Twenty-one dead in Texas, thirteen dead in New York, many others just in the past months – there seems to be an epidemic of mass shootings. How many more will it take before we get serious? These are tragic events that should never have happened, but they did, and we owe it to the victims to understand why they happened and what can be done to prevent such events in the future. There are both easy and hard answers. It is not always clear which is which.
A politically popular proposal
One answer that appears easy at first is simply to eliminate all guns from the populace. There is a false logic that says if there were no guns, there would be no gun crimes including mass shootings. The logic is false for at least two reasons. The first is that we will never get rid of guns. Even if we were somehow to confiscate all guns in the United States, the rest of the world has plenty to share. I can imagine Mexican drug cartels smuggling guns just as they do drugs.
The second error is that people will always find ways to hurt and kill each other, including en masse. Ever since Cain picked up a rock to kill his brother Abel, people have been finding ways to harm others. One group has even made it a virtue with suicide vests and car bombs. FBI statistics show that more people were killed in 2019 (the most current data year) with bare hands and feet than were with rifles, including the so-called “assault rifles” used by the Texas killer. The problem is not with whatever weapon is involved, but rather with human nature itself.
Politicians like this idea of confiscating guns, though. It has great appeal and even seems obvious if one doesn’t think too deeply. People who propose this “solution” can get a lot of publicity, and publicity is oxygen to a political campaign. Proponents can also gin up moral outrage against anyone who opposes the idea. After all, such opponents are selfishly putting their desire to hunt squirrels above the lives of innocent children.
Even better if their political opposition supports second amendment rights as they can point out how ridiculous it is to consider that private gun ownership could offer any defense against a modern army with jets and tanks and submarines. Those who make such arguments forget, if they even learned them at all, the lessons of Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even recently, Ukraine.
Gun hysteria pays
Too many prosecutors have learned that guns and gun hysteria can be useful to their careers. Many crimes, such as murder or rape or armed assault can be difficult to prosecute, often taking large amounts of time and money, and other resources. If a prosecutor can get a perpetrator to confess to a gun possession charge, they may be willing to drop other charges that could be difficult to prove. For prosecutors there is a double benefit: they can get lots of convictions while gaining publicity as being “tough on crime” and working to remove guns from the hands of criminals. They benefit from promoting false narratives about rampant gun crime.
A popular concern today is with “ghost guns” as though the absence of a serial number makes a gun somehow more deadly. The reality is that guns are readily available both legally and otherwise at costs well below those of the kits that require assembly.
A morality play
There are those who see no possible benefit to guns. They wouldn’t have one in their house and can’t see why anyone else should either. Many feel that they are morally superior and that such superiority grants them the right to dictate what others should do. Often, these are the very people who should not have access to weapons, as they are typically those most prone to impulsive acts. Just as well they don’t want them.
Terms like “common sense” and “perfectly reasonable” get thrown about by those who want to restrict or even eliminate private gun ownership, as though those who disagree with them must be stupid, unreasonable, or even immoral in their desire to own guns. Legitimate uses of firearms for personal defense are discounted or dismissed as irrelevant or beneath consideration. Dissing an opponent is not a good way to present a case, much less win hearts and minds.
Missing the obvious
All the variations on gun confiscation, including expanded “Red Flag” laws, universal registration, type limitations, and others rely on the narrow view that the elimination of guns would be universal good; they do not consider the harm that would result.
The United Kingdom eliminated private gun ownership several years ago. They were, however, unable to eliminate the desire of some to harm others. Now they have a problem with knives and blunt objects like baseball bats. They even still have a problem with firearms that are being smuggled into the country. New Zealand did something similar, with similar resulting problems.
In other words, what they eliminated was simply one tool among many, rather than the root of the problem itself. Rather like trying to eliminate pornography by confiscating cameras.
The other side of the coin
The CDC estimates that there are somewhere between 1.5 and 3 million defensive uses of guns annually. The vast majority of these uses do not even involve a shot fired. A simple display of a weapon by a prospective victim is often enough to deter a crime.
Home invasions have become common in recent years, and often do not turn out well for the victims. Armed householders frequently encourage would-be invaders to exit quickly and go somewhere else. Those who don’t take the hint are often prevented from the commission of similar future acts.
Rape is also a crime growing in frequency. Whether it occurs as part of a home invasion, a street assault, or in some other situation, those who carry guns generally fare much better in a rape situation than those who are unarmed or even those armed with some sort of chemical spray “rape repellant”.
Of particular concern in light of recent events is the fact that many of the most serious mass shootings have occurred in “gun-free” zones such as schools, churches, government buildings, and others. In instances where the perpetrator has provided information on why they chose such locations, their reasoning was that in a gun-free zone, they would be able to kill more people before they were interrupted. Essentially, gun-free zones are often free-fire zones for those with evil intent.
Thus we see that measures that involve confiscation of guns also favor home invasions, rapes, violent assaults, and even mass shootings. Are these really things we want to support? Do the people who favor gun confiscation really want more home invasions, rapes, robberies, and especially, more school shootings?
What actually works
For many years, the problems that lead to mass shootings have been studied and recommendations for preventative actions prepared. Most of these have been ignored.
Many of the recommendations have centered around early identification of potential perpetrators and providing mental health interventions. Certainly, the Texas shooter was a deeply disturbed individual who gave ample warning of his intentions. The same is true of most of the other individuals who committed similar crimes in recent years.
We have tried the approaches that sounded good and often found them not to work. It is time to try some different things – some that have been proven to work, and others that seem better aligned with reality.
Homeland Security has developed profiles of potential terrorists who may be bent on mass murder and has used such profiles with good success. Similar profiles have been developed of people likely to commit mass shootings. These profiles should be distributed widely. This sort of information can alert teachers and parents to situations that should be addressed early before matters turn tragic.
Profiles should not be used to stigmatize people, or to identify those who should be confined or otherwise deprived of rights, such as we have seen with the overzealous application of “Red Flag” laws, but instead they can provide guidance to help identify areas where questions might be raised or where an early intervention might be useful, just as interventions are useful in confronting drug and alcohol users.
Quit creating attractive targets
There is no question that gun-free zones hold great appeal for those who would commit mass murder. They do not deter anyone who is intent on such crimes, but they greatly reduce the ability to provide rapid and effective responses to such situations. Eliminating these zones would go far toward reducing the attractiveness of vulnerable groups.
Adding the possibility of armed guardians who could mount an effective opposition to an attack would act to deter would-be killers. While some people have visions of armed guardians holding shootouts in elementary school hallways, the reality is that the possible presence of armed guards has great deterrent value so that such shootouts would never occur.
We have an armed military to protect our country. We have armed police to protect our communities. Why do we balk at having armed officials to protect our children? Are they somehow less important? Do we think that leaving them exposed and vulnerable somehow makes them safer?
Enforce the law
There already exist many laws on the books around the use of guns in the commission of crimes. Many venues provide extended sentences for those who use a gun in the commission of a crime. When enforced, these have had a demonstrable positive effect on crime rates.
Likewise, an automatic sentence of life imprisonment without parole for use of a gun to commit murder has both a deterrent effect, as well as preventing repeat offenses.
Stop and frisk operations were highly effective in reducing crime when they were applied. We should not let political correctness or false claims of racism stop us from using methods that work, and especially protect those communities that are at greatest risk of violence.
We do not need to cross the boundaries of Constitutional protections to have effective methods to reduce the criminal use of guns. We just need to be careful and intelligent in the methods we devise and apply. We start with acknowledging that guns have both positive and negative value, and then work on realistic solutions that preserve basic rights while discouraging harmful behavior.
We have been trying it their way for too many years, and the gun control “solutions” the Left has implemented haven’t worked. It is time we tried it our way with proven solutions and real “commonsense” approaches.
The gun is not the problem. It is the person who would use it to commit evil who is the danger. Until we recognize and accept that fact, we will never prevent mass murders.
By David Robb
David Robb is a regular contributor to The Blue State Conservative and a practicing scientist who has been working in industry for over 50 years. One of his specialties is asking awkward questions. A large part of his work over the years has involved making complex scientific issues clear and understandable to non-specialists. Sometimes he even succeeds.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Blue State Conservative. The BSC is not responsible for, and does not verify the accuracy of, any information presented.
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Featured photo by Kelly L: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-handgun-near-mug-2928147/