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What Does Gun Control Actually Control?

There is a great deal of hyperbole, misleading statistics, and just outright lying surrounding the great gun control debate. Conspiracy theorists have also thrown their crazy two cents into the mix, which may be entertaining but ultimately not helpful. I approach many things with a scientific mindset. That is not to say that I have no emotions, but merely that it is better to look at things which have evidence for or against and weigh that evidence. Saying that something should work because you think it is obvious in no way proves that it will work in practice. Many things which I have thought to be true are not.

One statistic I’ve seen recently says that a handgun in the home is more than 20 times more likely to be used against a member of the household than to defend them. This includes suicides as well as domestic violence and accidents, and is certainly plausible. A reasonable person might like to prevent the bad things which arise from gun ownership, but keep the good (home defense). Is that even possible? The President says he wants to prevent avoidable gun violence, but not infringe on the Constitutionally protected right of individuals to own firearms. That’s a laudable goal, but how would you do that, exactly?

An old friend and Army buddy (which feels weird to say, like I’m in an old movie) lived in Chicago a number of years ago. She wanted to own a handgun but it was illegal. Chicago has one of the most restrictive gun control regimes in the country, yet the city is rife with illegal guns and gun violence. It’s possible to argue that removing legal guns from Chicago homes may have eliminated their use in domestic violence, accidental discharges, and suicides. But, it certainly didn’t reduce the number of criminals with guns. Is the tradeoff worth it? Did the tradeoff actually work to begin with? An honest gun control advocate would have to admit that the only way to prevent the bad things is to also prevent the good things. You simply can’t have it both ways. Meanwhile, thugs continue to own guns in great numbers.

And then there’s the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004 and Senator Feinstein wants to bring back. Some of the things which this legislation banned in 1994 included folding stocks on semi-automatic rifles and large handguns with threaded barrels (to accept flash suppressors). The idea that those things make a weapon more deadly is laughable. Banning cosmetic features in no way changes the lethality of a weapon. The media seem to be almost obsessed with the term “semi-automatic” which they obviously don’t understand. Every pistol I’ve ever held was a semi-automatic. Almost every rifle I’ve seen was a semi-automatic. If you don’t have to pull a charging handle every single round, it’s semi-automatic. That in no way indicates what the rate of fire of that weapon is, but it sure sounds like it means something. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied the assault weapons ban of 1994 and could not state that it was effective at its goal of decreasing gun violence. You would think ten years of a law would produce unequivocal evidence of its utility. The fact that it didn’t should make any new law subject to extreme scrutiny.

One of the few provisions that could potentially cause a slight decrease in the effectiveness of mass shooters is banning high-capacity magazines. But, there are still plenty of large magazines available, and a recent demonstration shows that a hard plastic magazine can be produced on a 3D printer, so that genie is no longer anywhere near the bottle. And, even if the ban on high-cap magazines worked to slow mass shooters, how many gun deaths per year are from mass shootings? Over 30,000 people died from a gunshot wound in the USA in 2010. According to the Brady Campaign, 225 people were killed in mass shootings in 2010. If every mass shooting that year was prevented entirely, that would have been nothing to the overall gun violence rate. The legislation as proposed and as implemented in 1994 is a flawed “solution” to one nearly insignificant part of the larger problem. Of those 30,000 people in 2010, nearly 19,000 of them were suicides. What law can even be conceived of that would prevent that?

And then we have the “blame the media” approach taken by a large number of misguided people from both sides of the gun control debate. Study after study has been done, attempting to find some link between violence on television or in video games and violence in real life. These studies have generally shown no such link. Most people are capable of discriminating between reality and fiction, and many people actually find catharsis rather than inspiration in these things. Oh, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly found 1st Amendment protections apply to media anyway.

I have no solutions; I propose no path forward. I merely point out that we must have truth in our debates, or we’ll never get anywhere. Reenacting a ban on bayonet lugs and barrel shrouds will do nothing, because it was tried and did nothing. Banning violent video games will do nothing, and is unconstitutional besides. Banning handguns has done nothing to make Chicago safer. These are things which we have tried. They have not worked. Trying them again is stupid and possibly insane. Doing something just to be seen doing something is no way to make society better or safer. Gun violence engenders a great deal of emotion, as does gun control. Emotion drives us to try to fix things, which is great, but we need logic in our laws.

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 16th, 2013 04:47 pm (UTC)
I simply want to know why Americans are so bothered with the idea of registering their weaponry and passing tests and having waiting periods and shit. I don't even care if they keep guns, but what's wrong with regulation? Like the rest of the world that doesn't have school shootings on a regular basis.
Jan. 16th, 2013 05:29 pm (UTC)
Registry is the path to confiscation. See great Britain, Australia, etc. Tests and background checks are the equivalent of poll taxes and literacy tests for voting.
School shootings are extremely rare events, but the level of media coverage rivals that of a moon landing, so the perception is skewed to match a specific narrative.
Also Kellermann's "Gun Ownership as a Risk factor for Homicide in the Home", rivals Bellesiles' "Arming America", for laughably flawed and biased methodology in every aspect of research and people seriously need to stop quoting numbers that have been completely debunked.
Jan. 16th, 2013 06:29 pm (UTC)
This answer doesn't really answer anything, I'm afraid. And school shootings are not rare. Read the Wiki entry on the shootings in America; they are getting to be a regular thing.
Jan. 17th, 2013 08:35 pm (UTC)
Registration has some elements that are worrisome to the freedom and liberty minded, but what about background checks that include mental health evaluations? Many of my gun-owner friends think those would be wise.
Jan. 18th, 2013 12:38 am (UTC)
Maybe, possibly in the case of involuntary commitment, but probably not.
Playing up the mental health angle is a very bad idea for everyone involved. It can make people who need it avoid treatment in order to avoid a stigma that could rob them of their rights forever. It interferes with treatment because the patient may be more concerned with saying the wrong thing than saying what they actually feel. It makes mental health professionals complicit in the legal system, rather than allowing them to put the patient first. Doctors who doesn’t commit a patient who then goes on a rampage will face professional and even legal sanctions. CYA will be a major factor in every action they take.
It isn’t going to help, but it will certainly cause harm.
Jan. 16th, 2013 06:12 pm (UTC)
If authorities know who owns what, it must be simply done with that. Keeping guns away from people doesn't prevent them from killing anyone.
By the way, has anyone ever asked gun manufacturers about what kind of products they build? Does anybody complain about the fact that there must always be a next generation of more effective guns to be invented and sold?
Armies use them, police men use them. They do kill people too. Especially soldier equipment kills a lot of humans through various wars lead on the world.
Does anyone put a question about these dead people?
They are killed and it feels like self-evident because it's the army and it's their job.
Every 5 years or decade armies exchange their equipment for better killing; these gun types are sold in an official store to normal people too anytime.
If you want to start a debate, let's also speak about the question "Why does anybody in this world need a gun which can shoot 1000 bullets in a minute?"
Don't a lot of highly effective weapons also let governments and interest groups lead to flirting with killing easily?
Remember, every government or interest group is also made of humans - which may give in to their inner impulses pretty early.
Jan. 16th, 2013 06:30 pm (UTC)
I really didn't understand a word of this, but I don't really think anyone who isn't a police officer needs a gun, personally, for any reason. But, since Americans are gun-crazy and threatening to spill blood over the suggestion that they might be taken away, how about we saw off at regulating their use, at very least?
Jan. 16th, 2013 06:47 pm (UTC)
When several people provide thoughtful explanations and understanding is still lacking, it looks like the breakdown may be on the other side. I'd written a longer follow up explanation, but clearly it isn't going to help in this case.
Jan. 17th, 2013 06:17 pm (UTC)
None of these were anything I consider thoughtful explanations, but more rhetoric and #TCOT style talking points. Nobody has yet given me a good explanation of why stricter gun regulations should not be in place in the US. The bullshit claims about how school shootings are rare are just laughable.
Jan. 18th, 2013 12:41 am (UTC)
If facts are of no interest to you, then I have nothing more to say.
Jan. 17th, 2013 06:20 pm (UTC)
Also, 'several people' is not two people. Two people responded to my inquiry. Not several.

Countries with less gun deaths have stricter regulations. The US has a great many gun deaths. Therefore, if it wants to stop school shootings and gun deaths, it needs more regulation. I cannot for the life of me fathom why everyone objects to that or is so paranoid about their government. The X-Files were a fictional TV show, you know.
Jan. 16th, 2013 06:44 pm (UTC)
Even if they are more gun-grazy, Americans are not less blood-thirsty than every other nation or any other group of humans existing in this world. They are humans, humans seem to have preferation for killing each other - at most if it's a fight about ressources, businesses, food, water and so on. Humans have always lead wars if they fought about something with a great meaning to them and too many people wanting it also.
Even the most restrictive gun law in this world wouldn't prevent them from killing themselves, because the wirst lethal weapon every human carries around all the time is his body.
If they want to kill each other, they will do it. Even it they will have to do it with their bare fists.
Jan. 16th, 2013 06:59 pm (UTC)
And to be exact: Are a lot of killed Africans or Iraqi people less worth than some from Western governments?
The point is, any highly effective gun ever developed by a manufacturer finds its way onto legal or illegal market; so if every human is a possible ape with the urge to kill its kind, it's like letting a child play with fireworks. Somebody is going to get hurt.
If every gun manufactured finds its way also into non-governmental hands, it's also a little issue of people who invent and sell them. - And nobody tells them "don't invent better models". It's the opposite of that.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )