Jun 17, 2016 0
America has a gun problem. We can argue if the guns are a symptom of a crime problem, a cultural problem or a terrorist problem; or if they are a cause. But we can certainly agree that we would like to reduce violent gun deaths. We can likely agree that we would like to avoid the availability of weapons of any kind to get in the hands of terrorists or the psychotically deranged.
But as a matter of policy it is more productive to properly analyze a problem than to respond emotionally or haphazardly to a tragedy such as Orlando.
Gun critics compare the gun deaths in America to other countries such as in Europe where there is no second amendment and most weapons are unavailable to the public. But we should understand that such a comparison between a large land mass with 50 states with widely diverse cultures and population to a small homogenous population is of limited use. There is a diverse range of gun control statutes that vary not only among the states but also differ among communities within the states. Chicago and Washington, DC have locally restrictive gun laws.
It is far more useful to compare statistics of gun violence among the states. Police use crime stats to target assets to the location of the problem. We find that gun violence is concentrated in relatively few areas, mostly large urban areas. When these areas are removed the rate of gun violence for the rest of the country drops considerably, even in areas where the incidence of gun ownership is very high.
Gun rights supporters like to point out that Chicago with strict gun control measures has much higher gun violence that other cities with much less regulation. This is largely irrelevant. What we should ask is if the regulations in Chicago has reduced gun crime from the period before the regulations were instituted. If these regulations have failed to reduce gun violence, then perhaps other solutions in law enforcement should be considered. Blaming the access of guns from neighboring states may explain a few instances but it also points to the futility of only relying on the access to weapons in controlling the problem.
We should also distinguish between the classification of gun crimes. The common gun crime perpetuated by a single criminal is the larger source of deaths, and this can be addressed with restricted access and better background checks, since so many in this category have criminal backgrounds. There are many laws on the books already to enforce this that are unfortunately poorly enforced.
But the psycho shooters and terrorists pose different threats and requires different solutions. This may entail profiling in ways that challenge civil libertarians, but such a laws could be tried for a limited period like The Patriot Act, requiring reauthorization by Congress. This will discourage the abuse of the law by the enforcement agencies.
Stronger straw man laws severely penalizing those who buy for others with known risks can decrease access to dangerous felons, but this can be tricky. Could you buy a gun for someone as a gift who then shoots someone 5 years later and then be held liable?
Expanded background checks, and licensing gun buyers would also help.
But there are two tactics that will not help. Relying on the second amendment to avert any restriction is not productive. Nor is the demonization of the second amendment as a 250-year-old relic of the constitution. Beyond the practical aspects of gun ownership there is something profound about a government that can trust its citizens to be armed. The government has nothing to fear from its armed citizens, because they rise and fall not from armed insurgency but from the sacredness of the ballot box.
While restricting the sale or availability of certain weapons or high capacity clips may seem productive, the existence of so many of these weapons renders this approach ineffective unless you intend to engage in a massive confiscation of these weapons in all 50 states that are overwhelmingly in the hands of law abiding citizens. I can not picture agencies that are unable to enforce the existing laws being able to carry out such a task, and I can not imagine the population complying.
Those who call for such confiscation only embolden the opposition who sense that every effort to reduce gun access to anybody is only a step on the slippery slope to confiscation.
Pistols are far more common than assault weapons in gun violence and almost equally deadly. Identifying an assault weapon as such is not as obvious as you may think. Such weapons are used in a very small per cent of gun deaths; banning then and even confiscating them (if you could) would have minimal effect on gun deaths.
We are emotional creatures and responding emotionally to such tragedies is expected, but it is not the way to enact effective solutions.