In the aftermath of more rampage shootings, Quora has become, unsurprisingly, a hotbed of gun control questions, such as:
Why are guns still legal?
Why does America allow the general public to keep guns?
What would it take for there to be a genuine shift/change in America’s views on, and relationships with guns?
Why do so many Americans conflate “gun control” with “gun bans”?
Why do we allow politicians to dance around gun-control legislation? Would it bother you if assault weapons were illegal in civilian hands?
As someone who is pro-gun, are you able to understand the reasons for banning guns?
Et cetera,et cetera, et cetera.
Then there are questions like these:
Research suggests that reducing the number of guns can save lives. How can we convince gun rights advocates that this is the case?
Are there any gun enthusiasts who see the logic that the number of guns in circulation needs to be reduced drastically to reduce the killing of civilians?
Why isn’t there a prohibition on the number of guns a person can own?
Do you support the gun ban and confiscation proposed here as the best way to immediately reduce the number of guns in the US?
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
You see, The Other Side™ has determined that the number of guns in private hands is The Problem®, and all we have to do is reduce it to prevent all these “gun deaths.” Only we gun-loving troglodytes can’t or won’t see that and willingly surrender our evil death machines for the betterment of society.
One of the best expressions of the difficulty with “reducing the number of guns” in private hands I’ve ever seen came from the 1982 meta-study of gun control legislation commissioned by the Carter Administration in 1978. It was published under the title Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime and Violence in America. Remember, this was more than 25 years ago. From the books conclusion, all bold emphasis mine:
The progressive’s indictment of American firearms policy is well known and is one that both the senior authors of this study once shared. This indictment includes the following particulars: (1) Guns are involved in an astonishing number of crimes in this country. (2) In other countries with stricter firearms laws and fewer guns in private hands, gun crime is rare. (3) Most of the firearms involved in crime are cheap Saturday Night Specials, for which no legitimate use or need exists. (4) Many families acquire such a gun because they feel the need to protect themselves; eventually they end up shooting one another. (5) If there were fewer guns around, there would obviously be less crime. (6) Most of the public also believes this and has favored stricter gun control laws for as long as anyone has asked the question. (7) Only the gun lobby prevents us from embarking on the road to a safer and more civilized society.
The more deeply we have explored the empirical implications of this indictment, the less plausible it has become. We wonder, first, given the number of firearms presently available in the United States, whether the time to “do something” about them has not long since passed. If we take the highest plausible value for the total number of gun incidents in any given year – 1,000,000 – and the lowest plausible value for the total number of firearms now in private hands – 100,000,000 – we see rather quickly that the guns now owned exceed the annual incident count by a factor of at least 100. This means that the existing stock is adequate to supply all conceivable criminal purposes for at least the entire next century, even if the worldwide manufacture of new guns were halted today and if each presently owned firearm were used criminally once and only once. Short of an outright house-to-house search and seizure mission, just how are we going to achieve some significant reduction in the number of firearms available? (pp. 319-20)
One could, of course, take things to the logically extreme case: an immediate and strictly enforced ban on both the ownership and manufacture of all firearms of every sort. Let us even assume perfect compliance with this law — that we actually rounded up and disposed of all 120 million guns now in circulation [Remember, this was 1982. – Ed.] that every legitimate manufacturing establishment was permanently shut down, and that all sources of imported firearms were permanently closed off. What we would then have is the firearms equivalent of Prohibition, with (one strongly suspects) much the same consequences. A black market in guns, run by organized crime (much to their profit, no doubt), would spring up to service the now-illegal demand. It is, after all, not much more difficult to manufacture a serviceable firearm in one’s basement than to brew up a batch of home-made gin. Afghanistani tribesmen, using wood fires and metal-working equipment that is much inferior to what can be ordered through a Sears catalog, hand-craft rifles that fire the Russian AK-47 cartridge. Do we anticipate a lesser ability from American do-it-yourselfers or the Mafia? (p. 321)
Even if we were somehow able to remove all firearms from civilian possession, it is not at all clear that a substantial reduction in interpersonal violence would follow. Certainly, the violence that results from hard-core and predatory criminality would not abate very much. Even the most ardent proponents of stricter gun laws no longer expect such laws to solve the hard-core crime problem, or even to make much of a dent in it. There is also reason to doubt whether the “soft-core” violence, the so-called crimes of passion, would decline by very much. Stated simply, these crimes occur because some people have come to hate others, and they will continue to occur in one form or another as long as hatred persists. It is possible, to be sure, that many of these incidents would involve different consequences if no firearms were available, but it is also possible that the consequences would be exactly the same. The existing empirical literature provides no firm basis [my emphasis] for choosing one of these possibilities over the other. Restating the point, if we could solve the problem of interpersonal hatred, it may not matter very much what we did about guns, and unless we solve the problem of interpersonal hatred, it may not matter much what we do about guns. There are simply too many other objects that can serve the purpose of inflicting harm on another human being. (pp. 321-22)
During the intervening 25 years the media has tried to convince us that there are fewer and fewer people owning more and more guns, as the total number of guns purchased by individual citizens has skyrocketed. I’ve addressed that previously. But in the early 80’s the estimated number of guns in private hands (and it’s just an estimate – without universal registration, no one knows) was ~120 million.
I’ve seen a reasonable argument that today it’s more like 500 million. The minimum number is on par with the present U.S. population – one gun for every man, woman and child in the country.
So I have to concur with authors Wright and Rossi, the “time to do something” about the “number of guns” has long since passed. The horses are out of the barn, pandora’s box has been opened.
The UK managed to (mostly) disarm its citizens by a slow, incremental process that began in 1920. First a permit required to purchase a handgun – a simple matter of going to a post office and paying a fee. Then, slowly over the decades, ramping up the restrictions on purchase and possession until only the wealthy and dedicated would jump through the hoops necessary to (legally) possess a firearm.
Each additional rule or regulation was supposed to make the British citizen safer, but never did. Oh, for certain the number of killings with firearms was reduced, but murder rates there have continued to climb, decade on decade, while overall violent crime there has skyrocketed since the 1950’s. Sure, you’re not likely to get shot there. You never were. But after all that “gun control” you’re more likely to get shot than you were in 1919 when there was no gun control. And you’re a helluva lot more likely to get stabbed or beaten.
The Other Side™ has, since the 1930’s attempted to implement such laws here, but were stifled by the Second Amendment protection of the right to arms. They were able to get the 1934 Gun Control act by passing it as, not gun control, but a revenue enhancing measure. In 1968 they took advantage of high-profile assassinations of public figures to enact sales restrictions and import bans. And they spent decades trying to convince the public (and federal judges) that the Second Amendment didn’t mean what it said.
And they were pretty successful at that. Until the Supreme Court heard D.C. v Heller in 2008. Even then the call to repeal the 2nd Amendment and get rid of all guns was still being repeated. Daily Kos for example put out an op-ed in 2012 that detailed the path to a gun-free future. It was basically,
- National Registry
- “Then we can do what we will.”
But regardless of whether or not there’s a legal protection to the right to keep and bear arms, the thing that no one but us gun owners seem to understand is the American attitude towards guns.
Steven Den Beste (PBUH) wrote an interesting piece many years ago entitled “A Non-European Country.” It had nothing to do with gun ownership, and everything to do with philosophy. He said, of the people who come here to be Americans:
It’s true that America is more like Europe than anywhere else on the planet, but it would perhaps be more accurate to say that the US is less unlike Europe than anywhere else on the planet.
Someone pointed out a critical difference: European “nations” are based on ethnicity, language or geography. The American nation is based on an idea, and those who voluntarily came here to join the American experiment were dedicated to that idea. They came from every possible geographic location, speaking every possible language, deriving from every possible ethnicity, but most of them think of themselves as Americans anyway, because that idea is more important than ethnicity or language or geographical origin. That idea was more important to them than the things which tried to bind them to their original nation, and in order to become part of that idea they left their geographical origin. Most of them learned a new language. They mixed with people of a wide variety of ethnicities, and a lot of them cross-married. And yet we consider ourselves one people, because we share that idea. It is the only thing which binds us together, but it binds us as strongly as any nation.
Indeed, it seems to bind us much more strongly than most nations. If I were to move to the UK, and became a citizen there, I would forever be thought of by the British as being “American”. Even if I lived there fifty years, I would never be viewed as British. But Brits who come here and naturalize are thought of as American by those of us who were born here. They embrace that idea, and that’s all that matters. If they do, they’re one of us. And so are the Persians who naturalize, and the Chinese, and the Bengalis, and the Estonians, and the Russians. (I know that because I’ve worked with all of those, all naturalized, and all of them as American as I am.)
You’re French if you’re born in France, of French parents. You’re English if you’re born to English parents (and Welsh if your parents were Welsh). But you’re American if you think you’re American, and are willing to give up what you used to be in order to be one of us. That’s all it takes. But that’s a lot, because “thinking you’re American” requires you to comprehend that idea we all share. But even the French can do it, and a lot of them have.
That is a difference so profound as to render all similarities between Europe and the US unimportant by comparison. But it is a difference that most Europeans are blind to, and it is that difference which causes America’s attitudes and actions to be mystifying to Europeans. It is not just that they don’t understand that idea; most of them don’t even realize it exists, because Europeans have no equivalent, and some who have an inkling of it dismiss it contemptuously.
It is that idea that explains why we think being called “cowboys” is a compliment, even when Europeans think it’s an epithet. It is that idea that explains why we don’t care what Europeans think of us, and why European disapproval of our actions has had no effect on us. It is that idea which explains why, in fact, we’re willing to do what we think is right even if the entire rest of the world disapproves.
Our supposed “betters” have pushed for decades to make Americans more European in philosophy. America has been balkanized by public schools and media over the last century or so to the point today where we are pretty much two nations at each others throats, but the ones who embrace, even slightly, the idea of America understand this – that you as an individual have intrinsic worth. That you are not a cog in a vast machine. That you are responsible for yourself, and that what you work to earn belongs to you. And that you consent to be governed, not ruled.
After the Dunblaine massacre in Scotland, the UK immediately considered the banning of handguns. At first, only large-caliber handguns were banned, but what was the result of that?
The resulting Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 banned all handguns over .22 calibre with effect from 1 October 1997. A hand-in exercise took place between 1 July and 30 September 1997 which resulted in 110,382 of these larger calibre handguns being surrendered in England and Wales, while 24,620 smaller calibre handguns were handed in voluntarily in anticipation of further legislation.
Here we just had two mass shootings, both using semi-automatic weapons. Another “assault weapons ban” is in the political news. What do Americans do? Well my friend the gun-shop counter guy, affectionately known as Merchant O’Death® wrote me after a long, long Saturday at the shop.
Yeah, we go buy what we think the .gov is going to tell us we can’t have anymore. Barack Obama was the best gun salesman the U.S. has ever seen, and the gun industry misses him badly.
That Daily Kos piece? The author wrote on the topic of the National Registry:
“We need to know where the guns are, and who has them. Canada has a national firearms registry. We need to copy their model. We need a law demanding all firearms be registered to a national database.
Except Canada only has a national registry for handguns dating back into the 1920’s like England. They tried long gun registration. It failed. Spectacularly. They estimated that there were about 8 million long guns in private hands. Legislators were told that the registry would cost something like $119 million to implement, with $117 million of the cost covered by registration fees – so for $2 million, they’d be able to register all 8 million guns, and it would go quickly.
The law passed in 1995, with licensing starting in 1998 and all long guns were to be registered by January 1, 2003. By 2000, it was obviously not going according to theory. Registrations were backlogged and riddled with errors, and costs were WAY over estimates. An audit in December of 2002 showed that costs were going to exceed $1 billion by 2005, with an income from registration fees of only $145 million – $28 million OVER estimates for well under the number of guns estimated.
That was due to lack of compliance. By January 1, 2003, only about 65% of the estimated 8 million firearms were registered, and there was no reason to believe that the other 35% were going to be.
Finally in 2012 Canada scrapped its long-gun registry, after dumping an estimated $2 billion into it. It solved no crimes, it apparently prevented no crimes, and it took vast quantities of money and manpower away from law enforcement with its implementation.
New Zealand considered it too. They gave up on the idea 2004. So when a whack-job shot a bunch of people there recently and they said “Mr. and Mrs. Kiwi, turn them all in,” compliance has apparently been in the single digits. You see, they don’t know exactly who owns exactly what.
So, one nation with the population of Louisiana (and nowhere near as many guns) and another with a population slightly smaller than California (and nowhere as many guns) couldn’t get their populations to register their guns. Of course, Canadians are well known for their extreme orneryness.
You see, everything hinges on registration. Another question asked at Quora was “Doesn’t the registration of machine guns prove that gun control works?” Sure. If you can get people to comply. It’s almost tautology to say “If there were no guns there would be no gun crime.” It’s like saying “If there were no cars, there’d be no car crashes.”
But there are guns. And they’re not going to go away. And Americans aren’t going to register them so they can be, eventually, confiscated. Because, as Tamara Keel put it,
“Where the hell do you get off thinking you can tell me I can’t own a gun? I don’t care if every other gun owner on the planet went out and murdered somebody last night, I didn’t. So piss off.”
Hey gun-grabbers: Piss off.