Emotions a Poor Substitute for Common Sense in Confronting Gun Violence

Published March 6, 2018

It is not difficult to appreciate the initial remarks from President Trump on gun violence about the need to stop just talking about gun violence but instead do things that will make a difference; however, we need ideas that are implementable and supportable by reasonable people, not knee-jerk responses that pander to a political position but are not adaptable to actual actions that will lead to a solution.

Fox News on Wednesday morning highlighted students from the Florida high school where 17 students and teachers were killed expressing their “solutions” to gun violence. Their remarks reflected a Pollyanna world view, such as, if only there were no guns (or a certain gun), all the problems would go away. The unfortunate truth is that only a good guy with a gun can effectively stop a bad guy with a gun. That principle applies to warfare, and, too often, life on the streets. Before there were guns, there were swords, arrows, sticks, rocks, hands and feet. There has always been someone undeserving who wants what you have, where you live, or resents who you are, and is willing to kill to get their way.

The worst mass killings involve fire, not firearms.  87 people died in a Bronx fire, thanks to a madman and two gallons of gasoline. Confiscate all the guns? The British were on their way to Concord (MA) to confiscate the armory maintained by the colony when Paul Revere made his eponymous ride. That ultimately worked out poorly for the Redcoats and is the main reason the Second Amendment even exists.

The shooter who perpetrated the recent massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., succeeded in killing 17 people. He also got Americans talking about gun control again. But there’s a much more realistic and productive conversation to be had about who can get access to guns and how we deal with people who display the warning signs of mental disturbance.

To the left side of the aisle, the solution to every act of violence is gun control. So-called “assault weapons” are only low hanging fruit. What they really want is to ban and confiscate all guns, regardless of caliber, method of operation and cosmetic features. Diane Feinstein (D-Cal) has said as much, but also said the country was not ready for that “solution.” A partial or total ban is neither practical nor constitutional. The Supreme Court has said as much in Heller and MacDonalddecided on June 26, 2008.  On the practical side, there are an estimated 300 million guns in private hands in the US, and at least 100 million owners of guns. The anti-gun crowd points to the government’s solution in Australia, but only about 650 thousand guns were taken. While described as a government buy-back, it was not optional, but rather a mass confiscation at the point of government guns.  It included not just “assault weapons”, but all repeating firearms, including pump shotguns, lever guns, and even bolt-action rifles were included in the roundup.

Australia “buy back” viewed as a success?

There were no constitutional issues in Australia, because in the Commonwealth the constitution is an act of parliament. All individual rights and privileges derive from the government (formerly the Crown). In the US, rights belong to the people, and the Constitution serves to limit the power of government.

Did it work? Not quite. The Australian action described as a “buy-back” was precipitated by a mass shooting in 1996 at a resort in Tasmania.  It is claimed that no more mass shootings have occurred in Australia. This is misleading because there was only one major incident leading up to the 1996 ban. Gun crime is increasing in Australia in the form of armed robbery, and more recently, acts of terrorism. More significantly, the violent crime rate in Australia was in steady decline even before the gun ban and continued to decline without a change in slope afterwards. There is not even a jiggle in the numbers which would imply success.

Result of 1994-2004 “assault rifle” ban

The same results have been observed in the US before, during and after the 1994-2004 “assault rifle” ban. Australians are starting to complain that they are left defenseless in the face of these attacks. A couple years ago, a farmer was arrested for leasing his land for concealment of banned firearms by people who refused to comply. They were coated with grease, placed in large plastic pipes, capped at both ends, and buried using a post hole digger. That would never happen in the US, right?

Fewer than 1% of all shooting are done using long guns of any sort. The weapons of choice are easily concealed handguns. Reports of gangs using rifles are prominent, largely for the same reason man-bites-dog is newsworthy – rarity.  According to national statistics, only 11% of guns used in crime were legally purchased.

Mental health issue in play

Mental health is arguably a better approach to mitigating the threat to schools; however, there are unintended consequences. Very few mentally ill people present a danger to themselves or others. Fewer commit acts of violence against others. Suicide rates have little dependency on the availability of firearms but are often included when describing “gun violence.” In fact, of the 30,000 or so gun deaths each year in the US, less than 9000 are considered homicide, including fewer than 500 justifiable homicides. If seeking treatment for depression or other non-violent mental illness will cause your civil rights to be abrogated, fewer people will seek treatment.

President Trump is criticized for ending the Obama era policy of denying firearm ownership to the “mentally ill” people on social security or veteran’s benefits. In fact, this applied mainly to those who need assistance in managing their finances. We’d like to see how these bureaucrats would fare on $1200 a month or so. For the protection of individual rights and for the good of society, such determinations should be adjudicated in an adversary process.

Background checks

It is likely that background checks (NICS) could be improved, but not in the sense Charles Schumer and like-minded leftists would prefer. The Schumer “universal background checks” define a transaction so broadly that you couldn’t hand a gun to a friend even to safely cross a fence while hunting. It would only be permitted on a licensed gun range or private home, not plinking at tin cans in the woods. Documented problems with NICS is that states and local governments are remiss in reporting adjudicated mental health issues and orders of protection. Even the military failed to report criminal acts committed by soldiers. Sadly, enforcement of reporting policies are poorly enforced – no carrot and no stick.

Local law enforcement is supposed to be notified if flagged individuals attempt to purchase a firearm through the NICS system, even if no laws are being broken. This is a complete failure. It is not up to gun dealers to enforce “soft” bans of this sort, and it is probably a violation of privacy laws to disseminate this information to them. Persons on the “terror watch list” might merit such an alert, but the “watch list” is maintained by faceless bureaucrats, with little or no recourse available to those on that list by mistake (or for political reasons).

Concealed carry as a deterrent

There is a strong case for allowing teachers and staff who hold concealed carry permits to carry a weapon on campus. This should probably apply to non-staff licensees as well. Most school shootings occur within a span of about 5 minutes before the assailant is stopped or commits suicide (the usual outcome when confronted by police). That is comparable to the typical response time for a 911 call, and far less than the response for a SWAT team (20-30 minutes). One or two security officers who are armed can’t cover all the areas in a school within that time limit, as demonstrated last week in Florida. They may not even know something is going down. An armed teacher, guarding students huddled in a class room, is going to be more effective against an armed attacker than by heroically blocking bullets.

Critics of this idea cite the likelihood of “blood baths,” and “OK Corral” confrontations, but this does not happen, and has not happened, despite nearly 6 million armed citizens in the US. The concealed carry mantra is simple. You carry a weapon for defense of life, not for winning arguments or settling scores. In the simplest terms, it is because you refuse to be a victim of crime. You would not be expected (nor allowed) to search the halls for the assailant, rather to establish a defensive position while waiting for law enforcement.

Many teachers object to being armed on moral or political grounds, but many more would be willing and able to take up arms in an emergency. One sheriff in Florida offered concealed carry training to teaches, up to 50 at a time. Within a week, he had received 500 applications.

[Originally Published at Illinois Review]