A Brief History
On March 7, 2018, we again examine some of the “gun violence” epidemic claims and “gun control” issues facing the nation, especially in light of the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida in which 17 people were killed at a local high school by a 19 year old ex-student. (See our article from March 7, 2016, Gun Control Rhetoric Gets Silly.)
Rhetoric from the “gun grabbers” and the “gun nuts” (names the 2 opposing sides call each other) came hot and heavy, with the issue clouded by contradictory statements by President Trump. Further muddying the guns and violence issues were fake news by conspiracy theorists that surviving students from the Parkland shooting were really actors working for the gun grabbers (they were legitimate student survivors speaking their minds). Suddenly, demands that the age limit for buying rifles and shotguns be raised from the current Federal minimum of 18 years old to 21 years old (the same age limit as for buying handguns). Demands that “bump stocks” be outlawed were just as strident, even though the “bump stock” issue had nothing to do with the Parkland shooting, and to our knowledge had only been used in the Las Vegas shooting of October 1, 2017 and no other incidents. Other hot button topics of debate include the banning of AR-15 style rifles and carbines and limiting magazine capacity of all firearms. The remaining controversial topic is the implementation of “universal background checks.” Finally, discussion of how to identify mentally ill people and how to go about making them unable to buy or possess firearms is baffling both sides of the debate.
Number one, the real problems need to be identified, so that we do not waste all of our time and effort debating red herring issues that really do not matter and cannot prevent the type of school and mass shootings that are stirring the debate. Here is a list of issues with a brief discussion of each:
1. Do we have a “gun violence epidemic?”
Statistics say no. Of course, anytime an innocent person gets shot, killed or not, it is a tragedy and worth examining the circumstances to learn how to prevent such events. Even President Trump got this one wrong! The latest murder rate (all means) in the US was 4.9 per 100,000 people, a tiny bit higher than the 4.4 to 4.8 rate of the past 6 years, but half the 1980 US murder rate of 10.2 murders per 100,000 people! Historically, we are enjoying a period of relative peace in our society, although spectacular incidents that become media circuses lead us to believe otherwise. Gun control advocates talk about “gun violence” claiming around 34,000 gun related deaths each year, but failing to mention that only around a third of those gun deaths are murders, the other 2/3 being mostly suicides. Gun control advocates also lump in justified homicide such as self-defense and justified police shootings, making for a misleading number of “gun violence” deaths. So, with around 11,000 gun related murders per year out of the 17,000+ murders in the US each year, guns are used in nearly 2/3 of the murders, a big chunk, but leaving a lot of murders by other means.
2. Manipulation of statistics.
According to Mark Twain, “There are three kinds of lies, lies damn lies, and statistics.” Boy did this guy get it right! Statistics can be used to justify just about any side of an argument, and gun control and gun rights are 2 arguments eager to throw statistics at the issues. Since 56% of all “mass shootings” in the United States are committed by White People, making White Americans prohibited from possessing or owning guns would theoretically reduce the “gun violence” rate of mass shootings by over half! In Chicago, the current murder capital of the US, 75% of murder victims are African American and 71% of murders are committed by African Americans. So outlaw African Americans! See how many murders and murder victims can be prevented! (This is the kind of crap statistics can be used for.) Both sides and the general public need to be careful when considering statistics to ensure they are not being suckered into a false narrative. Hell, car accidents kill a lot more people than guns, so ban cars!
3. How do guns rank among threats to public safety?
Before we commit to a knock down, drag out fight over guns, are there other issues that are even more important to public safety we should address? Well, over 37,000 traffic accident deaths occurred in 2016 in the US, more than triple the amount of people murdered with guns and double the amount of people murdered by any means! How about the opioid epidemic? In 2016 there were 64,000+ opioid deaths in the US almost DOUBLE the amount of people killed by guns, even including suicides! What do you think is the bigger, more pressing problem? A lot of those opioid deaths are school age children, a lot more than are killed by guns. Okay, what about medical mistakes? In 2014 testimony before the US Senate said 400,000 Americans were killed by medical mistakes the previous year. OMG! Even a 10% reduction would total more than all the murders in the US from all means by a lot and exceed gun deaths from all means by a lot. Perhaps redirecting our efforts to this enormous problem could save many more lives than hot button topics such as gun control. We could go on in this vein, but the point is not to avoid gun discussions, just to keep them in perspective. Remember, the deadliest school massacre in US history was committed by explosives, not guns. Terrorists using cars and trucks have proven the deadliness of those “weapons” so that banning guns does not necessarily stop murders or mass murders.
4. AR-15 and other military style weapons are bad and not needed, or are they?
There are 10 million AR-15 type rifles and carbines (shorter barreled rifles) in the US, triple the amount there were a decade or 2 ago. Still, only about 3 of every 1000 murders in the US are committed with AR-15, AK-47, and other semi-automatic civilianized versions of assault weapons. That is around 39 or so murders per year, although 2017 saw a spike due to the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay massacre. Back in the old days, in 1980, when there were more than double the amount of murders as there are today, there were few AR-15 type rifles in civilian hands. The argument can easily be made that the increase in AR-15 ownership directly corresponds to a decrease in murders! (Hey, it is just statistics.) Again, people need to know facts before making assumptions. The idea that murders are tied to the number of guns available is baloney, as you can see nobody is getting shot at gun shows and there are a heck of a lot of guns there. Gun control advocates (we do not call them names such as “gun grabbers”) say the AR-15 has no sporting purpose. Wrong! Those style rifles are the most commonly used rifles in shooting competitions, and many hunters use them for hunting a wide variety of animals, especially coyotes, woodchucks, and feral hogs. Perhaps you are not aware that the AR-15 comes in many different calibers, not just the 5.56mm rounds used by the military? They do, and many of those calibers are useful for hunting larger game such as deer. Some AR-15 style rifles are chambered in pistol caliber cartridges, such as 9mm, a not particularly potent round for a long gun. Idiotic claims about how “high powered” the AR-15 is are ridiculous. The 5.56mm round is a third the power of common deer hunting cartridges. Ignorant phrases such as “high caliber” or “high powered” do not apply to the AR-15 (or the AK-47 for that matter). In fact, rifles of any type are rarely used in murders. In the sad case of some creep or mentally ill person shooting up a school or other public place, a common pump shotgun could easily meet or exceed the carnage caused by close range shooting with an AR-15. The military advantage of the AR-15/M-16 or other “assault” gun look-alikes is in better long range capability than a shotgun. For close quarters, a shotgun is hard to beat. For that matter, a pistol is much easier to conceal to get into a public place and especially if the gunman has multiple pistols he or she could do as much damage as with a rifle.
5. The Constitution does not or should not protect AR-15 ownership?
If you only skim the Second Amendment you might get confused by the reference to “a well ordered militia,” but reading the explanations (Federalist Papers and other writings) of the men that actually wrote the Constitution their intent for the people to be armed with military style weapons (including cannons) is clear. Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton among others wanted the public to be armed to prevent tyranny. Use of armed police against unarmed labor union strikers or against Civil Rights protesters ends once those groups become armed, and solutions are met with expediency. In fact, the trend across the US to allowing more concealed carry permits has coincided with a decrease in gun violence. A private citizen without his shoes ran out of his house with his own AR-15 and chased off a shooter that was shooting up a Texas church in 2017, a nut that shot 26 people and would have killed far more without the armed citizen. The shooter in that case was wearing body armor, impervious to pistol caliber bullets but not the 5.56mm caliber AR-15 bullets used by the armed citizen (virtually any rifle will penetrate police type body armor except the extremely heavy anti-rifle variety used only by SWAT).
6. Universal background checks.
Yes, the majority of Americans support this generalized phrase, but most do not know what it really means. In order to have universal background checks for all gun transfers, EVERY SINGLE FIREARM WOULD HAVE TO BE REGISTERED. Or else, how could you know a background check was being performed each time a gun was sold or given as a gift? Obviously, this would have no impact on stolen guns, a large source of guns used in crimes. How many of the mass shootings sensationalized in the media would have been prevented by universal background checks? Perhaps none? Invariably, the shooter either bought the gun used in the massacre by passing a background check or got it from someone else who passed a background check. This issue is a siren song that has no basis in real life reduction of crime. The other part of the objection to such a system is that universal gun registration has resulted in partial or total gun confiscation in virtually every incidence where registration has been implemented, a scenario feared and reviled by gun enthusiasts. Just ask Australians or British people. Or Germans in the 1930’s. This is a red herring issue, one that on the surface seems like “common sense,” but simple solutions are for the simple minded!
7. Enhanced Background Checks.
Stiffening regulations about reporting mental, criminal and addiction problems to the authorities responsible for maintaining the national background check data is fine, but it requires laws to be passed. Defining mental illness for the purpose of putting people on a no gun list is deceptively easy, as in real life there are important civil rights considerations involved. The often referred to Obama restriction on “mentally ill” people that Trump allegedly overturned was actually an arbitrary and ridiculous decision to automatically include any person who allowed another person to handle cashing their social security check. There are many reasons for assigning someone power of attorney that are not related to your fitness to own a gun! Mental illness and warning signs of impending dangerous behavior certainly need to be addressed, but address those areas carefully and with fairness, not with uniformed emotions. You may hear of demands that people guilty of domestic violence be prohibited from possessing or buying a gun. They already are prohibited! Even a cop that gets convicted of domestic violence will lose his job because he won’t be allowed to carry or own a gun. The idea that people on the “no fly” list sometimes referred to as the “terrorist watch list” should also be on the no buying guns list is another seemingly common sense solution, but in real life it has serious problems. Many people have accidentally appeared on the “no fly” list, even US congressmen, and there is no quick and efficient recourse for those that find themselves wrongly listed. In order to deprive someone of a Constitutional Right (owning guns) you have to be in the right. After all, flying on an airliner is not a Constitutional Right, but possessing guns is. What about someone merely accused of domestic violence, but not convicted? Another tricky area, since we profess to believe in “innocent until proven guilty.” Or how about crackpot reports from your enemies or nosy neighbors that you are a “threat” for no real reason, just vindictiveness or false impressions? Any method of adding people to a no gun list must include specific protections against wrongful inclusion and expeditious due process to rectify mistakes, regardless of what President Trump wrongly thinks about “grab the guns first and do the due process later.” We call BS! You can make enhanced background checks, but you have to be meticulous to avoid moral and legal pitfalls.
8. Changing age restrictions on gun sales.
Federal law currently allows 18, 19 and 20 year olds to buy shotguns and rifles, but not pistols. Some states restrict gun sales to those over 21 years old only. The Parkland, Florida shooter was 19 and had bought a reported 10 guns, all legally and with background checks, since he had turned 18. (That is a pretty large chunk of change.) Obviously, in his case a changed law may have helped prevent the horrors at the high school, but how many other incidents could you think of where the legal age of buying a rifle would have mattered? It is a fairly unusual occurrence when this particular law would matter, and thus it is kind of a distraction, much like the tidal wave of opinion to ban bumpstocks. (Bumpstocks are a little tricky to use, and do not lend themselves to effective use in a fluid situation, as you must hold the rifle just so to get it to work properly. You would never want to use a bumpstock in a self-defense situation, or when accuracy was important.) The issue with the legal age of adulthood whether regarding guns, alcohol, voting and other legal issues is hotly contested in light of the fact that young men less than 21 years old can be drafted into the military or may otherwise be serving in the military and it seems logical that anyone old enough to fight and die for their country, let alone use much more powerful weapons, should be allowed to be a legal adult in other ways. Or not, depending on your personal opinion. Just be aware that a lot of people will bring this issue up in any debate about age limits for buying rifles and shotguns. On the surface, it seems ridiculous that an 18 still in high school should be able to legally buy and possess an AR-15, but as noted above, things are not so simple.
9. Are gun free zones “safe zones?”
No. Simply, no. Just because any person with a concealed carry permit is not allowed to legally carry his or her bullet launcher in such a designated area does NOT make that area safe. Instead, it makes such an area a free fire zone for the homicidally inclined, a place where the murderer does not have to worry about intercession by an armed citizen. Incidents of law abiding people that go through the trouble of legally obtaining a concealed carry permit shooting someone feloniously are incredibly rare. Permit holders are among the most law abiding people in the country! Gun control adherents reflexively conflate the presence of a firearm with felonious use of that firearm, which is just not a real correlation. Misunderstandings of reality such as this do not lead to an intelligent conversation about “reasonable” gun control. Some of the most dangerous cities in the United States (Chicago, Washington, DC) have the most draconian gun laws. Switzerland is a country where virtually all the adult male citizens of military age have a fully automatic assault weapon and ammunition at home, and they are not shooting each other.
10. Enforce the laws we have.
One of the least enforced of the Federal gun laws is the prosecution of a prohibited person, especially convicted felons, from attempting to purchase a firearm. This fact pretty much blows the minds of gun enthusiasts, who are targeted for ever increasing attempts to limit their own, law abiding, behavior and rights. Come on already, ATFE! Prosecute these bad people that try to get guns, please. In recent years the trend has been to reverse the harsh sentencing of violent criminals, often tied to allegations of racial injustice. Seriously, we want violent people locked up! We no longer maintain large populations of mentally ill people in asylums, and often those sad folks end up in the criminal system. No matter how sorry you feel for them, if they are a danger to the public, keep them locked up! Despite the bad press “Stop and Frisk” police tactics have gotten, the police cannot stop someone just because of their race or whatever. The stop and frisk must have an articulatable reason for suspicion. Statistics prove this tactic helps to cut down on crime in a significant way, but again, there’s those darn statistics! Crucifying cops in the media and by gutless politicians for shooting people that are justifiably shot does not help law enforcement efforts and inflames hatred against cops in an unfair and underhanded way. The big lie of “hands up, don’t shoot” was proven to be false, and yet news people, activists and politicians keep repeating it! For some reason Trayvon Martin, killed by George Zimmerman, a civilian, is conflated to be another “cop versus unarmed Black man shooting.” Zimmerman was found not guilty, was NOT a cop, and the media altered photographs, video, and audio recording to make him appear goofier than he really is. An honest conversation must do away with hyperbole and lies. Topping off this aspect of the gun debate, the Russians have been outed as stoking the fires of division among Americans.
Question for students (and subscribers): Please feel free to express your opinions or ask your questions, regardless of which side of the debate you are on, in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Beck, Glenn. Control: Exposing the Truth About Guns. Threshold, 2013.
Charles, Patrick. Armed in America: A History of Gun Rights from Colonial Militias to Concealed Carry. Prometheus Books, 2018.
Robinson, David. The 28th Amendment: Amending the Constitution to Reduce Gun Violence. Amazon Digital, 2018.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by TheAlphaWolf of an AR-15 rifle with a Stag lower receiver California legal (only with fixed 10-round magazine) has been released into the public domain worldwide by its author, TheAlphaWolf.