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December 17, 2012

"Meaningful Action"

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

I started to write about the Newtown shooting over the weekend, but once I began thinking about what I wanted to say it became apparent that to weigh in before I had had time to let the news sink it and the rest of the facts come in would be a violation of everything I planned to say. But the President's initial statement, which promised "meaningful action" to "prevent" another tragedy like this from occurring, just hit my last nerve.

Full disclosure: despite being married to a man who served as an active duty Marine officer for 30 years, we don't own a single gun. I grew up in a household that did contain guns but they were so well hidden that I never knew we had any until the day my father took us out to the woods to practice shooting a rifle. I don't think I ever saw them again.

The spousal unit and I are of the same mind on the subject of guns. We don't have anything in particular against them, nor are we particularly enamored of them. A gun is a tool designed for a narrow set of purposes. We don't own a jackhammer or an air compressor either - not because they are noisy, but because we don't anticipate having enough use for either tool to make such a purchase worthwhile.

Because we don't own guns, the heat of the debate over gun ownership often annoys me. I see the point of the Second Amendment, but I don't believe it prohibits all regulation of the sale, use, or ownership of guns so long as that regulation is not so burdensome that it materially infringes on the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

Being poised somewhere in the middle between the camp that would disarm everyone (that pesky Constitution be damned!) and the one that sees widespread gun ownership as the answer to violent crime is an uncomfortable place to be. Pondering the President's purposely vague prescription for "meaningful action" (what in the holy hell is that?) seems like a road to nowhere. What action would have prevented this shooting?

He can't seriously be suggesting that the federal government round up the hundreds of thousands of guns legally owned by Americans. That makes absolutely no sense. E.J. Dionne puts forth his own recipe for meaningful action:

What, minimally, might “meaningful action” look like? We should begin with: bans on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons; requiring background checks for all gun purchases; stricter laws to make sure that gun owners follow safety procedures; new steps to make it easier to trace guns used in crimes; and vastly ramped-up data collection and research on what works to prevent gun violence, both of which are regularly blocked by the gun lobby.

Would any of his suggestions have prevented this shooting? It's doubtful. The weapons used were legally owned by the shooter's mother. It is she who would have undergone a background check, but it was not she who used the guns. Unless we're now planning to subject not only gun owners but their entire families to background checks, it's not apparent to me how this would prevent future shootings. Nor is it clear how following better safety procedures would have prevented the shooting.

But I'm equally unconvinced that gun use or ownership should be unregulated.

In 1981, we lived in a small, one bedroom apartment just off the Quantico Marine base. Several of our neighbors were other Marines going through Officer Basic school with the spousal unit. One morning, I went across the hall to have a cup of coffee with another Marine wife. My two year old son was with us.

As we talked, he scampered off down the hall and I immediately jumped up and ran after him. I caught up with him just a few seconds later. He was standing next to their nightstand, and in his hand was a loaded gun with the safety off. It was one of those moments when your heart just stops for a second.

I blamed myself, even though I had been watching him carefully. Kids move fast and it takes only a second or two for the unthinkable to happen. But after I got home, I had to wonder what was so incredibly dangerous about our apartment complex that it required sleeping with a loaded gun (with the safety off!) on the bedside table?

A few weeks later, another neighbor told us that he had nearly shot their new talking bird. Apparently he woke up in the middle of the night and - being still sleepy or even perhaps slightly drunk as 2nd Lieutenants are wont to be on weekends - thought the bird was a burgler. It was a funny story, but again I had to wonder.

Despite the overabundant and overwrought news coverage they receive, shootings are actually fairly rare in America:

Mass shootings are no more common than they have been in past decades, despite the impression given by the media.

In fact, the high point for mass killings in the U.S. was 1929, according to criminologist Grant Duwe of the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Incidents of mass murder in the U.S. declined from 42 in the 1990s to 26 in the first decade of this century.

The chances of being killed in a mass shooting are about what they are for being struck by lightning.

Think about that for a moment. It doesn't minimize the shock or the horror of mass shootings, but it does - and should - have some bearing on the seriousness of the problem. Undoubtedly at this point, someone will accuse me of being insufficiently sensitive to the horror of gun violence.

But I know someone who was - if only metaphorically - "struck by lightening". A few years ago, a family member was shot to death by a mentally ill man in an incident fairly similar to the Newtown shooting. She wasn't his only victim: two families lost a parent, a husband, a wife. Someone they loved and depended on.

When something like this happens, it's only normal for people to look for a simple cause or a simple remedy. We want certainty; reassurance that the world is an orderly and predictable place. We want to believe that if we just follow the rules, we'll be safe from lightening bolts and gunfire. And the truth is, most of us are safe. Most of the time, it makes far more sense to worry about automobile accidents than deranged killers.

The question I'm left with is, "Is there any meaningful action we could take that would materially lessen the risk of that rare lightening strike?". I'm not entirely comfortable with rejecting the question out of hand - to me, that smacks of reflexive resistance rather than careful consideration. But I'm more uncomfortable with fluffy promises of "meaningful action" that will somehow "prevent" a tragedy in which the mother of all random elements - human nature - was enough to cause school personnel to buzz in a young man armed with weapons, and a mother of a mentally ill young man didn't follow existing standards for gun safety, and a supposedly gun-free zone turned out not to be gun free at all.

The question for conservatives is, "Is there ANY regulation of gun ownership, purchase, or use that you wouldn't oppose?"

And the equally important question for liberals is, "Would any of the laws you want to pass have prevented this from happening? Would they seriously lessen the risk of future mass shootings?"

These are serious questions, and they deserve serious answers. Discuss amongst yourownselves, knuckle dragging heathens.

Posted by Cassandra at December 17, 2012 05:49 AM

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Comments

The initial reaction to these incidents is always to ban the weapon du jour. My wife is a psych R.N. with 30 years experience doing assessments of mental health patients. Her reaction to this was 'all I have to do is look at their eyes to know that they are Bat S*** Crazy (a technical psychiatric term). Unfortunately/fortunately (dependent on your point of view), no gun ban of any type will ever work, the crazies will find a way around it to work their insane plan, and the criminals will ignore it. Any gun enthusiast will tell you that these high cap magazines are mostly junk and will always jam (the CO shooter's did), and as we learned in Vietnam, to equal the mag size of the AK-47, just tape two M-16 mags together. Perhaps part of the solution would be similar to this Conn bill that was proposed Proposed Connecticut Mental Health Bill Defeated. Contrary to what the media claims, Asperger's Syndrome is a developmental illness, a distinction between autism and Asperger's lies in cognitive ability. Autistic children may often possess intellectual disabilities, but individuals with Asperger's by definition cannot have an intellectual delay and often have above average intelligence What Is Asperger Syndrome.

Posted by: SeaDog52 at December 17, 2012 10:29 AM

"...the camp that would disarm everyone (that pesky Constitution be damned!) and the one that sees widespread gun ownership as the answer to violent crime..."

There's more than just violent crime that worries many and has support for gun rights increasing and record gun sales making gun manufacturing, perhaps, the country's only growth industry.

The ruling class, the federal government and its political elite enablers are surprised that the people haven't taken to liking the TSA's illegal and deviant searches and indignities as much as the State desires them. The people have noticed that cameras watch them and microphones record their conversations. The people have noticed the State's assertion it has a right to fly armed drones over their heads and has acted upon that assertion. The people have noticed that the President has had a citizen executed without trial and presentation of evidence. The Law, i.e., the State, will invoke stare decisis, the principle of precedence, and 'executive orders' will be, henceforth, understood as Judge Dredd would understand them.

If all this sounds 'kookish' it's only because humans can imagine anything but it actually happening.

Posted by: George Pal at December 17, 2012 10:37 AM

....the federal government round up the hundreds of thousands of guns legally owned by Americans.

It's actually hundreds of millions. The number is about 270 million; even if you limit it to semi-automatic weapons, it's still 45 million.

Which gives rise to an interesting problem, conceptually. If there are about 20 mass shootings a year (every year since the 1970s), and about five guns per shooting are used, then about 100 guns a year are used in these shootings. Assuming they are all semi-automatics and none are used twice, that means that in a thousand years about 100,000 such guns will be used in mass shootings.

Which means that, after a thousand years, 44,900,000 of the 45 million semi-automatics will not have been used in mass shootings. That suggests to me that the problem must lie elsewhere: that's such a tiny percentage that the real answer has to be in another place.

On the other hand, as Nick Kristof pointed out, Australia eliminated semi-automatics (they really did have only a few hundred thousand), and has since seen no mass shootings. However, as he very much did not point out, they have seen an increase in rape of one-third, assault by two-thirds, robbery... it turns out that, having eliminated the most useful means for women and the elderly to defend themselves, the government finds its women and its elderly being preyed upon by violent criminals far more often.

That's a real problem, I think: an increase in rates of rape of that order is a huge price to pay for any good, even so great a good as reducing (so far, eliminating) mass shootings. And that's true even if you don't consider the additional increases in assault and robbery.

Posted by: Grim at December 17, 2012 11:07 AM

"Is there ANY regulation of gun ownership, purchase, or use that you wouldn't oppose?"




There are already plenty on the books. How about not glorifying the shooter. The people prone to want to get their 15 minutes of fame via violence have grown up in a celebrity obsessed society. It is only society that can change that.




"Would any of the laws you want to pass have prevented this from happening? Would they seriously lessen the risk of future mass shootings?"




No. But I'm not exactly a liberal (I consider myself a 'classical liberal') so I didn't know if I should try to answer this question. The Assault Weapons Ban did nothing to lessen violent gun crime and, in fact, simply created new markets. We cannot use the state to create a better society (I cite the failed states of USSR, China and N.Korea as examples). It is our job, as citizens, to create a better society. Unfortunately a majority of us have abrogated that responsibility.

Posted by: Dan Irving at December 17, 2012 11:20 AM

Apologies for the extra spaces - the preview pane does not reflect accurately what will be posted :/

Posted by: Dan Irving at December 17, 2012 11:21 AM

I believe the 2nd Amendment is an individual mandate: That we, the people make that choice.
However, having been in a couple of situations where I was deeply grateful for guns, I tend to err on the side of agency, but with accountability.

We do a lot of target shooting, but the weapons are carefully monitored and access is controlled.
No government made me do this; our situation makes it necessary.

I think the persyn who had the unsecured weapon had some issues, and should have been more responsible as an individual. It was a good thing you arrived when you did; the gun owner would never have been able to live with himself if something had happened. Did he change his ways after that?

Posted by: Cricket at December 17, 2012 11:42 AM

Notice too, that the gunman did NOT go to a place where guns were allowed or carried: A police station, a shooting range, etc.

Had a teacher been carrying, would it have stopped the perp?

Posted by: Cricket at December 17, 2012 11:44 AM

I don't have an answer. Frankly, nobody does. You can't snap your fingers and make guns and evil crazy bastards just disappear. But while the argument that "gun don't kill people, people kill people" is 100% correct - it is also 100% besides the point. It's pretty obvious that we can't keep guns away from evil crazy people, or (apparently) evil crazy people away from guns, and the suggestion that more guns is the solution is simply insane. Something's got to go. Which?

Posted by: spd rdr at December 17, 2012 11:48 AM

Obviously, the evil crazy people.

I disagree that the 'more guns' solution is insane -- although, really what is needed is not "more guns," but properly trained people with guns in the right places. 270 million guns is more than enough, if they are distributed well.

That said, I think more intense licensing of individuals who want to exercise the right may be the single best course. We already do a criminal background check, but why not a formal licensing process? We have one in Georgia that lets you carry a firearm, but we could expand it to purchasing or possessing a firearm without incident. That doesn't address the theft problem (i.e., guns being stolen from lawful owners by evil crazy people), but incidents of licensed citizens being involved in a firearm-related crime are vanishingly small. Some regulations on how weapons are stored and secured would help address the theft issue.

Posted by: Grim at December 17, 2012 11:56 AM

Well, I don't know much about the various safeties on a 9 mil, which is what I assume the other LT had on the nightstand, but it's practically impossible for a 2-year old to fire a .45 M1911A1 because of the grip safety. There are actually 3 safeties on the old .45, and defeating all of them simultaneously is not something a 2-year can do. And if the safety you could see was off, that's usually no big deal unless there's a round in the chamber and the hammer is cocked back.

But as I say, I don't know anything about the safeties on a 9 mm.

Posted by: Rex at December 17, 2012 12:02 PM

The M9 lacks a grip safety, but it does have an internal safety that keeps it from firing if dropped. However, if it was loaded and cocked, and the 2 year old could pull the trigger all the way to the rear, it might have fired.

It's manifestly a worse gun than the 1911 all the way around, really.

Posted by: Grim at December 17, 2012 12:06 PM

A lot of good points. Since I'm responding on my snack break, I hope you won't mind if I address them in a single comment?

[Grim] Which means that, after a thousand years, 44,900,000 of the 45 million semi-automatics will not have been used in mass shootings. That suggests to me that the problem must lie elsewhere: that's such a tiny percentage that the real answer has to be in another place.

That is a very reasonable rebuttal to the "guns cause violence" crowd. On the other hand, if you've lost someone you love to gun violence, I'm betting you don't really care much about all the times guns weren't used to kill someone. The one time they were means someone is dead who maybe didn't have to be.

as Nick Kristof pointed out, Australia eliminated semi-automatics (they really did have only a few hundred thousand), and has since seen no mass shootings. However, as he very much did not point out, they have seen an increase in rape of one-third, assault by two-thirds, robbery... it turns out that, having eliminated the most useful means for women and the elderly to defend themselves, the government finds its women and its elderly being preyed upon by violent criminals far more often.

I'm not sure of the cause and effect there, Grim. Were semi-automatic weapons regularly used by women and the elderly to stop rapes? I doubt it. Are they regularly used in the commission of rapes? I doubt that, too. Remember, correlation isn't causation.

I changed my mind - I'm going with separate comments.

Posted by: Cass at December 17, 2012 12:25 PM

My dream world solution:
1) system developed to inactivate guns / gunpowder
2) systems installed in public buildings

My groggy, not quite as dreamy solution:
1) add radioactive or other tracer to gunpowder
2) install detection and double entry isolation door systems in public buildings.

Meaning I see no way to eliminate guns, even if it was desired by "all". And the only advantage for public safety of having no guns is that poisons and home-made explosives seem to have a higher failure rate, and explosives appear more likely to kill the handler prior to actually killing anyone else than guns.
Or maybe we'd just have more arson.

"there must be fifty ways to leave kill your lover"

Posted by: tomg51 at December 17, 2012 12:31 PM

[Cricket] I think the persyn who had the unsecured weapon had some issues, and should have been more responsible as an individual. It was a good thing you arrived when you did; the gun owner would never have been able to live with himself if something had happened. Did he change his ways after that?

No, he didn't (though his wife gave him what-for) :p

Interestingly enough, their tiny apartment was full of guns. Which was of interest to me since apartment walls are thin and it's not unknown for bullets to pierce drywall.

He ended up washing out of the Marines. I don't think he was 100% balanced, which was a concern to me at the time. Not mentally ill, certainly, but the kind of guy who often ends up with a restraining order against him.

And that's kind of my point. It doesn't worry me a bit to think about responsible people owning guns. But not everyone is responsible, and there are also gun accidents to think about (especially when there are small children around).

The gun control crowd is mostly unconvincing when then argue, "We need to DO something" (really? even if it doesn't work?). I don't need to make them feel better about a dangerous world. Laws mostly exist to set a standard, possibly to deter reasonable folk (and this is a BIG deal - criminals won't be deterred, but that leaves people on the margins who can and often are deterred), or to allow victims some redress after the fact.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 17, 2012 12:33 PM

On the other hand, if you've lost someone you love to gun violence, I'm betting you don't really care much about all the times guns weren't used to kill someone.

That just means we need to ban everything: the most common murder weapon in America is the baseball bat. The chlorine bleach and ammonia that you probably have under the kitchen sink, when mixed, makes a poison gas that is regularly used for suicides, and occasionally for murders, in Japan. Kitchen knives with points have replaced guns as the objects to be banned in Australia and Britain.

We have to find a way to be respectful of people's grief without letting it determine public policy. Grief is too strong an emotion to wisely employ in that regard.

I'm not sure of the cause and effect there, Grim. Were semi-automatic weapons regularly used by women and the elderly to stop rapes? I doubt it.

Correlation is all we ever have in these kinds of statistics, because we don't get the positive side of them: when a rape is stopped because the woman is thought to have a gun, or because she might have had one, she may never even know one was being considered. Causation is an impossible standard.

However, correlation evidence is fairly robust. In America, we've vastly increased the number of guns in private hands, but violent crime -- including rape -- has declined. (On the other hand, mass shootings seem to be detached from guns: they're more-or-less steady, insofar as we can say anything statistically about such a rare event.) In Australia, they decreased the number of guns sharply, and violent crime has increased sharply.

The correlation holds even within the subset of America: in places like Chicago, where gun controls are quite strong, violent crime is vastly more common than it is in similar cities within America that have more robust gun rights.

So yes, causation isn't proven. However, as it cannot possibly be proven, we have to steer using the stars we have.

Posted by: Grim at December 17, 2012 12:33 PM

I guess there is some evidence about causation, although it isn't fully demonstrative. However, interviews with convicted felons do demonstrate that they express a greater fear of armed citizens than of police, and that the probable presence or absence of arms plays a big role in deciding whether to attempt a crime. This isn't really statistical evidence, just anecdotal, but it suggests that the correlation we observe in the statistics may point to something real.

Posted by: Grim at December 17, 2012 12:37 PM

Had a teacher been carrying, would it have stopped the perp?

I think this is a great question with no easy answer. Possibly.

Or possibly not. It's not exactly unknown for innocent 3rd parties (often kids) to be killed by stray bullets in cities. That's the logical problem with wanting to arm everyone - there's no way to ensure they'll be trained and (as is so often argued by opponents of SWAT style raids) if a tool is there, more people will use it, even when it's not warranted.

I've never been convinced of the wisdom of the oft-quoted, "An armed society is a polite society". That's classic best-scenario thinking.

The truth is that we haven't lived in an age with our current degree of population density and diversity where most people carried guns on a daily basis. So claims that more guns would solve the problem of gun violence are merely unsupported assertions. We can debate their logic, but we don't have any real evidence to back them up.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 17, 2012 12:41 PM

FWIW, Grim, my personal opinion is that obsessive/excessive media coverage probably has a LOT more to do with mass shootings than the availability of guns.

Studies have shown a strong correlation between media coverage of terrorist attacks and the frequency of same. I believe the same phenomenon is true of mass shootings.

But I'd like to stay about from sweeping statements like, 'We'll have to ban everything'. I can't think of too many cases where an entire classroom of kids was beaten to death by a single man with a baseball bat.

You're mixing apples and oranges here. I don't think there's much question that it's easier to shoot multiple people than to beat them to death. That matters, even if (IMO) it doesn't establish the effectiveness of banning guns.

As I've already said, I'm not convinced any of the suggestions I've seen would be effective but I'm open to arguments.

I'm also curious if there's *any* limitation on gun ownership/use that gun owners would even entertain? I'm quite sympathetic to arguments that involve unintended consequences of well-meaning legislation, but I don't think they preclude discussion of any limits at all.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 17, 2012 12:48 PM

I don't know about gun owners in general, but I offered two a few paragraphs up: licensing not just for carrying but for purchase/possession, and regulations on storage. (The licensing requirement also means your fingerprints are on file, by the way.)

My concern is that we want the Australian good (fewer mass shootings) without the Australian bad (a general rise in violent crime associated with a more vulnerable population). Given the numbers -- remember the 44.9 million 'innocent semiautomatics' out of 45 million, and that after a thousand years -- it seems like we ought to be able to get there.

Posted by: Grim at December 17, 2012 12:59 PM

To SeaDog's point here:

Perhaps part of the solution would be similar to this Conn bill that was proposed Proposed Connecticut Mental Health Bill Defeated. Contrary to what the media claims, Asperger's Syndrome is a developmental illness, a distinction between autism and Asperger's lies in cognitive ability. Autistic children may often possess intellectual disabilities, but individuals with Asperger's by definition cannot have an intellectual delay and often have above average intelligence

I suspect such a bill would find strong opponents on both the left and the right. There's something that scares me a bit about laws that try to dictate treatment of the mentally ill.

On the one hand, I agree that societies have a right to protect themselves against people like the man who killed my relative. He wasn't taking his medication.

On the other hand, pretty much every argument raised against gun control applies to bills like this (only a fraction of mentally ill people are a danger to others, etc.). That's part of my frustration here: people use the exact same arguments in one situation but refuse to see their validity in others.

Mental illness is poorly understood, even nowadays. We have two psych nurses in the family, so the topic has come up more than once :)

Which brings me to spd's point:

It's pretty obvious that we can't keep guns away from evil crazy people, or (apparently) evil crazy people away from guns, and the suggestion that more guns is the solution is simply insane. Something's got to go. Which?

Here's an interesting question:

If you knew - for certain - that banning guns would mean there would never be another school shooting, would it be "worth it"?

And if we don't know that with anything like certainty (there have been hideous school shootings in countries much smaller than America, strict gun laws notwithstanding), how do we justify passing a law that doesn't actually solve the problem?

Posted by: Cassandra at December 17, 2012 12:59 PM

Oh, as for shooting versus beating: sometimes that's true. But the chief murder weapon in the Rwanda genocide was a machete. So if we're talking about this one specific kind of problem with a lone gunman, maybe we think about the problem that way: but if we're thinking about another problem, such as gang violence, well that's where you see baseball bats come into play. A street gang with baseball bats is quite dangerous, even if they have not one gun among them.

We want to have a solution that answers both problems.

Posted by: Grim at December 17, 2012 01:01 PM

I don't know about gun owners in general, but I offered two a few paragraphs up: licensing not just for carrying but for purchase/possession, and regulations on storage. (The licensing requirement also means your fingerprints are on file, by the way.)

Sorry - missed that in my haste.

Those seem like sensible restrictions to me :)

Posted by: Cassandra at December 17, 2012 01:01 PM

If you knew - for certain - that banning guns would mean there would never be another school shooting, would it be "worth it"?

What's the tradeoff on rape and robbery, etc., in this scenario? It's two very different questions if you say, "...and no violent crime rates would rise," because then guns are doing no good at protecting people from violence (which is one of the chief arguments for their possession). It's a second question if you're asking "...but we see rape go up by a third, robbery and assault by two thirds, etc."

Posted by: Grim at December 17, 2012 01:03 PM

I suspect none of the proposed gun restrictions would stop mass murders like the Newtown tragedy. However, those who favor gun restrictions are probably using this tragedy as a springboard to pass legislation they believe will reduce the number of gun deaths outside of these types of mass murders - like the ongoing nightmare in certain parts of Chicago.

If we're going to have a national discussion/commission/conversation/hearing on gun restrictions, then I think we need to look at gun deaths outside of mass murders. Who is most likely to die? Who is most likely to kill? Are the most important predictors income, race, gender, residence, age? Are we talking mostly about people shooting family members and friends; about gang violence; about shootings while committing a crime?

If the problem is framed as "We want to stop mass shootings like the one in Newtown but we're fine with the situation in Chicago" then the possible solutions would be very different than if the problem is framed as "We suspect we cannot stop mass shootings like Newtown but we're tired of watching kids die in Chicago."

We also need some clarity and agreement on terms: What is an automatic weapon? A semi-automatic? What else is there? Does the number of bullets that can be fired without reloading have anything to do with the automatic-ness? Is there any reason the kind of gun Clint Eastwood used in "Fistful of Dollars" isn't sufficient for self-defense? I know these seem like dumb questions to people who know guns but to people like me, they're pretty mysterious. I know some of y'all can answer these questions for me now, here, but it would be really nice if someone who understands this stuff would put up - or direct me to - a sort of primer: This is an automatic weapon; this is a semi-automatic; this is whatever else there is; these are already illegal, these aren't; and so on.

Posted by: Elise at December 17, 2012 01:11 PM

Limitations on the bullet designs seem reasonable (I do not know the terms). Maybe a 22 needs something special to be at all effective for defense, but a larger caliber doesn't - it just makes survivability lower?

I think we'll be living with guns until there is something more effective for personal offense and defense.
Personally, I'm pleasantly astonished nothing more effective has been developed / mass produced.

Posted by: tomg51 at December 17, 2012 01:19 PM

Is there any reason the kind of gun Clint Eastwood used in "Fistful of Dollars" isn't sufficient for self-defense?

Not if you can use it like Clint Eastwood did in "Fistful of Dollars." :)

Posted by: Grim at December 17, 2012 01:19 PM

By the way, Elise, that particular firearm is a Colt Single Action Army. My own pistol, a Ruger New Model Vaquero, is functionally identical except for some additional safety features that didn't exist in the 19th century. I think it's a fine choice, although it's not for everyone.

Posted by: Grim at December 17, 2012 01:22 PM

ELise,

I am not the person to answer your question, but I agree that knowledge of such things is needed. A neighbor I was talking with over the weekend also lacked such knowledge, and she appeared quite surprised and enlightened by the limited information I was confident I could pass on correctly.
She was also horrified when I commented I could probably level her house using her propane turkey cooker.

Posted by: tomg51 at December 17, 2012 01:28 PM

Rather than asking if an armed teacher would have stopped the shooting, I wonder if not having schools as gun-free zones would make them less attractive targets for mass shooting. Even when the shooter is off their rocker, mass shootings almost always seem to happen in designated gun-free zones (schools, universities, that theater in Colorado, etc). Granted, this MAY be coincidence: they may be targeting places associated with their supposed grievance, or just looking for large crowds, which happen to be gun-free zones. That said, I don't think making those areas "gun-free" does any actual GOOD; it's just security theater at most.

Posted by: Matt at December 17, 2012 01:38 PM

...I don't think making those areas "gun-free" does any actual GOOD; it's just security theater at most.

To go back to Elise's point (defining terms), I agree that making schools gun-free zones probably doesn't prevent school shootings.

I'm not so sure it doesn't do any actual good. Being the mother of a police officer, I know that what cops can do in various situations very much depends on the law. They can't enforce non-existent laws.

So I guess it depends on whether we as a society think there should be guns in schools (and here, let's not only imagine the people we wouldn't mind having guns, but also the ones we DO mind having a gun in school).

I suspect the answer to this question would vary by community. If you live in a rural area with fairly low population density, you probably won't mind. If, on the other hand, you live in DC you are unlikely to think guns in schools are a good idea.

This is the problem with one size fits all federal solutions: they don't take into account varying conditions and risks.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 17, 2012 02:02 PM

FWIW, Grim, my personal opinion is that obsessive/excessive media coverage probably has a LOT more to do with mass shootings than the availability of guns.

Hear, hear. *That's* one of the main problems right there, IMO.

I really, really dislike legislation by tragedy-du-jour. I think it's a crummy way to make laws, and we've got too many laws already. And people who really want to kill large numbers of people in spectacular fashion will find a way, guns or no guns; perhaps crashing a car into a school yard, or building a pipe bomb, or setting a fire, or any number of other methods. Guns aren't the issue here, people who want to kill large numbers of other people are the issue.

Do I think arming a teacher would have stopped the shooting? Maybe, maybe not. As Cassandra said, it's possible, but it's also possible (and may even be more likely) that we'd just end up with more dead children as kids got caught in the crossfire. I've also never been down with the "An armed society is a polite society" thing either. Our inner cities may be armed, but they are neither polite nor safe.

Despite what I've said, do I think guns should be outright banned? Resounding no. I firmly believe that gun ownership is an option that should be available to people if they feel it's necessary for protection. I would be fine with the requirements Grim suggested; they seem eminently sensible to me.

What I would like to see is a clear-eyed, non-agenda driven discussion of what--*if anything*--can or should be done to make our schools safer from this kind of tragedy. Perhaps nothing can be done, and if so, that needs to be acknowledged and accepted. And while I'm at it, I would also like a pony and a red wagon.

Posted by: colagirl at December 17, 2012 02:20 PM

And a unicorn!

Posted by: Cassandra at December 17, 2012 02:40 PM

The two basic problems of the comparison of Newton to Chicago - Chicago, it's mostly criminal gangbanger and gb wanna-bes using stolen or black market guns of larger calibers/cyclic rates of fire than the police have, and Newton where the guns were legally purchased, gun laws complied with, and (as reported) gun training given.

Posted by: SeaDog52 at December 17, 2012 03:02 PM

"Is there ANY regulation of gun ownership, purchase, or use that you wouldn't oppose?"

Regulation that is equivalent to that for vehicles.

Briefly

Firearms up to X caliber require a basic operator license.

You want to use a cannon, apply for a cannon-operator license.

You can keep whatever around the house, and not require a license. But don't try and fire it without one.

You can get a learner's permit for younger folks.

How this is implemented, ages, restrictions, up to each state.

Posted by: Brian Dunbar at December 17, 2012 03:40 PM

"So I guess it depends on whether we as a society think there should be guns in schools (and here, let's not only imagine the people we wouldn't mind having guns, but also the ones we DO mind having a gun in school)."

The thing is, though, since most people don't go for "open-carry" as it is, people who'd legally be carrying guns onto school grounds would likely be those who'd already obtained concealed-carry permits -- which means they've already a) had a background check and b) usually gone through state-approved safety training. That weeds out a lot of the troublemakers right there. A law that permits carriage of weapons on school grounds for school system employees who've obtained a concealed carry permit (and received training, if not already required by state law for the permit) might at least remove the "open season for lawbreakers until the cops show up" aspect of schools, which in turn might make them less attractive targets for shooters.

Side note: IIRC some schools in rougher areas have armed police on the grounds. Has there even been a mass shooting at such a school (not a college campus, but an elementary or high school)? (Not necessarily indicative if there hasn't been, though; I doubt there are that many schools that normally have armed police on campus, and mass shootings at schools aren't common when you consider how many schools there are in the country.)

Posted by: Matt at December 17, 2012 03:50 PM

I don't think making those areas "gun-free" does any actual GOOD; it's just security theater at most.

I have not carried a weapon in, but all of the gun-free zones I've been in, except the Smithsonian, had no way to ensure that I _was_ gun free.

The Smithsonian was instructive. I left the pistol at my sister-in-laws house (hidden, locked, the key with me) then forgot I had a box of .45 rounds in the bottom of my day pack. Carried that sucker past a dozen bag searches and no one said 'boo'.

Posted by: Brian Dunbar at December 17, 2012 03:55 PM

The main objection I foresee being raised for mandatory registration is the confiscation issue, and it's likely to get raised loudly. In addition to the "protection from violent crime" aspect of gun ownership, the "protection from tyrrany" argument also gets floated pretty often, even if it's far more remote. IIRC, the 2nd amendment was inspired in part by the British Army attempting to confiscate firearms to prevent an uprising by the colonists.

Another aside: is it just me, or have you seen more reporting on public shootings in the news in the last few months (even before this latest incident) than you previously remember being typical?

Posted by: Matt at December 17, 2012 03:56 PM

...is it just me, or have you seen more reporting on public shootings in the news in the last few months (even before this latest incident) than you previously remember being typical?

To be honest, I am one of those people who has absolutely no problem skipping the ABC News 1 hour special report the day of the shooting deal.

It's mostly blather anyway - they repeat a lot of stuff about people's feelings, coupled with a lot of inaccurate information and emoting. Incidents like this are one of the few times I find myself feeling like a man (I don't want to hear about people's feelings or emotions and I just wish they'd give me the facts briefly and go away as quickly as possible).

I don't understand all the emoting. It's horrific, but I don't think feasting on it 24/7 in full-on ghoul mode helps anyone make sense of it all. If anything, it makes it worse.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 17, 2012 04:16 PM

I think we need to get back to the state of society where when people looked acted and spoke like they were mentally ill we actually did something about it. Every one of the recent mass murders had indicators attached to the perp that should have set off red flags all over the place; but we have been trained to not say/do anything because we are supposed to tolerate bizarre appearance etc because--well, I do don't why, but it seems to be an article of faith in the PC crowd.

I do agree that armoring up sschools might help some. The licensed carry of firearms by trained and trusted school employees is likewise attractive.

Law Enforcement can almost always catch the perp. They cannot almost ever prevent the beast from killing. I want to be able to protect those I care about in the case of the (admittedly extremely rare) beast coming after them or me.

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at December 17, 2012 04:32 PM

When only the police have guns, it's called a Police State. Just a little meaningless bumper sticker philosophy. Right along with "an armed society is a polite society", which can be proven dead wrong.


There is a common thread in the "mass shootings", and that is that the young males involved are all believed to have some degree of mental problems. Which is why the first response of government, who is literally claiming that this time "they are doing it for the children", wants to gin up regulation of the personal rights of millions.

A meaningful conversation would be about how to try and identify the borderline psychotic before they do something terrible and criminal, and help them and protect society, rather than abridge the rights of millions. But we are talking politics here, rather that what might be a reason.

Grim makes a very good point, as to the total numbers of weapons in the hands of Americans, and unless massive confiscation takes place, how small an impact new laws will make. The laughable "assault weapons ban" was nothing of the sort, removing the flash suppressor and the bayonet lugs made zero operative difference in the performance of previously legal semi-auto rifles.

A fully automatic rifle, submachine gun, pistol has been illegal since 1933, unless you have the big bucks and pass the permits to own one (which is not trivial by any means).

This is government by fear, no more, no less.

What is coming is a Federal Arms Registry, with heavy felony penalties for non-compliance, whereas the Federal Government is going to get to issue permits to allow you to keep the firearms you already own. Maybe.

And then they will begin systematic confiscation in a few years. This was once a free country, and of course the politicians would like to maintain that illusion for bit longer until it is no longer possible to rebel in any meaningful way.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at December 17, 2012 04:47 PM

and of course the politicians would like to maintain that illusion for bit longer until it is no longer possible to rebel in any meaningful way.

Good news. It already is possible to rebel without small arms. People are just slow to pick up on this.

One only needs good crypto, (check) distributed computers, (check) drones, (check) organization, some big cojones.

Posted by: Brian Dunbar at December 17, 2012 05:03 PM

Is there ANY regulation of gun ownership, purchase, or use that you wouldn't oppose?

A State-level requirement to demonstrate competence in maintenance and use of the firearm being bought.

Like Grim, I'm an 18th Century Liberal. I'll answer Would any of the laws you want to pass have prevented this from happening? Would they seriously lessen the risk of future mass shootings? from that perspective.

In concert with the above regulation, destigmatize being armed in public and/or in public establishments (with that arming being subject to the establishment's owner's mandate), and I'll ignore how such a destigmatization would be effected. This won't prevent all shootings, any more than locking up under a government man's key all our hammers and screwdrivers will prevent misuse of those tools to commit murder. However, armed school officials, especially in the Newtown case, very likely would have minimized the extent of the killer's damage. Those teachers, et al., already were taking steps to shield their children, and dying in the process. The principle apparently charged the shooter in an attempt to stop him, dying in the charge. Had these folks been armed, they likely would have gotten to him more effectively.

Frankly, I'd encourage folks with overt responsibility for the safety of others--teachers, for instance--to be trained in unarmed combat, too, but that's a separate story.

1) system developed to inactivate guns / gunpowder
2) systems installed in public buildings

Absolutely not. The government has no need to know what its employers have for its possessions. If its afraid of what I have for resisting its overreach, that's a good thing. It's up to the proprietor of the public building--restaurants, and so on--to determine whether I go armed into his establishment--his house, his rules. If the Government wants to control arms in its buildings, that's not inappropriate, but no where else should the government even have an opinion.

Is there any reason the kind of gun Clint Eastwood used in "Fistful of Dollars" isn't sufficient for self-defense?

The question makes no sense. What there's absolutely no reason for is a government's man telling me what is adequate for my self-defense. Nor is it in any way appropriate for a government's man to tell me what the allowable purposes for my having a firearm will be.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 17, 2012 06:05 PM

What there's absolutely no reason for is a government's man telling me what is adequate for my self-defense.

I disagree with this, Eric. And I think most of us would agree that Sarin gas or a suitcase nuke would be overkill [*cough* :)] for self defense. The principle has to do with balancing your legitimate right to self defense with the potential threat you pose to others - including innocent bystanders.

The same is true of the legal right to self defense itself - it's a principle of matching force. You don't get to use lethal force (a semi-automatic weapon) to defend against non-lethal attacks (an insult, or assault by spitball).

I'll grant you that having to provide a reason for owning a firearm is BS. I believe that's what they did in Australia (and further, that self defense was NOT considered to be an acceptable response). But I won't buy off on no limits whatsoever.

Posted by: Knut, the Heavily Armed Teen Psychotic Bear at December 17, 2012 07:44 PM

The principle has to do with balancing your legitimate right to self defense with the potential threat you pose to others - including innocent bystanders.

Indeed. And there already are adequate laws on the books, both State and Federal, that address this, and they do so without telling me what firearms I'm allowed to have. For self-defense or for any other purpose.

Not only are those two inextricably intertwined, as soon as we let the government's man dictate to us the limits to which we can go to defend ourselves, we've granted that man the ability to limit us to zero lengths.

I trust the judgment of the individual in his need for defense--and in his desire for a firearm for his purpose--far more than I trust a government to decide these things for me--or for you.

If that individual betrays this trust, he harms a few. If the government betrays this trust, it damages the entire nation. To the extent it succeeds in disarming us, that damage may be irretrievable. I choose to avoid a shooting civil war by preempting the government's ability to betray.

I'll be a lot less distrustful of the government's man when the government is properly small and limited, so that all of us--not just me, or not just you--can exercise a proper control over its behavior.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 17, 2012 08:05 PM

By the way, Elise, that particular firearm is a Colt Single Action Army. My own pistol, a Ruger New Model Vaquero, is functionally identical except for some additional safety features that didn't exist in the 19th century.

Forget functionally identical - do you have that cool coiled cobra on the grip? :+)

The direction of the discussion here seems to illustrate much of the scope of the general discussion on gun ownership and control. It seems to me that much of the discussion in society in general revolves around ownership of guns for sport (as in target shooting); hunting; and self-defense. But beyond that are layers involving the need for guns in case they're needed to oppose a tyrannical government. That worries in turn fuels the concern about what seems reasonable - license guns the way we license cars - since that type of licensing means there's now a list of gun owners which that same hypothetical tyrannical government can use to confiscate those same needed guns.

It would be interesting to know which perception of gun ownership - sport/hunting/self-defense or opposition to tyranny - has driven the increasing support for gun ownership. If it's the former, there may be a great deal of support for things like licensing guns the way we license cars; if it's the latter, not so much.

Posted by: Elise at December 17, 2012 08:14 PM

I'm not going to jump in some of the more abstract rights issues behind the 2nd Amendment, as I have fairly strong opinions on the matter which are on the record elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the idea of "reasonable" restrictions raises the hair on the back of my neck.


I would like to address one thing I haven't seen mentioned, however, and I apologize if it was and I just accidentally scanned over it.


The effect of "reasonable" training and competency requirements may have a series of unintended effects. First, there's qualification testing; how shall the state do such a thing, except by levying additional fees? Reasonable. Second, there's training, either as its own requirement or in preparation for qualification. This, too, is going to cost some money. When you consider liability insurance for the trainer, facilities, etc., it is possibly quite a bit of money. The net "reasonable" effect is that we've just added up to several hundred dollars to the cost of owning a firearm. [I pulled this figure out of my fourth point of contact, but it is "reasonable"--and the current state of affairs in some jurisdictions.]


Two considerations here. First, the abstract one: name me another fundamental Constitutionally protected right which requires you to spend hundreds of dollars to prove you are competent and trustworthy before you can exercise it. (I should like to see this applied to newspaper presses, the unethical abuse of which have killed far more people than my guns.)


The second is practical. The people most likely to need an effective means for their personal defense and safety are poor minorities. As a (barely) middle class white boy in rural western WA, I am statistically VERY unlikely ever to need my beloved Ruger .357 revolver for anything more strenuous than putting down a deer if my car somehow fails to finish it off. (I'm more likely to need to put down my car, actually.)


If you make a right more costly to exercise, you make it less likely to be exercised. You price it entirely out of some people's reach--in many cases, the people most likely to need it.

Posted by: Sig at December 17, 2012 08:18 PM

I will add that I am much less opposed to "reasonable" state-level restrictions because I've got fifty to choose from.

Posted by: Sig at December 17, 2012 08:23 PM

You don't get to use lethal force (a semi-automatic weapon) to defend against non-lethal attacks (an insult, or assault by spitball).

You're aim is good but not true. Deadly force is not matching force. It is employing force against a person who behaves in an agressive manner, using weapons. Or, sometimes, not.

LIke this. A guy comes at me with a stick. Not a lethal implement. Unless I determine he is trying to hurt me. Deadly force is justified.

Or this: I was on sentry duty. Fellow was on my post, in an area with enough signage to let a reasonable man know 'this is a place where you don't screw around with the sentries'. Also: it was that kind of a facility ie. not the PX. He had his hands in his pockets of his coveralls. Which was reasonable - it was a cold day. I pulled up, motor block between us, per SOP. Out of the vehicle. I asked him to show his hands.

He said 'what' and moved twords me. I pulled my weapon, charged it, muzzle pointed at the ground, repeated my instruction. He complied. Real fast. And then we determined he was a contractor, lost, not a terrorist. And we went on our way.

Long story but a point: deadly force in that situation, if he'd not shown me his hands, would have been justified. Because: failure to comply with orders in a classified area. To this day I don't know if I _would_ have shot him but ... it was close.

Posted by: Brian Dunbar at December 17, 2012 08:28 PM

licensing guns the way we license cars

Keep in mind a critical effect here: we license cars at the State level, not at the national level.

Some of us have suggested a licensing facility for firearms could be acceptable IFF it were a State licensing facility.

On top of this, though, is my purpose in having firearms (of which self-defense is but one). My purpose is none of the (Federal) government's business. When a government (State, too, but primarily Federal) presumes to tell me what my purpose may be, it is behaving tyrannically; I must be suspicious of it. When a government wants to disarm me, it cannot be attempting it except for nefarious purposes. My 2d Amendment right is an individual one, not a collective one, and so it is beyond government's legitimate reach.

I think there's a necessary distinction, which I'll label gun ownership restriction and gun ownership encumbrances until better, more informative labels are provided. Restriction, to me, is a limit on what I may own, and further on the purpose for which I may own (the grammar is deliberate). Encumbrance, to me, is the condition under which I can [sic] own or bear/carry: a licensing facility through which I demonstrate to the State government (or more local, if we State citizens choose to instruct our State government to move this down to a lower level) my competence in maintaining and operating the firearm I choose to own, acquiescence to an establishment owner's requirements concerning firearms in his establishment, and the like. No government can, legitimately, apply restrictions; the State (or lower) government can apply certain encumbrances so long as these don't approach restriction.

[H]ow shall the state do [qual training], except by levying additional fees?

You're assuming the state is the appropriate source of assessment. This is something private enterprise can do quite nicely. For a more limited set of fees, more infrequently collected, private companies can be licensed to do this sort of thing. A fee structure likely will remain, but the funds will remain in the private sector, out of the government's coffers, and in a free market economy, lower than government is likely to charge. And more flexible and more responsive to market forces.

name me another fundamental Constitutionally protected right which requires you to spend hundreds of dollars to prove you are competent and trustworthy before you can exercise it.

Leaving aside the exaggeration of costs (I don't need insurance to own--or to use--a firearm in Texas, for instance) and the purpose of the costs, the Free Exercise Clause: churches pass the plate at every opportunity, running up the cost of repairing to church on Sundays. Yet paying is entirely voluntary.

The free press isn't free. If I'm to make use of it, I have to pay a buck for a copy of the Dallas Morning News (or so--I haven't bothered to read the rag in years).

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 17, 2012 08:57 PM

Deadly force is not matching force. It is employing force against a person who behaves in an agressive manner, using weapons. Or, sometimes, not. LIke this. A guy comes at me with a stick. Not a lethal implement. Unless I determine he is trying to hurt me. Deadly force is justified.

I can only comment wrt the common law understanding of self defense. Under that rule, your hypothetical person doesn't just get to "decide" a stick justifies deadly force. The standard is whether a person in that situation would reasonably conclude that the degree of force used was necessary. if the guy has a BIG stick, is much bigger than you, etc, then a stick may well be deadly force. But the circumstances matter quite a bit. In the hands of a much smaller man, the same size stick is probably less dangerous. If you are a martial arts expert armed with a pistol, even more so because you have a less lethal way to protect yourself. And so on...

This is a pretty good formulation of my understanding:

Use of force is justified when a person reasonably believes that it is necessary for the defense of oneself or another against the immediate use of unlawful force. However, a person must use no more force than appears reasonably necessary in the circumstances.

Force likely to cause death or great bodily harm is justified in self-defense only if a person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.

Your sentry duty example is, I think, different b/c the entire reason you were in that situation was that it was your job to protect a classified area. You didn't shoot him immediately (and if you had done so, I suspect that would have been a problem. Instead, you acted reasonably by first pointing your gun at the ground and giving him time to assess the situation.

Let's say he hadn't shown his hands immediately (maybe he said, "WHAT?" again because for some reason he genuinely didn't hear you)? Would you be justified in shooting him through the heart on purpose? I don't know the legal answer to that but I suspect it's, "no".

The common law rules aren't perfect but they're pretty reasonable.

Posted by: Knut, the Ambiguously Gay Teen Psychotic Bear at December 17, 2012 09:04 PM

I think Sig's point wrt the cost is well taken. A lot of well intended govt. rules unduly burden the poor.

I have to say that I'm not convinced assault weapons are needed for self defense. People like to argue that if the govt has them, then people need them too to defend themselves against govt. Well, the govt. has tanks, and bombs, and chemical agents too. If the govt has tactical nukes or long range missiles, does that mean everyone in my neighborhood gets to have them too? Can I have a patriot missile in my garage "just in case"?

That really doesn't pass the common sense test.

I also like Eric's formulation of encumbrances vs. restrictions, though I completely disagree with him about whether the govt. (which, after all, works for us) can determine what is reasonably needed for self defense. I don't want my neighbors to stockpile napalm or white phosphorus arty shells either, though certainly the military has used both during wartime.

Once you get into heavy duty weapons, you're making asymmetrical warfare easier - one person can kill large numbers of people at little personal risk. They can even do it anonymously or remotely. I have a problem with that.

Again, the point has been made earlier that individual rights activism prevents govt. from deciding that mentally ill people are dangerous before they've done anything wrong. And most mentally ill people really are not dangerous to other people. So how is that different from saying that most gun owners pose no danger to others? Why let the government act preemptively in a far less well understood case (mental illness)? Why is the safety of others in the rather statistically remote case of mental illness an overriding consideration, but the safety of others in the statistically remote case of legally owned guns being used in mass shootings, NOT a sufficient consideration?

I'm not sure we even understand the line between mentally ill and just plain evil. Sociopathy is a mental illness but it's also what most of us think of as "evil".

I don't pretend to know the answer to these questions, by the way. I'm just trying to point out things that bother me about these arguments.

Posted by: Knut, the Ambiguously Gay Teen Psychotic Bear at December 17, 2012 09:14 PM

How are you defining "assault weapon," Cass? It's a term without a technical meaning, so I'm curious what construction you're giving to it here.

Posted by: Grim at December 17, 2012 09:21 PM

Guns that spray bullets. And yes, I realize they're not currently legal but that's my point: there *are* limits on what is reasonably necessary for self defense already in place.

Which is why I don't buy the "government has no business telling me what I need to defend myself" line of argument. It works fine if we assume that everyone is a reasonable and moral person, but those aren't the people most criminal law exists to defend against.

Posted by: Knut, the Ambiguously Gay Teen Psychotic Bear at December 17, 2012 09:30 PM

If you are a martial arts expert armed with a pistol, even more so because you have a less lethal way to protect yourself.

Even leaving aside the pistol in the hands of a martial arts expert, this makes no sense to me. Please clarify.

Force likely to cause death or great bodily harm is justified in self-defense only if a person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.

The man coming at me with a stick plainly thinks it's sufficient for him to do great bodily harm to me, else he'd not be wielding it. I'd be a fool not to take his own assessment seriously.

Let's say he hadn't shown his hands immediately (maybe he said, "WHAT?" again because for some reason he genuinely didn't hear you)? Would you be justified in shooting him through the heart on purpose?

You're expecting even a trained sentry to read a mind. No man can. Moreover, no man has an obligation to die before he can assess a likelihood of need for deadly force, or force that might turn deadly in the exigency.

These are assessments that must be made on the instant, with lives in the balance. Suppose, further, that our sentry is in a known high risk area, and the man approaching him jerks his hands out of his pockets--perfectly innocently in haste to comply with a suddenly recognized sentry instructing him. The sentry fires at that man who's pulling a weapon from one or both pockets--as far as the sentry can tell.

We can play these edge of the envelope games ad infinitum. No situation can be perfected. There always is risk. The greater risk is to an unarmed population facing an armed government--whether Elise's necessarily tyrannical one or even just one that is misbehaving.

I don't want my neighbors to have napalm or white phosphorus arty shells....

But your neighbors--and you--already have chemical and explosive weapons in your house. Or the makings of them. The Israelis caught all kinds of flak for blocking the import of household sugar into Gaza--how inhumane of them. But sugar, with some other household chemicals, makes a very fine explosive.

Shall we let our employee restrict our access to bleach, sugar, household ammonia, fertilizer, charcoal, etc?

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 17, 2012 09:35 PM

I don't want my neighbors to stockpile napalm or white phosphorus arty shells....

Quite apart from the exaggerated nature of your example, why should your wants take primacy over your neighbors' wants?

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 17, 2012 09:44 PM

For what it's worth, WA state is encumbered by virtually none of the costs I mentioned; there's no training or licensing requirement to own (or open carry) a weapon, and only a simple application and background check are required to attain a concealed carry permit. No training. No qualification. Any idiot can, and many do.


Contrast this with Illinois, where my father needs a license just to own a firearm, and will never be one of the privileged few allowed to carry it.


In any case, the streets are not running red in Washington (which, aside from its gun laws, is a pretty blue state), and no realistic restriction that I've heard proposed would have done a bit of good in this latest school shooting.


Leaving aside the exaggeration of costs (I don't need insurance to own--or to use--a firearm in Texas, for instance) and the purpose of the costs, the Free Exercise Clause: churches pass the plate at every opportunity, running up the cost of repairing to church on Sundays. Yet paying is entirely voluntary.

I referred to the insurance on the part of the weapons trainer, not owner (though it's been suggested). Your other reference is a bit out of field; someone may voluntarily choose to give money in the course of exercising their religion (I do), but that exercise requires no licensing fee to the state, no testing fees, no qualifications. (How many fewer churches and churchgoers might there be if so?)
The free press isn't free. If I'm to make use of it, I have to pay a buck for a copy of the Dallas Morning News (or so--I haven't bothered to read the rag in years).
The individual costs to exercising one's right to publish are lower than they have ever been in history. Wordpress helpfully publishes my idiotic blatherings at no cost to me, and the public library (or coffee shop, if I already own a laptop) freely grants me access to update. But this wasn't my point. I don't pay the government anything at all to exercise this right, nor do I have to prove my competency to do so in a responsible manner. I am held accountable for my writing, should I choose to write things deemed beyond the protection of the first amendment, but there is no prior restraint, no test.


Hold people accountable when they fail to exercise good judgment? Yes. Encourage people to train? Absolutely. Require it? I'm leery.

Posted by: Sig at December 17, 2012 09:45 PM

Guns that spray bullets. And yes, I realize they're not currently legal but that's my point: there *are* limits on what is reasonably necessary for self defense already in place.

OK: so you mean automatic weapons. Well, they're not actually illegal -- I gather John Donovan has quite a few. They are tightly regulated, but nobody (I think) believes them to be defensive weapons.

Of course, as Donovan's case demonstrates, there are other reasons besides self-defense to own a firearm. These may sometimes justify a weapon that self-defense alone would not.

Mr. Hines:

The man coming at me with a stick plainly thinks it's sufficient for him to do great bodily harm to me, else he'd not be wielding it. I'd be a fool not to take his own assessment seriously.

I think that's the best argument I've heard you make in months. One really ought to take him at his word, so to speak.

Posted by: Grim at December 17, 2012 09:47 PM

For what it's worth, I do not think it an unreasonable burden to pass a knowledge test and a skill test to be allowed to carry a firearm outside one's own property.


I do think it unreasonable to require a specified number of hours of classroom training, however, given the attendant time and financial costs--and that you can frequently learn more and better from a knowledgeable and experienced shooter.

Posted by: Sig at December 17, 2012 10:00 PM

The man coming at me with a stick plainly thinks it's sufficient for him to do great bodily harm to me, else he'd not be wielding it. I'd be a fool not to take his own assessment seriously.

I can think of several cases where you wouldn't be foolish not to take his assessment seriously.

He may be severely retarded. Or really stupid. Or have impulse control issues, or be so drunk he isn't capable of thinking straight. Eric is making the common mistake of overapplying logic to situations that are often illogical in nature.

The rule is, if a reasonable person would think they were in danger of death or great bodily harm AND they have no lesser means of self defense than using lethal force, then it's justified.

If you're a martial arts expert, you should be able to handle a generic guy with a stick. You might have a gun too, but you have a less lethal means of self defense (using your martial arts skills). Seems pretty simple to me.

If you have no time (the guy with the stick rushes you and there's no time to think or assess his intent) that's different than if he circles for a while and yells out insults, or merely threatens you with the stick. If he's 60 feet away and you shoot him before he even gets close (or you know for sure it wasn't just a threat), you're probably going to have some explaining to do.

Grim told a story about a woman hitting him. Did he react in kind? Why not? Should he have taken her assessment seriously? Does he even really know what her assessment was? He has an opinion, but does he know for certain?

...so you mean automatic weapons

I purposely avoided technical terms, Grim, because I don't know enough to correctly classify such weapons. If you're asking if I want to reinstate the ban on assault weapons, no. My understanding was that law was poorly written and didn't work anyway.

It was a generic statement intended to underscore my point about not needing a sledgehammer to slay a gnat.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 17, 2012 10:04 PM

that exercise [of religion] requires no licensing fee to the state

and

I don't pay the government anything at all to exercise this right [to a free press]

That's my point. You've not established that any fees related to firearm ownership must necessarily go to the state.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 17, 2012 10:05 PM

...as Donovan's case demonstrates, there are other reasons besides self-defense to own a firearm. These may sometimes justify a weapon that self-defense alone would not.

Yes, there are. But they do not always override all other considerations. Owning a piece of history is a good thing, if you're John Donovan. I'm fairly certain Donovan isn't going to go postal on anyone. He doesn't worry me in the least - I started reading his blog back when pretty much all he wrote about was guns and military issues so obviously I don't have a problem with that.

But he's the best case. Once again, we're ignoring the worst case. If you argue that the best case should always drive the law and we can't consider the worst cases, we wouldn't have many criminal laws at all. I don't understand that kind of thinking.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 17, 2012 10:11 PM

He may be severely retarded. Or really stupid. Or have impulse control issues, or be so drunk he isn't capable of thinking straight. Eric is making the common mistake of overapplying logic to situations that are often illogical in nature.

Look who's talking. You're the one suggesting I can read minds, or cannot recognize inebriation. This is just more boundary games. You also seem to be assuming only one extreme or another are in play, with no middle ground for stuff like judgment or restraint.

If you're a martial arts expert, you should be able to handle a generic guy with a stick. You might have a gun too, but you have a less lethal means of self defense (using your martial arts skills). Seems pretty simple to me.

Unless he's a martial arts expert, too, and his small stick is one of the tools of his trade. More boundary games. Martial arts less lethal? Except for the part about I can do lots more damage with the several weapons inherent in my body than I might with a gun. The lethality isn't inherent in either my MA skills or my gun, but in my use of either. Hence my question.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 17, 2012 10:17 PM

You're the one suggesting I can read minds, or cannot recognize inebriation.

Actually, I was suggesting precisely the opposite.

Posted by: Knut, the Ambiguously Gay Teen Psychotic Bear at December 17, 2012 10:22 PM

Sorry, your point (and distinction) was not clear to me. Whether the fees end up going to the state's coffers directly or to a designated third party is entirely academic to me if the fees are required by the state before I can exercise a right.

Once again, we're ignoring the worst case. If you argue that the best case should always drive the law and we can't consider the worst cases, we wouldn't have many criminal laws at all. I don't understand that kind of thinking.
Unfortunately, the worst case is frequently the one that ignores the laws entirely. We cannot by any reasonable means prevent the worst case person from acquiring the tools to do the worst case action, whether they be firearms or homemade explosives. The question is largely how much we are prepared to impair everyone else in the attempt.

Posted by: Sig at December 17, 2012 10:24 PM

Unless he's a martial arts expert, too, and his small stick is one of the tools of his trade.

There are no "boundary games'. You're missing the point here: it's that circumstances matter. Hence the various scenarios that illustrate how they matter.

You can't simply say, "If he has a stick, then he thinks the stick is sufficient to kill me or do me great bodily harm. Therefore I should take my guess of what he's thinking as evidence of intent to kill or cause gbh (as opposed to any of the other things it might be - impulse, poor judgment, overconfidence, etc).

Once again, I already stipulated that if you don't have time to assess any of these things, AND you have no less lethal means than deadly force, you're justified in using it to defend yourself. But I'm not going to buy deadly force based on what you think he's thinking (regardless of the actual threat level or your ability to defend yourself with nonlethal force) and most courts wouldn't, either.

Posted by: Knut, the Ambiguously Gay Teen Psychotic Bear at December 17, 2012 10:29 PM

Unfortunately, the worst case is frequently the one that ignores the laws entirely. We cannot by any reasonable means prevent the worst case person from acquiring the tools to do the worst case action, whether they be firearms or homemade explosives. The question is largely how much we are prepared to impair everyone else in the attempt.

That's true. The question I'm asking here is whether there are reasonable restrictions on the ownership, purchase, or use of deadly weapons that thread that needle?

I've heard a few that might. I'm not convinced they would prevent anything like this from ever happening again because I don't believe that's possible. As you say, the worst case villain will find a way.

But if some "encumbrances" managed to reduce the number of people killed/wounded by guns without making gun ownership unduly burdensome, I might agree that the reduction in liberty was outweighed by the reduction in innocent victims. Not saying I'm there yet - just that I could be persuaded.

Posted by: Knut, the Ambiguously Gay Teen Psychotic Bear at December 17, 2012 10:45 PM

Well, you've already defined the problem far more clearly than most people commenting this week. =)

I'm not so convinced that we can find such a balancing point, but I am an enthusiast both of firearms and of political theory--way too close to the subject, in other words. That doesn't mean I won't keep looking.

Posted by: Sig at December 17, 2012 10:48 PM

The[s]e are no "boundary games'.

I think that's what you meant. What follows is based on that unsubstantiated assumption.

Sure they are. Every one of your examples is an over-specified isolated item. We can't legislate for every possible occurrence--circumstances do matter, and if we try to legislate for each of them we'll end up with a Byzantine labyrinth of law that's impossible to enforce and expensive to try. Oh, wait....

All we can to is write law that implements principle and that facilitates our enjoyment of our freedoms, not law that negatively prevents us--or especially criminals--from doing things.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 17, 2012 11:16 PM

I purposely avoided technical terms, Grim, because I don't know enough to correctly classify such weapons.

Well, the reason I asked about it is that "assault weapon" is a non-technical term that has a relevant history. It was coined by gun control advocates as a way of conflating actual assault rifles -- that is, automatic weapons of the type you are worried about -- with other sorts of weapons that function quite differently, but may look somewhat alike.

This is how we got the "assault weapons ban" in 1994, which banned "military style" weapons -- not anything that any military would use, but things in roughly the same shape, or containing things like bayonet lugs. The ban was so spectacularly unsuccessful that even the Brady group didn't oppose its sunset.

Thus, it's a term with a difficult past. I wondered if you were using it in their form, and if so why you would want to do so; or if you were meaning to construct it differently.

If you argue that the best case should always drive the law and we can't consider the worst cases, we wouldn't have many criminal laws at all.

Be still, my heart! :)

No, I understand the point. I just wanted to be clear that you were limiting your comments to self defense only, and that we agree that there are other concerns that can carry different standards of justification.

Posted by: Grim at December 17, 2012 11:46 PM

I am really not that well informed about guns or 2nd amendment issues, which is one reason I rarely write about them unless I read something so mind-blowingly stupid that I can't help myself :p

Every one of your examples is an over-specified isolated item...We can't legislate for every possible occurrence

And yet these are precisely the kinds of cases that get decided in court every single day. Law isn't just legislation - mitigating circumstances and interpretation also come into play when law is enforced. I haven't suggested that we can or should write the kinds of laws you're positing. I merely cited common law precepts that have been in use for centuries, and which have generally worked quite well.

In most states, the requirements for asserting 'self defense' are already codified or contained in judicial precedents, so I'm not talking about creating new laws.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 18, 2012 08:37 AM

Ok, this will be long and broken up over several comments over the day...

Definitions and terms:

Bullet: The actual projectile.

Round: A single self contained unit for propelling the bullet. Consists of: A case containing a primer and gunpowder and the bullet.

Single Action: The firearm where the trigger *only* takes a single action: firing the gun. The gun must be manually operated to load a round to be fired.

Double Action: A firearm where the act of pulling the trigger both (1) cocks the weapon and (2)fires it.

Some Double Action handguns can be manually cocked, thus allowing for single action operation.

Double Action/Single Action (DA/SA): a double action handgun where the act of firing the weapon cocks it. You do not have to cock it manually allowing the trigger to act as single action but requiring no manual manipulation on your part.

Magazine: a storage device for rounds. (Not interchangable with Clip)

Clip: a device for holding rounds together. (Not interchangable with magazine)

Stock: the non moving parts of a long gun. The thing to which all the parts of a long gun are attached.

Barrel: the metal tube the bullet travels down.

Muzzel: the business end of the barrel.

Chamber: the part of the gun which holds the round to be fired.

Breech: the rear of the chamber.

Receiver: The part of the gun that holds all the moving parts.

Pump Action: a gun where rounds are loaded by pulling a slide operated by the forward hand backwards towards the shooter and then pushing it forward.

Bolt Action: a gun where rounds are loaded by operating the breech by rotating a lever, pulling it back, pushing it forward and rotatin the lever back to lock the breech.

Lever Action: a gun where rounds are loaded by swinging a lever underneath the weapon forward and back with the rear (shooting) hand.

Handgun: a gun which is designed so that it can be operated with one hand (though it is often recommended not to do so).

Long gun: a gun designed to be operated with two hands.

Rifle: a long gun firing a single projectile with spirals (called rifling) cut into the barrel causing the bullet to spin.

Shotgun: a long gun which fires multiple projectiles (called shot). Rifling is typically not present.

Semi Automatic: a gun where the rounds are loaded by the act of firing the weapon. The loaded round is not fired. One trigger pull = one bullet fired.

Automatic: a gun where the rounds are loaded and fired so long as the trigger is held back. When this action is used on a rifle it is Also known as a Machine Gun. When done one a weapon that fires rounds designed for a pistol it is called a Machine Pistol.

Run away: a gun where the rounds are loaded and fired even after releasing the trigger. This is a malfunction and indicates that the gun is seriously broken (and why "easily convertible" to automatic *isn't*).

Revolver: a handgun with a rotation cylinder that hold the rounds. May be either single action or double action.

Pistol: Any handgun that is not a revolver.

Caliber: the diameter of the bullet the weapon fires. Expressed either in metric or imperial units (typically decimals of an inch) Thus the 5.56NATO is 5.56mm in diameter and a .45 is 0.45 inches in diameter. Smaller != Weaker. Things such as bullet weight and the amount (and type) of gun powder used matter. A .223 rifle round is more powerful than a .45 pistol round because while the .45 is twice the diameter (and 4x the cross section, the .223 has a lot higher velocity: Force = Mass * Velocity^2)

Assault Rifle: A medium caliber rifle capable of firing in both semi-automatic and Automatic modes (determined by a selector switch).

Now for the loaded terms:

Deer Rifle: any rifle gun control supporters deem is OK. Typically will have a wooden stock.

Assault Weapon: A legal term. A gun does not become an Assault Weapon until a legislator says that it is. Thus can be whatever a legislator wants it to be. State laws vary on what is and is not an "Assault Weapon". Typically, these are semi automatic rifles which are cosmetically similar to Automatic rifles. Which would be like taking a showroom Chevy Impala and sticking on NASCAR body panels and calling it a race car. This is done purposefully to cause confusion between what weapons are semi-automatic and which are automatic. Because they often look the same they are easily assumed to be the same.

A deer rifle can be converted to an Assault Weapon by removing the wooden stock and replacing it with a plastic one if it has an unapproved shape.

Sniper Rifle: any higly accurate rifle that can be used to engage targets at great distances. I.E. what your deer rifle will be called when the gun controllers want to ban it.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 18, 2012 10:38 AM

Thanks, Yu-Ain! That's very helpful.

I wasn't aware of the distinction between assault rifles and assault weapons, for instance.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 18, 2012 11:28 AM

I think you should also add the term "rifled shotgun" to the list. That's a shotgun with rifling which fires a slug instead of multiple shot, and is used for deer hunting in those states which restrict all or a portion of the state to deer hunting with a shotgun.

Posted by: Rex at December 18, 2012 11:39 AM

Pertinent Federal Regulation

National Firearms Act (1934): Imposed a tax on Machine Guns (i.e. Automatic weapons), Short Barreled Rifles, and Short Barreled Shotguns, or "any other weapon" except a pistol or revolver capable of being concealed) which was meant to make them more expensive than the general population could afford. It also required registration with the Federal gov't. Instituted after a shootout between the FBI and the MOB, two entities who are either exempt, or famously not likely to comply. (And the other is the freakin' MOB :-)).

In other words, let's pass regulations against the people who are not the proble.

Gun Control Act of 1968:
Required interstate transactions to be handled by federally licensed manufacturers and dealers. As a resident of North Carolina I cannot buy a gun from a store in Arizona without finding a NC based holder of a Federal Firearms License (FFL).

Hughes Amendment to the Firearm Owners Protection Act (1986):
Banned the sale or transfer of Automatic weapons if they had not been registered prior to 1986. This means that, yes, machine guns are legal to own and sell, but because the supply is severely restricted the prices for these weapons are out of reach of the general population. A fully automatic M-16 manufactured today which can be sold to the police for $800 or so can not be sold to the civilian market at all. And one that was manufactured and properly registered prior to 1986 might be sold for $8,000-$10,000 on the civilian market. Thuggy McCrackhead is not shooting up the rival gang with a machine gun.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 18, 2012 11:44 AM

I also want to note how the assault weapon ban was crafted. This is based on a WSJ article which appeared shortly after the ban went into effect. Diane Feinstein and a bunch of her cronies gathered a bunch of weapons on a table and then looked at them to determine similarities. Eventually, they discovered differences which could be specified in legislation, such as pistol grip, bayonet lug, flash suppressor, etc., and then said that any two, in combination with a removable magazine, made for an assault weapon.

So unscrew the flash suppressor and file off the bayonet lug and presto! chango! the assault weapon you had is no longer one. Sort of confirms that the purpose of the law wasn't really to keep weapons off the streets.

Posted by: Rex at December 18, 2012 11:47 AM

I wasn't aware of the distinction between assault rifles and assault weapons, for instance. - Cass

Which was the entire point of the term.

The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons. - Josh Sugarman

In other words, Sugarman *knows* these weapons are not fully automatic, but it using the false depiction of them as such, to push for their ban anyway.

I think you should also add the term "rifled shotgun" to the list. - Rex

I think you already did. :-)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 18, 2012 11:51 AM

Now that a baseline has been established.

There are 3 perspectives on gun regulation I'll address.

1) First Principals
2) Constitutional
3) Utilitarian

I'll deal with these in seperate comments.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 18, 2012 11:53 AM

1) First Principals.

Any person who cannot be trusted in civilized society with weapons simply cannot be trusted in civilized society. Guns, bombs, traps, etc, are just tools, the weapon is the grey squishy stuff between your ears.

Fertilizer and diesel fuel were the tools used in Oklahama City.

You will never regulate away "enemy action". No one who has come to the conclusion that murder is acceptable will look at any regulation of weapons and say to himself, "Killing people is one thing, but to do XYZ to do it, *that* is beyond the pale."

Those who argue that the general population cannot be trusted argue from a position of people control not gun control. They are not nice people, they do not mean well.

The vast majority of people store very large quantities of very dangerous stuff that can (and are) used as weapons (gasoline and propane) and exceedingly rarely are any of them ever misused or mishandled. By in large, the vast majority of society do not engage in behaviors that could have destructive consequences for their families and neighbors.

I do not worry about my neighbor storing "dangerous" items. I do not worry whether he is "the right type" or "the wrong type". The right type need not be worried about and the wrong type won't be dissuaded because it is illegal. That's kind of what makes them the wrong type.

At the time of our founding, people did own cannons and even fully armed ships. Privately owned, mind you. Not gov't owned.

Again, I'm not too worried about Bill Gates and George Soros getting in a canon/tank/nuclear war with the Koch brothers (about the only ones who could afford them). The kind of behaviors that would make them the wrong people would preclude them from amassing enough wealth to afford them. That combination is really only found in gov'ts.

Under this scenario, the answer to whether one would support any regulation is almost certainly "No", with the possible exceptions for minors.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 18, 2012 12:17 PM

2) Constitutional

No right, not even the First Amendment is absolute.

The oft quoted "You do not have the right to shout fire in a crowded theater" is not quite right. You *do* have that right. So long as there is an actual fire. What you do not have the right to do is to *falsely* shout fire. That is, your right to free speach does not allow you to knowingly cause likely bodily injury to others.

However, one can not be required to become licensed to engage in speech. One can not be required to pass a competency test before engaging in speech. One can not be required to pay a fee/tax before engaging in speech.

For those that say speech doesn't kill people (or kill lots of people) I refer you to the aformentioned incition, not to mentione "Who will rid me of this troublesome Priest?"

Thus, most of the regulation we have today, if it were held to the same standard as the First Amendment would be held unconstitutional.

Specific bans on weapons or even capabilities of weapons would be right out. We don't restrict the Freedom of the Press to just printed pieces of paper, but also extend it to those "word spraying" technologies like the internet. As mentioned earlier, the notoriety for these horrors is part of the incentive for them. But no one is talking about banning media coverage.

Why?

Because we know that would be wrong.

Things that could be supported would be things like restrictions on purchases to minors, possession by minors without adult supervision, discharging a firearm inside the city limits except in cases of self defense, a ban on indiscreminant firing into the air.

Notice that (with the exceptions for minors) these laws are about the dangerous use of firearms. Not on who may own what kind of firearms.

Furthermore, it can be argued that the 2nd amendment (successfully, I think) that the "Well regulated militia" clause does have some import. At the time of adoption, militia members would have been expected to show up to drill with their own weapons suitable for the infantry soldier. Many of the militias would not be able to afford to outfit every soldier with arms. Thus, a militia member called to service would not have been expected to show up with a canon, even though they were perfectly legal to own. Bring that to today and the constitution would permit bans on Howitzers, mortars, tanks, and other non-personally carried weapons. A fully automatic M-16, M-4, SAW, however, would be protected. They are the tools of the standard infantry soldier. Someone who shows up at boot camp with knowledge and experience in these weapons would certainly go a long way towards a military that is "well regulated". (A phrase that meant more closely "In good working order" than "beset by laws" at the time it was adopted).

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 18, 2012 12:48 PM

3) Utilitarian

Anything goes so long as it works. This is really where the gun control crowd stands: "If it saves just one life".

The issue with this one is that when it comes to "enemy action" nothing works. As stated before, one who is willing to murder 6 year olds will not be stopped because violating a weapons law is unconscienable. Passing laws against those of us who *will* obey them does nothing. Accept allow us to pat ourselves on the back for "doing something".

These people are stopped by only one thing: the threat of force against themselves. Most "bad guys" don't want to die. And if they do, they want it to be on their terms. Most "Active Shooters" shoot themselves as soon as they are confronted by someone that could actually hurt them. They do not want to take the risk of surviving the encounter.

Futhermore, it is not necesary for the "little lady" to actually shoot the rapist. But the mere possibility may make him think twice. The certain knowledge that he won't, however, makes it an easier decision.

BTW, yes, "An armed society..." is true. Gang society is in fact very polite, it just has different rules for what is considered polite behavior. The definition of "Polite" belongs to the armed society. Since in Chicago, the definition of Polite has been ceded to "the wrong types", well, what do you expect?

That's the double edged sword of the statement. It is imperative that it be "the right types" who are armed.

But getting back to the topic, the only regulation that has any chance at utility would be those surrounding accidents (such as storing a handgun in the oven. Yes, it has happened). The difficulty is that the type of person who will be careless with something like a weapon is also likely to be careless in adhering to the regulation.

Granted, it's anecdotal, but the Marine cadet that was careless, didn't even get his act together *after* confronted with some really horrific consequences.

Even if I were to dismiss the previous two perspectives, I think that laws such as discharging a firearm in the city limits except in cases of self-defense or indescrimenently firing into the air are about the extent things that actually work.

Which, again, are about how you use them, not about whom may possess what, how, why, and where.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 18, 2012 01:21 PM

/book

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 18, 2012 01:33 PM

Excellent presentation, YAG.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at December 18, 2012 02:03 PM

Hey, I even managed to get through all that without once screaming "SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED!!!!111!!!!111ELEVENTY" :-)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 18, 2012 02:07 PM

Oh, and I need a proof-reader badly.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 18, 2012 02:09 PM

OK, just a few comments:

No one who has come to the conclusion that murder is acceptable will look at any regulation of weapons and say to himself, "Killing people is one thing, but to do XYZ to do it, *that* is beyond the pale."

But that's not really the argument, nor is it really how people think in the real world. What you're leaving out here is passion - a force that has led more than one person (young men in particular) to do foolish things on impulse.

The argument, as I see it, is that if you make it harder/costlier/more painful to do X, fewer people on average will do it. There is ample evidence for this proposition, by the way, just as there is for the notion that, "If society really, really disapproves of X, fewer people will do it. And if society rewards (or simply doesn't penalize) X, more people will do it."

Witness premarital sex, getting pregnant out of wedlock, having abortions, talking about masturbation and your favorite porn memes on national TV as though you were discussing watching Monday night football or Jeopardy.

These things used to shock us. People shunned or avoided those who transgressed against the prevailing mores of the day. Now, fidelity to your spouse is viewed as quaint and unnatural where once it was considered both desirable and admirable.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 18, 2012 02:25 PM

Notice that (with the exceptions for minors) these laws are about the dangerous use of firearms. Not on who may own what kind of firearms.

Sooooo.... can convicted murderers/felons own guns?

That's a restriction on ownership. It may or may not be reasonable depending on the circumstances.

On speech, yes speech can kill people but it is nowhere as immediate as firing a gun. This is a well established distinction. Someone can get all in a lather and pick up a gun that's lying around and fire it in a few seconds and someone is dead and there's no do overs.

Speech doesn't have that immediacy or certainty of causing harm. It's far more indirect than firing a gun. So while I agree with many of your points (except that I don't oppose all restrictions on the press and never have), I see a critical distinction.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 18, 2012 02:58 PM

The thing is, the banning certain guns/weapons don't make it harder/costlier/more painful to commit murder.

Not compared to the murder anyway.

I'm not going to jump the Grand Canyon, and it isn't because you dug it out 10 feet wider.

Someone who lives in a society that accepts murder (gangs, etc) are not going to abstain from guns because you made it illegaler.

The vast majority of murderers do not have the murder as their first contact with the law.

It is exceedingly rare that someone snaps and flies into a murderous passion. It just doesn't happen in any meaningful sense.

If you look at all the murder reports a pattern emerges. These people all have records starting with petty crimes, which then work up to petty assaults, domestic violence, aggravated assaults,...

A case in point.

This person hasn't killed a person, yet. But if we keep letting him out, I'm sure he will. And it won't be the fault of "loose gun laws" or lack of "reasonable restrictions" or a lack of "common sense gun-control".

It will be ours. Because we didn't lock him up and throw away the key.

It takes a lot to kill a person. A lot of desensitization to view another person as something to scrapped and thrown away.

Much, much, much moreso than talking about porn in public.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 18, 2012 03:00 PM

Sooooo.... can convicted murderers/felons own guns?

My preference is that if they are still such a danger that it would warrant restricting their gun ownership, they shouldn't have been let out of prison in the first place.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 18, 2012 03:02 PM

The reason being, that if you look at the histories of murderers, most of them were already felons prior to the murder.

They were impeded by the felon-in-possession laws about as much as a bullet is by the paper the law is written on.

It just doesn't work, so we should stop doing it, and do something that does.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 18, 2012 03:14 PM

I think you may be judging others by your own standard, Yu-Ain. You have good self control. I'm guessing you're not from a family where you grew up with violence in the home as coping strategy.

Neither did I, so for me the availability of guns would not be a factor. But that's not true for everyone.

You probably don't abuse alcohol or drugs either.

It all has to do with how much damage you can do - and how quickly - if you have trouble controlling your impulses.

I am unlikely to commit adultery any time soon but I don't kid myself that it wouldn't be more likely if I didn't scrupulously avoid situations where I'm likely to be tempted (especially during deployments).

People aren't all strong and self disciplined, and I don't think most people's moral codes are as absolute as you believe they are. Over the years I've known of very many cases where people did things no one would have thought they would do. In a moment, years of self discipline were wiped out.

I don't think any of these things describes your average (rare) mass shooting but there are also tons of ordinary shootings every year. And 2/3 of those are committed with guns - they dwarf other weapons like knives.

Most gun homicides are committed by teens and young men (whose impulse control is notably lower than that of older men). So I am not convinced that easy access to guns isn't a factor. It's not the ONLY factor, but I think it matters.

The question then becomes, "So what do we do about that?"

Posted by: Cassandra at December 18, 2012 03:45 PM

Expected value = Probability*Result

The issue is that the vast majority of people the probability does = 0. We know this because despite easy access to weapons (you have several in your kitchen) the vast majority don't kill or even assault anyone. It doesn't really matter what the result would be.

For those with a probability > 0, I see no evidence that restrictions actually *restrict* them.

I don't believe for one second that the football player who killed his girlfriend would have 1) gone without a gun had it been illegal for him to have it, or 2) that even if he had, he wouldn't have grabbed a knife out of the kitchen, or 3) simply beaten her to death with his hands. Once he had murder on his heart, she was dead absent an ability to 1) escape or 2) bring as much or more violence than he could. That's it. Those two things.


The problem isn't "gun violence" but just plain ole violence.

Most gun homicides are committed by teens and young men (whose impulse control is notably lower than that of older men).

Teens, who, by the way, are already not allowed to own guns (and who cannot use them absent adult supervision). Pointing to a regulation that isn't working is not a convincing argument for doing it again, only harder.

That said, in each of my 3 constructions, regulations involving minors would be allowed (regardless of their utility).

Young men, who I might mention, are predominantly engaged in gangs and gang warfare. Not exactly a population with a demonstrated willingness to obey the laws.

Everytime that gun rights are expanded we keep being told horror stories about a return to "The Wild West", and streets "running red with blood" over fights about parking spaces.

And it keeps not happening. Georgia and Tennessee passed laws allowing carry permit holders to carry in restaraunts serving alcohol. Several other states already did and Indiana even allows you to drink as long as you stay under the DUI limit.

We were told that drunken shootouts would break out over someone hitting on their significant other.

There's only one problem, in all the years, in all the states that have passed that law, it's never happened.

I just see no evidence, even putting aside my constructs (1) and (2), that these things actually work.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 18, 2012 04:19 PM

From the other thread: "There is evidence pointing both ways, none of it involving *this* country, *this* culture, etc."

Actually, things like expansion of carry laws, the implementation and sunset of the AWB, NICS background checks, provide many datapoints in *this* country and *this* culture.

With the Heller and McDonald cases we'll have even more before/after test cases. Helk, the circuit court covering Illinois just tossed out Illinois' ban on handgun carry.

Once again, we'll hear cries of "Wild West" and "blood in the streets" and I bet you that once again, like everywhere else, it won't happen.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 18, 2012 04:42 PM

Yu-Ain:

There are a whole lot of other factors here that we aren't discussing. People douse women with gasoline and set them on fire in India. They're more likely to shoot women here than force them to commit suttee. We have different cultures, resources, history, stories and myths. They all affect our choices.

The evidence I've seen suggests a poor correlation between the number of guns and the number of violent crimes, but again correlation does not prove causation. As you know, other factors (changing attitudes towards violent crime, jail sentences, popular culture, the availability of violent video games that could be said to either satisfy natural propensities for violence OR desensitize kids to violence OR neither, depending on whom you believe) interact and counteract each other.

I'm not smart enough to sort it all out, but I appreciate the many thoughtful comments and your willingness to suggest measures you might support... or not :)

Posted by: Cassandra at December 18, 2012 05:13 PM

There is actually a pretty strong negative correlation
between the firearm related death rate and the gun ownership rate: Blue line versus Orange line.

And yes, there are a lot of mitigating factors, Culture being one of them, which is why you can't compare US statistics to Britain, or Australia. The US has always had a more violent culture comparatively. However, within culture stats can still be useful. While cultures do change over time, they are comparatively more stable. While Brittain's violent crime rate has been rising since they functionally banned all gun ownership, ours has been going down for the past 30 years.

It would be impossible to control for everything and reach an "all else equal" model, but even if we could, we know that "all else" can never be equal. Changing one variable necessarily changes others.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 18, 2012 06:06 PM

YAG:

My compliments. Would you take a look at at these studies, though? I'm looking into them myself right now, and I'm curious what you think.

Posted by: Grim at December 18, 2012 07:32 PM

Well, a 60 second google search yeilds just links to the abstract, not to the paper itself. So all I can comment on is the abstract which has very little details.

My questions would be around what populations were examined. If you were to look at gun ownership in the city of Chicago, well, I'm not surprised. Pretty much the only gun owners (at least the only ones who would admit it) are gang members: a group not known for pacifistic tendencies.

If what you examine is a population where only those predisposed to violence own something, you shouldn't be surprised at the correlation.

Maybe the researchers controlled for that, I don't know.

The big problem is that of using cross populations. Chicago cannot be compared to Atlanta which cannot be compared to Pheonix. In my opinion, studies need to be done on a before/after basis for the reasons Cass stated above. There is too much variation in the baselines of culture, laws, etc.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 19, 2012 10:32 AM

but I appreciate the many thoughtful comments and your willingness to suggest measures you might support... or not :)

I know I seem almost an anarchist on this topic, but in some ways I support more stingent restrictions than you do.

For instance, you would only restrict Felons and convicted murderers from ownership of guns (a regulation that is largely ignored by same). You would still allow them access to knives, screwdrivers (the 3rd most common murder weapon in Memphis), and the "constructive possession" of explosives.

I would restrict all of these by restricting almost all of their liberties and property by leaving them in prison.

There are fewer regulations but I support much more harsh methods to enforce them.

For an example, here is one of those "ordinary" shootings: Here in my city this weekend. The suspect? Three prior felonies and two misdemeaners.

Prohibited person, still had a gun. Yep, real afraid of that regulation wasn't he?

You want to prevent that murder? Should have thrown his ass in jail and never let him out. This person simply cannot be trusted in civilized society, period. Full stop. That is how you prevent violent crime.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at December 19, 2012 10:50 AM

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