Arguing With Myself About Guns, Part CMXVII

29 06 2016

This post is for my peace of mind. I have no reason to believe it will change anyone’s thinking, or even be read by anyone who disagrees with me. But I need to get to a place where merely raising the issue of guns doesn’t make me crazy. So I want to address a couple of the more reasonable pro-gun arguments I’ve run across, and clarify my own thoughts about what should be done.

Style Matters

The AR-15 is hugely popular with gun owners, due to its flexibility and capacity for customization. Mechanically it is virtually identical to some hunting rifles. Gun owners have argued that the AR-15’s military styling is just a shell, with no real bearing on it’s lethality, and therefore a ban on the AR-15 makes no sense.

But why do people go on shooting rampages?  Going on a massacre is not logical. It is emotional. It is dramatic. Shooters are using the most shocking means available to address their personal pain. I submit to you that the military styling of the rifle adds to the power of the gesture in the shooter’s mind. If he only had access to a wooden stock hunting rifle, he might not bother.

I realize I’m dealing in fuzzy psychological hypotheticals. But given the stakes (mass murder, prevention of), is the role of symbols in an unstable mind less compelling than the right to pursue a hobby? Everybody likes the AR-15. Arguments against banning it are reasonable, but boil down to the defense of a sophisticated toy. Most gun enthusiasts won’t be pushed into irrational homicide by the gun’s action movie aesthetics… but a handful will. Which leads me to:

Numbers Matter, but Lives Matter More

It is undeniably true that the vast majority of gun owners are responsible, law-abiding citizens. This article from the Guardian (which I found very helpful in humanizing the other side) has the numbers:

Set 30,000 gun deaths, or even 500,000 gun victimizations, against 300 million. As incomplete and imprecise as much gun data is, the bigger picture is clear: most guns are not being used in crimes. Most gun owners are not committing crimes.

I can’t argue with that. But I do argue with the conclusion that onerous gun regulations would unfairly victimize all those responsible gun owners.

Our world is different than it used to be. A mass shooting of random people was unthinkable at one time. Now they happen several times a day in America. Relative to all the daily occurrences in the country they are still rare, but so what? Any workplace, any public place, any school is a potential target. We shouldn’t have to live like that. Not just so that hobbyists can bolster their collections.

I’m sorry for being derisive. There are legitimate reasons for owning guns. There is nothing wrong with enjoying guns. But guns are dangerous. That’s the whole point. It should be hard to acquire them. There should be requirements for keeping them. There should be limits on what is available. This Texas gun owner gets it, believe him if you don’t believe me.

Responsible gun owners get training, get training for their families, keep their weapons secure, and know their weapons well. Their efforts should be honored. No one who is willing to do less should be allowed to own, buy, or fire guns.

What To Do

Some things we can do relatively easily that will make a big difference:

  • Ban magazines bigger than 10 rounds.
  • Enact universal mandatory background checks for all gun sales. Yes, this means you can’t sell your old hunting rifle to your cousin, like you could a car. The model of cars, car insurance, and driver’s licenses is often cited as instructive for gun practices. It’s not a perfect analog, but it’s a good model. I think the prescription drug model is equally instructive. You can’t sell your cousin your leftover Vicodin either.
  • Ban online gun sales. Require presentation of ID in person to buy a gun. Yes, some criminal masterminds can work around this. The point is to make it harder. As I’ve said before, mass shooters are not criminal masterminds. Most of them rely on easily acquired weapons. We must take steps to erase the gray market.
  • Severely restrict open carrying. There is no reason to carry a rifle into Starbucks. Laws can be crafted to make threatening carriers subject to immediate arrest, while allowing hunters and target shooters to transport their guns as they will.

What we should not do, at least not right away, is tie gun ownership to terrorist watch lists. It sounds like a good idea, but currently our watch lists and no-fly lists are highly problematic. We need to refine our law enforcement and national security mechanisms beyond racial profiling. We would be better served by scrapping the next round of new fighter jets and putting the money into training and development of human beings to understand, locate, and assess other human beings.

That brings up big picture items. Guns are not the only piece of the problem, and we need to address deeper root causes if our lives are ever going to be secure. But that’s another post. This one has served it’s purpose. Thanks for reading.










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