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Gun Control – 1700s or 2000s?

March 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Note: I am not going to link all of the statistics or various references in this post. I don’t want the discussion to surround the validity of various sources. Confirmation bias too often clouds this issue, thus I want the discussion (if there is any) to be more about my thoughts and not on the sources I reference. 

I have been thinking about the subject of gun control lately, since it has been in the news with the couple of mass shootings over the last several months. Like in most instances, I don’t agree with either party’s stance, and the lack of logical and reasonable debate is appalling. I am going to somewhat randomly post my thoughts on the subject here, and hope I get some reasonable conversation on the matter.

One of the issues that always comes up is the 2nd amendment. This tends to be the core defense for having the least amount of gun control (up to no gun control). One of the key sticking points in the amendment is: what does it mean when the amendment states “a well-regulated militia?” Looking at quotes from the people involved in writing the bill of rights, it would appear the idea of a militia was more or less to make sure those not in the army were armed. The conservative position that having citizens own guns was to indeed keep the government in check by making them reluctant to use the standing military against the citizens. Other quotes assumed these “militia” members would have some sort of training, to ensure they were capable of using the weapons effectively and safely. Weighing that out, I don’t think the militia argument is one good enough to justify taking away guns.

On the other hand, does it make sense that the guns now owned by citizens would in any way make the government fearful? When the amendment was written, the military didn’t have tanks, fighter jets, bombers, smart bombs, etc. I don’t think a couple thousand citizens with AR-15s is in any way a match for the military might our government now possesses. I’m not sure the militia defense (in reference to the government fearful) really makes sense in the modern context.

I have looked at plenty of statistics, which I think are much less conclusive than either side wants to admit. There is the example from Australia, where an assault weapons ban has been very effective. The caveat is that it included a buyback program, something that probably wouldn’t work here in the United States because of the much larger number of guns. There are examples of Canada, the UK, Switzerland, and other European countries where gun bans and gun ownership both work. I’m not sure any statistic from these places works well in the US, because of our unique relationship with guns.

Probably the closet example we have for comparison is Canada. Canada has experimented with various levels of gun control, with mixed results. Looking at the statistics, it would appear problems with guns is much more cultural. In both Canada and the United States, there is a wide spread in the number of gun crimes by province or state. The state by state statistics alone tell me there is a cultural problem with how we treat guns (and our fellow humans) much more than there is a problem with gun ownership itself.

There are some other interesting statistics about guns and how they are used. Homes with guns are much more likely to have gun violence take place. There are hundreds of reports of gun accidents every year. Does that mean people shouldn’t have guns? I don’t know. We have plenty of things in our homes that can both be used purposely as well as could accidentally kill someone. If we took away everything that people enjoyed for recreation because of danger, we’d have no sports, ATVs, cars, etc. I don’t think these statistics are enough to recommend taking away guns. They instead should be awareness for people to consider before purchasing one.

Regarding the idea of “assault” weapons, I have mixed feelings. The problem with some of these weapons is they are easily modified from semi-automatic to fully automatic, without too much effort. They also have the capacity to hold and fire many rounds in a minute, which is dangerous. There was a video comparing the use of buckshot in a shotgun versus a semi-automatic rifle, but it had a couple flaws. One, I think it in a sense proved it would be better to use a shotgun for self-defense, thus eliminating the justification for having an “assault-like” weapon for defense. It also showed one person shooting both guns, and it was obvious the woman shooting was more comfortable with shooting the shotgun over the rifle. A shotgun holds far fewer rounds, thus in a mass-shooting type attack, it isn’t as effective because it would need to be reloaded more often. Finally, there was another video pushed by the same anti-gun control people (all women in the video) showing “shotgun fails” trying to justify the need for the “assault” rifles. So one justification was a woman can do more damage with a shotgun, then in another instance women couldn’t shoot a shotgun properly. I found both ideas to carry a sexist tone, and obviously contrasted each other. I don’t think in either case it justified gun ownership, but instead showed how guns can be dangerous.

Assault weapons aren’t even our biggest issue with guns. Far more gun incidents happen with handguns. Most of these incidents are either gang related or suicides. With the number of handguns that are owned by citizens that have the right to own them, it would be difficult to try to revoke ownership, nor do I think it would make sense to do so, since handguns do also prevent crime, and there are examples of that happening if you look a bit. Statistics on crimes prevented by guns are much more difficult to obtain, because if a crime is prevented, how would one know for sure a crime would have happened. I believe some crimes are prevented because of guns, but I wouldn’t even try to quantify it because it is difficult to do so. Gun crimes per capita in the United States has continued to go down over the last few decades. Does it correlate to people owning and using guns for protection? It is hard to know.

One aspect not talked about is the mental health issue. And I am not talking about background checks and denying someone a purchase based on mental health history. Instead, I am talking about the human interaction in a gun purchase. In the late 1700s, gun manufacturing was still done largely by blacksmiths. So, if someone wanted a new gun, it required going to a blacksmith or gun manufacturer, making the request, and then waiting while the gun was made. This interaction and the long wait to have it made certainly provided a check on gun purchases. Other people in town would have known what the blacksmith was working on. The blacksmiths would have known most everyone because of their role in making and repairing horseshoes, tools, etc. Thus, there was a sort of waiting period and background check built in naturally to the system. Criminals and those with mental health issues certainly would have still obtained guns, but this built in check would have helped slow that down. It wasn’t until nearly 50 years later when Colt started mass producing machined revolvers that this check started to disappear. I wonder how the Founding Fathers would have treated the 2nd amendment knowing what “arms” would look like 50, 100, or 200+ years in the future.

I do hunt and own guns for that purchase. I like shooting for recreation as well. I don’t advocate giving our guns to the government. I don’t advocate taking away the right of citizens to carry their guns if they so choose. However, I don’t know if the 1700s interpretation of the 2nd amendment is the best choice to balance safety and freedom. I would think it would be reasonable to make sure all gun purchases include a background check. We also need to look at mental health in this equation, though we must tread carefully to not take away freedom from someone based on an imperfect science of diagnosing these conditions.

More importantly, I really think we need to bring gun “control” back to the local level. I don’t normally advocate such strong government regulation on business, but perhaps we need to rethink chain stores selling guns, and instead have guns be sold by people who both live and work locally, and would be licensed by more local authorities (such as the states or even the counties). This way, the gun sellers could work with local law enforcement to make sure people who shouldn’t have guns don’t get them. These local sellers could also have licensing requirements which require them to provide education on safety, security, and other issues related to guns. We should concentrate on teaching respect for guns, and increase the punishments for those that use guns in crimes that go against that. 

I don’t think there is an easy solution to reduce gun crime and mass shootings. I also don’t think it is practical or in the tradition of freedom to take guns away from law abiding citizens. This doesn’t mean we should continue to analyze the balance of freedom and safety, and look for reasonable and innovative ways to improve both. I hope we can.

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