And by “helpful,” I mostly mean insane. The ephemeral nature of Barack Obama’s “actions” this week on gun control seems to have belatedly sunk into the national-media psyche, but common sense still appears in short supply. For instance, the Baltimore Sun’s Tricia Bishop wants the government to create a searchable online database so that parents can know which homes have firearms, in case their kids want to go play (via Twitchy):
I’m less afraid of the criminals wielding guns in Baltimore, I declared as we discussed the issue, than I am by those permitted gun owners. I know how to stay out of the line of Baltimore’s illegal gunfire; I have the luxury of being white and middle class in a largely segregated city that reserves most of its shootings for poor, black neighborhoods overtaken by “the game.” The closest I typically get to the action is feeling the chest-thumping vibrations of the Foxtrot police helicopter flying overhead in pursuit of someone who might be a few streets over, but might as well be a world away. But I don’t know where the legal gun owners are or how to ensure that their children, no matter how well versed in respecting firearms, won’t one day introduce that weapon to my daughter.
And so, as President Barack Obama announced plans this week to tighten background checks for gun buyers and increase gun tracking and research, I thought, that’s all well and good, but how about adding something immediately useful: a gun owner registry available to the public online — something like those for sex offenders. I’m not equating gun owners with predatory perverts, but the model is helpful here; I want a searchable database I can consult to find out whether my kid can have a play date at your house.
Well, here’s a thought that seems to have eluded this Responsible Parent: Why not ask? Or does Helicopter Mom just let her kids play in other people’s houses without at least first engaging with the parents? Our house is past the age of play dates, except for our granddaughters, and their parents are already well aware of my status and the care I take in maintaining it. Just asking the parents first might put Bishop’s mind at ease, or at the very least will warn the others about Bishop’s priorities.
That would certainly work better than forcing thousands of law-abiding gun owners in her community to make their status public along with their address, turning the website into a targeting system for criminals who want to steal firearms. Oh, didn’t Bishop think of that? She probably also doesn’t realize that it will allow criminals to ascertain which homes do not have the means for effective self-defense, as Ed Driscoll points out. I wonder what that would do to her “luxury of being white and middle class” neighborhood. One thing’s for sure: it would bring that Foxtrot police helicopter closer more often than she likes.
At least former Consumer Product Safety Commission chair Ann Brown doesn’t want to expose the personal data of gun owners to anyone who might wish them harm. Instead, the former bureaucrat wants more regulation on bullets. Brown laments that Congress stopped the CPSC from arrogating that power in the 1970s, and wants Congress to reverse itself now:
In 1974, the CPSC’s first chairman made clear his belief that the agency could probably regulate ammunition, and a court agreed — whereupon a frightened Congress passed laws making it impossible even to try. Now is the time for the president to begin pushing to correct that mistake.
Do I say this swayed by all the horrific mass shootings we have seen in the past few years? Only in part. These are the tragic, visible tip of an iceberg. While mass shootings attract headlines and our grief, bigger problems with guns often go unnoticed: the hundreds killed annually in intimate-partner violence; those killed by kids too young to know what pulling a trigger can do; the 21,000 Americans who commit suicide with a firearm each year.
I admire the president for doing what he did this week. But the chance of achieving even a small reduction in this carnage through executive action is, well, small. And the chance of getting more effective gun-control measures through Congress this year is about zero.
Was Congress “frightened” in 1974? Doubtful. They were probably more annoyed that bureaucrats would attempt an end-around an explicit constitutional liberty by attempting to expand their jurisdiction without a clear mandate from the legislative branch.
So how would an “ammunition control” work? Brown explains:
That is the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Under Republican and Democratic presidents, the commission has worked with manufacturers to create flexible guidelines for all kinds of hazardous products. It didn’t ban cribs, walkers, toasters — or paint. It worked out ways to address what made them dangerous — and saved children in the process.
The same flexible approach can work with ammunition. When someone who may be dangerous is prevented from buying ammunition, any gun he has hidden becomes like a car without gas: a useless hunk of metal.
There are many ways to move ahead. We could license ammunition purchases like drivers, ban online purchases and mandate background checks for buyers.
If that sounds familiar, it should. It’s exactly what we do with firearms now. Clearly that has solved the problem of humans using tools for violent ends, yes? No? You don’t say. Besides, the CPSC most certainly does ban certain kinds of cribs, toasters, and paint, but it doesn’t regulate how much of an approved product people can buy. The FDA and DEA actually does do that with cold medicines like Sudafed to prevent the operation of meth labs. How well has that worked out? You don’t say.
Finally, my colleague Damon Linker at The Week wants to concentrate only on mass shootings with his policy recommendation. Unlike many on the Left, Linker thinks an “assault weapons” ban is pointless, but he wants to do something else with those weapons — force them to be stored at approved ranges at all times:
Leave single shot rifles alone. Leave most handguns alone. Leave laws on background checks and waiting periods alone. Instead, focus only on assault weapons. Define them to include all automatic and semi-automatic rifles, as well as high-capacity magazines that increase the number of bullets that can be fired by rifles and handguns without reloading. But don’t try to outlaw them, as the now-expired 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban did with some semi-automatic rifles. Simply require that they be purchased, stored, and used only at licensed dealers and firing ranges.
Want to buy and shoot an AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle, the gun that Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik allegedly used to murder 14 and injure 22 in San Bernardino last month, and the primary weapon Adam Lanza used to carry out the Sandy Hook massacre? Go right ahead. But you will be required to keep and shoot it exclusively on the premises of an establishment that exists expressly for that purpose.
Visit that range as often as you like. Shoot the weapon to your heart’s content. But you won’t be allowed to leave with it, walk the streets with it, bring it into your home, or sell it directly to any other private citizen. …
Would such a regulation, if imposed and enforced nationally, save lives? You bet it would. How can we know that? Because in a mass shooting, time is bullets. Anything that slows down the shooter does some good. Imagine if, instead of firing semiautomatic assault rifles, the San Bernardino shooters had been limited to shooting hand guns with standard magazines. Maybe they would have murdered 7, or 9, or 11 instead of 14. Maybe they would have injured 11, or 14, or 17 instead of 22.
Or maybe they would have just kept reloading and shooting anyway. That’s what happened in the Virginia Tech and Fort Hood shootings, in which the perpetrators used handguns rather than long-barrel firearms. Nidal Hasan managed to shoot 214 rounds from a single pistol in his rampage. What Linker and others who focus on those miss is that magazines are relatively cheap, and the demented few who plan mass shootings would simply buy a couple of extra “standard” magazines for their insanity.
Besides, as FBI records on homicides show, long-barrel firearm homicides are a very small percentage of that type of crime. In 2014, rifles of all kinds (semiautomatic or not) accounted for 2% of all homicides, and just 3% of firearms homicides. Shotguns actually have a slight edge over rifles. More than twice as many homicides take place with “personal” weapons, meaning arms and legs, hands and feet. This proportion has been consistent for at least the last ten years since the expiration of the assault weapons ban. In fact, homicides by rifles of all kind have declined since the 2005 expiration from 435 in that year to 248 in 2014, almost cut in half. For that matter, firearms homicides of all kinds have dropped 25% in the ten years since the ban expired — from over 10,000 to 8,124 in 2014.
Linker responded to that criticism yesterday by saying he’s specifically targeting spree shooters. As noted above, though, not all spree shooters use rifles of any kind. More importantly, not all owners of so-called “assault weapons” are risks for spree shooting. On just the much-maligned AR-15 .223 semiautomatic rifle alone, the US had 3.3 million in homes before Newtown, before the threat of another ban led to a sales boom. Even if every rifle homicide in 2014 was the result of an AR-15 and the AR-15 was the only semiautomatic rifle in existence, those homicides would represent 0.0075% of all AR-15s. Why should 99.9925% of owners of the AR-15 be forced to have their property stored outside of their home on the off chance that 0.0075% of people might use one in a crime? And what exactly would Linker suggest doing to ensure that any owners of AR-15s are in compliance? House raids?
These are deeply unserious proposals, based mostly on hysteria in an environment where gun violence is trending downward anyway. Gun ownership during the same period has trended upward, which should tell rational people that ownership of firearms (and bullets) in general is not correlative to gun violence. If any correlative conclusions are to be drawn, it’s that responsible gun ownership might actually discourage gun violence. Solutions to mass shootings involve dealing with the pathology of the shooters, not disarming law-abiding citizens.
Update: The math was off on the calculations for rifle homicides compared to total AR-15s. It’s 0.0075%, not 0.75%. I’ve fixed it — it makes the argument much stronger anyway — and thanks to Nemo in the comments for the correction.