We Need Gun Law Reform — But Not Just Any

Hand Gun Law ReformSharon Lafraniere and Emily Palmer at The New York Times wrote an important article last week, What 130 of the Worst Shootings Say About Guns in America. The newspaper “examined all 130 shootings last year in which four or more people were shot, at least one fatally, and investigators identified at least one attacker.” And what they found highlighted something I’ve argued for years: we need real gun law reform; the problem can’t be addressed by nibbling around the edges.

Let’s start with this finding: “In more than half the 130 cases, at least one assailant was already barred by federal law from having a weapon.” This is devastating. But it is hardly surprising. There are roughly as many guns in the United States as there are people.

Getting Guns Is Easy

There are too many guns in the United States. Handguns are the most dangerous guns. Let’s close the gun show loophole, by all means. But let’s not kid the nation (Or ourselves!) that it will have a large impact.

Guns are everywhere. I live in the suburbs, and if I really needed a gun, there are a large number of people I could get one from. And I don’t make it a point of hanging out with gun freaks. But a lot of people have been convinced that they are safer to have a gun than to not. So they are just around. I’m not saying these people would sell me a gun. But if I told them I was in danger, they’d probably loan me one. And if not that, I could just steal one.

So in order to address gun violence, you have to look at the guns that are already here. Stopping more of them from flooding into our society is important. But even if you completely banned the manufacture of guns, it would not be nearly enough to successfully address the problem.

Maybe I’m just too cynical, old, and tired, but I can’t imagine us doing anything about our huge stockpile of guns. As it is, every widely publicized mass shooting only makes gun purchases go up. And every time a Democrat is elected president, gun purchases go up. There seems to be little that doesn’t cause gun sales to go up. So the idea of reducing the number of guns we have seems out of the question.

But if we are going to seriously discuss gun law reform, we need to start talking about this.

Handguns Are the Big Problem

Then there is the issue of gun types. Today, everyone focuses on assault rifles. But when I was younger, we discussed handguns. There was a reason for that. As the article says: “Only 14 shootings involved assault rifles, illustrating their outsize role in the gun debate. Nearly every other assailant used a handgun.” That’s not to say that assault rifles and high capacity magazines aren’t a problem. But the much bigger problem is handguns.

I think the reason we’ve backed off on handguns is that they seem more respectable to the middle class. If you are going to have a gun for self-protection, it is almost certainly going to be a handgun. A shotgun is almost certainly a better choice, but people think what they think.

On the other side, assault rifles look like they were designed for war. That’s because they were! And so it is easier to convince the middle class that there is no reason to have them around.

Real Gun Law Reform

These days, it seems that what we talk about regarding gun law reform is all about what is easy (or at least possible) to do. But that’s a mistake. For one thing, it isn’t a good negotiating strategy. Liberals have proposed that we do the bare minimum on gun control and the conservatives have offered nothing. But if we had spent the last decade talking about something more meaningful than closing the gun show loophole, we might be able to have moved the playing field in our direction.

But what I fear even more is that we do get a smaller limit on magazines and we do close the gun show loophole and it doesn’t make enough of a difference to show a decrease in gun violence. Then what? We have to make the argument that we always knew that these measures would have little effect on the problem. And that more must be done.

That’s why we need to be honest today. There are too many guns in the United States. Handguns are the most dangerous guns. Let’s close the gun show loophole, by all means. But let’s not kid the nation (Or ourselves!) that it will have a large impact.

As for me, I will go on making the argument that I always do. The American fetishization of guns is indicative of how cowardly we are. We think we need massive firepower to deal with anything. But anyone can pick up a machine gun and kill anyone they feel threatened by. It takes courage and self-assurance to go out into the world and manage difficult situations with finesse and intelligence.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

11 thoughts on “We Need Gun Law Reform — But Not Just Any

  1. My facile solution is ammo. Handguns need to be banned, period, save historical models, or the 22s used for target and varmint shooting. So why not ban the sale of handgun ammo? Unless you buy it and use it at a licensed gun range?

    If I have a nifty little 1960s racecar that can hit 150 MPH, I’m not allowed to drive it that fast on the freeway. I can pay money to drive it on a private racecourse and go as fast as I wanna.

    I have no problem with people owning guns because they’re fun. They are fun! When I was young, we’d dumpster-dive for discarded appliances, take ’em up into the deep woods, and shoot the hell out of them. Old computer keyboards were the best. You hit that thing right, plastic keys fly into the sky. It’s cool.

    • We can’t do that for the same reason we can’t do much less: its only a voting issue for large numbers on the other side.

      I could get into shooting but I really don’t like loud noises and I don’t like wearing those things. Although a 22 rifle isn’t so bad.

  2. “Hey, nice Sturmgewehr!”
    “Storm ge-what? It’s an assault rifle…”
    “Yeah, ‘Assault Rifle’ is the English translation of Sturmgewehr, which is what Hitler named them.”
    *conversation takes off in some direction I can’t predict*

    • That is the argument one normally hears: first Hitler took all the guns away! My feeling is that you’ve already lost the war when you have to take up arms against your government. And that’s more true today than ever.

      It’s funny, with so many conservatives claiming that we got Trump because liberals complained about people like Romney — we were “crying wolf.” I don’t know if you saw it, but Wayne LaPierre’s recent ad was typical of the NRA’s actual crying wolf. The Democrats haven’t much cared about the issue for decades. Yet we heard that Bill Clinton was going to take all the guns away. He didn’t. Then we heard that Obama would do it. He didn’t. And now we are hearing Hillary Clinton will do it. She won’t. But the same argument will be made with the next Democratic candidate.

  3. I think we need to use the argument “businesses are manipulating you into buying these toys.” A well made gun lasts generations. The only way the gun makers can keep making profits is by manipulating people into buying more weapons.

    *plays with her new sword*

    • Good point.

      Note also: I think the gun manufacturers are making a mistake. Guns have turned into a fetish. I don’t know anyone who owns one gun. They either own none or they own a dozen or more. But what modern corporation thinks more than a quarter ahead?

  4. > Liberals have proposed that we do the bare minimum… and the conservatives have offered nothing.

    This seems to be the default response for EVERY SINGLE ISSUE we face today.

    And the the gop claims the dems won’t compromise.

    • This is part of my Grand Narrative: the GOP got so crazy because the New Democrats decided to take on much of their economic agenda. The GOP had no other choice but to move even further right. I believe that had the Democrats moved to the left, it would have allowed the GOP to better compromise.

      On the other hand, the GOP has had countless opportunities to claim victory. For example: Obamacare. They could have just accepted it and said, “See: we got the Democrats to agree with our policy! America don’t need no stinking single payer!” But instead, they just labeled it socialized medicine and worked themselves into another corner.

  5. Apparently nobody read the linked-to NYT article! (…nytimes…/2016/10/13/upshot/how-one-19-year-old-illinois-man-is-distorting-national-polling-averages.html) I wanted to see if the article really said:

    The newspaper “examined all 130 shootings last year in which four or more people were shot, at least one fatally, and investigators identified at least one attacker.”

    Are there shootings with less than one attacker? (On second thought, I see that the key word is “identified”, so that it could be determined that in more than half the cases, at least one attacker was barred from having a gun.)

    I agree with everything you say and, unfortunately, I am pessimistic about anything ever being done about guns.

    I must be considerably older than James–the height of excitement for us kids was finding an intact, discarded, old-school TV and putting a stone through its screen to watch and hear the tube implode! Keyboards exploding in the air–pfftt!

    • Well, I did run with a pretty rough crowd. One of whom now is head forest firefighter on the west coast, and another a senior writer for ESPN. We was a weird bunch, but a fairly smart one.

      Shooting TVs is pretty cool. However, when you dumpster-dive, you don’t find a lot of TVs. Those old TVs lasted a long time!

      My favorite appliance we did find a lot was microwaves. It became our mission, at which we failed, to shoot through the back plate of a microwave. Those back plates are crazy strong. You can hit ’em with a .45 and all it does is dent the bastard. If we ever live in some post-apocalyptic Mad Max hellworld, find a discarded microwave and use the back plate as body armor! That shit’s impossible to shoot through.

    • Didn’t I quote that part? The point of that clause is that a number of these shootings were gang-related.

      You think you’re old?! When I was a kid, we used to find abandoned stones and crush them with bigger abandoned stones… :-)

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