Let’s Talk Seriously About Gun Control

Serious Cat takes gun storage seriously

I want gun control–I’m just not sure what that means.

I’ve written before about being a left-leaning gun owner; it is fair to say that I like guns and support a right to own them. That said, I’m not much of an ideologue, and the older I get, the more principle gives way to pragmatism. When I was a new convert to the pro-gun side, I had the zeal of the converted, and I’d talk cheerfully about the profound principles involved, power to the people and all that, but honestly, I don’t give a crap any more. I’m only interested in what works, based on the best available facts.

There’s a lot of renewed calls for gun control these days, and I am totally open to the idea; I think there might very well be a legislative solution to some portion of the gun violence problem in this country. In the past, I’ve referred to mass shootings as lightning-strike acts of violence, but the fact is, the strikes seem to be getting worse, even as overall homicide decreases, so yeah, let’s talk legislative solutions.

Specifically, let’s talk about what works, based on the best available facts. This requires establishing some of the facts on the ground.


Technical issues

There’s a serious problem with facts when it comes to gun control legislation.That’s not an ideological criticism, I’m not some asshole screaming about “gun-grabbing fascists”, I’m saying that when people describe proposed legislative solutions, they tend to be based on things that are, literally, counterfactual. For example, there’s no such thing as “cop-killer bullets”, a term that gets loosely bandied about to mean anything up to and including normal rifle rounds. Likewise, the Undetectable Firearms Act was passed to ban detector-invisible plastic guns that have never existed, and probably can’t exist. Again, these are not hypotheticals or ideological complaints, they are real laws passed to ban imaginary problems.

That brings me to renewed calls for banning semiautomatic weapons. Some of the folks saying that seem to think that semiautomatic is the same thing as fully automatic, which isn’t so. Full-auto guns fire more than one round per pull of the trigger, and have been illegal since 1968. Semi-auto means that it fires one round per pull of the trigger, which describes virtually every gun built since the late 19th century. Now, if you want to ban almost every gun since the 19th century, okay, we can talk about that. But saying “semiautomatic” as though it’s a special, scarier subset of guns doesn’t actually mean anything.

Likewise, the term “assault weapon” doesn’t mean anything. It refers, at best, to guns that resemble fully-automatic rifles, but are not. In practice, it means “scary-looking gun”. Not joking here; the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban heavily restricted cosmetic design features. We’re talking about a gun that’s functionally identical to its legal counterpart, same caliber, same rate of fire, same accuracy, everything, but the grip is at a different angle or the magazine attaches at a different point. Again, if we want to talk about banning all guns of a certain caliber or size, we can, but we can’t talk about banning assault weapons because there’s no such thing.

If we want to talk about banning all guns of a certain caliber or size, we can, but we can’t talk about banning assault weapons because there’s no such thing.

I also hear the phrase “trigger lock” misused occasionally. Some folks like it because it sounds like that thing James Bond has on his gun, where it won’t fire in anyone’s hands but his own. That would indeed be a pretty cool safety measure if it existed. It doesn’t. What a trigger lock is, in reality, is an inexpensive plastic lock that fits over the trigger of a gun. It’s a helpful method of safe storage, but remember that the phrase “mandatory trigger locks” means “mandatory inclusion of an accessory with purchase”, an accessory that will sit unused in a drawer or in the trash if the purchaser doesn’t feel like using it. Should safe storage be a legal requirement? Maybe so; it’s worth talking about. What’s not worth talking about are things that aren’t real.

Another phrase I’ve heard is “ease of use”, which makes a certain amount of sense on the face of it. If a gun’s harder to use, it’s less deadly, right? The problem is, again, actual practice. For example, mandating heavier trigger pulls seems like a safety measure. Logically, if it’s harder to pull the trigger, it’s harder to pull it accidentally or impulsively, harder to fire multiple shots in quick succession. In practice, all it means is that you’ve made the gun substantially less accurate, encouraging wild spraying of shots in, at best, a general direction. That’s substantially less safe, I think we can agree. I’m not saying there’s no ease-of-use approach to be taken, I’m just saying that any such approach needs to be considered not on the basis of how it sounds in theory, but how it works in practice.


Effectiveness of legislation

Obviously, one thing we should ask when considering legislative solutions is which legislative solutions have worked in the past, and why. Unfortunately, the data on that subject is kind of a mess. It’s easy to point at one foreign country or another and say that their high or low gun ownership rate correlates well with what you want to be true, but there’s two problems with that. First, if you look at all the data on per-capita gun ownership by country, it’s hard to pull a pattern out of that list. Famously violent states like Iraq and Northern Ireland are near the top of the list, but so are famously chill hippie states like Sweden and Switzerland. If you put it next to the per-capita murder rate list… well, Nate Silver might be able to pull out some correlations there, but I can’t. If anyone can find some convincing correlations, I’m certainly willing to listen.

The other problem is that on the gun list, as on the prison-population list and the income-inequality list, the United States is a crazy off-the-charts outlier. For whatever ridiculous reason, probably cultural, guns as a problem work fundamentally differently here than in other countries. Thus, we’ll probably get better results looking at what’s worked within the U.S. than comparing with other countries. Unfortunately, that data is also pretty messy. Admittedly, part of the problem there is that the goddamned NRA has been actively working to prevent thorough research, which is an intellectual embarrassment no matter where you stand on the issue.

Critics of gun control legislation argue that most crimes are committed with illegally-obtained guns, so banning legal ones won’t change anything. Data on that is fuzzy too, but it’s a side issue because we’re talking about trying to stop mass shootings, and the perpetrators of those overwhelmingly obtained their weapons legally. Recent work has shown a loose inverse correlation between gun deaths and gun control laws, not enough to lean on heavily, but certainly suggestive that gun control might be helpful. [Editor’s note: earlier, this sentence managed to leave out the word “inverse”. This has been corrected; our apologies for the oversight.] Mind you, the same study shows a stronger correlation between gun violence, poverty, and Republican support, but let’s stay focused.

What doesn’t correlate to violence is concealed carry permits. A couple decades ago, when concealed carry laws started to become popular, critics said they’d turn streets into the Wild West all over again. That hasn’t happened. Violence has continued to decline steadily overall, and today almost all states offer some form of concealed carry permit, with no noticeable correlation to shooting deaths, positive or negative. What does seem to increase violence (PDF link) is not concealed carry, but a looser definition of self-defense. So-called “stand your ground” laws increase the number of situations in which it is legal to shoot someone to death, and it appears that they do not deter crime at all, but do lead to about an 8% increase in shootings. Would a MORE restrictive definition of self-defense therefore reduce shootings further? My gut feeling is probably not, but it’s certainly worth looking into.

To return to the core subject though, what people want to know is how we can prevent mass shootings. People are sick to their guts at the horrific and all-too-regular images of broken individuals committing mass murder with legally-obtained weapons for reasons that only make sense within the catastrophic echo chambers of their souls. We want a way to keep guns out of those hands. So let’s look at some possibilities, given the facts we have available.


Legislative possibilities

Obviously, banning semiautomatic weapons has two problems. First, it’s almost every gun made for over a century. I’ve owned exactly one gun that didn’t just fire a round every time the trigger was pulled, and that was an 1879 Mauser (long story). Second, if we do decide to ban almost every gun on the market, there’s the question of enforcement.

If such a law simply ceases the manufacture and sale of such items, and it passes without incident, then we still have the existing American arsenal to worry about, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. That 1879 Mauser? Perfect working order. Guns keep really well. If, however, the law calls for the forfeit of existing semiautomatic weapons, then we need to be prepared for a massive, unprecedented bloodbath. Those outside gun culture often underestimate just how many people in this country get massive boners at the prospect of shooting cops rather than giving up their guns, or how pants-crazy serious they are about it. A death toll in five figures just from enforcement is a realistic best-case scenario; the worst-case would be civil war. Americans are really, really crazy about guns.

One interesting legislative workaround: the 1968 Firearms Act didn’t technically ban a lot of the things it banned, it just taxed them effectively out of existence. If I wanted to, I could legally get a pistol with a silencer. I know one place that pays the enormous additional fees to be a Class III dealership, and if I felt like paying the crazy markup necessary to cover their cost of operating, I could get one. On balance, though, I’d really rather pay my rent for the next five months.

The lesson I take from that is that economics can enforce gently what is difficult to enforce directly. Perhaps an annual tax on registered firearms? Say a hundred bucks a piece, so that I get dinged for a hundred or two, some guy with ten guns gets dinged for a grand, and so on? I don’t know if this is a good idea or not. It might induce people to pare down their arsenals a bit, or it might create perverse economic incentives that produce worse results. There’s also the fact that 25 years of talk radio have conditioned conservatives to believe that gun control is fascism and taxes are also fascism, so a gun control tax would be… I don’t know, super-fascism? Ultra-fascism? Whatever kind of government Ming the Merciless had. We’d probably see a certain number of enforcement deaths around that one too. Maybe that’s something we’re willing to accept, maybe it’s not.

A related idea that would reduce enforcement deaths would be to shuffle the tax up a level, to the manufacturers. Given the state of lobbying, it might or might not be realistic to expect that one to get passed, but something tells me the CFO of Colt probably doesn’t want to go down in a hail of bullets rather than just pay the bills. That’s a bit closer to what worked with the 1968 law, so it’s definitely worth putting on the table.

Safe storage laws have also been talked about, and that’s another potentially useful avenue. Deaths in car accidents went down when installing seat belts was mandated, but they went down more when using the damn things was mandated. A lot of people might store their guns more safely knowing that it’s the law. This is attractive to a lot of people right now because it’s one of the things that might potentially have kept Adam Lanza from getting his hands on the guns he used at Sandy Hook Elementary. Except that Lanza’s mother was reportedly pretty deep into the survivalist side of gun culture, so she might have rejected those fascist big government laws that could have saved her life. Or, even if she had locked her guns up tightly, she might have shared the combination or the key with her grown son; most people would, after all. Putting that one case aside, there’s also the question of enforcement again, with all the attendant scenarios involving the phrase “armed standoff with authorities.”

Background checks are already nationally mandated and a functioning system is in place. Could they be improved? Maybe. If we had a Canadian-style single-payer health care system (hint, hint) then we’d have a database of medical records that could be checked for phrases like “paranoid schizophrenia” or “violent tendencies” or “keeps talking about the Day of Cleansing Fire”. That starts to get into some troublesome areas in terms of stigmatizing and legally punishing mental illness, though, and anyway we don’t have such a database. Could background checks be improved via currently-available systems? Interesting legal and logistical problem, let’s put some professionals to work looking into it.

Could background checks be improved via currently-available systems? Interesting legal and logistical problem, let’s put some professionals to work looking into it.

That’s not an exhaustive list of possibilities, obviously, just some examples of ways to approach the problem from a legislative standpoint, some ways that aren’t based on fantasy and aren’t just slapping some spackle on existing laws. That’s where this conversation needs to start, regardless of where it ends. There are other proposals that fit those criteria, such as limiting clip sizes or ammunition, and they should be part of the conversation too. Some might turn out to be useful, some might not, but we need to start finding out which ones are which.

Some folks will want to read this article as another gun nut saying “Gun control never works.” It’s not. What I’m saying is that a legislative solution, if there is one, will not be easy and it probably won’t be intuitive. Remember, for every problem, there is a solution that is simple, obvious, and wrong. We need to skip past that one right now. We need to stop talking about imaginary things and start looking for real solutions. We need to find the answer that is complicated, counterintuitive, and actually works based on the best available data. Then let’s get that implemented, and fine-tuned after implementation as necessary, because seriously, people are dying for no reason. That’s not okay.


Photo— Drab Makyo/Flickr

About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is a writer and editor, and quite possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.


  1. The real elephant in the room here is the question as to how many people are you and your soc/com friends willing to see killed by others with guns in order to achieve your desired ends? I have more respect for Ayers and Clinton then I do for your president. At least those two never made any bones about their desire to disarm all those” bitter clingers”.
    Yeah, get back to me when you and yours show as much concern over the chi-town statistics as you do over the Newtown shooting; and when all of those polticians give up all their ARMED bodyguards and send their kids to unguarded public schools.

  2. “Those outside gun culture often underestimate just how many people in this country get massive boners at the prospect of shooting cops rather than giving up their guns, or how pants-crazy serious they are about it. ”
    When you write crap like that, it totally undermines anything else you have to say. Yeah, NOTHING helps get people to listen to you like calling them a bunch of bloodthirsty clowns who want to kill cops!

    Second, “What does seem to increase violence (PDF link) is not concealed carry, but a looser definition of self-defense. So-called “stand your ground” laws increase the number of situations in which it is legal to shoot someone to death…
    Castle Doctrine basically says that when under deadly threat, you don’t have to try to run before you can use lethal force in self-defense; considering that in some states people have been convicted of manslaughter because they didn’t RUN FROM THEIR OWN HOME before shooting, that’s as it should be. Calling that ‘a looser definition of self-defense’ is disgusting.

    Third: yeah, let’s tax people to death in the name of ‘public safety’ so as to force people to get rid of what firearms they own; that’d be just WONDERFUL!

    And, by the way, the Gun Control Act of 1968 is NOT where taxing/permitting of select-fire guns and silencers and such came in: that was the National Firearms Act of 1934. If you can’t even bother to get your facts on this straight…

  3. But you are not allowed to talk about 400+ Chicago kids being shot with a total gun ban in place. That’ll fk up the entire American Hater sceme.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Again with Chicago: North of 400 school-age kids have been shot this year, with, iirc, about sixty being killed.
    The difference in public concern is due to…the color of the victims, or the color of the shooters?
    Or the opportunity to get angry at legal gun owners/NRA?
    Got to be something. Can’t be nothing.
    The Chicago blood bath has been all over the news.
    Oh, wait.

    • Revo Luzione says:

      Dude, Chicago better ban guns soon!!!

      And, if the national Congress can’t ban assault rifles, the state where the most recent shooting took place, Conneticut, could at least implement an assault rifle ban.

      Oh, wait…

  5. Thank you for your intelligent essay.

    Speaking as a legislative drafter who has worked with firearms legislation in Australia for 23 years in one guise or another (advice, implementation/prosecution/legislation) I can attest that it isn’t easy “banning” or otherwise restricting a particular type of firearm – both legally and logistically. However it can be done. Semi-automatics of a particular kind can be narrowed down by legal definition. It is not impossible. We did it in Australia in 1996 in response to the Port Arthur Massacre, which was perpetrated using an AR-15. We subsequently restricted a range of firearms that met certain criteria similar to (or raising the same issues as) the AR-15 (eg. that it was a rifle, not a handgun).

    In terms of logistics, it was expensive. It cost us about $500 million – and that was back in 1996, and we don’t have nearly the population nor the rate of ownership of such weapons as you do in the US. Nonetheless, I don’t see legislation along these lines as being impossible. Typically, change of this magnitude is phased in over a long period (perhaps even a decade), taking into account various factors (when the weapon was purchased would be an example – newer weapons would be “bought back” first).

    So expensive? Yes. Logistically difficult? Yes. Impossible? No.

    If you’re interested, my essay on the subject can be found here: http://dandjurdjevic.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/we-need-to-talk-about-whole-gun-thing.html

    Merry Christmas and happy new year!


    • My Australian friends tell me that Australians were overwhelmingly in support of the measure. That’s a major difference in this scenario where even 60% of the Democratic party (which has an anti-gun platform) are gun owners. At the time of Australian’s bannings, only 7% of the entire population even owned firearms. So an nation that didn’t exercise much freedom in owning firearms didn’t have much to give up. It’s like taking the freedom of speech away from people who can’t speak or write. The culture is hugely different in the USA by comparison.

      What is rarely taken into account when comparing countries is that the USA has many unique factors in it that you cannot compare… not only being the most powerful nation in the world with an economy that is 6x larger than the second largest economy, we are a nation of immigrants of various backgrounds that unify around a Constitution like no other. Much of our gun violence comes from gang activity and drug running. We live with borders (unlike Australia and Japan, who are often thrown into the comparison mix) Americans usually considering it “going backwards” to follow other nations policies that do not make them stronger.

      If this were really more about stopping violence than about stopping guns, the conversation would be different. No nation on earth has ended violence nor stopped homicides. The downward trend of homicides in Australia in the 1990s continued their trajectory after their major gun ban. But in all, it didn’t stop violence (assault and kidnapping has gone up) and there is no sgnificant data to say that homicides decreased because of gun bans. The raw data is all available to see. And if it really were about stopping guns, then the AR-15 wouldn’t even be a consideration. Less than 3% of all violence is done with an AR-15. They are bulky to carry in public and have been in civilian hands for over 40 years. The last two publicized incidents with the AR-15 were in places that banned guns and had no personnel to stop or even report suspicion of someone carrying a large weapon with huge body armor across the property.

      • Yes, the culture is different as regards guns. I wasn’t saying any different. Nor was I saying anything about total crime rates etc. My comment relates to the logistics in effecting a ban on AR-15 type weapons. And my article discusses the role such a ban might play in affecting mass shootings by seemingly “ordinary” people who snap. I don’t talk of “stopping violence”.

        And the fact that less than 3% of violence is effected by AR-15s is also a red herring in terms of socio-legal policy: The question is it’s not about percentages and probabilities, but reasonably avoidable percentages and probabilities. It might well be impossible to reduce homicides overall, never mind stop them. But is it possible to reduce the chances of a Sandy Hook, Colordado, Virginia Tech, Columbine… etc. etc. I believe so. And the fact that this doesn’t account for a huge percentage of lives lost each year is neither here nor there. The American people and indeed the world would not be outraged, horrified and in grief if these lives could be dismissed with a mere wave of the hand and a citation of statistics.

        The fact that the “last two publized incidents with the AR-15” were in certain places etc. is also irrelevant to the issue. Criminals will pick whatever target is weak or weaker. The issue is not whether we can become hyper-vigilant and have personnel at every corner – for that is statistically impracticable. What we can do is examine how to limit, over a period of time, if need be, weapons particularly suited to the “task” of mass shooting – weapons that civilians have no real pressing need to own since self-defence in the home or elsewhere (do you carry an AR-15?), hunting etc. can and usually are done much better with other guns that do not share the entire suite of features that make AR-15s and similar the “choice” of people who commit mass shootings.

        • Your argument only works if you get rid of most firearms in america. My point about 3% (that’s the high estimate… 1.5% is the low estimate) of AR-15 is to show that you are wrong it’s the weapon of choice. I pointed out it’s the last two shootings because that’s why everyone is talking about the AR-15 at the moment. If they were serious about gun violence they would attack most firearms in America.

          And your perspective “no real pressing need” for an AR-15 in home defense is ad hoc. And it is always ad hoc. It’s like telling someone with forks and spoons they don’t really need cutlery… fingers and bowls do just fine. Sounds awfully arrogant as if you’re ad hoc views are superior to others.

          If you don’t think an AR-15 is used for hunting, it’s time you do some research. Many people use the platform for hunting. And for competition. And for home defense.

          The AR-15 is receiving attention because it has been in the press. I point out the statistic because that’s the reason it is being targeted at the moment. That is not irrelevant. Those educated in firearms know the AR-15 is the lesser of our concerns regarding gun-violence.

          What I hear from Gun Control advocates is that, “If we get rid of this gun, we’ll be safer?” But what they really mean is “Let’s get rid of this gun now and those guns later and then remove the 2nd Amendment.”

          If it’s about a consequentialist approach to firearms alone, we can argue this and that about statistics and who can do what. But if it’s about the Constitution (which our nation was founded and which Australia was not), then every ban of a firearm reduces the purpose of the Constitution. And the drafters the Constitution, who believed a civilian militia to stand up to professional militias, were wrong. But why were they wrong? The Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches are a check and balance. And the Government and the Civilians are a check and balance. Maybe we should get ride of the Supreme Court everytime we think their choices lead to conclusions that hurt others. Or we should get rid of the Presidency if it chooses to fight an unjust war. Or better yet, get rid of the Legislature since they can’t get along and devastate more lives with bad policies than any shooter ever has.

          Tragedies are tragic, no matter how they happen. But bad things happen daily. The West wants to believe (and pretend) they don’t. The West wants to pretend we can sterilize the world under some sort of Marxist framework We can all work to affect cultural change to cause less tragedies, yes. But eliminating the Constitution’s purpose is even more tragic for free citizens. The Australians had their own war of independence 100 years ago and should know better.

          • You don’t need to “get rid of most firearms”. Statistics clearly show that simple measures (such as greater wait times, better background checks and more “hoops”) serve to reduce the number of firearms in the community over time to those who are most responsible. Statistics also show that the number of illegal firearms decreases proportionately. Statistics are then unequivocal that this also leads to a reduction in gun-related crime. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/12/14/nine-facts-about-guns-and-mass-shootings-in-the-united-states/

            I deal with the “guns will be banned”, “Marxist takeovers”, your constitution and the Second Amendment very thoroughly here. http://dandjurdjevic.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/5-false-assumptions-in-gun-control.html. Let’s just say that this (popular) reading of the second amendment flies very much in the face of both political/military history as well as what is known as the “history of ideas”. I outline my reasoning in my article.

            While I accept that restricting a class of weapons such as the AR-15 will have limited effect, in my 23 years experience with legislation, including firearms legislation, I submit it will at least have some effect on saving some lives. It is not a panacea – just one measure.

            And no, we did not have a war of independence in Australia. Not 100 years ago, nor ever. Not even close. We became a union and a separate nation in 1901. Right now the Queen is still notionally our head of state, although this role is ceremonial only and exercised in Australia by the Governor General.

        • Revo Luzione says:

          Dan, maybe you can explain why the rest of the violent crimes in Australia, like rape, aggravated assault, etc, have increased since the gun ban Down Under.

          It couldn’t be that a disarmed populace makes an easier target for criminals, could it?

          • That is absolute nonsense I’m afraid. For a start, no one was “disarmed”. Some firearms were restricted. And in percentage terms, very, very few Australians had licences for those firearms. The has been some “rise” in the total number of some violent crimes here, for sure. But per capita the change is something else altogether. And if you look closely (http://www.aic.gov.au/statistics/violent%20crime/victims.html) you’ll see that the trends (particularly in the past five years) of selected violent crimes have varied markedly for various local factors that have nothing to do with “disarming” civilians. I’m afraid an attempt to establish a link between fluctuating rates of various violent crimes and our 1996 restriction on a small class of weapons (which barely anyone had in terms of the whole population). is tenuous – to put it charitably.

            On the other hand, your idea that civilians successfully use firearms to deter criminals – now that is something on which very specific studies have been done (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/research/hicrc/firearms-research/guns-and-death/index.html and http://m.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/armed-civilians-do-not-stop-mass-shootings). And guess what? They don’t.

            • Nothing Important says:

              Mass shootings are always reactive. It is impossible to be proactive in terms of the initial active shooter. The shooter has the advantage of choosing when, where, and how to commit his horrible deed. Most of those areas are consider “gun free zones” meaning any concealed carrier must disarm and leave their weapon in their vehicle.

              The one mentioning the Marine as not being a civilian carrier is dubious. I am a Marine as well, I carry concealed as well, and however when off duty and off base I am a civilian, a citizen. Sure I have been trained. I have however seem far better shooters with very intense training they paid for on their own free time and their own money who can out shoot any Marine. Sadly, being an armed Marine does not constitute an expert or someone who will truly perform under stress. I have seen Marines do very dumb things under stress. Once that uniform is off, they become a civilian.

              Where is the discussion on civilian body armor? These murders have enough time to plan and suit up while those they attack don’t have the luxury to plan their defense.

              It is true that a concealed carrier could easily suffer for his actions. And they might even make things worse. Yet, the active shooter will keep killing with or without the would-be hero. It is a damn if you do and damn if you don’t.

              Bystanders do become endangered by would-be heroes. The same is true for police officers as well (I am also in law enforcement where we have to consider bystanders all the time and yet we fail to do so when stress hits fairly often). Recently in Miami the officers opened fire on a vehicle and in the process wounding bystanders. It is the horrible nature of firearms and stress.

              It is definitely true that a major incident such as an active shooter is rarely stopped by concealed carriers. That is not the point of concealed carry. Concealed carry is for one-on-one life and death situation and not the chaos of a mass shooting where the bad guy has the total advantage.

              There have been times when a concealed carrier has un-holstered his weapon but never fired for fear of hitting others (Portland, OR, mall shooting). That is a good CCW holder (what is taught in conceal carry classes that are mandatory is to flee the scene if at all possible). A brave decision in a very dangerous situation.

  6. Revo Luzione says:

    Bravo, great article, Mr. Brand. This is a very balanced and well-crafted, thoughtful piece.

  7. I must have read over 100 posts from people this week about gun control and what a breath of fresh air this is. I’m a conservative man and while I don’t endorse any law that restricts law abiding citizens personal freedoms I was pleased to run across this article. It was the first pro gun control statement that I’ve seen all week that contained intelligent and logical basis to the argument.

    I especially enjoyed reading the paragraph about the consequences of trying to enforce a gun ban to the degree of confiscating firearms. I don’t think most people who ask for a gun ban really understand the war they are asking for. We would run out of police officers and military before we ran out of gun owners willing to protect their Bill of Rights. The other flip side of that coin is most of our police force and military are from gun owning families and wouldn’t carry out such an order anyway.

    I will admit some policies do need to change in order to reduce a psychopaths ability to go on an unchallenged shooting spree in schools, social events, concerts, sports games etc. I’m a big fan of additional training and education of the public for emergencies and for use of their firearms.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    Speaking of mass confiscation: Andrew Cuomo said that’s an option.
    Now, if you have sworn “to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same”, and somebody in authority tells you to start taking guns from citizens, what do you do?

    • Revo Luzione says:

      “Now, if you have sworn “to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same”, and somebody in authority tells you to start taking guns from citizens, what do you do?”

      Myself, and many LE and military members of Oath Keepers will not obey such an order.

      Mass confiscation is not an option, and will never be. There would be a small scale civil war would that come to pass, and a lot more than 27 people would die.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    Before you get all confident and stuff about psych evals, see the Rosenhan experiment.

    You’ll drive miles out of your way to avoid even passing a mental facility. It wasn’t the patients who were nuts. Hell, if I were a Fedex driver delivering to one of those places, I’d toss the package over the fence.

  10. Thanks for writing this. I don’t own a gun and I’m not ‘into’ gun rights beyond by interest in preserving rights more generally, but one of the most frustrating things about the gun control debate happening right now is that one side seems to know nothing about the subject. I had a back-and-forth with a radio host via twitter this afternoon wherein he conflated, multiple times, semi-auto rifles, assault weapons, and assault rifles (full auto, burst fire). These are distinctions that can be discerned with just minutes of research, yet very few seem to bother. The reactions I get that – 1) assault rifles are already functionally illegal and 2) the gun used wouldn’t qualify as an assault weapon under a re-stating of the previous ban – are discouraging; all emotion, no processing of the facts.

    So thanks again, for typing all this out.

  11. There are two very awkward facts that never seem to get mentioned. First, there is a huge difference between the weapons needed by Law Enforcement and/or Legal Self Defense (much less the military) and this sort of tragedy. When good guys use force it is by definition against someone who is an immediate, highly dangerous threat. So, the goal is stop that process. It is never a matter of going into a pre-certified defense-less area and executing terrified unarmed people. For the first, one needs a stout round. For the second, even a .22LR is highly effective. Thus, “military grade” guns and shooting people in a Cop and GunFree Zone have nothing to do with each other. Canada, for example, is full of guns that would nicely for that if the motivation were there.
    Second, effective armed resistance of a central government has never required having equal firepower to it. You may have noticed that the Taliban never had more than small arms and I . E . Dees The Americans did not really defeat the British Army. They left because it became too expensive and the goal of winning hearts and minds kept receeding. To resist, one need only drive off Cops with connections to the local populations.

  12. Richard Aubrey says:

    Ref mass confiscation of guns: See Oathkeepers.

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    Mr. Super.
    I got a BA in psychology more than forty years ago. Needed a degree for OCS.
    Far as I know, then and now, mental health exams range from nearly useless to entirely subjective on the part of the examiner.
    My father, a veteran, was asked by a shrink in his entry to employment, if he thought about death. Yeah, the war was pretty fresh in his mind. How often? When he said the Rosary. Part of the Hail Mary is “be with us now and at the hour of our death”. Or thought about his high school or college friends.
    If the examiner doesn’t like guns, wanting one is prima facie evidence of being a nutcase.
    You see the problem, I imagine.

  14. Mr Supertypo says:

    IMO the gun owners to get a weapon they have to pass a mental health exam. And it should be illegal to give guns as a present. As stop gap measure, having security guards at schools. And after that start to normalize mental ilness through the media. Maybe encouraging tv-show’s where heroes are depicted suffering from various form for mental problems, and how they fight both the bad guys and their issues. This as a start for removing slowly the stigma sourronding mental desise and putting up some good role model to follow as a example.

    • Its done state-by-state. You would not believe the difficulty in getting any gun permit (of the 4-flavors and levels they offer) in Massachusetts. The requirements are exhaustive and do what they were intended to do: to discourage people from bothering with the attempt.

  15. The bigger issue is motive. Gun ownership is down. What about modern society causes guns, which are only tools, to be used in such a way? Until we get to the root pathology–perhaps atomization, ignoring languishing young men, a lack of community and shared purpose, or something else altogether–a focus on guns only serves to bury the true problem. It’s an attempt to treat symptoms rather than the sickness.

  16. Richard Aubrey says:

    See where Kip Kinkel–Thurston HS in Oregon–got his gun. No, don’t bother. His (late) father got it for him because therapy was making him feel bad.

  17. wellokaythen says:

    I’m also glad to see a GMP article on the subject of gun violence mention that the Newtown shooter got his guns from his mother. The other hand-wringing articles failed to mention that particular fact. Apparently gun violence is not strictly one of those male-only issues in which women are only victims and nothing else. Clearly issues of gun ownership are not strictly questions of masculinity.

  18. Richard Aubrey says:

    I have a relation who said, in tones of martyrdom, “I just don’t wnat guns in school.” I asked her what her wish had to do with safety for kids. I guess it was a mean thing to ask.
    The shooters are, according to a Secret Service study some years back, demonstrable nutcases. Not in the You Got To Be Crazy To Do That, but demonstrably so beforehand. Shootings since have not changed that fact. Not emo types with time on their hands, but with neurological issues, synapses cross-threaded. They are determined. Holmes, Lanza, the mall shooter, got their tactical vests, their armor, Holmes rigged a boobytrap in his apartment, Klebold and Harris practiced shooting–not a cheap hobby–and practiced with propane bombs. Chao at VA Tech got his gear, chained the doors, which means you get chains and locks.
    It isn’t a guy spotting a gun and deciding to shoot up his school. IOW, if they can’t get a gun easily, they’ll get one with difficulty. A pump shotgun with 3″mag 00 shot? Or get better with bombs. Chain a couple of doors and pitch in four or five glass bottles of gasoline and light it up?
    Between non-juidgmentalism and civil liberties, locking up every weirdo loner isn’t going anywhere.
    Look. The Army developed a beautiful assault weapon, the M1 carbine, firing a short 30-cal cartridge semi-auto. Small and light, sweet little weapon. There were so many on the civilian market that, in the Sixties, the NRA would sell you one for $20 if you signed up as a new member. Comes the Korean War and the M2 carbine, same thing, mostly, but with a full-auto capability and a thirty-round mag, which, ta-da, fit the M1 carbine. Millions of assault weapons, M1 carbines with 30-round mags and ammo a drug on the market.
    And this stuff didn’t happen.
    See Pearl, MS. The Trolley Square Mall. Appalachian School of Law. A mega church in Colorado. Armed resistance ended the slaughter before it could get going. Only the latter case had a dedicated guard. The rest were legally-armed citizens.

  19. Re:Smart Triggers
    When the US military goes looking for a new handgun, they put it thru very stringent and abusive tests like poorly sand on it and dropping it on concrete over and over. The guns that pass, like the 1911 Colt, are masterpeices of simple, sturdy design. Little electronic bits? Subtle grip shapes? Microscopic biometric inputs?
    To bring this up is to laugh.
    My deepest worry is that our government wants to design gun control schemes that are intended to fail, thus opening the door to real oppression. The AR system has been shown for 40 years to generate the best firepower with mags holding around 15 to 20 rounds. 30 round mags are sub-optimal. They jam more and are fumbled more. So they want to force everyone to use the better sizes? Plus, AR type guns are so rarely used in crime, if they had never been sold in this country the impact on crime stats would have been hard to measure. Surely they know this. What gives?.

  20. WellOK.
    So, freedom of the press means whatever you can communicate using hand-operated, hand set lead type printing presses? No, it means you can communicate as well as anyone else – that you can pay for.
    Technology changes but the basic relationships do not necessarily change.

    • wellokaythen says:

      I’d say the key relationship is not between the individual and technology but the relationship between the power of the individual and the power of government.

      If the right to bear arms is meant as a hedge against government power, it has failed miserably. The difference in firepower between the government and the individual citizen is astronomical. Arming yourself to the teeth does not seem to deter government power but seems to attract it instead. The ATF is certainly not being deterred by private armament; it seems rather inspired by the challenge. Instead, arming the population with the latest weaponry tends to result in the deaths of more and more private citizens, not government agents. I can buy the “good for shooting burglars” defense, but the anti-tyranny defense falls flat.

      The press is a little different issue in some key ways. Certainly the government has massive resources that could be spent overwhelming the media, but the difference in technology is not as great as it is with weaponry. If the government had the monopoly on the internet, that would be comparable to its monopoly (so far) of nuclear weapons. And, the first amendment rights are great examples themselves of the fact that no right is absolute. All rights border on other rights, and even the first amendment has limits. Yelling fire in a crowded theatre, shooting a crowded theatre, same difference.

      Besides, presumably there is SOME reasonable limit to the weapons technology legally available to private citizens. If tactical nuclear warheads are covered under the umbrella of the second amendment, then we need a new amendment. So, okay, let’s agree to draw the line somewhere between a tacnucke and the blunderbus. I prefer to draw the line as close to the blunderbus as possible.

  21. I really appreciated this article. The author has actual knowledge of how guns work and that is re-assuring.
    I have trouble not being depressed about this whole picture. As a society, we simply cannot “blow-off” mass school shootings. But even Canadian Gun Laws would not have prevented this if the shooter was intent on doing it. They(he) would have been limited to using a .22 LR semi-auto instead of a small centerfire. But at close range, .22LR has lethality rates not so much less than anything else. It is probably a good thing that these type of guys do not know this. It is also good that they seem to believe that bigger magazines make the system more effective. They really do not, if there has been minimal practice changing mags. In other words, banning 30 round mags could mean things are worse the next time because there would be no jams and mag changes are quicker. Like the Killeen Texas shooting a while back. I am pretty sure the crazies are not reading this blog so I speak freely.
    I think that breaking the aura of schools being these extremely special places that house all our most precious possessions might actually help. Making them into special places appears to make them into craziness magnets. Take down the GunFreeZone signs and put up something about guard dogs and armed under-cover patrols. Put some fear into the bad guys.

  22. texanadian says:

    You state the reason for the essay to stop mass shooting yet all you talk about is restricting ownership. The way to stop mass shootings is to illiminate gun free zones. All those represent is an invitation for a deranged shooter to have access to knowingly unarmed victims. Improving access to mental heath treatment is a place to start if you want to stop these shootings. If you don’t want to own a gun then don’t buy one, if you chose to be a potential victim that is your choice. I prefer to be able to protect myself, my family and others if the need arises. Have I ever needed to draw a weapon in self defence? No, but I would feel pretty darn stupid if I needed to and didn’t have one with me. Laws do not protect people from individuals that want to commit mayhem. How many laws were broken by the lunatic in the most recent shooting. Laws only work on the honest.

    • @ texanadian- however recent events run contrary to your argument. It is tough to find a place where it is easier to carry a weapon than CO & AZ and no member of the well regulated militia stepped up during the Guifford or Batman incidents…. And there was an armed law enforcement officer on campus at Columbine….

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        I believe the theater in Aurora was a shoot-here-no-problem zone. I mean a gun-free zone. An armed civilian was approaching the Tucson shooter but others had taken the guy down when his weapon jammed.

      • @J. A. Drew Diaz, what isn’t mentioned about the Batman incident is that the proprietor of the movie theatre had “gun free zone” signs posted. That fits into the NRAs statement today and something safety-advocates have been concerned about for years. It’s one of those things that looks good on the surface but doesn’t consider all possibilities, namely criminals.

        Nobody is saying that guns will guarantee stopping of criminal violence (a fact the gun control advocates do not care to admit in their position: that banning guns will not guarantee stopping of criminal violence), but it does allow citizens the right to protect themselves instead of the government require they be sitting ducks. It’s only a right, not a requirement, just like those with the right to free speech don’t always use it nor that in using it will always promote what leads to freedom and flourishing.

        The public has put 95% of its energy these days into gun talk. We should be putting 95% into safety talk and solutions of which 5% should be about guns to see whether our gun talk even has a logical footing to prevent criminals from being violent.

        The the most violent and bloody act against a school was in the 1940s. A bomb was used. No firearms needed. Those that think guns (for or against) are the sure way to safety are acting like children trying to address an adult situation.

        • @ reader I’m very much aware that the rules of the theatre forbade guns…big deal, I brought my own sunflower seeds to the movies yesterday…
          The right to protect themselves has been a false promise in CO & AZ is what I’m suggesting as nobody did. Well that’s not true the AZ shooter was tackled and one of the tacklers came very close to being shot….

          • Belittling the point will not advance the public discussion. Obviously, the penalty for carrying sunflower seeds into a restricted zone is far different than a loaded firearm. Law abiding gun owners take these penalties seriously. It is likely most conceal carry individuals would avoid movie theatre with such restrictions so as not to be in danger.

            You lay out two scenarios and claim people who do protect themselves are under a “false premise” with firearms in CO or AZ. Police records show differently.

  23. AnonymousDog says:

    The Gun Control Act of 1968 is not a tax law. That Act regulates the movement of firearms in interstate commerce, requiring, among other things a Federal firearms License to engage in firearm transactions which cross state lines.

    The National Firearms Act of 1934 imposes a ‘transfer tax’ on certain types of weapons, including fully automatic weapons and silencers. Legislative history of the Act shows that silencers were included on the list of NFA weapons at the behest of wildlife managers who feared silencers would be used by poachers.

  24. wellokaythen says:

    An eminently sane and reasonable approach here. Like just about everything in American politics, there is no single magic pill (not gonna say “magic bullet”). What will work is a combination of things, and the combination will probably make everyone unhappy on some level.

    As for the illegally acquired guns, I assume that includes cases where people steal guns that were originally purchased legally by someone else? Just because an assailant got a gun illegally doesn’t mean there was never any legal sale on the weapon. When I filled out a police report after my house was burgled, I noticed there was a whole separate section for reporting missing firearms. Obviously gun theft is serious enough and common enough to warrant its own special attention. Legal guns have a way of becoming illegal guns.

    For those who are obsessed with the original intent of the second amendment, I say we take that to the logical conclusion. You can own any firearm available when the second amendment was ratified in the late 1700’s. If you want to own single-shot muzzle-loaders, I say knock yourself out. Own as many smoothbore muskets as you want. Those are the REAL manly guns — one shot every 30 seconds and you have to stand to reload. Let’s see how deadly school shootings and drive-by’s will be then. Let’s see Plaxico Burress try to sneak a flintlock pistol into a club in his pants.

  25. In the interests of accuracy, there actually do exist James Bond style “smart triggers” – the New Jersey Institute of Technology has developed several models based on a person’s unique grip pattern when firing, with a barely 1% false negative rate. (It does mean that one time out of a hundred your gun won’t fire when you pull the trigger, but given the various other things that can go wrong with your weapon mechanically, that’s hardly a deal-breaker. The problem is, guns are exempt from consumer safety regulation and their manufacturers protected from lawsuits regarding “misuse” of their products (thanks, George W.!), so said manufacturers have no incentive to add such technologies. (Source: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2012/12/smart_guns_we_have_the_technology_to_make_safer_guns_too_bad_gunmakers_don.html)

    I’m right there with you as a left-leaning gun owner. It’s a thorny issue, and one not helped by the emotions that run hot around both guns themselves and situations like these. I like your ideas about economic incentives, although that brings wealth inequalities into play – what happens if we create a culture where rich people can afford guns and poorer people can’t? Similarly, living in Arizona (one of the few states with no permit requirements for concealed-carry whatsoever) I can’t help but scoff at the people who claim that arming everyone is the solution – a gun is only as good as the judgment and skill of the person holding it. People often underestimate the rapidity with which violent situations develop, and often it’s not at all clear what happened until it’s pieced together after the fact. In shootings like these, the perpetrator isn’t exactly wearing a different uniform or announcing “I’m the bad guy! Shoot me!” Putting guns in the hands of frightened people (especially those with little training) in such a situation is only asking for more confusion and probably more deaths.

    Bah. It’s frustrating. Things obviously aren’t working as they are. But a solution that works, as you say, isn’t going to be simple or obvious. And I’m not certain that the political will exists for an extended rational conversation that involves looking at data and weighing pros and cons, not in the least because of the NRA’s very effective exploiting of so much of America’s massive gun-boners.

    • Noah Brand says:

      I hadn’t heard about the smart trigger research. That is interesting, and worthy of further study to see if it could be usefully implemented.

      • Andre van Rooyen says:

        I remember a product in the late 70’s, early 80’s, that used a ring and a grip sensor to lock the trigger properly. It was intended to render the piece inoperable unless gripped by the ring wearer (think police officer in struggle with perp, who manages to disarm and turn own weapon against said officer). The tech was a little flakey, but we’ve made lots of advances in 40 years.

  26. This is indeed refreshingly sane, and I do commend you for not being afraid to touch on this as a mental health issue underlying a gun issue.

  27. I echo Reader above – very refreshing to read about gun control in an even-minded, non-hyperbolic way. I learned a few things from this article, re: semi-automatic, trigger lock, etc. And I appreciated the author suggesting solutions with an emphasis on “possibility” not “this will work/this won’t work and here’s why.”

    I’ve unfortunately lost a lot of respect for my brother-in-law recently because of the way he presents his views on guns. Not his opinions themselves, mind you, but the way he presents them. As I was reading this, I couldn’t help wondering if he’d be among those who would rather shoot a cop than give up his gun(s), if it came to that. He is a responsible gun owner and I respect him for that, but I just can’t stomach his rhetoric around guns and gun control (and to a larger extent, government and gov’t control/regulation of pretty much anything).

  28. Pleasure to read some sanity on this issue, one that gun-lovers and gun-haters can both appreciate. The reminder that politicians create laws for imaginary things should give the public a large pause on this issue. Thanks.


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