Seems like every week now we have to read headlines that some homicidal whackjob has decided to commit an act that guarantees he’ll be “above the fold” and the lead story on the evening news. But along with the loss of life and the sensationalism over the tragedy, inevitably, we’ll have to listen to a Greek chorus of gun control types singing once again from the “lets ban all guns” hymnal. Nine times out of ten, the lyrics go something like “if only we had stronger gun laws, this wouldn’t have happened.” Well, let’s revisit that, old song and dance for a moment, shall we?
Ostensibly, the purpose behind gun laws is to promote public safety by restricting access to firearms. I say “ostensibly” because if other laws had the same success record in regulating their subject matter as gun laws do, they’d have been stricken from the books long ago. Don’t believe me? Well if you don’t, you should.
The Trouble with Gun Laws
In the summer of 2012, around 391 people died as a result of gun violence in Chicago, Illinois a 25% increase from last year despite a steady national decline. That’s the very same Chicago that has the nation’s most stringent gun control laws. In New York City, another big “gun-free zone”, a gunman ignored the sign and decided to kill someone who’d offended him near the Empire State Building. Police responded and the shooter died, with nine or so innocent bystanders (not by the gunman, mind you, but by police rounds). We’d be remiss if we didn’t include the Batman Movie Massacre and the Gabriel Giffords shooting. Now Oregon and Sandy Hook. Hey, let’s go ahead and throw the Fort Hood massacre in for good measure.
These are all tragedies and I am confident we should never lose sight of that first. But I am also confident that none of these incidents of senseless violence would have been affected in the least by stricter gun laws. None. Why? Simply because, though gun laws apply to everybody, they are observed only by those who obey the law and obeying the law, despite any threat of legal recourse we currently have in place, is fundamentally voluntary. The reality is a man who is willing to kill children for spectacle doesn’t respect man’s most sacred laws let alone its trivial ones. If you are looking for something evil here, to me it’s this narcissism, this sick, lack of regard for the consequences of ones actions we see celebrated far too often in our culture. That’s the clear and present danger, not the gun. The problem is that’s a much more complicated issue.
Sense of the senseless
Granted, I understand that much of the newsrooms’ impulse to cover mass shootings is to an extent necessary. In the wake of traumatic events, people naturally yearn to make sense of the chaos they’ve witnessed and they turn to the media, not just for the real time facts surrounding the story but also to coax out some deeper motive, some underlying reason as to why evil came to visit them. But can this even be done? And if so, does it really mean anything in terms of our safety?
The Empire State shooting is interesting, in that the gunman had owned his gun – legally – for over 20 years. He was a disgruntled ex-employee, who decided to murder his ex-boss. This nut job put four or five rounds into the victim and calmly walked away. When the police caught up with the triggerman, he turned and pointed his gun at the officers in some “suicide by cop” gambit. Officers responded (as they often do when you’re stupid enough to point a gun at them) by performing the proverbial “magazine dump” and emptying their mags into the assailant – and quite a few innocent bystanders.
Now, let’s say for a moment that somehow Mayor Bloomberg waived a magic wand and found a way to make all the guns in the Big Apple magically disappear. Do you think the victim would still be alive? As long as you allow the sale of hammers, screwdrivers, and ice picks to civilians, allow people to walk around with any flammable liquid and a kitchen match, or permit folks to sharpen sticks, you’re gonna have murders. Heck, you let people keep their shoelaces they’ll kill each other.
In Oregon, the rifle was stolen. In the Giffords shooting and the Colorado shooting the guns were purchased legally (though it should be noted a gun range owner flagged the Colorado shooter as a weirdo based solely on the voicemail he had left at his range in hopes of joining his gun club). The maniac in Sandy Hook stole his mother’s own lawfully purchased weapons. Neighbor noted she was a responsible owner. Does any of it matter (check out Truth about Gun commentary on Mother Jones data here)?
Fact is, if you want to do someone bodily harm, you don’t need a gun to do it. Regardless of your motives – revenge, infamy, gang warfare, whatever – a beer bottle filled with unleaded, stuffed with a rag and a match is every bit as effective and sensational a weapon as is an AK-47.
On too much honey
But what about regulating wretched excess? Wouldn’t that be a good idea? People can own
Let’s take the proposed law banning “high-capacity magazines”; I don’t understand how people figure they’ve added to the level of shooting violence. Any engineer who understands small arms will tell you that the larger the capacity of a magazine is, the more prone it is to jamming, which renders any weapon at least momentarily unable to fire. In fact both the Batman Cinema perp and the Giffords bozo had their murder sprees interrupted by jammed magazines so on those odds, hi-cap magazines are as likely to jam as they are to help keep a shooter from having to stop to reload.
Most massacres are over inside of a couple of minutes despite the fact that most killers do not use full-auto weapons. Aside from the fact that no massacre since the St. Valentines Day one in Al Capone’s time has been committed using full-auto weaponry, when you shoot a rifle or carbine on full auto it’s over in seconds. Full auto has it’s uses – laying down cover fire, for instance – but it’s a big time waste of ammo if you’re trying to take out individual targets and let’s just say there’s a reason pros call the mode “spray and pray”.
So lets talk about the history I was betting on, i.e. the 1994 “assault weapons” gun ban, a.k.a. the “Clinton Gun Ban”? Ever wonder why that law was allowed to expire? Simply put, time proved that it did absolutely, positively nothing to decrease the murder rate. Nada. Nyet. Zero. Seems when given a choice of weapons, your garden variety thugs and thugg-etts will choose “cheap and concealable” over “expensive and impossible to hide” every time.
Because that’s the reality here: despite grotesque tragedies like the one in Sandy Hook, violent crime is going down, gun ownership is going up, guns can be used to save lives and the weapon of choice for the average criminal is not a fully-tricked out AR-15, but the cheapest .38 revolver the crook can lay his hands on. Or rig up themselves. If they are exceptionally industrious and happen to rip off a homeowner’s arsenal, they might gain access to a 1911 in .45 ACP or a Glock 9mm. Maybe even a 12 gauge shotgun. But an AR or AK? Lugging around a rifle when a handgun will do loses you the element of surprise, always a big advantage, tactically-speaking.
Failure to communicate…
The entire concept behind the Clinton Gun Ban in my opinion was focused around banning some kinds of guns, figuring once they’d gotten some guns out of civilians hands, they could wage a war of attrition on the rest and I feel this way because they used vague, almost meaningless language. Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center coined the term “assault weapon,” a co-mingling of the legitimate term “assault rifle” and “weapon.” Why is this important? Because all weapons are (or can be) assault weapons. A hammer is an “assault weapon” if you use it to murder someone in cold blood and the use of the term served to my thinking only as a loophole to regulate other guns.
An assault rifle (as opposed to weapon) refers to a specific type of firearm designed – fully automatic, lightweight and reliable – for combat troops. An AR-15, for instance, is a civilian version of the military’s M-16. The difference? An AR-15 fires one round every time you pull the trigger. No more, and no less. An M-16 can fire one round per trigger pull, fire in “burst mode” (three rounds per pull) or in full-auto mode (a.k.a. “spray and pray.”) Fully-automatic weapons have been regulated by the Feds since the 1930s. All the Clinton ban did was to stop citizens from buying some kinds of semi-automatic weapons, largely because they looked like rifles criminals by and large don’t use.
What we discovered after ten years after implementing it and another ten not is that regulating the sale of “assault weapons” (scary black guns) no matter how well intentioned, simply don’t work. Since we can’t stop crazy people from doing crazy things legally (until they commit a crime, they are innocent until proven guilty, remember), no law will ever stop someone from committing atrocities – with or without a gun.