More On Gun Control

Ross Douthat, in his New York Times column, tackles the issue of gun control. Coming from a conservative perspective, he points out that if we frame the gun control debate in terms of a culturally rooted activity versus the negative externalities that it causes, we may end up back on the slippery slope to Prohibition:

The consumption of alcohol, like the ownership and use of firearms, carries all kinds of second-order risks, and it’s easy to run a Foer-style argument against the claim that the happiness people derive from beer and wine and liquor is worth the toll that alcoholic beverages take on life and limb and happiness: (How many of the thousands of Americans killed by drunk drivers every year does your desire for a cold Dogfish Head justify? How many lives ruined by alcoholism? How much spousal abuse? Etc.)

He also makes the valid point that because of the sheer ubiquity of guns in private hands in America today, reducing the numbers to anything close to a level that might make a dent in the gun crime rate would require the use of some very draconian tactics indeed:

47 percent of Americans report having a firearm in the home, and there may be as many as 270 million privately-owned guns in the United States. So if you actually wanted to put a real dent in accidental firearm deaths, you would need not just a ban on large magazines or stiffer background checks for gun purchasers, but an actual Prohibition-style campaign, complete with busts and raids and so forth, whose goal would be not only be a simple policy change but the rooting-out of a very well-entrenched aspect of American culture. And the experience of Prohibition itself suggests plenty of reasons to be dubious that such a campaign would ultimately be worth the cost.

This chimes very closely with my own views. Whether or not you think that stricter gun control laws are a good idea, the unescapable fact remains that there are so many guns in circulation in America today that anyone with sinister intent will likely not have a very difficult time in finding the weapon that they need to commit the offence that they wish to commit.

If a gun amnesty was held, in which people could return firearms that exceeded any future regulations concerning the type or caliber of weapon, only the law-abiding (and least likely to use their weapons for nefarious purposes) would do so, leaving the pool of “hot” weapons that are actually used most often in crime almost untouched.

And if the government were to really tighten gun restrictions and seek to enforce them on the population (not that this would happen in a million years given the power of the pro-gun lobby and American resistance to big government dictums), this would require the type of busts and raids that Douthat talks about in his column. Quite rightly, this would never be allowed to happen in America, or anywhere else.

As defeatist as it may sound at first glance, there really isn’t anything much that can be done to curb gun crime in America from the weapon supply side, aside from obvious measures (nonetheless opposed by the NRA) such as requiring background checks to be made by all vendors including at gun shows, and acknowledging the fact that no hunting, recreational or self-defence purpose can be filled with semi-automatic weapons or armour-piercing ammunition, and banning these.

Any political capital, legislative effort and community work should instead be directed at efforts that can reduce the rate at which people use the guns that are already out there – early intervention with troubled young people, more work to combat gangs and perhaps (shock horror) the legalisation and regulation of many of the drugs whose illegal trade forments so much violence.

Given that none of this is likely to happen, we can all be roundly ashamed that after more than a week since the horrific shootings in Aurora Colorado, after all the many words spoken and written by victims and commentators and policy makers, absolutely nothing is going to change.

I would dearly like to be proven wrong on this one.

Aurora, Colorado, And The Right To Keep And Bear Arms

I have now had the time to read and digest a lot of the immediate responses to the horrific shootings in Aurora, Colorado.

Some people (President Obama, Mitt Romney) have sought to explain, unify or heal.

Some people (Louie Gohmert, Brian Ross) have sought to make political hay out of the events.

Yet others have urged everyone to reserve their words and judgments while so many details of this terrible story remain unknown, and while the wounds and bereavements are so raw.

But I have yet to hear anyone – supporters of gun rights, or the interpretation of the Second Amendment that permits them – utter a statement such as this:

“Guns are an integral part of American history and culture, and the right to bear arms freely is enshrined in our nation’s constitution. On occasions, people who legally and legitimately own weapons will tragically misuse them, either through mental illness or malicious thought, and turn those weapons on themselves or on others. The twelve people who died in Aurora, Colorado yesterday were irreplaceable and will be missed, but they also represent a part of the sad, heavy price that we pay to live in a free society that upholds the right of individuals to own and carry firearms.”

If you do support the right to bear arms, surely this is what you actually think? Massacres and individual shootings are awful, but taking away the right of 300 million Americans to defend themselves against aggressors or a potential future tyrannical government is more awful still? No?

If you support a policy that has potentially negative adverse effects (such as removing benefits or subsidies from certain groups – family farms, long-term unemployed, those on sick leave) you should have the courage to own the bad as well as the good and have the guts to explain why the human benefits outweigh the human costs. As a conservative-leaning voter living in the UK, I have to do this all the time at the moment in today’s supposed “age of austerity” and government spending cuts. Supporters of individual gun ownership should do the same. No more mealy-mouthed phrases about “guns not killing people, criminals killing people”. No. Own the consequences of your policy position. Wait until the dead from Aurora have been buried, and then prominently proclaim something to the effect of the paragraph that I wrote above.

Some people say that the aftermath of civilian massacres or other high-profile gun crimes is an inopportune time to discuss the laws controlling the ownership and use of firearms. I say that taking that view is the height of cowardly avoidance – when else to discuss gun laws, regardless of the position you hold, than when their consequences are being felt most deeply?

I’ll nail my colours to the mast right here and now: I believe that individuals should be allowed to own guns suitable for recreational hunting or self-defence. That means shotguns, handguns, pistols, revolvers, tasers and nothing much more. No grenades, no semi-automatic weapons, no armour-piercing bullets.

However, I also believe that the second amendment, properly interpreted, does not currently permit gun ownership at all – a “well regulated militia” no longer being “necessary to the security of a free state” in any sensible modern worldview. Therefore I believe that a constitutional amendment is both necessary and desirable in order to enshrine the right to own firearms for the strictly limited purposes that I have outlined above.

Yes, I recognise that this position probably puts me at odds with everyone – strict gun control advocates and gun rights supporters alike, for different reasons. But at least I have put on record what I think about gun ownership, and why (not just cheap soundbites about liberty, the constitution and so on).

Let’s see the NRA and other advocates for even looser restrictions on gun ownership do the same.