Sunday, January 16, 2011

Why Gun Control Won't Work in America

Now that even the more vitriolic media windbags have stopped trying to blame the tragic Arizona shootings on Sarah Palin, a more logical scapegoat has cropped up - guns.

And not without good reason. After all, the deranged young man who gunned down Rep. Giffords and murdered six others did so with a semi-automatic handgun he'd bought entirely legally from the Sportsman's Warehouse last November.

As a Brit - where handguns have been absolutely illegal for well over a decade, and tightly controlled for decades before that - it does seem like madness. What kind of society is it in which somebody can pop into a sporting goods store and pick up a 9mm instrument of death as casually as they buy a new pair of Speedos?

Well, it's America - where there are 50 guns for every member of the population (before you balk, there are an not inconsequential 6 guns for every Brit. That's a lot more than I'd expected, given how tight gun control is over there.)

This means that guns are everywhere in America - so banning the sale of them would still leave millions of handguns in legal and illegal circulation.

If a madman like the one who shot Rep. Giffords wanted to get his hands on a semi-automatic, gun control would add another step to the process, but he'd still be able to get one easily enough.

Don't believe me? Let me regale you with a story from my youth. Back in England, where private handgun ownership was illegal, I still knew a kid who took a gun to school.

It was a .45 caliber Browning semi-automatic that somebody's grandfather had been issued when he was serving in Cyprus in the '50s. When grandpa died, one of his offspring had purloined it from his effects and then sold it to this schoolkid for the princely sum of 25 quid. It didn't have bullets, and the kid had no place to get them, but even in 'gun free' Britain it shows that getting your hands on a shooter isn't exactly difficult.

Imagine, then, that guns are ten times more prolific and there's a subculture of 2nd Amendment nuts clinging to their cherished weapons. It's clear to see that the Arizona killer wouldn't need to look far to find a weapon, or ammunition.

And this is really where gun control fails in America. Gun control only limits the rights of law-abiding citizens to legally purchase handguns. The vast majority of gun crime, however, is not committed by law-abiding citizens, and the guns used to commit it are generally not purchased legally. There are millions of unregistered guns circulating through the criminal element in America and shutting up the Sportsman's Warehouse wouldn't prevent any of them being used to commit crimes.

But might it have prevented the shooting of Rep. Giffords and the other six victims?

In a country where guns are so prolific, it's impossible to say yes. Admittedly, the gun was purchased from a store - but the killer was shown to have been brooding about his attack for weeks in advance, so if he hadn't have bought that gun legally, from the Sportsman's Warehouse, it's entirely possible he would have found one somewhere else, illegally.

America - especially places like Arizona - is like the Wild West. People have guns out there. In a society in which almost anybody can be packing heat, it does seem fairer and safer to be able to give the law-abiding citizens the right to buy guns to defend themselves with, rather than ensure that only criminals have the 'right' to bear arms.

And that doesn't just sound like madness - it is. It's an impossible situation, a true Catch-22, but it's the truth.

The fact is, banning the sale of guns won't make the guns disappear, and there are literally hundred of millions of them circulating throughout America. That means that tragedies like the Rep. Gifford's shooting are going to happen again - and again - whether there's gun control or not.


paul mitchell said...

Loughner lied on his FBI background check, by the way. He stated that he did not use drugs, which was a lie. So, he did not acquire the pistol legally.

Of course, criminals are not going to tell the truth on these things. That is why they never work.

Tom said...

Do we talk about first, third*, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, or tenth-amendment nut? Seeing as how the supreme court has taken an individual rights interpretation of the second amendment, I'd claim that the nuts are those who thinks the government can limit the right to bear small arms for self-defense.

That being said, I actually think there's a case for regulating handgun magazines of larger capacity than the government issues for military use. (15 rounds.) If you can't defend yourself in 15 shots, you should learn to aim.

Also, the real reason gun control won't work - bears. We have nasty critters in the US, and need to defend ourselves from them.

* Hell no! We won't be forced to quarter troops!

paul mitchell said...

By the way, reducing the number of cartridges in STANDARD capacity magazines, like the 31 shots in the Glock 19, still doesn't address the issue. Killers are going to kill, no matter what the weapon used.

Reduced capacity magazines did NOT reduce crime.

Tom said...


I think you're right that smaller magazines will not reduce crime. I do think they might reduce the magnitude of crime. In Tuscon, the shooter was stopped by being tackled by intervenors* while reloading.

Reloading gives the opportunity for citizens to fight back, perhaps with their own arms. Since most of these shooting sprees seem to be a one man thing, 15 rounds should be enough for self-defense, and will limit the amount of carnage an attacker can cause between reloads.

I think there should be a balance. Too small magazines make self-defense and target practice impractical. But I think there's a limit where increased magazine size does more harm than good.

Probably the flaw in my suggestion is that there isn't a good way to eliminate large capacity magazines - confiscation is an insane suggestion. Perhaps limiting or preventing the sale of large-capacity magazines is the way to go, but this could have other problems, like people having equipment they can't get rid of.

* Anyone who tackles a shooter is not a bystander in my book.

paul mitchell said...

But, the 31 round magazine is NOT a "large capacity" magazine. It is a standard capacity magazine. A reduced magazine law gets rid of the rifles from the 1800s.

Limiting the number of rounds for any firearm is not going to reduce the scale or volume of crime, it is going to reduce the scale or volume of response.

One of the things that the intent of these laws does is reduce the safety of law-abiding citizens. By definition the only people that are going to follow these laws are people that FOLLOW law, not criminals.

CK said...

Um. Your stats seemed to not make sense... and they don't. I live in an area were guns are popular and the most I know of is one guy who owns 10. The correct number is 90 per 100 citizens.

Roland Hulme said...

Hey Paul - you make exactly my point. Criminals and killers are going to break the law to get hold of guns, so tightening restrictions on law abiding citizens doesn't seem to make much sense - they're generally not the ones committing the crimes.

Tom - you make a VERY valid point. All the people complaining about the TSA full body scanners aren't characterized as 'fourth amendment nuts.'

CK - my stats make perfect sense. I got them off CNN this morning. After I wrote this, though, I did see the 90 guns per 100 citizens and that seems to make a LOT more sense. I think the guy on CNN was probably pulling the figures out of the air to justify his point.