Let’s talk about gun control

For months the gun control topic has been forcing its way onto the radar of American political discussion. For months we have seen one tragedy after another, and the response from gun advocates has been simple, stupid diversion: “Now is not the time to have this discussion.” Why is it not the time? Supposedly we shouldn’t talk about guns while we’re upset, because we might do something we regret. Another version is that it we should delay any discussion until sufficient time has passed after a tragedy. But the tragedies are stacking up one after the other.  Today we saw the second worst mass school shooting in American history, and the victims were mostly young children. Gun lobby: SHUT UP. You are not helping. It is tune to set aside hackneyed platitudes and 18th century pseudo-philosophies, and start thinking about actual policy options that exist, that have been demonstrated in other countries, and that could work effectively to reduce the frequency and magnitude of these tragic events in the United States.

When are we allowed to engage in a meaningful dialogue about this? April 2012: Oakland Christian College shooting; that wasn’t the time. May-June: dozens of wildfires started by gunfire (including a fire that threatened my house); that wasn’t the time. July: Batman theater shooting; wasn’t the time. August: Sikh temple and Empire State Building shootings; wasn’t the time. September: Minnesota workplace rampage; wasn’t the time. October: Wisconsin mall shooting; wasn’t the time. November: California meat plant shooting; still not the time. December: this. Are we allowed to talk about gun control yet?

As a sobering comparison, there was also a mass stabbing of school children in China today. The difference: “none were seriously injured.” The gun lobby enjoys repeating their hackneyed slogan that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It should be obvious, though, that guns make killing easy, efficient, and quick — usually too fast for heroic intervention before someone is hurt or killed. The gun advocates also claim that “if someone wants to do something, they would find a way.” I don’t presume to have developed a policy strategy that will deliver 100% effectiveness, but I do think its time for these nonconstructive “do nothing” arguments to go away. It will always be possible for bad people to obtain weapons (legal or otherwise) and use them against people. This doesn’t mean we need to surrender and make it easy for them. There is no reason to believe that a person with criminal motives would necessarily succeed, were the laws different and their enforcement more effective. In all but one of the incidents I named above, the perpetrator used a legally purchased weapon, often obtained at short notice. In some cases the guns were obtained via loopholes relating to online purchases, where a transaction may be technically illegal but the law is unenforceable. The one black-market weapon was stolen locally in a burglary from its legal owner — i.e. it originated among the legally accessible supply and was not well guarded by its owner.

Surely we can do better — we can make it harder to obtain firearms, maintain scrutiny on those who own them, and impose penalties on owners who do not take reasonable steps to protect their weapons from theft. Assault rifles like the one used today are trivial to obtain. They can be purchased with a few clicks by any psycho with a credit card. There is no compelling purpose for private citizens to own these weapons. An assault rifle will not help to stop a crime. A concealed pistol will not help to stop a madman from shooting someone — the best you can do is try and stop him after he’s already started spraying bullets. If we’re being honest, the gun debate reduces to a simple choice of priorities: recreational gun use on one side, and the lives of the innocent on the other. It is impossible to believe that the number and severity of gun murders would be unaffected by tighter gun controls. If we make it more difficult to assemble an arsenal, then it is less likely that someone can prepare a mass crime without getting caught along the way. Any idiot can see this. If you still resist this conclusion, and the policy discussion it requires, then you are admitting that you don’t value the lives of victims, at least not so much as you value your own hobbies.