Friday, October 2, 2015

Gun Control

This is going to be a bit more on the editorial side, so please bear with me.

Gun control and regulation is a topic that is at the forefront again, as I suspect it shall be for a long time.  This is not an easy topic to digest, mainly because it's got so many factors working into it.  Specifically, this is in reference to the latest mass shooting (and it's a sad indicator when I don't even have to mention which one because in two days there will be another, statistically).  People will naturally want to discuss gun control, because guns are used quite a bit in these events.  However, I think it's necessary that we look at factors other than simply regulating guns, and here's some reasons why.  Please feel free to discuss them in the comments, remembering to keep it civil.  This is the internet, and you're probably going to disagree with some of the points I make.

This post is spurred by a conversation I was engaged in recently on twitter, but its components are basically the same in most debates of this nature.  Specifically, let me address the issue of safe firearm storage first.

This seems like a logical thought, locking up a firearm makes it safer.  I would argue that anything less than a bolted-down safe (or a very heavy one) is probably not going to deter the average thief.  Locking up ammunition and guns to protect children, and to prevent accidental discharge, is one thing.  Trigger locks aren't nearly as effective in the hands of people who steal your guns.  If someone is determined enough to enter your locked house, I'm fairly certain same person could easily disable a locking mechanism on your gun.  There are technologies coming up to make it harder to use guns, like smart lock tech, however it's going to be nearly impossible to make enough of those locks at a reasonable enough price to safeguard every gun.  This also assumes that people would want such a thing, and I'm fairly certain that people who already have illegally obtained firearms aren't going to get much use out of them.

Which leads to my second observation.  Yes, locks can help.  Any deterrent is useful, and even locking half the guns currently in existence, and mandating all new guns have these sort of safety features, would indeed cut down on some gun crime.  However, I think it safe to presume that it's still not going to greatly deter people who want to find unlocked guns.  This also brings up another point, that a gun is not a difficult thing to fabricate.  A firearms registry might help a bit, and it's clear that most mass shootings are happening with automatic rifles.  This reduces the number of guns we would need to identify and lock/register.  However, as we've also seen, several of these incidents happen with the use of more traditional rifles, handguns, and shotguns. 

Moving back to the lock argument, I think there's another facet that's typically overlooked.  Lots of people, including many who advocate for less restriction on gun control, claim it is for a purpose loosely defined as 'self-defense.'  This can include anything from protecting your home from armed invaders, to protecting yourself in public from the selfsame individuals perpetrating mass shootings and armed robberies, et cetera.  Locking a gun in a cabinet defeats this purpose pretty directly.  A trigger lock makes the gun fairly useless for home defense.  Smart lock technology would certainly negate most of this effect, but for now, most guns don't have fingerprint scanners built into grips. 

Another argument that was brought up was that the owner of the gun should be held responsible.  I think this is, at least in part, a good idea. I also think it would be difficult to enforce, for various reasons.  Some people compare it to licensing cars.  Make every gun registered and criminals will be more quickly apprehended.  I'm completely for a gun register, and I think it's a good idea.  I think there's several hurdles to overcome first.  For example, in no particular order:

  • Unlike a car, you can't see the gun's license/serial number easily when it's used in a crime.  
    • Car tags work because we can see them, and car styles are fairly unique
    • Most handguns are black, and it's difficult to tell one caliber from another when it's pointed at you, let alone get its license number.
  • There are lots of unregistered guns
    • Taking a near-complete census of every gun in circulation today would be impossible.
    • Guns aren't nearly as easy to find as cars after a crime.  
  • Stolen guns would take a lot of paperwork to track.
    • Even if your gun was reported stolen, it's trivially simple to remove most serial numbers.
    • This means it would be hard to prove which stolen gun is yours.  
    • We could have a ballistics sample of every gun on file as well, but that would be incredibly costly, especially considering most guns aren't used in crimes, and lots of times guns used in crimes aren't fired.
  • What, exactly, constitutes a gun?
    • A paintball gun can be just as lethal as a regular firearm if you use appropriate-caliber shot.
    • Air rifles, crossbows, slingshots, and a plethora of other types of weaponry can potentially be as dangerous as firearms, and are largely unregulated.  If traditional firearms suddenly became much more heavily regulated, one could argue that these sort of weapons would overtake traditional firearms in these roles.   
      • Granted, this doesn't appear to be a concern at present, but some people do indeed use air rifles, airsoft guns, and other non-firearms to commit crimes.  Similarly, it provides a good exercise in demonstrating just how hard it is to regulate something that is not very well regulated at present.
Again, I'm not arguing against registration.  Although, in my state, a background check is required, and the serial numbers of most of the guns I own should already be in a database somewhere in some governmental office in my state anyway.  Registration isn't really even the hard part.  There are numbers out there demonstrating that there are perhaps 320 million guns in America, that we know about.  I'm willing to guess that this number is considerably lower than the actual.  I would guess that there are potentially twice that number.  There are around 240-260 million registered vehicles in America, by comparison.  Registering and tracking 320 million guns, plus the approximately 5.5 million new ones per year (we don't do this with cars, but we'd almost certainly have to do it with guns) would require a massive undertaking.  Not to mention the number of guns imported, that's a lot of guns.

However, all this aside, I think there's bigger issues to deal with.  Mental health is definitely one of them.  America doesn't do very well at the healthcare thing, for several reasons which I won't get into here.  We have the Affordable Care Act now, and we could certainly stand to spend a bit more of the VA, Medicare, Medicaid, Welfare and other social service money on making sure people are healthy mentally, as part of routine services.  Granted, this might require something of an overhaul of our taxation/spending scheme, but I think it's far from impossible to guarantee every American access to affordable or free healthcare, without hurting working individuals.  I'll touch on this idea, as well as others, in another post. 

Gun law reform, and gun control legislation is definitely necessary.  The proposition is not to remove guns from the hands of everyone (although Switzerland does pretty well with there scheme), but to regulate the firearms industry.  I think the above points I've made are valid, and I think we could easily overcome some of the problems up there if we were willing to tweak other areas of our policy.  However, that might come across as a bit socialist, and for whatever reason, we are quite hesitant to approach that.  I will leave my socioeconomic ramblings to another post, but suffice to say, a more socialist governance policy is not necessarily a bad thing, and is perhaps necessary to the next stage of fixing this problem.  Access to better healthcare, attempting to eliminate poverty, increasing standards of living and enabling people to get help they need before this kind of thing happens, is perhaps not the worst possible outcome.  We can't do it with our current structure, but I don't think that means we shouldn't be open to changing the current structure, including more regulation on guns.  I'm saying this as a gun owner, no less. 

If you have any points, feel free to post them in the comments below.  Again, let's try to keep it civil, and have a good debate.  I'm not sure there's an easy solution, or even a 'right' solution, but I'm sure there's a way to improve things if we can work together.  Just because we may disagree on some things doesn't mean we can't work together.  I'm willing to compromise if it means a better future for the next generation.  Are you?

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