I probably should have written this years ago, because I've been having the same arguments, making the same points, and debunking the same bullshit every single time. Unfortunately, I'm a firearm specialist in some very firearm-unfriendly fields. Which means I either step into the waters of argument with the patience of a saint and the cool head of an EOD tech, or I drown in the flooding of the river bullshit from the cries of people I otherwise respect.
And honestly, it's mostly for them that I'm writing this. Because I don't have the fucking strength to have fourscore arguments at once. Some people just need one factoid to debunk whatever they're throwing out there, and some need a formal education.
And this may just be my last huzzah. I knew, going back into theater and film back in 2009, that I was going into an environment that could be unsettled, even hostile to people with my skill set. But with every mass shooting and every media blitz it gets worse. And the bile and vitriol from people I otherwise like, respect, and care for just keeps on spewing.
Of course, my best case scenario if I even dare point out anything contradicting the pearl-clutching “we must do SOMETHING” crowd is a pat on the shoulder and a, “It's OK. You're one of the good ones.”
Liberal arts degrees aplenty in that bunch. Not a godsdamn one of them realizes how naive, how asinine, how bigoted, or how insulting they sound, saying that.
But this isn't about me. This is about the problem.
While this is going to be primarily on guns, it's speaking from the idea of mass shootings in general. And the question on a lot of minds is, “How do we stop them from happening again?”
The answer, short version, is, “we can't. Not with any method as a society we currently are willing and able to use.”
Cue the mob, screaming, “But we have to do SOMETHING!”
Which I only have to say, doing something for the sake of doing something, anything, only takes us into the land of unintended consequences.
I'll begin by spelling out something that will become abundantly clear: my default setting is “freedom.” As an American, as a veteran, and as a human being, I have seen freedom and I have seen its opposite. I will be the first to admit that freedom is not utopia. Freedom is not peace. Freedom is scary. Freedom is ugly. Freedom includes the freedom to fail. The freedom to lose. But just as it embodies the depths of loss, so it allows our highest achievements. It is the root of our greatest potential. But it is fragile, and precious. And once given up or taken by force, it requires herculean effort to ever, ever regain.
I'm going to do most of the internet one better and admit that my expertise is not in mental health, but in firearms and violence in general. I will say that, from what I have heard, there currently isn't a viable way to screen for mental health that can say who's going to start shooting up the place and who won't. A trusted friend (who's also a practicing psychologist) put it as “best indicator of present behavior is past behavior.” That means we're SOL at finding someone before they start pulling triggers.
That, and looking at the tiny percentage of the population who have gone off the rails versus the considerable percentage of the population identified as mentally ill, focusing there hurts more than it harms. Restricting the freedoms of a great many to try and curb the actions of a few is a bad precedent no matter how you slice it.
Oh holy shit. Look, let me just break down some numbers to show how dumb pigeonholing people by their religion is.
Number of practicing Muslims in the U.S. - Just under 4 Million.
Number of practicing Muslims in the U.S. Who have attempted or accomplished an active shooting: 7.
As of this writing, I include the San Bernadino shooters, the Texas cartoon shooters, Ft. Hood, The Chattanooga recruiting office, and the Orlando shooter in here. That's it, that's all of them.
How many mass shootings happen depends on who you ask. I ask the FBI for reasons I'll go into later. According to them, there's been a little less than 200 since the year 2000.
7 out of 200. 3.5% of all active shooters.
While radicalized followers of an organization like ISIL usually are Muslim, the extent of their practice is questionable at best. They do, however, employ slightly different tactics than most mass shooters, which I'll explain in a bit. But in the long run, we'll point out that orders of magnitude separate the average Muslim from an active shooter.
Common proposed solutions and why they are wrong
“Just have some common sense gun laws!”
Great. Heard of any? Because whenever a crisis like this happens, it's never common sense or cause and effect that gets proposed, it's ban whatever we're scared of. Even if it's already banned. Or makes no sense. Or doesn't actually exist.
Define what common sense is before trying to cry for it.
“Why do you need (insert weapon type here)?”
Irrelevant. It's not a need. It's a right. And who the hell are you to determine my need anyway?
Seriously. I keep seeing this one. It's like asking “why do you need privacy?” “why do you need to assemble?”
The answer is the same: Need has nothing to do with it. It's a right.
Also, fuck you.
“Well Regulated militia!”
Well-regulated = “held to a common standard, in good working order.”
Militia = everyone left who hasn't gone off with the regular or reserve forces.
This requires a bit of history. During the revolutionary war, militia members and even regular soldiers had some serious bring-your-own kit problems. Since this was before the era of interchangeable parts, each weapon was handmade, to the specs the maker wanted it. Which means you could have every man in a unit using a different ammunition caliber. You can imagine the massive logistical headache this caused. The ideal would be everyone using the same caliber, preferably one that matched what the regular military used, so ammo stockpiles could be stored, delivered, and used as needed. In the modern day that would be .223/5.56 in rifles, 9mm in pistols, and 12ga in shotguns. Which, amazingly, are the most popular calibers for those respective weapons.
Militias, btw, were an all-volunteer, on your own time force. Subject to the chain of command while there, but able to come and go as they pleased. Because of this, they were best used close to their homes.
Put that way, “well-regulated militia” looks a lot more like the people in your neighborhood instead of the National guard.
“Ban automatic weapons!”
Done, for all intents and purposes. Automatic weapons, along with some other things like suppressors and sawed-off shotguns, were made Class III weapons in 1934, requiring a federal license, a In 1986, no new weapons were allowed to be added. Which means if you want one, first you have to find someone willing to sell one, apply to the feds, pay a $200 tax stamp over and above whatever you pay for it, and give up some serious freedoms (as in, the ATF can come by and check to see your ducks are in a row whenever it wants. Ever).
FWIW, “Automatic” in this sense means that a single pull of the trigger will cause the gun to fire and keep firing until the trigger is released or it runs out of ammo. For a gun that shoots once for every pull of the trigger with no other actions needed, you're looking for semiautomatics.
Semiautomatic (or “autoloading”) guns are quite possibly the most common form of firearm in existence. The basic technology is a century old, and we've had decades of refinements. They're useful because you have to manipulate the weapon less in order to use it. Banning them would involve banning most of the firearms owned today, an idea which will be problematic for reasons listed below.
“Ban assault weapons.”
“Assault weapons” is a bullshit term invented by Democrat politicians in the late 80's. The definition is simply “scary black gun.”
I'm not joking. That's the effective definition of it.
President Clinton tried banning them in 1994. Unfortunately, the ban had nothing to do with how effective a weapon was in committing crime, just in how scary they looked.
Some weapons were listed by name. Others were listed by being semiautomatic (which as we've already covered is ridiculously common) and having a detachable magazine (which has been standard on effectively all semiauto weapons made since WWII), plus any two of a list of cosmetic features. Things like telescoping stocks, that let 6'7” me and my 4'10” friend shoot the same weapon comfortably. Things like bayonet lugs, flash hiders (which don't hide the flash from anyone looking at the shooter, just keeps the flash from irritating the shooter's eyes), heat shields (which keep you from burning yourself by touching a hot barrel), things like that.
The AWB was a complete and total jugfuck. Named weapons were slightly redesigned, named as a different model, and sold anyway. Existing dealers removed those cosmetic features from their weapons and sold as usual. Rifles of any kind were rarely used in crime, so it effectively did squat to prevent anything. All it really did was piss people off and make them paranoid.
“Ban assault rifles.”
Well, now you're at least using the right terminology. Assault rifles are a technology that came out at the end of WWII. They combine the ammo capacity and select-fire (which means single shot or full auto is possible) capability of a submachine gun with the long range and accuracy of a battle rifle. It's a jack of all trades, master of none kind of weapon. They're popular because they can do lots of jobs accurately. That's why our military uses them despite being 60-year-old technology. That's why cops use them. That's why civilians use them.
And by use I don't mean hunting or sports, I mean fighting back against people trying to kill you. They're useful because they can do the job stopping someone in the same room or stopping someone across the street, if needs be.
Ah, but if they're so good at stopping criminals, they must be just as useful to them!
Not really. According to the FBI (UCR 2014, table 8), there were 8,124 murders with a firearm that year. Only 248 of them were committed with rifles of any kind (no separation between assault rifles or any others). That's 1 in 32 firearm murders being committed with these.
If you believe at all in self defense, or in defense of others, why deprive people of the most effective method of doing that?
“But Assault rifles are useless in defending yourself against tyranny! A dictator would have tanks and drones and artillery! You'd be helpless!”
Exactly. That's why we conquered the backwaters of Afghanistan in less than a month and never had any problems there since.
... oh, wait.
Here I can actually understand the surface impulse a bit. After all, out of the 8,124 murders I listed earlier, 5,562 of them were committed with a handgun.
However, for every murder committed with one, far more are prevented.
How many more depends on whose numbers you look at. Dr. Gary Kleck estimates 2 million defensive uses of guns per year. The Department of Justice estimated 1.5 Million a year. And the National Crime Victimization Survey, which doesn't even directly ask, estimated 108,000 a year. (http://www.guncite.com/gun_control_gcdguse.html)
When a government survey that's not even bothering to find it out considers them used defensively on orders of magnitude higher than offensively, the argument for banning them crumbles to dust.
Why use handguns? Because rifles are more powerful, but unweildly. Pistols are compact. I can keep one secured on my body comfortably and go about my business, whether that's working with heavy machinery, riding a desk, or babysitting.
They are called equalizers for a reason. I'm 6'7” and around 300 lbs. In the days of the sword, about the only thing that could stop someone my size with sword, armor, and nefarious intent was some other big, armored ass with a sword. Nowadays, someone like that can be stopped by a 4'10” grandmother with a pistol. They allow the virtuous weak to defend themselves from the wicked strong. They allow the untrained hoi polloi to be a significant threat to the trained rich. And they are very, very effective at doing so. It's something I try not to be too vicious about when my students get too romantic about the sword.
“Ban high capacity magazines!”
A couple problems with this one.
The first problem is defining “high capacity.” 5 rounds? 10? 15?
Most shotguns can only hold about 5. Handguns depend on their size, but can run the gamut. On one of my pistols, the standard magazine holds 17. The AR-15 originally had a 20-round magazine, but moved to the 30-round ones in the 70's and has been that way ever since.
So what is high capacity?
And once you've defined it, make a reason for it. You want it so bad guys have to reload sooner? Well, they're going to have access to standard magazines. So that goes out the window.
And while you're at it, there's nothing to stop someone from making the high capacity magazines they want. Even before 3D printing was a thing. A magazine is a bent piece of sheet metal, a cap of sheet metal, a spring, and a plastic tab. Anyone who got a C in metal shop can make a working one.
And to top it off, while you've done that, you've limited the law-abiding to whatever arbitrary capacity you determined they should have.
Some of you have that fucking word “need” on your lips right now. How many bullets does it take to stop someone?
Your mileage may vary, but the current winner that I know of is Chief Matthew Dale, USN. During the Battle of Ramadi he was shot 27 times. Eleven rounds were stopped by his body armor, sixteen entering his body. He killed all three insurgents that were shooting at him.
And that doesn't account for our self-defending civilian missing when they do open fire on an assailant.
So pretty please, with sugar on top, tell me how many I'll need to face someone willing to do me harm?
What if there's more than one?
“Close the gun show loophole!”
This misnomer is actually the difference between commercial sales and private sales.
Commercial sellers, whenever they sell a gun, have to run an instant criminal background check (It's called NICS). This is true whether they're in a brick-and-mortar store, online, or at a gun show. The buyer submits their information, NICS checks it against multiple databases and renders one of three judgments: Approve, Deny, or wait for more information. This happens in a space of a few minutes. The FBI has 3 days to search for more information. If they haven't found anything worth a denial in that time, the sale can keep going.
Now keep in mind, that's commercial sellers. People who sell guns as a business.
Then we have private sellers, ordinary people, not interested in the business of selling guns, who for one reason or another have guns to sell. They may have inherited one from a relative and aren't shooters themselves. They may be facing hard times and need to sell to make ends meet. They may have their eyes on a different model and want to sell one to replace with the different model later, it runs the gamut.
These private sellers have no access to NICS, and no way to conduct background checks on their own. All they are required to do is ensure that whoever they do sell them to is an adult that they do not suspect is a felon or otherwise ineligible to buy. The easiest way for a lot of these sellers to get rid of their stock is to rent a table at a gun show, where they know they'll have potential customers. It's effectively the same as leaving your truck in the yard with a “for sale” sign on it so people driving past can see.
Now, some states do require private sellers to go through a third-party dealer to conduct a background check. This is also the case with internet sales. On sites like Gunbroker, both the buyer and seller need a Federal Firearms License holder (almost always a gun store on each end of the sale) perform the background check and do the transfer for them, for a percentage of the sale.
That said, the vast majority of states do not require this. Even if you wanted to, that private sell represents lost sales to a dealer, which can (and will) charge a hefty fee to conduct the background check.
And because some of the disqualifiers for purchasing a gun include mental illness, the NICS database can't be opened to the general public without repealing or significantly changing HIPAA.
The other big problem with NICS is that it's databases are only as good as the data that's fed into them. Individual state, county, city, and other law enforcement agencies can only push their paperwork so fast, some better than others. And the FBI only has so many investigators that can run down requests for more information.
On top of all that, false positives do happen. Upwards of 5% of all declines, if NRA stats are to be believed. Add in that the FBI stopped going through appeals claims in January of this year and NICS has issues going both ways.
If there's a partial solution here, it's to fund FBI investigators for this purpose, and change HIPAA to allow private sellers access to NICS (and face the responsibility for knowingly selling to a disqualified person).
“Make gun owners carry insurance, like with cars!”
No. Not only no, but hell no and fuck no.
For three reasons:
One, no insurance company in the world will offer coverage for this. I've looked.
Two, even if one would, insurance doesn't cover one's criminal activity. So from negligence on up, it wouldn't be covered anyway.
Three, even if you could get past one and two, rates would get ridiculously high, to the point where only the rich could afford it. I live in the American south. We had a time when rich rural old white people got to decide who had guns and who didn't. It sucked, not going back. Which leads me to...
Four, what kind of racist asshole even brings this up as a possibility? Did we not take American History? Do the terms literacy test, poll tax and grandfather clause hold no fucking meaning to you? We do not charge people unduly to exercise a right in this country. It happened before, it fucking sucked, not going back.
“Why can't the CDC study gun violence?”
Because the last time they tried, the doctors involved were determined to frame gun violence as a health issue rather than a social or constitutional issue. It's called making conclusions before you have data. It's bad science and was quashed. Quashed by the NRA, yes, but would you imagine the ACLU not going there if the CDC were, say, predisposed to consider hateful speech a health issue ~before~ they'd even studied it?
“But gun control worked in Australia and the UK!”
Australia's murder rate remained steady from before and after the great confiscation in 1996. Of course, it wasn't that large to begin with, staying at roughly 300/year.
As for the UK, their murder rate spiked from 11.5 to 18.0 from the summer of 96 to the winter of 2003. After which, the UK put thousands of new officers on the streets and cameras everywhere. Then and only then did their murder rate go down.
Oh, in the U.S. Our own rate went from 7.4 to 5.5 during the same time frame.
“Our crime rate is skyrocketing!”
Wrong again. While ~mass~ shootings are on the increase (and they still happen about as frequently as people win the Powerball jackpot), violent crime in America has been going steadily down since the early 1990's. At the same time, we've had more and more guns and been carrying them more often.
In 1992, we had one unrestricted weapons carry state, and 16 “shall issue” concealed carry states. Today, we have 10 unrestricted and 32 shall issue.
We still have a handful that are May issue states. Most of them containing some heavily violent urban areas. But, because “may issue” leaves who gets concealed carry licenses to the discretion of local sheriffs, that means they're only issued to celebrities, their bodyguards, and rich campaign donors. No working stiffs need apply. Classist pricks.
“Think of the children!”
The last federal gun control legislation put to law was the Gun-free Schools act of 1994, part of the Improving America's School's Act. This was the act that made zero tolerance the law of the land for every state getting federal education funds. Didn't markedly do shit to tone down gun crime. It did, however, expel and imprison so many young black students that Hillary Clinton personally apologized for her husband signing the act while she was on the campaign trail. Not that she or anyone else D or R ever did jack shit to get the act repealed, but that's neither here nor there.
“I don't care! They're evil! Ban them all!”
OK. Fair enough.
But who are you going to get to do the confiscation?
Because we've already had an attempt. And it failed miserably.
In the wake of Sandy Hook, New York and Connecticut both passed laws requiring, among other things, registration of so-called "Assault weapons." Despite rampant opposition in both states (in NY, all but two counties north of Westchester filed resolutions opposing it), both acts were passed, and grace periods ensued. Violation is a class A misdemeanor in NY, a felony in Connecticut.
Noncompliance was rampant. Less than 45K weapons were registered in NY. It's estimated that an additional million were not. In CT, 50K were registered. An estimated 300K-350K or more were not.
For the math impaired, that's 85% or so noncompliance in NY. 95% or so in CT.
Two states that haven't voted Republican in over 20 years turned around and told their Governors to actively go fuck themselves. Over guns. And not just on principle, but over evil "assault weapons," no less.
On top of that, law enforcement have done squat to actually enforce said law. A grand total of one county sheriff was caught on camera claiming he would go door-to-door if necessary. Of course, he was speaking to a particularly annoying protester.
Supposedly, the CT legislature discovered nearly 70% of their sworn officers were violating the law themselves. Nothing has been publicly spoken, but then again, I wouldn't if I was a politician either.
Thus we come to the problem with confiscation. Ignorance of culture.
For those of you not from "gun culture," let me enlighten you. Yes, we do have a number of beer-swilling hillbillies with minimal social skills and discourse that would give a Bitterness Studies major an aneurysm before she was halfway through her morning latte.
But that's nowhere near all of us.
Remember, at least 80 million Americans. From all walks of life, all races, religions, sexual preferences, subcultures, all of which know the gun. If you've been in someone else's home ever, you've been in a home with a gun in it. I can guarantee you. You might be aware of this, and then again you might not. In some cases that's from the "wary of personal questions" bit mentioned above. In the case of our more moderate and liberal brethren (of whom there is far more than you believe), much of them prefer not to deal with the unholy shitfits fired off by their ostensible political allies.
Gun culture. People who like guns. Like shooting them. Like talking about them. Like reading on them. And we are everywhere.
The only remotely feasible manner of doing so is a house-to-house search across America. Complete. Total. Oh, we could just confiscate current 4473's and go to the listed addresses, but those only go back twenty years. Guns keep. So door-to-door it is.
Only, who does the door kicking and subsequent handling of the armed and presumably irate citizenry?
Every officer competent in such operations is a member of gun culture themselves to one degree or another.
(Note, I didn't say ~every~ officer. I said every one worth a rat's ass at this sort of thing.)
Remember, in blue-state Connecticut, well over half the sworn officers in the state were defying said laws.
The National Guard? Same thing. Range time is expensive, and reserves get even less of it than active duty. Those who have the competence are those who train on their own time and dime. Gun culture again.
But why stop there? We've fucked the 2nd amendment, let's burn Posse Comitatus while we're at it. Send in active duty troops! Send the Marines! Send mercenaries!
Gun culture. Gun culture. Gun culture.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Now, our hypothetical leader will find ~someone~ to carry out said order. But I think we're starting to see it won't be followed well. Or competently. One way or another, doors would be kicked.
Oh, but you say, you truly think all of those people would fight back? Risk imprisonment, murder, or death?
It doesn't have to be all. Historically, such resistance is usually about 10% of those targeted. Which means about 8 million people.
That's the population of New York City.
That's one hundred and thirty TIMES the size of the largest estimate of the fucking Taliban forces I've ever seen.
And that's just those actively fighting back. That doesn't include those who hide, cover other activities, impede confiscating authorities, or otherwise fuck up the entire operation.
“OK asshole, you're so smart, how do YOU think we should solve this?”
Now, my knee-jerk response to this is usually to point out what I already have: that active shooter incidents, while increasing, are still so statistically insignificant that they're on roughly the same level as powerball jackpot wins, our violent crime rate has been cut in half over the last 20 years as our numbers of those carrying concealed has more than doubled; and of our remaining gun-related homicides, the bulk are being carried out by a professional criminal class that are much more interested in killing each other than anyone else.
...Then I ask if we weren't fixing the problem well enough or fast enough?
But since I have a request, challenge accepted.
Now, in identifying solutions, one must both identify the problem and realize one's limitations.
In this case, the problem is gun violence (though it's already decreasing from what we are doing).
Our limitations are what we are unwilling to do in our society. Looking at the last 30 years, we are expanding firearm access to the lawful rather than decreasing it. The second amendment is going nowhere.
Nor will we wipe out poverty or culture clash, with all of the capacity for violence those bring. We have already decided as a society that the benefits outweigh such liabilities.
Which still leaves us with the problem of gun violence. I, on the other hand, am addressing violence in general, rather than focusing on a weapon or even-tighter applications of said weapon.
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars..."
We need to fight against learned helplessness.
We're taught as children to not fight back. To not take initiative.
When the fire alarm goes off, we sit down, shut up, and wait for the teacher.
Or we panic.
We need to instead make decisions quickly.
Good men with guns won't do it alone but good men with guns plus good decision making and swift action will.
How do I know this works?
Because it worked in Orlando.
Imran Yousuf, a USMC veteran and a bouncer at the Pulse, heard the gunfire of the initial attack, and he busted open a barricade so people could escape. Dozens of people escaped through that back entrance with Yousuf while the off-duty cop at the door fought and died facing the shooter.
One good man with a gun and one good man with quick reactions saved lives.
How many more would have been saved if there were more like them?
We will not eliminate gun violence. Ever.
But we can control it. Channel it. Mitigate the damage.
We can't and shouldn't make everyone carry a gun.
But if you won't carry a gun, carry a first aid kit.
Carry a tourniquet.
If you won't fight and won't help, then watch and report.
Play Kim's game and run. So when you call the cops you can give a good description.
Don't let your own feelings of helplessness cause you to get fucked over by anyone's agenda, including mine.
I never said a solution was cheap. Or easy. Or convenient.
Only that it's possible.