There are now more than 310 million non-military firearms in the U.S. (as of 2009). While some polls suggest that overall, gun ownership in the number of homes in the U.S. is declining, overall gun sales continue to skyrocket. This would suggest that in households where a gun is present, there is usually more than one. Additionally, support for gun control legislation seems to be on the decline. Even though there has been a continuing reduction in the crime rate in the U.S., Americans are increasingly driven by fear. Local news reports focus heavily on the day’s violence. The NRA and its proponents spin tales of how Obama and those evil liberals want to take away everyone’s guns, leaving you defenseless prey to the criminals who will inexplicably still be able to easily obtain them. Fox News and the right wing echo chamber drone on and on about how big government wants to turn the country into some communist dystopia. The fringe right goes even further, claiming the UN will be coming any minute to usurp our sovereignty, turning the world into some one world authoritarian nightmare. Fear and sensationalism sell, and Americans seem to be buying with increased fervor. This has lead to a massive increase in the availability of firearms to criminals and would be criminals.
Whenever there’s a dialogue about the merits of gun control, someone always has to chime in with some variation of the meme, “if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have them.” While that sounds great, it ignores the realities of where it is that criminals obtain their guns. All firearms start out as lawfully owned property. The vast majority of guns that criminals use are obtained via one of four ways, theft, straw purchases, illegal sales from FFL’s(Federal firearm licensees), and private or gun show sales. If legislation was passed making it illegal for firearms manufacturers to sell or provide firearms to anyone other than the military or law enforcement, the methods that criminals use to obtain weapons would largely be useless. Yes, this would require all currently legally owned firearms to be confiscated, which is why this will never happen. A ban on all firearms in the U.S. isn’t realistic, and no one is suggesting this as a legitimate option.
Absent a ban and confiscation of all firearms in the U.S., what can be done? Well, if we were to listen to the fanatical gun rights advocates, more guns is the answer. Once again, this ignores the realities of the situation.
"In the wake of the slaughters this summer at a Colorado movie theater and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, we set out to track mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years. We identified and analyzed 62 of them, and one striking pattern in the data is this: In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun. Moreover, we found that the rate of mass shootings has increased in recent years—at a time when America has been flooded with millions of additional firearms and a barrage of new laws has made it easier than ever to carry them in public. And in recent rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, they not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed."
Many gun owners seem to feel that in the chaos of a mass shooting, they would be able to calmly draw, aim, and effortlessly double tap that would-be killer before he had a chance to begin his spree. This is pure fantasy. More guns only lead to increased societal risk. Guns kept in homes are 22 times more likely to be used in a fatal or nonfatal accidental shooting, criminal assault, or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense. If you have a gun in your home, statistically speaking you’re at a much greater risk of injury or death because of it.
While we’re starting to finally hear talk of addressing the problems of gun violence, it seems as if people are afraid to speak in anything more than vague generalities. No one wants to invoke the ire of the gun folks. Well then, allow me. We have to take steps to limit the availability of “assault” style weapons, handguns, and high capacity magazines. Their use is what facilitates the high body count in these sprees. We have to close gun show loopholes and prohibit sales between private, unlicensed individuals. While this will have minimal affect on mass shootings, it would close down one avenue for criminals to obtain firearms. We need to limit purchases from FFL’s to one per month. This would make it much more difficult to traffic weapons via FFL’s. Repealing the immunity from lawsuits that firearms manufacturers currently enjoy would encourage those entities to be more discerning in their gun sales. Repeal of the Tiahrt Amendment would also encourage seller and manufacturer accountability.
I harbor no illusions that this, or any gun control legislation would be easy to pass. The pro gun lobby is immensely powerful, and our populace has an irrational attachment to guns. But how many more people need to die? How many more children have to be brutally murdered in their classrooms before we say enough? If this horrific tragedy isn’t sufficient evidence that our culture and permissive gun laws are deeply flawed, what will it take? I never thought that my first contribution to this blog would be in response to a tragedy of this nature, and I’m saddened that it has to be. We can look at the events in Connecticut as a lesson, and make them a turning point in rational discourse about guns. Or we can close our eyes and become increasingly desensitized, clinging irrationally to the mistaken belief that somehow the prevalence of guns in our society makes us safer. Which will you do?