One of the positive side-effects of the Trump administration is that citizens are far more informed on the issues than at any time in my memory. The public seems to be getting into the details on a lot of topics lately. Gun control is a great example. I consider myself under-informed on that topic, but improving daily, as are most of you who follow the news. And I thought it would be useful for some of you to compare your views on the topic to where I’ve evolved so far.
What follows is my public confession of ignorance on the topic. I will list the things I believe to be true, while asking readers to fact-check me. I’ll modify my list as corrections come in.
In no particular order, here’s what I think I know.
Gun control works. If it didn’t work, the Vegas shooter and the Florida school shooter would have used fully-automatic weapons and killed far more people. The one-time mass shooters are clearly using the most lethal weapons they can get without too much friction. Fully-automatic weapons are expensive, less available, and can create a paper trail with purchase. That’s evidently enough friction to make them not the weapon of choice. Therefore, the existing gun controls on fully-automatic weapons seem to work.
Professional criminals can always get weapons. But they are not the topic of most gun control conversations for that very reason.
States with tight gun control have lower gun violence. But those states are also blue states. The obvious correlation here is that liberals vote for gun control no matter how many or how few problems the state experiences. The state-to-state comparisons do not tell you if gun control works.
Comparing gun ownership in the United States to other countries is more misleading than illuminating because no two situations are alike. The United States isn’t Switzerland and it isn’t Japan.
Chicago has strict gun control and yet it has high gun violence. But that doesn’t tell you gun control doesn’t work. It might tell you Chicago is a blue (liberal) city with a gun violence problem. But that’s all it tells you. We can’t know if Chicago would have even greater problems without the existing gun laws.
Gun ownership is a safeguard against the government turning on citizens. While the professional military will always have overwhelming firepower compared to citizens, private guns would instantly be turned on the unprotected assets and family members of anyone involved in a coup attempt. That’s a safeguard.
The NRA opposes universal background checks for gun purchases because it creates a list of gun owners that would be useful for a government that might want to later confiscate guns. Yet the NRA itself is a list of gun owners, in effect. And any gun owner who buys a weapon, ammo, gun accessories, or uses a gun range is discoverable by their credit card or check purchases. If you subscribe to Guns & Ammo magazine, or visit gun websites, or say pro-gun things on social media, that’s discoverable too. So 98% (just a guess) of gun owners are already discoverable by the government.
There’s probably no practical way to effectively regulate or ban private person-to-person gun sales. But you could pass a law putting some liability (say a $10,000 fine for example) on the private seller in case the gun is used by the buyer for a crime within, let’s say, one year. Under this scenario, you also want to have legal ways to privately sell guns without the liability risk. That could include buying a one-year surety bond, or selling the gun to a licensed dealer. Just brainstorming here.
Gun owners worry about a slippery slope from background checks to gun confiscation. But with hundreds of millions of guns already in circulation, and a gun culture in our DNA, we already have Mutually Assured Destruction if the government were to attempt confiscation. The government itself would fall within a week, in my opinion. I judge the slippery-slope-to-confiscation argument to be a real risk, but a smaller risk than just about any other risk the country routinely discusses.
Politicians and citizens often refer to AR-15 rifles as assault weapons, or assault rifles. But a more accurate description, by far, would be “defensive weapon.” I would imagine that for every 10,000 AR-15 sales, perhaps one nut is buying for actual assault purposes. The rest are for sport shooting and defense. Words matter in political conversations.
According to at least one ER doctor who has seen many gunshot wounds, the high-velocity rounds of an AR-15 will explode organs and make wounds unsurvivable, whereas the typical lower-velocity handgun wounds often leave cleaner holes that can be less lethal. This generality assumes most handguns don’t have special rounds that could also explode organs. And distance from target makes a difference, I hear.
Gun owners say handguns are just as effective as AR-15s for mass shootings. This is clearly untrue for special cases such as the Vegas event where shooting distance was a variable. And I would expect human psychology to favor AR-15s for any “make me famous” killings such as the recent school tragedy. I hate to say it, but a military-looking weapon is going to be more appealing, and feel more dominant, for such killers. It would also be an advantage over police on the scene if the first responders had only handguns and shooting distance is a factor. So while it is true that handguns can produce mass casualties, and have, it is also probably true that access to AR-15s raises the risk of mass shootings and the death count too. No one can estimate how much of a real difference it would make. My best guess is “some,” but a small improvement might be enough to matter.
Gun owners say gun control doesn’t work because any law can be skirted. You can’t plug all of the holes in the system. But gun control doesn’t attempt to plug every hole. It attempts to add some useful friction in places that might improve things by 2%, for example. When it comes to life and death, small improvements count.
Some people tell me there are already universal background checks in the law (and therefore existing lists of gun buyers) but I assume that system is incomplete or we wouldn’t be discussing it. I could use some fact checking there.
If universal gun background checks are objectionable to the NRA, would a no-buy list also be objectionable? A no-buy list also carries the risk of identifying legal gun buyers simply because you have to do a search with the buyer’s name to know if he or she is on the no-buy list. But maybe we could mitigate that risk by designing a system that automatically sends a thousand random names of real people with every query so the government can’t tell who the search was for. The gun store owner would get back only the no-buy names from the thousand, in alphabetical order, so it would be easy to check if the customer in front of you is one of them. Or perhaps the gun story owner can see a list of no-buy people in the buyer’s zip code so no query with the buyer’s name is ever used. Just brainstorming here. Might be other solutions that are better.
I will correct and update this list as I learn more on the topic. How close is my understanding to yours? Let me know in the comments or on on Twitter at @ScottAdamsSays.
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