerably by location.  The highest rate is in the District of Columbia (24.7 per 100,000) and the lowest is New Hampshire (0.9 per 100,000).  New Hampshire's homicide rate is half that of Belgium which suggests that gun ownership is not really the problem.  As you know, DC is largely populated by blacks and New Hampshire is probably the whitest state in the union. That reflects the racial component of homicides.  Blacks are victims of homicide at a rate six times that of whites and they are perpetrators of such killings at a rate seven times higher than whites.  Most victims and perpetrators are young and mostly black. That's because many of these killings are gang related.   So, the United States is not awash in violence except in the urban cores where gang activity is largely responsible.  (I'm not certain what the statistics are for hispanics, but I'm willing to bet the situation is the same for poor, uneducated, gang-ridden locales.)

The left points out, however, that in countries with little access to firearms, mass murders such as we see here are rare. Certainly a knife wielding maniac can create a bit of mayhem, but even in this country, the weapon of choice is typically the gun. The reason may be not that guns are available, but rather that regardless of whatever incites the perpetrator, the image of themselves inflicting maximum damage on those they want to punish requires not just a gun, but an arsenal. It's as if the guns represent the shooter, that is, cold, powerful and without conscience. Take away the guns from such deranged people and it might be true that, lacking the means to express their psychological state adequately, they'll just sit and stew. Or they might focus their attention on just one person, which sometimes leads to political assassinations. Then again, maybe they'd rather set things on fire and burn buildings with people inside.  In any case, whenever there's a multiple homicide event, such as Aurora or Sandy Hook, the horror tends to activate anti-gun proponents into banning guns that are quite rare in the commission of a homicide.  A study indicated that the last "assault weapons" ban had absolutely no effect on the homicide rate.  In fact, multiple homicide victims (two or more) account for only 4.5 % of homicides (five or more victims are about one tenth of one percent of the total), and about a quarter of those multiple killings did not even involve a firearm.

The right looks to our culture of violence in video games, on TV and in movies as desensitizing youth from the horrors of violence, as if life itself becomes a video game where the deranged kid plays the gun-toting hero of fictional portrayals. Add to that the social break down of mores and values, and there is good reason to wonder why there aren't even more massacres. As previously indicated, there is a suspicion, probably correct, that all of the kids who go on these rampages are taking some kind of psychotropic drug or have just gotten off one that causes thoughts of suicide or violence. Clearly, we've had firearms for the entire existence of this country and we've always had deranged individuals, but we very rarely had mass killings (except as government policy towards its enemies). The number of such incidents, however, seems to be increasing along with the number of kids having autism and other psychological problems exacerbated, perhaps, by pervasive bullying in school. Being bullied seems to trigger many of these rampages in schools and bullying is one consequence of that loss of mores. Perhaps as less of a coincidence than is readily apparent, there is also an ever decreasing sperm count among adult males and one psychologist claims people are becoming less intelligent, which suggests that our modern industrial environment, laden as it is with chemicals, is causing problems in more ways than one.

Even if this theory as to why we have these rampages is correct, the problem remains on how to solve the root causes. Going after guns is a palliative, not a cure. While some would say it's a good start, it's also ultimately infeasible and unjust. That leaves us with even harder tasks, such as how to identify kids who are on the verge of violence and figuring out what to do with them. Do we need school psychologists to report to the police on students who are a risk because of metal problems and then isolate them in institutions? Can we increase research on identifying drugs or pollutants that may be having an effect on mental development or cognitive processing and find alternatives? Can we tone down the atmosphere of violence so prevalent in society without violating free expression? Is it possible that kids who do not have psychological problems grow up normal anyway, despite being exposed to mayhem in the media? Do parents need to be taught how to be responsible parents, and if so, how? All of these questions will take time and money to address and may not lead to solutions anyway.

In the meantime, we're left with what's practical, and that is enforcing existing gun laws while not curtailing the right of the citizenry to defend themselves. Not everyone wants to carry a gun. Not everyone should be permitted to. But if a reasonable number of people who have been trained and investigated carry concealed weapons, the slaughter can be stopped sooner and even prevented. If it would make the left feel more at ease, some of these armed citizens could be enrolled in a state or city militia, so to speak, to act as police auxiliary whose only task is to stop crimes before they happen. Imagine, for example, that Chicago, where reportedly 446 children were shot in schools and which has a very high murder rate despite stringent gun control regulations, created a city militia of trained concealed weapons carriers who would be authorized to stop violent crimes. At least it's a way to start.


Website Builder