Know Your Gunz

I want to gripe about “I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise” in WaPo.

I researched the strictly tightened gun laws in Britain and Australia and concluded that they didn’t prove much about what America’s policy should be. Neither nation experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun related-crime that could be attributed to their buybacks and bans. Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress. And in both Australia and Britain, the gun restrictions had an ambiguous effect on other gun-related crimes or deaths.

Let’s review — annual firearm death rates per 100,000 population:

  • Australia: 1
  • Britain: 0.2
  • United States: 10.2

See also Gun violence in America, explained in 17 maps and charts.

If the author is arguing that the change in laws in Australia and Britain didn’t make much difference because gun death rates were already low, um, lots of other people say otherwise. This says that in Australia, gun-related homicides and suicides dropped by 59 and 60 percent respectively after they tightened the gun laws in 1996. This does not seem all that ambiguous.

When I looked at the other oft-praised policies, I found out that no gun owner walks into the store to buy an “assault weapon.” It’s an invented classification that includes any semi-automatic that has two or more features, such as a bayonet mount, a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher mount, a folding stock or a pistol grip. But guns are modular, and any hobbyist can easily add these features at home, just as if they were snapping together Legos.

The latter point is one I made in a post last year, Why an Assault Weapons Ban Is Not Going to Help. We aren’t getting anywhere complaining about “assault weapons,” because it’s a meaningless term. I wrote:

The federal assault weapons ban in effect from 1994 to 2004 had a negligible effect on gun violence overall; perpetrators simply switched to other kinds of semi-automatic weapons not considered “assault weapons.” The assault weapons ban was a cosmetic law that made people feel good about having done something about gun violence when in fact they hadn’t done much of anything. Let’s not go down that road again.

So forget “assault weapons.” I want us to start talking about a ban on all semiautomatic firearms (full auto firearms are already tightly restricted). That would actually mean something.

The Australian government “banned automatic and semiautomatic firearms, adopted new licensing requirements, established a national firearms registry, and instituted a 28-day waiting period for gun purchases. It also bought and destroyed more than 600,000 civilian-owned firearms, in a scheme that cost half a billion dollars and was funded by raising taxes.” (source) This entire overhaul was done in six months.

Would the same restrictions work as well in the U.S.? Probably not, because of our gun-nut culture, but it would work some.

Or, if restricting all semi-auto firearms is too much of a lift, consider allowing only those with fixed, low capacity magazines. The detachable magazines make it too easy for a shooter to keep shooting without a pause.

Federal law that went into effect in 1986 makes it illegal for a private civilian to own any fully automatic weapons manufactured after May 19, 1986.  And you cannot buy legal replacement parts for full-auto weapons manufactured before 1986.  All fully auto weapons are registered with the federal government. People who still own a “grandfather” full auto weapon cannot legally sell them to someone who doesn’t have a federal firearm license, and you have to do some major hoop-jumping to get those.  The process takes about a year, and if you don’t have a damn good reason to own a full-auto weapon, you won’t be licensed.

This ban on full auto firearms actually has had the effect of making full auto firearms scarce. No, it has not eliminated them entirely. But the ones still out there are almost never used in crimes in the U.S. The 1986 law did not violate the 2nd Amendment and appears to have been very effective in restricting access to fully automatic weapons.

Now, let’s do the same thing with semi-automatic weapons, including semi-automatic handguns. That would still leave a wide variety of weapons for those who want to hunt or protect their homes or hold up liquor stores or shoot their own heads off or whatever else they want to do with them, but it would cut down on the mass-shooter carnage considerably.

James Eagan Holmes, the Aurora movie theater shooter, had two weapons, a pump-action shotgun and a semi-automatic rifle. He fired six rounds from the shotgun, then went on to fire 65 rounds from the semi-auto rifle, a Smith & Wesson M&P15. That’s the difference.

I would also put strict limits on the number of firearms of any type that an individual may own. As I wrote yesterday, owning six or more weapons seems to be a predictor that an individual may become violent. So limit the number to five. At least the gun nuts keeping an arsenal will be forced to stop calling themselves “law abiding citizens.”

I don’t think it’s just the availability of guns that makes the U.S. so dangerous. There’s something in our culture that’s seriously out of whack. But I don’t know how to fix that.

Painting by Charles Marion Russell

25 thoughts on “Know Your Gunz

  1. I think your broad outline—which I have only skimmed, I confess—seems reasonable. Here is my broad set of ideas:

    Divide firearms into three categories:

    a. Basic—The simplest revolvers and pistols (some restrictions as to calibre, frame size, and magazine capacity), hunting rifles, and shotguns.
    b. Historic—Firearms (or reproductions thereof) that are more than 75 years old.
    c. Exotic—Everything else.

    The first two are minimally regulated or taxed. The third—which includes all the semi-military weapons, the high capacity magazines, etc.—would be heavily regulated and taxed. The devil, of course, is in the details.

  2. The idea, is to preserve the legitimate rights of folks who like to hunt or target shoot, or do historical things, but to land heavily on folks who want to buy 40-odd semi-auto rifles. Regulate and tax those folks a LOT. Keep records on what they own—if they want to own 30 AR-15s, then they give up some of their freedom. If all they want to own is a 20-gauge shotgun for shooting quail, no one cares.

  3. “I don’t think it’s just the availability of guns that makes the U.S. so dangerous. There’s something in our culture that’s seriously out of whack. But I don’t know how to fix that”

    Me either, but my take is that some people are prone to going ape-shit crazy, and for many of them the availability of guns and owning lethal fire-arms accelerates the problem. The modern “gun culture” is the problem. I really think just the fact that people have easy access to these weapons causes some of them to obsess more about the power they possess than they would if they just had a knife, it’s just a theory? I have quite a collection, most are family heirlooms but I have what could be considered an arsenal, I think I have five handguns, six shotguns, and nine rifles. I certainly don’t need most of them and they all stay locked up in gun safes, I quit hunting years ago, I shot a rabid raccoon in my back yard five years ago, that’s it? If the government says I have to give them up I would, gladly! I think their are lots of gun owners like me, but I know a few people that have acquired assault rifles recently, and loads of ammo and if one day I read about one of them I won’t be surprised, they all have one thing in common, they are scared shitless of anyone who isn’t white?

  4. I like James’ categories of weapons, and I agree with Maha that the “assault weapons” description is meaningless and pointless when it’s directed at the description of stock and grips. The description that counts is the number of rounds a mag can hold. A second category of significance is the number of weapons a person can own. I’m not sure I agree with a flat limit, but to go over 5 should require special licencing background and psych testing. The difference needs to be whether it’s a collection or an arsenal – it might be possible to make a distinction based on the number of rounds a gun collector could have – the more guns in a collection, the fewer rounds he’d be allowed to stockpile. That’s a huge issue – a person with 15,000 rounds has some psychological issues, I think. The sport shooter or person concerned with self defense doesn’t need more than a few hundred rounds at any given time.

    I doubt if Congress has the cojones to confront a basic delusion in gun legislation. The Constitution never granted the right of insurrection. You can argue the intent of the founders but the government does not have an obligation to allow you to allow you to prepare for an armed revolution. It’s not by force of weapons that the US citizen maintains his freedom – it is the power of the vote that legislators fear.

  5. Doug: “The Constitution never granted the right of insurrection.”

    Indeed. Just the opposite. To quote the second amendment:

    “”A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, . . .”

    The purpose of the second amendment is to protect the state, not to protect people from the state. And at the time of the adoption of the constitution, Shays rebellion had to be on people’ minds, as it had occurred only recently.

  6. As far as the gun culture goes, I’m inclined towards a “garbage-in, garbage-out” type hypothesis. Information is the basis for the state of our minds and our world views, and that information has been compromised, corrupted and in some cases weaponized. For example, those of us over sixty will remember when the NRA was more about gun safety and gun sports. When I was a Boy Scout, I received a little comic book about gun safety and the fun of “plinking,” or shooting soda cans with a single shot .22. Yeah, I suppose you could say the .22 was a kind of gateway, opening towards more “manly” weapons, but, with Wayne LaPierre evil slipped into overdrive. Just add Fox News, Rushbo, Glenn Beck and the rest of the infernal host, and you have a really toxic stew. To some of us, myself included, assembling a private arsenal is “exhibiting bizarre behavior,” in the jargon of the mental health profession.

    In the days before bluetooth, if you saw someone talking to themselves and walking in circles you’d cross the street to walk on the other side, if they were carrying a gun, you would do it posthaste. But, in the tribal situation we find our selves in, if I see someone exercising their open carry rights, I’d bet credits to Navy beans* that I can predict their views on Obama, the ACA, climate change and Black Lives Matter, as well as their level of anger. If their vehicle sports a “liberal hunting permit,” it wouldn’t be much of a surprise.

    One of my neighbors posted an interesting article on the Las Vegas shooting. You see, the shooter didn’t correspond to the narrative, being rich and white. (So, the natural thing to do was focus on his girlfriend, who is from outside the continental United States. I don’t know how that will pan out.)

    But, now, right on schedule, some are smelling some kind of false flag or cover up. There weren’t enough shell casings and there should be burns on the carpet from the hot brass. The victims were beyond the effective range of the rifle, etc. …And AWAY WE GO! A lot of people are downright addicted to conspiracy theories. It gives them a sense of discovery, it makes them feel clever and informed, and it redirects the emotional load towards those perceived as enemies. In fairness, if the “facts” that the writer is extrapolating from are true, the questions he raises are valid. But, as we have seen so many times before, sensational, entertaining misinformation eclipses reality, especially when it fits the narrative. Besides, psychological research has shown that if a person hears a compelling account of an event, the impact and impression remain, even if the account is shown to be untrue. So, The impression that “the liberals were behind it” will remain. If you demonstrate that an argument is based on a false premise, on a lie, that should be sufficient to change someone’s mind. But, if your dealing with someone who perceives the world as one big lie, you are arguing with the wind.

    * I bet you haven’t heard that expression in a while.

  7. Billikin – I have no objection to a National Guard. If a private “militia” wants to register with and be under the supervision of the National Guard, I will even let civilians play soldier. In two hundred years there is not ONE federal precedent to support your (popular) delusion. But there is this, and it’s recent.

    That’s 68 years for a a 53-year old idiot who thought the way you do. And he never fired a shot. You share the same confusion as a lot of people – you cite Shays rebellion as a reason why the amendment was passed in the same post where you claim the right to do what Shay did.

  8. Henceforth, I’m going to try to remember to not fall into the trap of bringing in the 2nd Amendment anymore when it comes to discussing the gun situation here in the US, because its clear to me it does not give the right to own guns to the extent its been “interpreted” lately, and its just the excuse used by the NRA to sell guns, period. Their claim of late that they are a “civil rights organization” is a perverse joke. For both the NRA and the gun loons, the 2nd Amendment is a straw man argument to excuse their greed and violent fantasies, respectively.

    Also, that doing here what Australia did in 1996 is being right out of the gate considered unworkable or extreme here speaks to the fact that we’ve become detached from any moorings of common sense we may have had. We SHOULD have a gun registry, and semi-auto weapons of all types SHOULD be banned except under special circumstances that SHOULD be highly regulated and controlled. Its common sense, and the cries that having such means that “they’re going to take our guns away” is just as false as cutting taxes on the wealthy increases revenue. Both are false.

    They say “no law can prevent killing,” and that is true. But its a false argument designed to obscure the main point. Most serious gun control advocates are not calling for banning and confiscating all guns. But if Paddock was in that hotel room with a shotgun, a hunting rifle or handguns, he would not have been able to cause the death and destruction he did in 10 minutes — TEN MINUTES!!

    Bottom line, the NRA is a trade organization doing what trade organizations do: supporting the ability of its members to sell guns by maintaining and expanding markets for their products. You do that by ultimately removing any and all impediments to gun ownership, like allowing people who have been determined to be mentally incapacitated to the extent they cannot be trusted to manage their own finances, to own guns. Or allow those on the no fly list to own guns. And then they essentially say “well we know it doesn’t make sense but the 2nd Amendment!!”

    My main point: we’ve got to stop arguing with them on their terms, and conceding the truth and common sense right out of the gate. Sure, the gun nut culture in this country is strong (what the hell does that, and support for Trump say about us??) but we know the NRA’s goal has nothing to do with the Constitution, its all about selling more guns.

  9. I’m with CSM about the 2nd Amendment.  It is a bad place to argue from.  The preamble is better.  Domestic tranquility needs to be assured.  The right to bear arms must be balanced by our right to domestic tranquility.  Outrageous levels of gun ownership and threats thereof effect domestic tranquility.  The balance has shifted way too far toward the right to bear arms.  We all have a right to live without undo fear of those who bear those arms.  Would this not be a better and more effective place to take a stand?

  10. I remember when there weren’t mass shootings. I remember that my father had a rifle and went hunting. I remember eating the squirrels he shot and my mother cooked. I remember he took me out in the woods and tried to teach me to shoot. I wasn’t interested. After he retired, he took up gun collecting, going to gun shows, joined the NRA. He even made his own bullets. I’m pretty sure he owned more than 5 guns. But that was a long time ago and he died in 1975. Things were different then and I am sad that they have changed into what exists now. And I miss my father and my mother.

  11. Doug,

    I must say I’m confused.

    Doug: “You share the same confusion as a lot of people – you cite Shays rebellion as a reason why the amendment was passed in the same post where you claim the right to do what Shay did.”

    What did Shay do that I claimed the right to do?

    Doug: “In two hundred years there is not ONE federal precedent to support your (popular) delusion.”

    Well, it’s not a court decision, but in the War of 1812 the US relied upon militia for ground troops.

  12. I actually got this comment from a conservative on FB re doing something about the availability of guns. He’s so serious about guns that I don’t think he’s capable of comedy but this is worthy of The Onion – if only it was satire.

    At least consider this alternative: If the rest of the people in the audience all had horns /AR 15’s like in the old west and today like Switzerland and Israel then the one predator would have been dead long before he killed 58 people. Without a gun all they could do is hide and pray. That’s what a major portion of the left want to force all of us to do only have the option to hide and pray and wait for the police to pick up our bodies.

    So we’re supposed to think it’s a good idea if a hundred people with AR-15 rifles open up indiscriminately on a 40-story building with people in it in the hopes of hitting a shooter they haven’t identified. The shooter in the building did not have to aim and I doubt if he did. I’ve shot an AK-47 semi-auto. On full auto, it gets away from you fast – you are only spraying bullets, but he was shooting into a crowd. The ‘good guy with a gun’ isn’t supposed to hit the innocent – Dirty Harry never did. But that’s Hollywood and I’m in the real world.

  13. *sigh* The founding fathers had a deep aversion to a standing army. There was no federal Army to speak of in 1812. Unless I don’t understand you, your defense of the 2nd Amendment was so citizen soldiers could go against citizen insurgencies. That’s a fair description of chaos crossed with anarchy. How the hell can federal troops bring order when it’s the Hatfields against the McCoys with fully automatic weapons, both claiming to be the ‘patriots’.

  14. Doug,

    Here I agree with you and you accuse me of suffering from delusions, based upon wild guesses.

  15. Okay, I don’t want to get involved, so I’ll shut up and look away after this post.

    I think when Billikin wrote, “just the opposite” in his first comment, it was actually in support of what Doug wrote about the Constitution never granting the right of insurrection. Unless I am reading it wrong, Billikin’s contention seems to be that in the absence of a federal army and the presence of state militias, the Second Amendment was passed as a means to protect the STATE. So therefore, you are both opposed to the crackpot notion that people like the Bundys have the right to arm themselves to the teeth against some imaginary tyranny. Just for the record, I am opposed to this idea as well. I am sure we all are.

    By the way, I think this idea was lifted from John Locke who was popularly read by the founding fathers, but that doesn’t mean that they necessarily held that opinion, and in any case they didn’t enshrine it into law. Maybe someone who has more knowledge of history will correct me if I am wrong.

    So, I think your exchange got off on the wrong foot because of a misunderstanding. I don’t mean any offense to either of you. I enjoy both your posts.

    I’ll butt out now.

    Re Doug’s description of a fully automatic weapon. I’ve never shot one, but, evidently there was a police fundraiser or some such thing, and for a donation, they would let you shoot a fully automatic weapon. A friend of mine went for it, and he said exactly the same thing that Doug did. You lose any useful degree of accuracy very soon and you’re just “spraying bullets.”

  16. If I misunderstood, I apologize. Personally, I agree with the right to own weapons for fun (putting small holes in paper targets) hunting, (which I do not enjoy, but would not ban for others) and self-defense in your own home. A carry permit for outside the home should be hard to get and easy to lose. The concept of allowing military arms so that gun nuts can form private armies made sense when there was no standing army but it has become an argument for would-be insurrectionists. Over half the national budget goes to military spending and national defense – we don’t need overweight accountants with delusions that they are Rambo with no restrictions to prevent disaster.

  17. Doug, I agree with you 100%.

    As an analogy, I used to have a friend who was such a bad driver, that I think there is a reference to him by Nostradamus. He seemed to run into something on a weekly basis, so the cars he owned seemed almost to melt away or shrivel into a mass of wrinkled dented sheet metal. After a while I realized that what made him such a dangerous driver was the degree of separation between his actual skill level and what he imagined his skill level to be. I have known many drivers less skillful than he was, but, none had anywhere near the number of accidents.

    I think gun safety is similar. When I hear someone say that they’ve “grown up with guns,” it really doesn’t put me at ease. Some can be a tad cavalier when it comes to gun safety.

  18. I really need to chime in on this conversation. I cringe when someone refers to “hunting” as fun. Back in the day, when there were no super markets, hunting was necessary if one desired to eat meat. It was much harder then and required more skill. I can’t disagree with that but today when hunting is described as a sport or fun, it really makes me sick to my stomach. I have heard the argument that there is something innate that needs to be expressed such as communication with nature and genetic inheritance. I’m not buying it. And it makes me even sicker when people put parts of dead animals on their walls or stuff them and put them in their man cave to show how manly they are. Or lure a beautiful, innocent creature like Cecil the lion off his reserve so some coward can shoot him.
    I am not accusing any of the commenters here, I just needed to vent and now I feel better.

  19. grannyeagle …You’ve brought to mind one of my favorite episodes of the Beverly Hillbillies where Granny was in the billiard room with Jethro and he wanted to know what kind of mounted animal head was hanging on the wall — it was a water buffalo. Granny reasoned that seeing how they were in a “billy-yard” room, and there was a “billy-yard” table in the room that the animal must be a billy -yard.

  20. Doug,

    Let my try to explain why I mentioned Shay’s Rebellion. Many people sympathized with the plight of soldiers who fought the British and were paid with dollars that became worthless. Still, Shay’s Rebellion was perceived as a threat to law and order and to the security of Massachusetts, and was fresh in the minds of people, especially people in New England, when the Bill of Rights was ratified. I am not a historian. I expect that other factors, such as not disarming slave catchers in the South, were more important. But the recent example of a threat to a state surely played a part.

  21. So true Grannyeagle.

    When some of the young men in my neighborhood were coming of age, they all seemed to want to go out and shoot some deer. Their idea of hunting involved traveling a few miles across the border into South Carolina, plunking down some cash at a facility where they could sit in a blind or on a platform and wait for a deer to come down to container of feed corn, where they could shoot it. This certain merits your “sick to the stomach” response.

    Fortunately, I don’t think any of them ever did it. Young men have these passing fancies.

    I did have a conversation with an environmental scientist who supported the need to cull the herd to avert starvation and Wasting Disease. But, I don’t see why this can’t be accomplished by placing containers of corn laced with a birth control agent.

    I guess, the bottom line is my inability to understand how or why anyone could enjoy taking a life. I try to get along with people who hold opposing points of view, in the rural south, this practice is an absolute necessity. But, some of the issues surrounding guns are the most difficult.

  22. Goatherd: It is beyond me why “humans” feel the need to control everything in nature. If one believes in the wisdom of a creator, wouldn’t the creator devise a system that works well on its own? I could be wrong but I think it states in the bible that man is supposed to be a steward of the earth. This does not mean control, it means protection. Man is the only animal that kills for sport.
    For the record, I am not a Christian. I wonder sometimes why I quote the bible but I know there is truth there. It has just been distorted by people. So I always look for the meaning beyond the words. Sometimes it works. Anyway, my belief is in the intelligence of the creative forces. I can’t define it but it is a higher power. There is a saying: The Tao that can be spoken of is not the Tao.
    I feel like I’m rambling so I will stop. There is a piece of chocolate cake waiting for me.

  23. Goatherd: “In the days before bluetooth, if you saw someone talking to themselves and walking in circles you’d cross the street to walk on the other side,”
    On the street, I play a game with myself based upon an old Memorex Audiotape commercial. I call it, “Is it crazy, or is is Bluetooth?
    Sometimes it’s both.

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