Some Very Centrist Thoughts on Gun Control

When something really tragic happens or there’s a serious crisis, there’s a natural human instinct to say, “We gotta DO something.” Members of congress and presidents are particularly susceptible to this mentality. And, when they do act quickly just so they can do something, it often turns out badly. When Enron blew up due to accounting fraud, we ended up with one of the worst pieces of legislation in history called Sarbanes-Oxley. Before Sarbanes-Oxley, it was illegal to cook your books. Sarbanes-Oxley didn’t make more illegal, it just made it really hard for capital markets to function properly by gumming them up with a bunch of gunk that made it really hard for honest people to do business. And, guess what, dishonest people who are inclined to illegally cook their books still find ways to do it.

Likewise, after the financial crisis, we ended up with Dodd-Frank, written by one of the principal culprits in the crisis, Barney Frank, who failed to properly oversee quasi-government companies Fannie and Freddie. But, that didn’t stop Barney from co-authoring a bill that even further slowed down the capital markets and economic growth. Both of these pieces of dreadful legislation passed primarily because people felt like WE HAD TO DO SOMETHING.

Now, we’ve had an even worse tragedy. One that involved the loss of 20 young children and 6 adults. There is no doubt that every man, woman, and child in America is saddened and outraged. And, there have been lots of calls to DO SOMETHING. There has been the immediate and predictably hysterical screaming from the left about needing more and stricter gun control laws. And, there has been the immediate and predictably hysterical screaming from the right about needing to arm more people. I just want everyone to stop screaming about DOING SOMETHING and stop attacking the other side and see if we can come together and save some lives. I think my position on this will surprise people who know me and/or read my regular partisan drivel. So, let me lay it out here and now. If I can be convinced that lives will be saved by stricter gun control laws, I am 100% ready to support that, whatever they may be. But, I am a data-driven analytical guy so I need some data and analysis. So should you, especially if you’re screaming hysterically.

Before I proceed, I want to share a quick story. I have a regular e-mail group with a bunch of my buddies. To a man, everyone on the list voted for Mitt Romney, and he was too liberal for a few of the guys. Anti-Obama e-mails are a daily occurrence on this mini listserv. But, here’s the thing. After the Newtown tragedy, one of them sent out a note suggesting we should consider stricter gun laws. One by one, a few more guys concurred. Two guys vehemently disagreed, but if we had held a vote on the listserv, the “consider more gun control” side would have carried the day. I was one of them. What that means for liberals who favor more gun control is that you have our ear. Now, stop screaming hysterically at us so we can actually hear you. I will also try to share some thoughts with you as to how to talk to us. But, I warn you, please bring your data and analysis, not your rhetoric. We will listen very carefully to the former and totally tune out the latter.

Let’s start with what I believe to be some facts on mass murders. If someone thinks I have them wrong, I am really seeking the truth here (not that I don’t in all my blogs), please send me your data and source. As I understand them, a few key facts are as follows:

  • The number of mass murders in the United States has risen significantly in the last 25 years.
  • All mass murders in the United States in recent history have involved guns.
  • All mass murders in the United States in recent history have involved mentally ill individuals.
  • Gun ownership in the United States has risen over the past 25 years.
  • Total violent crime rates have come down dramatically over the same time period that mass murder rates and gun ownership have risen.
  • The number of deaths in mass murders is a tiny fraction of the total number of deaths by murder in the United States annually.
  • Automatic weapons are illegal in the United States and have been since the 1930s. [For an excellent treatment of guns laws, I refer you to the following blog by Larry Correia (http://tinyurl.com/catntyr) , a gun expert. He is hugely partisan pro-gun and I am NOT advocating his view by giving you this link. I am only suggesting you read his perspective and get some facts on gun laws.]
  • Basically all weapons of any value to law enforcement or personal defense are “semi-automatic.”
  • There are about 270 million guns held by civilians in the United States

Let’s start with the usual liberal approach that without guns, nobody can kill with guns. So, we should ban guns. I guess if you did the thought experiment that somehow, in a snap of your fingers, every gun in the United States vanished (as in poof, gone) and then we banned all new gun purchases by anyone but military and law enforcement personnel, I would believe that you would solve a lot of problems caused by guns. Put differently, if there were not a single gun in the country, there would be no gun violence. Duh. And, selfishly, I would go for it.

I think this is the utopia liberals are gunning for (sorry, even in tragedy, we need to smile and make puns). But, it is not even remotely realistic. As Correia points out in his blog, even if the government passed laws requiring all legally owned guns to be turned in for destruction, not everyone would comply. If 10% hold on to them, you have 27 million guns out there. What if only 1% don’t comply? You have about 3 million guns still in play. Folks, we could debate all day about how we got here with gun ownership and whether it was good or bad, right or wrong, but it just doesn’t matter. We are where we are and we need to make good decisions from that baseline. So, one of my starting points is that we cannot possibly get rid of guns altogether. They are here to stay. And, criminals will always be able to get guns illegally, a very inconvenient fact for the usual suspect gun control crowd. The fact that the United States Constitution gives us that right is probably important too, but I’m not going there. I’m just going on practicality. I hope you will too.

So, what should we do? Should we make it harder to own guns? Yes, I think we should. I don’t know nearly enough to propose legislation and I think much of what is bandied about is already incorporated in many gun laws. I am certainly in favor of waiting periods. I simply cannot imagine anything good happening when someone wants to get a gun really fast. If your life is in such imminent danger from a threat that you know what it is and need a gun now, go to the police. I am also in favor of very extensive background checks, paid for by the gun owner. What does extensive mean? I’m not sure, but we need to figure it out and it needs to be akin to what it takes to get a top secret security clearance. You got caught smoking dope in college. Guess what, no gun. Misdemeanor bar fight in your mid-20s. No gun. And, so on.

Now, here’s the part that probably tweaks the disability rights community (I know some folks there so maybe they’ll comment). Anyone with ANY history of mental illness is immediately prohibited from ever purchasing a gun. This part is really simple to me. I am not going to debate whether guns kill people or people kill people, but when it comes to mass murders with guns, the guns are always operated by mentally ill people. So, there is no serious gun control debate to be had without uber serious restrictions on mentally ill folks owning guns.

Now, how do we define “any history of mental illness?” Again, I’m not sure, but we need to be very strict. For starters, to purchase a gun, part of the background check will include agreeing to have all of your confidential medical records reviewed. If you were ever prescribed any type of anti-depressant or anti-psychotic, you will never purchase a gun. Perhaps there could be loopholes for things like post-partum depression, but I’m not sure. We may need to draw a completely black and white line. Likewise, if you ever had any diagnosis of any mental illness, but were not medicated for it, you will not be allowed to purchase a gun. Part of the background check may need to include other people living in your domicile. If any of them are mentally ill, no gun. We might want to consider requiring an annual background check, again at the owner’s expense, to ensure that none of these factors have changed.

I’m just spitballing here and this piece needs to be very carefully fleshed out, but if liberals want to talk to us about gun control and they hesitate for even a second on this point, they lose all credibility and the discussion probably ends.

We need to analyze other aspects of the horrible murderers and look for other trends against which we can profile prospective gun owners. I can’t imagine what they are, but let’s do the work and figure it out. If it turns out that 75% of all mass murderers played violent video games then, by golly, the background check should profile for that. I’m not saying that all violent video game players are mass murderers, but if the profile says it makes one more likely, then you have a 12 month wait instead of a 1 month wait, or whatever the numbers are.

This is how you make smart decisions. You gather as much data as you possibly can, analyze the hell out of it, and make data-driven decisions. Emotion and politics will always lead to poor decision making.

What else do liberals need to do to get our attention? They need to work with us to understand some of the dynamics Correia writes about with respect to mass murderers murdering fewer people the more quickly they are confronted by someone else with a gun. The NRA says to put armed guards in all schools. Correia wants to arm all teachers. Neither of these solutions makes me particularly comfortable, but maybe there is something to this? Maybe we do need to protect our children better and it is fantasy to think we will eliminate all guns. Liberals need to put all that on the table, at least if their goal is less violence. If their goal is just fewer guns, they won’t do it.

Liberals need to acknowledge the nonsense of gun-free zones. As Correia points out, a soon-to-be mass murderer is not likely to worry about carrying a gun past a sign that says “no guns past this point.” It’s like the executives who deliberately committed accounting fraud at Enron. They knew it was wrong. They knew it was in violation of the law. But, they did it anyway. Passing new laws against accounting fraud would have done nothing to prevent it and won’t prevent the next one. Ditto gun free zones. We need more sophisticated answers than that and, again, I am very willing to explore any and all of them, including further restrictions on purchasing guns.

Liberals need to acknowledge the fact that the overall violent crime rate has dropped precipitously with increased gun ownership. To be clear, I am not suggesting there’s causation, but there is a correlation we need to better understand. Again, it’s all about data and analysis. We have the former, but, to my knowledge, very little of the latter. The NRA isn’t going to produce believable analysis and neither is the far left. Somebody needs to and I’m all ears.

Finally, the left needs to immediately stop proposing silly and meaningless measures like limiting the number of rounds of ammunition that can legally be loaded into a gun sold to a civilian. In the 5 seconds it takes a mass murderer to drop a clip and put in a new one or grab for his second gun, does anyone really believe he can be stopped by an unarmed librarian? I don’t.

Sadly, I’m not at all optimistic that the debate will play out this way. The far left will likely continue to scream hysterically that we need more gun control, without thinking through what it means nor what impact it will actually have on the kind of tragedies that took place in Connecticut. The far right will continue to scream hysterically that we can’t limit gun sales of any kind in any way. Since the left runs the government right now, we’ll probably end up with a new law of some kind that will have no meaningful impact on these horrible crimes. And, we’ll wait for the next horrible tragedy so we can have more hysterical screaming.

All that said, if anyone wants a meaningful, data-driven discussion about changes in gun laws and other measures for preventing mass murders (or any other murders for that matter), I am wide open and ready for the dialogue. I honestly have no entrenched beliefs and I am willing to put absolutely everything on the table. But, bring your data and your analysis, please.

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About Bruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson is an amateur writer and professional provocateur
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5 Responses to Some Very Centrist Thoughts on Gun Control

  1. What concerns me here is that you are describing advocacy on either side as “hysterical screaming.” I know you are being hyperbolic, but I want to try to unpack this a little. The fact is that there are over 12,000 gunshot deaths per year in the US (source: NY Times – and I don’t think they made up the number in spite of the lack of trust in them that you hold). That’s a lot (source: me). We’re WAY beyond what other western countries have for gunshot deaths. Those countries have strict gun control laws. I understand that correlation does not equal causation, but it doesn’t strike me as a wild stretch that less easy access to guns means fewer people have guns, which means fewer people fire guns, which means fewer people are shot.

    I believe that the reason both sides have engaged in strong advocacy right now is the perception that our president, who can be wishy washy, will not act unless events force his hand. I count myself a member of a large group of people who would rather live in a country with many fewer guns, and where it is much harder to get a gun. People who hold this belief see a moment right now, not later, to push for this. If anything, you could call this calculation, but it isn’t hysteria.

    The people on the other side, which basically means the NRA, belong to an extremely wealthy and politically powerful lobbying organization. People who don’t want guns on the streets don’t have such an organization. They therefore need to mobilize at times like these, where there is a glimmer of hope, in order to put pressure to bear on the lawmakers in this country. The NRA, seeing danger to its position, feels that it needs to mobilize to get its point across.

    Now, that position (source: NPR) is that we should put armed police or armed civilian volunteers in every school. If this is the best solution we’ve got, we’re in deep trouble. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want guns anywhere near my child’s school, no matter who has them.

    This school shooting has made me so upset, it is hard even to write about it.

    • Hey Dan, Thanks for the reply. I admit that I’m a tiny bit disappointed because I think, for perhaps the first time ever, we really do find ourselves on the same side of an issue. There may, however, be a nuanced difference. I think you’re solving for the problem of “how do we reduce the number of guns?” while I’m solving for “how do we prevent the next Newtown?” To be clear, I’m not suggesting you don’t ALSO want to prevent the next Newtown and I’m really not trying to be inflammatory. My sense (you basically say this) is that a tragedy like this creates an opportunity to push for something you (and many liberals) have wanted for a long time that’s really hard to get done without such a tragedy. So, let’s seize the moment. Unfortunately, that argument is devoid of the type of data, thought, and analysis, I need to be comfortable we won’t enact laws that make things worse. In fact, it is precisely what we did with Sarbanes-Oxley (note that Mike Oxley is a republican so that was a bipartisan fuck up). We used a crisis to enact legislation outlawing something that was already illegal. The white collar criminals still find ways to do illegal stuff and the law-abiding business people got screwed. The analogy with guns is the same. As I said repeatedly in the post, I am totally 100% ready for new gun laws, but not without data to convince me that they will make a difference and, more important, not make things worse (a la Sarbanes-Oxley, which we’ve just now started to unwind – and, yes, a little shoutout to the dems for finally realizing that).

      Your comment seems to disregard a whole bunch of what I wrote. Did you read the Correia piece? I really urge you to do so. I’m telling you there’s a whole bunch of stuff in there that made MY hair (the little bit left) curl and will make you really squirm. But, there are also some important considerations in it. You say that you want NO guns anywhere near your kid’s school. Yeah, that would be the ideal. No doubt about it. But, basically all of the recent mass shootings have taken place in designated gun-free zones. The only people who are gun-free in a gun-free zone are law abiding citizens. Criminals don’t pay any attention to that. I’m not yet convinced by Correia’s argument that we should arm teachers, but I think it should definitely be on the table for more study.

      I am intrigued by the NRA’s notion of armed guards in schools. I wish the source had been different because the left will have an allergic reaction from anything coming from the NRA. But, let’s forget the source for a moment and be more analytical. We have hundreds of armed law enforcement in every airport. We have armed law enforcement at every baseball, football, basketball, and hockey game. There’s armed law enforcement protecting us at the Master’s golf tournament. If you go to places like Israel or India, there’s armed law enforcement or military protecting you damn near everywhere. Why does it not make sense to have armed law enforcement protecting our children at school? They don’t have to be wearing paramilitary garb that would scare kids. Like air marshalls on planes, who, if you’ve flown with one, you’d never know it, they would just look like teachers. Only they’d have .44 magnums under their shirts. It makes me weep to think that we need that, but, again, I’m solving for violence in schools (and other public places) not for getting rid of guns. We may also need better gun laws, but I’m not at all optimistic that it ends there. Thus, we need a more fulsome debate about keeping people safe, not just banning guns.

      Lastly, here’s the part about stricter gun laws that really bugs me. Making shit illegal never keeps it out of the hands of criminals, only law abiding citizens. Marijuana has been illegal in the US for my entire life. Yet, it was prevalent in my high school in the 70s and it’s prevalent today, despite billions spent in the “war on drugs.” Ditto other illegal drugs (though maybe not all are available in high schools). If people want something illegal badly enough, they will get it. So, I am quite nervous that gun laws, if done wrong, could dramatically increase the ratio of illegal gun owners (i.e., criminals) to legal gun owners. And, then there’s that issue with the 270 million guns already out there. Apparently, guns have a near infinite life if you take good care of them so it’s not like attrition will get rid of them. They’re here to stay.

      Let’s keep a dialogue going. But, remember that part of my blog was all about helping the left find ways to talk to the right about this. My very anecdotal, non-scientific poll of my conservative friends suggests we are very open to discussion and new laws. But, I do believe that dialogue will end badly if the left’s approach is “fewer guns has to mean fewer gun deaths, therefore we need much stricter gun controls. QED.”

  2. Pingback: A Centrist View on Gun Control, Part II | Bruce's Blog (til I come up with a catchier name)

  3. Pingback: Partisan Idiot | Bruce's Blog (til I come up with a catchier name)

  4. Pingback: Gun Control – I Told You So | Bruce's Blog (til I come up with a catchier name)

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