Gun control would not have prevented Newtown, but we should still have more of it
The gun-control debate is not as black and white as we would all like. If we all want to achieve the best OUTCOME in relation to gun violence (surely that would be the least amount of total deaths. including the ability of legally-held guns to prevent deaths) then we need to look at hard facts……
-there are 300 million firearms in the USA, just shy of one per man, woman and child in the country
– around 12,000 people are shot to death by others each year, and around 18,000 people commit suicide using firearms (i.e. self-harm is much higher than harm to others)
– it is estimated that guns are used in self-defence in the USA around 1 million times per year (i.e. when guns exist, it can be a good idea to have one for yourself)
– roughly 18 children are killed by firearms every day in the USA. That’s a Newtown tragedy roughly each and every day. (i.e. why does it take a mass tragedy to move people?)
– gun violence overall in the United States is vastly down from its highs in the 1980s (i.e. things are getting slowly better, but why?)
– however, mass killings of the type in Newtown ARE on the increase (i.e. if we assume guns are “equally available over time” what is driving this increase?)
– the contributions to electoral candidates from gun-makers is about 1% of the total from law firms (i.e. for candidates, guns are more about “culture” than “money”)
The other aspect of US gun control that makes the debate difficult is the “unscrambling the egg” problem. With so many firearms out there, and with gun use so ingrained in the culture, a path forward has to start from where we really are, not from we would like to be.
So, here is my logical path to what can and should be done in the USA – my opinion is that of a relative outsider, but from someone who has used guns for sport.
1. Like it or not, the US constitution (2nd amendment) is now interpreted as specifically allowing individuals to bear arms. That won’t change any time soon.
2. We don’t allow US citizens to own shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles, or tanks. So there ARE clear practical limitations to ownership of arms that we all accept.
3. In August 1998, the IRA massacred 29 people and injured 220 others with a bomb in my home town. No-one argued that “bombs don’t kill people, people kill people” as a reason why possession of explosives should not be a criminal offence unless it is a firework or you run a quarry. The same principle is true for guns.
4. On the same day as Newtown, a Chinese man stabbed 22 children and one adult at a school in Henan province. Just because people can kill with everyday objects like knives and sticks or cars is not a reason to NOT ban more lethal weapons. The Chinese man, by the way, didn’t end up killing anyone…
4. I do believe that with so many guns already in circulation, and given the constitutional debate and it’s outcomes, and given the cultural norm in most of the USA, that the Federal government should not interfere with people’s basic right to own a firearm for self-defense, target shooting and for hunting. (States can do what they choose).
5. But I have never come across any person or any circumstance where a high-capacity automatic weapon or a high-capacity ammo clip serve any useful civilian purpose. Not hunting, not self-defence. I have fired AK-47s and M16s at paint tins. It was fun. It was not useful. These sorts of firearms should be banned at the federal level with legislation that can not be easily skirted like the previous Assault Weapon restrictions that were allowed to lapse in 2004.
6. We don’t allow people to buy and to drive cars without producing a form of ID and undergoing a background check of sorts. The federal government should close all loopholes on private sales of guns and on gunshows. Guns should only be bought and sold through a licensed gun dealer.
Ban high-capacity ammo & automatic weapons, end private sales, enforce background checks.
Now, none of that would likely have prevented Newtown – the guns were legally purchased in a state with strict regulations. The best it may have done would have been to reduce the number of deaths as the shooter would not have had access to the one weapon with a higher, faster kill rate.
In fact I am sure it could be debated whether any of the mass shootings in the past two decades could have been prevented with these laws. Strict gun laws didn’t prevent massacres in Hungerford or Dunblane or Norway.
There is also the very very difficult question of whether or not any ban would be retrospective, demanding that people who purchased automatic weapons between 2004 and today turn those in to local law-enforcement.
But I don’t see these steps in the USA being an unreasonable or unconstitutional impediment to the right to bear arms for self defence or hunting (anyone in the USA that thinks they are going to be able to form a militia will have a rude awakening.)
And no-one can tell me why we should not group high-capacity ammo clips and automatic/assault weapons with mortars, stealth bombers and scud missiles in that category of “arms that the army can have, but not the citizen”.
There is not going to be, and there should not be, a roll-back of gun-ownership rights for self-defence, target-shooting and hunting.
The rest is common sense, right?