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So obviously gun control has been a major issue in the media lately.

And now we’ve got a bunch of people on either side of the debate screaming in the general direction of their opponents, and mostly just reinforcing their own particular brand of ideology amongst their peers.

Trapped in their filter bubbles, shouting in their echo chambers.

The thing is, both sides have valid points worth considering.

Yes, it is far too easy for people to acquire firearms in an off-the-book fashion in the United States, but.

If something is considered too dangerous to be sold casually in public, it must also be considered too dangerous to be sold casually in private.  These are indeed loopholes that need closing, and if that means that business at gun shows becomes more complicated, than so be it.

The “but”, however, comes in when we consider the corresponding complaint from the other side of the debate, that the idea of giving the government a complete listing of every person who owns a gun and what guns they own is something that could easily be abused.

Yes, it is far too easy for people with diagnosed mental illnesses and clear instability to obtain a firearm, but. 

While it happens less often than people seem to think, since the average sociopath doesn’t have a particularly large amount of difficulty passing themselves off as reasonably normal, yes, there are certainly people who should not be allowed to own firearms.

People who are convinced that the devil talks to them through their neighbor’s dog, for example.

The “but” in this instance is much the same as the previous; having the government control a database of everyone who has ever passed through the hands of the mental health industry is something that would be terrifyingly easy to abuse.  You’d have a harder time convincing people to use a firearms database to round up all the guns, but I don’t think it would be much of a stretch for people to start using a database of the mentally ill in ways that would be very much against the interests of the people in it.

There are a few other points, however, where the pro-gun crowd is almost entirely in the right (no pun intended).

A ban on assault weapons is a purely cosmetic ban. 

You’re not banning a weapon for what it does, you’re banning a weapon for how it looks.  Pistol grips, flash hiders, bayonet mounts and adjustable stocks have nothing to do with how a weapon functions, and any idiot with a hacksaw and a rudimentary knowledge of MacGyvering can easily take one of the functionally identical weapons that were available during the so-called “assault weapon ban” and make it look more-or-less like it did before the government decided that guns couldn’t look that way.

It’s rather akin to banning red paint on cars as a means of stopping traffic accidents.

If you really wanted to limit the potential damage that someone could do with a firearm without trampling excessively on the rights of hunters, then a ban on detachable magazines would be the way to go.  It’d be meaningless without legislation that would never make it through Congress (gun confiscation), but in theory a hundred or so years down the road it might make a difference.

A very small difference.  The vast majority of firearms homicides are committed with handguns; those slogans often spouted by people incorrectly (“knives kill more people than guns!”) actually do apply to rifles.

Gun-free Zones serve no purpose except to disarm law-abiding citizens.

Someone who is deranged enough to go into a school, or a theater, or a house of worship and start gunning down everyone they see as fast at their little fingers can pull the trigger isn’t going to stop at the door and say “Oh my!  A gun-free zone?!  I guess I’ll have to go somewhere else!”  Of course not.  If anything it’s going to encourage them, since they know there won’t be any return fire.

The argument can be made that gun-free zones can reduce the amount of people who kill each other in the heat of passion, but frankly I disregard “the heat of passion” as a thing that even exists in the real world, particularly when tools are used in the killing.

I could conceivably see someone taking a swing in a moment of pure, undiluted rage.  These people have lousy self-control, but it happens.

But a gun?

You have to draw the gun, frequently cock the gun so it’s ready to fire, take the gun off safe, aim the gun, and fire the gun.  It’s a methodical series of processes, not an impulsive outburst.

So yeah, I don’t generally give much shrift to people who murder with a gun and say that they weren’t in control of themselves.  You were in enough control to use a gun, after all.

Media coverage of the killers gives many of them exactly what they were looking for.

When you throw up the name, picture, and details of every psychopath who goes out and shoots up a school on the evening news, when they get to be the topic of conversation for months, when the President of the United States refers to their crimes by name, then you have to consider the possibility that that is precisely what they wanted out of the whole affair.

They get to be famous.  Not only do they get to express whatever rage is driving them in the most horrific fashion possible, people are going to talk about it for months. 

While obviously it’s too much to consider that the media should simply refrain from reporting on these terrible events, it should at least be considered that the names and details of the killers simply be left out of such reports unless absolutely necessary.

And there are a few points where both sides have similar ideas, but are often shouting past each other in an attempt to drown out their adversaries, or adopting opposing positions out of sheer wrong-headed stubbornness.

There is nothing wrong with the idea of a Gun Ownership License.

We license people to drive cars because cars are potentially dangerous machines that could kill a lot of people if used incorrectly.  Oddly enough, guns fall into exactly that same category.  I’ve actually seen both sides advocating this position, albeit with their own set of caveats.

Here are mine:

If you’re going to require a gun ownership license, then you have to treat it in much the same way as a driver’s license.  That means having it taught in schools.

Yes, that means having children using firearms in schools.  This will not be the end of the world.  It will not result in a massive upsurge of killings.  When I was a kid, we had loosely-supervised gun ranges at summer camp; nobody ever shot anybody else.  They ultimately got rid of the programs not because of the actual risks involved, but because of parental outcry over the perceived risks.

The weapons used would likely be the same weapons used at my old summer camp; .22 LR rifles.  We could throw .22 LR handguns into the mix as well if folks are so inclined; there are a fair number of differences between handguns and long arms, after all.

You’d have to periodically renew this license.  That means having people go to gun ranges, in much the same way that they get their cars inspected, and demonstrate basic competence with firearms every few years.  It doesn’t have to be particularly pricy program, it doesn’t have to be enormously comprehensive, but it needs to exist in order for the license to mean anything.

And the final caveat is this: having a gun ownership license will do almost nothing to control gun violence in the United States.


See, while there are people out there with a lot of guns, and there are people out there with a lot of crazy, and every now and then the two worlds collide and you get a crazy person with a lot of guns, most of the time these mass shooters only have a few firearms at their disposal, and most of them come to the realization that the Matrix films aside, it’s in fact highly unlikely that you’d get much use out of more than two or three firearms at once.  Most of the time, in fact, they can make do with just one and do better than they might if they tried to get all fancy with a wide assortment of weapons.

You’d have to link the license to the aforementioned mental health database for it to have even a tiny effect on massacre killings, and we need to look very carefully at any such database before even considering implementing it.

And even if you implement such a database, and such a license, and have rigid controls on how many firearms people can own and who gets to have them…

You’d still be shutting down a tiny, tiny fraction of the total firearms homicide rate.

Even confiscating guns would likely have a minimal impact on overall homicide rates.  In the UK, for example, homicide rates actually went up as their gun laws tightened.  They’re just now getting back down to their pre-ban levels.  In Australia, the homicide rate remained basically flat after their own gun confiscation program.

People who are deranged enough to commit murder will rarely be stopped when you limit the tools available to them; they’ll just find another way.

The mass shootings that get all the attention?  Typically they constitute less than 1% of the firearms homicides for the United States in a given year.  If you managed to cut the incidence of such events in half, which is rather optimistic for most of the proposed legislation, you’d only be shifting the total homicide rate by half a percentage point.

Which brings us to the final point.

Gun control is a good thing, but gun control is not the answer.

There’s nothing wrong with taking steps to limit the damage someone can do, to keep dangerous tools out of the hands of unstable people.  Every life saved has value.

But there is something desperately wrong in our country that we are so ready to kill each other.  And that is the answer; finding a solution to this plague.  We know a great deal about what is happening; the vast majority of murders take place in cities, among people with low incomes, and are often linked to criminal activities.  What we apparently don’t know is how to solve the problem.

So while gun control is certainly a worthwhile goal, the bulk of our attention should be focused on fixing the homicide rate, not the firearm homicide rate.  That’s the trap that a number of our European counterparts have fallen into, endlessly tightening restrictions on the tools available without attempting to address the underlying societal causes of the violence.

And I think we’ve had enough violence to last a lifetime already.