Sharon 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
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.