Realistic Gun Control in the Wake of Mass Shootings (August, 2019)

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A Brief History

On August 5, 2019, while the nation reels from recent mass shootings in Gilroy, California (3 dead), El Paso, Texas (22 dead), and Dayton, Ohio (9 dead), the calls for “common sense” gun control are ringing loud and strong.  Problem is, what is “common sense” when it comes to gun control?  Not everyone agrees!  (Note: We sincerely want to stem the violence in the United States and decrease the number of murders and crimes by criminals with guns.  We also advocate for measures that actually help, and not “feel good” useless laws that do not really address the underlying problems.)

(Note: In current news items a “stabbing epidemic”  has been rampant across the UK, with a steep increase in knife and other edged weapons assaults, including the attack on a police officer by a machete wielding driver during a traffic stop!  (August 8, 2019.)  In fact, the city of London alone has had 84 stabbing murders in 2019 as of the beginning of August.  Something over 37,000 traffic fatalities occur each year in the United States, while the Washington Post, a regular opponent of gun ownership in America admits that, “Public mass shootings account for a tiny fraction of the country’s gun deaths.”  In fact, even the definition of “mass shooting is debatable, with some calling any shooting of 2 or more people, fatalities or not, a “mass shooting” while others define the event as 4 or more people killed in a single shooting incident.  Since 1966, 1196 Americans have been killed in incidents of mass shootings defined by 4 or more fatalities.  While that is about 1196 too many, we must keep perspective lest we become controlled by hysteria instead of reason.  We have lost around 2 million people to car crashes, and we lose almost 80,000 per year in recent years to opioid drug overdose deaths.  By focusing on which problems can we save the most innocent victims?)

Digging Deeper

For one thing, Senator Corey Booker using these tragic incidents to demand “universal background checks” and a maximum allowable purchase of one gun per month per person are just totally irrelevant to the actual shootings that have been taking place.  In each case, the shooter purchased his firearms legally and after being subjected to a background check.  He and others would also outlaw “bump stocks,” an irrelevant measure since President Trump has already banned the devices!  In no case that I am aware of, would a limit on how many guns a person could buy in a month would have alleviated or prevented a mass shooting.

A bump stock permits the trigger (red) to be held down when the receiver moves forward, being reset each round by receiver recoil. This allows semi-automatic firearms to somewhat mimic fully automatic weapons.  Animation by Phoenix7777.

Well intended but ignorant labeling of semi-automatic weapons as “assault weapons” does not help the discussion.  An assault weapon is one capable of fully automatic or burst fire (like a machine gun) that fires a rifle caliber cartridge.  AR-15’s and AK-47 look alike rifles sold to the public are capable of firing one shot per pull of the trigger.  Devices to simulate automatic fire (bump stocks, mainly) have already been pulled from the shelves, and the only well known incident where a shooter used such a device was the MGM Las Vegas shooting in 2017.  Going after virtually irrelevant items such as bayonet lugs, flash suppressors, barrel shrouds and bump stocks undermines the efforts to actually doing something useful.

What about making a new “assault weapon” ban like the one enacted in 1994 (Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act)?  That law lasted 10 years, expiring in 2004.  Not only did it make certain aspects of semi-automatic weapons illegal to manufacture and sell (except to the military and law enforcement personnel), it also banned “high capacity” ammunition magazines, defined as more than 10 rounds.  Since millions of firearms and magazines banned by the law already existed in private hands, the law had virtually no effect on crime or crime committed by banned weapons.  The ban was blatantly a “feel good” measure with little or no relation to actually reducing crime and murder.

Total deaths in US mass shootings from 1982 to 2017, according to Mother Jones.  Chart by GliderMaven.

Another useless idea concerning “gun control” is the continued treatment of sound suppressors (erroneously called “silencers”) in the same manner as machine guns.  For one thing, they do not make the weapon silent, though they can markedly reduce the sound of shots fired.  Such devices are extremely useful for protecting hearing of shooters and observers and can contribute to a reduction in noise pollution near shooting ranges and hunting areas.  There is no indication that criminals use suppressors in any sort of meaningful numbers, nor is there any indication taking away the current controls on suppressors likely to result in any more crime.  (Note:  A large part of the noise from gunshots is the supersonic “sonic boom” created by supersonic bullets, which are nearly all rifle calibers and many pistol calibers, making sound suppressors barely useful for those weapons, which would include AR-15 and AK-47 lookalike rifles.  Firearms that shoot subsonic bullets are much quieter, but not silent.)  Hollywood movies and television shows have made the public believe “silencers” make firearms nearly totally silent, but this depiction is not true, like many things you see on the big or small screen.  (Check out YouTube to see and hear videos of actual sound suppressors in action or click the like highlighted above.)

So called assault weapons (in their civilian semi-automatic form) are rarely used in shootings, but when they are, they receive a massive amount of media attention.  Less than 2% of gun crimes are committed with rifles of any type, let alone “assault weapons.”  How much attention are we going to pay to a minor factor in “gun violence?”  Since the 1994 “Assault Weapons Ban,” an incredible number of AR-15 and other semi-automatic firearms have been sold.  (About 156 million + guns sold in the US from 1998 to 2012 alone!  In 2012, about 17 million firearms were sold in the US.)  Despite the enormous increase in firearms owned by Americans, the number of gun crimes has generally gone down in recent decades, with some ups and downs along the way.  The point is that there is no correlation between the number or types of weapons owned by the public and crime!

AR-15 style rifles come in many sizes and have many options, depending on the manufacturer. The part shown bottom center is the lower receiver without the receiver extension, rear takedown pin, and buttstock.  Photograph by TheAlphaWolf.

Meanwhile, people with questionable mental health status continue to commit gun crimes, slipping through the American mental health net time and again.  As we have in the past, we recommend that some sort of reporting procedure be instituted so that citizens and mental health professionals, as well as school officials and others, can report people that might be prone to gun violence or even planning or threatening to plan an attack.  Such people named should have a mandatory mental health review and be placed on a “no buy list” for firearms until such time as they are certified by mental health professionals that they are not a threat to society.  If a citizen refuses to undergo such evaluation, they would stay on the no buy list until they are cleared.  Police should be empowered to seize and temporarily hold firearms owned by such an identified person until that person is cleared or has a court hearing (which would have to be in a timely manner) that would overturn such a confiscation.  It should be noted that civil rights advocates, such as the ACLU, often oppose such measures as tying gun bans to the “no fly list” and the like.  (Note: Similar proposals are often called “Red Flag” laws and some states have versions of this idea already on the books.)

Another factor in proposed gun control measures that makes those proposals kind of toothless is the “assault weapons” ban, targeting semi-automatic rifles.  The military uses rifles and carbines in combat to take advantage of the greater accuracy at longer ranges that rifles provide, as well as greater penetration of barriers.  At close range, pistols and shotguns can be even more effective at killing and wounding people.  (Seldom are mass shootings at longer ranges, though such incidents are not unknown.)  Should any of the recent shooters used pump action shotguns loaded with 00 buckshot (9 to 15 lead balls of about .33 caliber each per shot) they may have killed and wounded just as many or more people.  Getting rid of “assault weapons” sounds good but has little real effect on the total number of people murdered with guns in the US.  Bombs, fire and motor vehicles are also weapons of mass destruction in the hands of mentally unsound people and terrorists.  Sadly, no measure, not even what we propose can totally prevent murder or mass murder.

Bath Consolidated School some time before the bombing that occurred on May 18, 1927.  Explosives were used to murder 38 elementary schoolchildren.  The Bath School massacre remains the deadliest attack ever to occur in an American school.

The gun control/people control issue is being colored by a media with a point of view/narrative they want to impose on the debate.  While much is made of the right wing/White supremacist/White Nationalist shooters that have created so much misery recently, a pointed contrast is the Dayton shooter, Connor Betts, who has been identified as an Elizabeth Warren supporter and a proponent of liberal agendas!  Why is it relevant (and of course it IS relevant) that a shooter is a Trump supporter but not relevant if he supports Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders?  A fair media would make both facts known instead of trying to advance their own agenda by selective reporting.  (Note: CNN now mentions Betts’ affiliation with left leaning ideology, a couple days after the event.)

Our final comments on the recent spate of mass shootings is the fact that in each case, the shooting was quickly stopped by police officers shooting the suspect or confronting the suspect.  Although the maxim, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is by a good guy with a gun” is often belittled and denigrated by gun control types, the statement is largely a matter of fact.  Ideally, the good guy with a gun is a police officer, but you absolutely cannot count on cops being in the immediate vicinity of a shooting once it starts.  Armed citizens could possibly make the difference in such an emergency, whether they are employees of a store, restaurant or school or people patronizing a venue.  Armed Americans have thwarted crimes over and over again (about 2.5 million times per year!), often by merely brandishing their firearm.  Areas with concealed carry laws experience fewer gun victims.  Just a fact.  Even naysayers can only claim “no difference” in crime rates with concealed carry permitted, which means more guns being legally carried does NOT result in more crimes.

History of concealed carry laws.  Map by Jeff Dege.

We welcome your thoughts and comments on the issues of gun control and people control, regardless of where you stand on those issues.

Questions for students (and subscribers):  Is President Trump partly to blame for White Nationalist violence? What gun control measures, if any, could actually reduce mass shootings? What sort of “people control” could help prevent mass shootings?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Klarevas, Louis. Rampage Nation: Securing America from Mass Shootings.  Prometheus, 2016.

Poe, Richard. The Seven Myths of Gun Control: Reclaiming the Truth About Guns, Crime, and the Second Amendment. Three Rivers Press, 2003.

Shildkraut, Jaclyn, and H. Jaymi Esass. Mass Shootings: Media, Myths, and Realities (Crime, Media, and Popular Culture). Praeger, 2016.

The featured image in this article, graphs by RCraig09 of gun-related assault (homicide) and suicide deaths in the United States from 1999-2016, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.