Here We Go Again

It happened again. Some nutcase arms himself to the eyebrows, goes to a place filled with people he doesn’t like, and shoots the place up.

There’s the usual shock and outrage that we (alas) have all heard before, followed by an assortment of finger-pointing that is intended to avoid having to deal with the difficult questions in the case.

Various pundits are in a tizzy because President Obama hasn’t yet used their specific favorite terminology – as if that would make a difference. Others trot out their usual pet causes, conveniently overlooking key facts. “Block Muslim immigration!” Er, the guy was born here. “Tighter background checks!” The guy was a security guard, and passed the standard checks as a condition of his employment.

Let’s face it. There’s nothing that we could have done that would have stopped this particular tragedy.

Sadly, the first time we generally realize someone is a danger is when they start shooting. Yes, we could use better mental health care, but even the most ardent anti-gun person would have to agree that the sort of intrusive screenings we’d need to catch these people ahead of time is an invasion of privacy tantamount to government tyranny.

As far as “good guys with guns” stopping bad guys with guns, the last thing you want in a crowded place is more bullets flying. And from what I’ve read (and am too lazy to look up right now), studies strongly suggest that what’s needed is not so much as a “good guy with a gun” as a “good guy willing and ready to fight”.

Perhaps what is needed – and I know this is a really radical and “out there” solution, but we ought to try thinking “out of the box” as it were – is a ban on that class of weapons (which includes the AR-15 used in this and many other massacres) known, for lack of a better term, as “assault rifles”.

Cue the 2nd Amendment ranters…… I’ll wait.

Done? OK….

Look, at first I disagreed with the D.C. v. Heller decision that confirmed the interpretation of the Second Amendment whereby private ownership of firearms was allowed. That decision also made it clear that the federal government still retained the right to regulate firearms. It didn’t specify, but it can safely be said that the whole license, permit, and registration regime would stay in place, and that the government could still restrict the *types* of firearms that were allowed. You don’t get to defend your home and property with machine gun emplacements, for example.

After I thought about it, I agreed that citizens should be allowed to own firearms. Not just for sporting purposes (hunting and target shooting), but for the defense of family, property, and self. Even if you live across the street from your local police HQ, it’s still going to take a bit of time for them to arrive in the case of a crisis (for similar reasons, I don’t really care for trigger locks). So some home defense is acceptable.

The question then becomes one of what types of firearms are acceptable for these legitimate purposes. I can see no legitimate reason to need an assault rifle. Designed for “suppressive fire”, where your goal is to keep the enemy under cover and unable to fire back by spraying a lot of bullets around as quickly as you can, they have no conceivable civilian use. They are too powerful and too inaccurate in unskilled hands. Use shotguns and regular rifles for sport, and handguns for defense. Sure, the assault rifles available today are sold in such a condition where you can’t fire more than a round or two for each pull of the trigger, but it’s very easy to modify them to get around that.

The primary difficulty in making such a ban is partly a matter of semantics. Thanks to the many little tweakable features in modern firearms, it’s really hard to consistently define what qualifies as an assault rifle. One ban was passed in 1994; it expired in 2004. Another was proposed in 2013. Those opposed point out that studies show that the first ban had no significant effect in the number of assault rifles used in crimes. I concede that point, but I note the ban was effective in lowering the number of people killed or injured in mass shootings. And that’s what those proposing the ban want – fewer injuries and deaths.

It’s a fair bet that assault rifles are used in these mass killings because they enable the killer to hit large numbers of people in a very short time. Restrict them to smaller or less-powerful weapons, and more people stand a chance at survival.

Others may note that a ban on these assault rifles really won’t do much. If someone wants to kill a lot of people. They can, as one commenter on a news site that I read posted, steal a tanker truck filled with fuel and drive it into their target and have it explode. Others note that hands, feet, clubs, and knives kill more people overall than guns. As far as the former, if they keep coming up with bizarre scenarios like that, they cannot be reasoned with. For the latter, I note that unlike guns, the weapons listed are incapable of killing people many yards away.

I think it comes down to what kind of society we want. Do we want one where “active shooter drills” are necessary, and we have to be wary of every single person we see – or do we want to be able to go about our daily affairs without having to worry about being shot?

I’ve got more I can say on this, like the reason behind the Second Amendment and the factor in the whole debate that no one seems to discuss, but I’ll save them for another post. Maybe after I’ve done some reading on the matter.

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