Now Is Not the Time to Talk About Gun Control

Yesterday was.

There are two reasons not to talk about gun control in the immediate aftermath of the Newtown atrocity, and opposition by the NRA and its adherents is neither of them.

The first is that addressing gun control right after innocents are shot might in some way seem exploitative. The second is that no imaginable degree of stringent gun control could fully exclude the possibility of an unhinged adult shooting a kindergartener.

But both of these objections are as porous as the sands of our shores battered by Hurricane Sandy. And a consideration of those shores readily reveals why.

With regard to exploitation, there was no thought of it as post-Sandy ruminations turned to how we might best prevent or at least mitigate the next such catastrophe. It was not exploitative to look around the world at strategies used to interrupt storm surges, divert floodwaters, or defend infrastructure. Those reflections continue.

Similarly, it’s not exploitative when my clinical colleagues and I speak to our patients in the aftermath of a heart attack or stroke about what it will take to prevent another one. In fact, these exchanges have a well-established designation in preventive medicine: the teachable moment.

It is opportunistic, but in a positive way: There is an opportunity to do what needs to be done. Admittedly, it’s better to talk about preventing heart disease, or the drowning of Staten Island, or of New Orleans, or the shooting of children, before ever these things happen. But the trouble tends to be: Nobody is listening then.

We are constitutionally better at crisis response than crisis prevention.

We’ll get back to the Constitution shortly.

It’s not exploitative to talk about what matters when you have people’s attention as opposed to when you don’t; it’s strategic opportunism, pragmatism, and good sense. It is, of course, a damn shame that we only seem to focus our attention on disaster prevention in the immediate aftermath of disasters, public or personal. But if that is our nature, those wanting to get anything done are well advised to proceed accordingly.

As for the second argument: It’s true, no degree of gun control short of eliminating guns from the planet could guarantee that a lunatic will never again shoot an unarmed innocent. But that no more obviates discussion of sensible gun control than the fact that no degree of shoreline protection can guarantee we will never again suffer any damage from a monster storm. In defending ourselves, and our children, from monster storms or monstrous people, we are foolish to make an unattainable perfect the enemy of the good we can do.

And there is, clearly, good we can do.

Other than in the hands of military and law enforcement personnel, semi-automatic and assault weapons, and the gear that goes along with them — as in the Aurora, Colo. shooting — serve the purposes of carnage and devastation almost exclusively. Access to them should be regulated accordingly.

As for the Constitution: This really has nothing whatsoever to do with the Second Amendment, and certainly doesn’t infringe on it. The Second Amendment doesn’t say anything about what kind of “arms.” We are left, as a modern society with weapons unimagined in the days of our Founding Fathers, to figure that out for ourselves.

I will leave other Second Amendment arguments, including specific reference to a “well regulated militia,” to the Constitutional scholars; I do not pretend to be one. Sensible arguments for gun control sidestep Constitutional concerns entirely.

However we interpret the right for private citizens (having nothing to do with a well regulated militia, for what it’s worth) to bear arms, we are left to decide: What arms? We seem to agree that private citizens should not bear nuclear arms. I suspect most of us agree they should not bear chemical or biological weapons capable of destroying entire populations, either. Private citizens don’t get to bear the launch codes for missile silos.

It would be surprising news to me if even the most ardent defenders of the Second Amendment felt that private citizens should be able to have a personal nuclear arsenal. And, assuming not — then we all agree: We have to draw a line somewhere. What arms?

We might far more constructively address the question of where to draw the line once we acknowledge that — but for the truly radical and deranged — we all agree there is a line somewhere. Once we’ve done so, my contribution to the debate would simply be my own standby: Epidemiology should trump ideology.

In other words, things matter because of their effects. If everyone had an Uzi, but no one ever got shot — who would care? The reason for us to care about who has what guns is how they wind up being used.

I have written about gun control before. And, predictably, I have received a deluge of rather uncomplimentary correspondence each time. I expect a bumper crop this time, too. I have taken advantage of such exchanges to ask the more gregarious among my verbal assailants to tell me about any situation in which a semi-automatic weapon was used for self-defense. Most don’t seem to know of any, although of course anybody can track down evidence for anything somewhere in cyberspace.

The premise underlying ever-more-potent weapons for personal defense is, of course, fundamentally flawed; it is subject to the arms race principle. If more potent guns are in circulation, then both sides get them. Yes, the good guys can get them — but so can the bad guys. That might invite the good guys to argue for more potent “arms” still, but then, of course — the bad guys get those, too. The more potent the arms, the greater the collateral damage.

The first question for us all, NRA members and die-hard pacifists alike, is: Why do we care? Anyone who wants guns for all just because they like guns, and the consequences be damned, is a damn fool, and doesn’t deserve our attention. But frankly, neither does the pacifist who just hates guns, and doesn’t care if they are truly useful for self-defense. Let’s agree about what matters: consequences.

If we can manage that, then the second question is: What is the interpretation of “arms” in our right to bear arms that best protects us all, including children in kindergarten classes? If we don’t have the data, then an analysis should be commissioned to get them. And we should all then embrace the best answer an unbiased analysis can generate. If we do have the data — and yes, I think we do — then we should all pay attention to them.

If we and our children truly are safer for having semi-automatic weapons in everybody’s hands, then we should all get our hands on them. But if not, then we shouldn’t. We would still have the right to bear arms, of course — just not the ones used preferentially to take an entire classroom of kindergarteners out of the loving arms of their parents, forever.

Something bad could have happened in Newtown without semi-automatic firepower. But it would have been much less bad.

Even if we were less inclined to climate change denial, we would still have to acknowledge that there have always been hurricanes, they’ve always been potentially destructive, and we can’t prevent them. But we can examine the defenses at our disposal, and determine how to use them to produce the best possible outcomes.

We should look to guns as we look to our shores. In both cases, if what we truly care about is protecting the innocent — then sure as shooting, there are lines to be drawn in the sand.

David Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, is the founding (1998) director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. This piece first appeared at The Huffington Post.

66 replies »

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  2. BobbyG,

    I think you missed my point. I do not want to see a civil war or revolution in the U.S.

    What DataPlease appeared to be saying was that our military is so technologically advanced that armed resistance is not possible. I merely pointed out the counter examples of Vietnam and Afghanistan.

  3. BobbyG, the gun lobby and the NRA have been through this before. They have their preset strategy and are even now working the back rooms to keep the status quo. They know what buttons to push the get the kooks stirred up.

    An AR ban is too easy for our exalted leaders – that’s the least we need, but it’s probably as far out as political leaders want to stick their cowardly necks.

    Right now I’d settle for a gun tax to pay for mental health and law enforcement.

  4. Afghanistan is not the best analogy, perhaps; for North America, how is gun control working for the citizens in Mexico? I presume the power of the cartels would dwindle to irrelevant if the general population were allowed and encouraged to be armed. Is this not a safe assumption?

  5. If not not when?

    If not me who?

    Of course now is the time to talk about gun control.

  6. DataPlease,

    Overall, I agree with much of what you say. I was however struck by the following quote:

    “Yes, I know that the Second Amendment was intended to permit citizens to protect themselves from government. If that was ever the case, it no longer is, given the range of weapons the military possesses.”

    Please explain to me what went on in Vietnam. The US military (and this is not meant to be a criticism of our military) did NOT manage to subdue a technologically inferior Vietcong. (As Walter Sobchak said: “The man in the black pajamas, Dude. Worthy f*#kin’ adversary.”)

    Also, please explain to me what is going on in Afghanistan. Although, the Taliban does have some RPGs and mortars, mostly it is a bunch of guys with AK-47s. And who is getting ready to pull out? And who will take over when we leave?

  7. I do not have a gun. I have lived in Baltimore City (which has a high murder rate) since 1975. I did not want to have a gun when my kids were little since it might have become an “attractive nuisance”. I think the odds of protecting my family with a gun, versus having the gun misused, stolen, etc. favored not having a gun.

    When my second wife was living in the DC area by herself, she had a loaded .38 in the drawer of her nightstand. She is definitely NOT a violent or bloodthirsty person, but as a single woman living alone, she was frightened of becoming a victim. After we had been together for a while, I persuaded her to get rid of the gun.

    Having hopefully established my “not a gun nut” credentials, I would like to make a few points:

    • There is no good correlation between the strictness of a localities gun laws and the number of murders. DC, Baltimore, Chicago all have very strict gun laws and high murder rates.
    • The same analysis holds true for states – which can be divided into: strict/high murder, strict/low murder, loose/high murder, loose/low murder. There is no correlation between the strictness of gun laws and the murder rate. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=me2Xx4-PSY0
    • Connecticut has relatively strict gun laws, including those regulating “assault-type” weapons.
    • States that have allowed increased carry have NOT seen an increase in crime, as was predicted by the “gun control” lobby. (Nor have they seen a decrease in crime, as was predicted by the “gun nuts”.)

    On the other hand:

    • It is undoubtedly true that Canada, Britain, etc., where gun laws much stricter have a much lower rate of gun related crime.
    • In a recent rampage in China, 22 kids were stabbed/slashed – none died. In other words, there are crazy people everywhere, but without guns they are less lethal.

    Without amending the Constitution what can realistically be done?

    1) Eliminating sales at gun shows.

    A reasonable proposal but (as far as I know) – none of the weapons used in the 4 most recent high profile shootings (VA Tech, Gabby Gifford, Colorado Theater, Connecticut school) were bought at gun shows.

    2) Restrictions in magazine size.

    Again, reasonable (and apparently supported by NRA member and Senator Joe Manchin Dem. W.V.). But first, there are huge numbers of “high capacity” magazines already out there and probably more flying off the shelves as we speak. Second, do you know how fast you can reload an AR-15 or semi-auto pistol? – pretty fast!

    3) Prohibiting “assault type” weapons.

    Legally problematic – has been tried before. Could probably reduce the number of people killed in an incident. But a person carrying multiple .357 revolvers and a pump shotgun with lots of shells can do a lot of damage.

    4) More careful background checks

    Reasonable and probably likely to happen. But (as far as I know) 3 of the shooters in the 4 recent high profile incidents did not have a record of mental illness or violence. The VA Tech shooter had been looked at by the legal system and was still allowed to buy guns. (As an MD who reads about how bad the Health Care is and how much of it is my fault, I take satisfaction in knowing that there is no way we are as bad as the legal system!)

    5) More careful monitoring of mental illness and more stringent reporting requirements

    Very problematic from a patient’s rights and confidentiality standpoint. Undoubtedly, there are improvements that could be made around the margins and perhaps the VA Tech shooting could have been prevented but ….

    If we want to get serious about gun crime in the US we would probably need to adopt restrictions on firearms along the following lines:

    1) No military type weapons
    2) Single shot/manual action hunting rifles and shotguns allowed. Background check required.
    3) No hand guns except for people with careful background check.
    4) No carried/concealed weapons except for police and a very limited number of permits.

    I don’t think the above restrictions would pass a 2nd Amendment test. And even if they did, the US is literally “awash” in guns, there are millions of “assault-type” rifles (not actual assault rifles since they don’t have automatic/machinegun capability). There are millions of semi-automatic pistols, millions of shotguns and even some machine guns in private hands. Right now, some people are probably in the process of buying more guns and stocking up on ammunition in anticipation of future restrictions.

    How would we enforce the above restrictions? I am sure that many people would voluntarily comply, but many would not. And your friendly neighborhood drug dealer, robber, etc. is one of the ones who would not. Would we search people’s homes?

    Unfortunately, I am left with the conclusion that not much can or will be done. Just as most conservatives don’t like that the Constitution allows “anchor babies” to become citizens and prohibits an “establishment of religion”, most liberals don’t like the 2nd Amendment and what it allows. The answer, if we are serious is to amend the Constitution. But don’t hold your breath.

  8. motomed,

    First of all, I misrepresented your comments when I said that you have provided no links. That is not accurate. My mistake. But even in the link above to the 1998 JAMA article, I wonder about the conclusion reached:

    “Based on the evidence currently available, it appears that gun ownership is associated with a net increase in the risk of death for a typical individual. Clinicians might advise their patients accordingly.”

    Prove you wrong? You know that I can’t. You have marshaled statistics in service of your belief, and I can do likewise. As you say, most people do have their minds made up, but I think that categorization includes you even though you present your argument as analytical and statistical and imply that the opposition is just overly emotional.

    You are absolutely correct when you say the burden of proof is on those wishing to deny a constitutional right, but that is not what’s happening here. We are arguing the interpretation of a constitutional right based on the realities of modern technology. The same happens regularly now with regard to the First Amendment and the manner in which people can communicate. Convince me, somehow, that the Founders could foresee the Internet and AK-47s and I we can drop the entire discussion. We don’t need to do that, as you know, because we were supposed to be entrusted to manage the republic using the Constitution as a guide, not a cudgel.

    You’re familiar with the old “liberal” assessments of how often guns are actually used defensively, so I will re-post a conservative estimate instead: http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/30/opinion/frum-guns-safer/index.html

    As for whether or not the “good guy” in that recent mall shooting was able to actually deter the “coward” by locking eyes, I have no idea. I doubt you know either. But well-trained people with guns don’t always ensure fewer injuries and casualties: http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/24/justice/new-york-empire-state/index.html

    I won’t read the books you linked to, you are correct, but not because the authors introduce crackpot theories. I don’t think they do, and I subscribe wholeheartedly to the idea that making an item illegal creates a black market. Yet there is a fine line between complete illegalization and regulation. Firearms in general are not going anywhere, but the consensus will grow–quite rightly, in my view–that certain types of guns, magazines and bullets have no place in a society striving to be civilized. I don’t think that the “freedom” of sporting gun owners trumps the inherent danger when we can’t identify inherently dangerous citizens.

    Yes, I know that the Second Amendment was intended to permit citizens to protect themselves from government. If that was ever the case, it no longer is, given the range of weapons the military possesses.

  9. The next gun case of interest that will find its way to the court is going to be on concealed carry bans. There are appeals court decisions that are currently in conflict, so this should happen within the next year. They could take that opportunity to offer a broad opinion that could help shed some light on the assault weapons issue, but in recent gun cases they have deliberately tried to offer an opinion that is narrow in focus and that applies only the specific case before them.

    I’m not convinced a ban will ever make it through congress. The last ban, as was pointed out, had a number of loopholes and wasn’t all that comprehensive. Those loopholes were inserted because that’s the only way they got the bill passed. AR’s weren’t even that popular back then. Since that time, millions and millions of AR’s have been sold. Lot more people with a vested interest in making sure this doesn’t pass than there was last time around. Possibly true for the other side as well. Will be interesting to see how it plays out.

    One thing is for sure, millions more AR’s and high capacity mags will be sold before any law does go into effect. There aren’t any to be found right now. One distributor is reporting they sold 70,000 magazines over the weekend… Can’t find any .223 ammo either.

  10. motored, didn’t you just reply?

    Anyway, I think we’ll see in the next several months whether the Supreme Court will uphold its fuzzy definitions (claimed by both sides) of the “right of individuals” to own any gun (or clip size) they want.

  11. Peter1, apparently I’m not allowed to reply, but the supreme court has already dealth with the notion of a milita and has upheld that the second amendment applies to individuals. Disagree all you’d like, that’s what they have ruled.

  12. First of all, offering no data on my position leaves me in good company, as that has been the case for everyone involved in the discussion. I’m still waiting for any data that shows concealed weapons license holders pose any danger, or commit crimes at a rate greater than the general public. I’m still waiting for the liberal estimate of how often guns are used defensively. The burden of proof is on those wishing to deny a constitutional right, not the other way around.

    Second, I’m fairly convinced most people have their minds made up and would approach any and all data not with an open mind, but with a desire to instantly discredit. I’m confident you will read neither of these books, but will instantly google criticisms. Prove me wrong.



  13. “Is an AR “ordinary military equipment” yep”

    Is a machine gun “ordinary military equipment”?

    But actually we’re not talking about the military, the 2nd Amendment addresses a militia. In fact it states a “well regulated militia”. We could literally impose all sorts of stipulations on people possessing firearms as they are presenting themselves as “militia”.

    I’d like to propose we regulate the “militia” to report each year for physical examination and any found to be overweight be ordered to get in shape or loose their militia status. That should get rid of about 3/4 of the guns.

  14. Excellent points on all sides, ongoing rehashing of logical arguments that support both views. I am curious though, relevant to the point continually brought-up comparing other industrialized countries, What is the reason for such low gun murder events in GB, Australia, Canada? I am open to the concept that it may not related to gun control, but if its not gun control, we need to be replicating, Though I haven’t found an argument from the pro-gun side to explain.

  15. Motomed, you’ve been repeatedly asked in this thread to provide links to supposedly readily available data on the societal benefits of gun possession. The only link you provided is to an article on how liberal college professors are. The only safe assumption is that, while you write well enough to make a sound argument, you can’t actually site any data to back it up. If that’s not true, then please provide the links. The anticipation is killing us.

  16. literally everything in that supports the notion that a ban on AR-15’s would be unconstitutional.

    Is an AR “ordinary military equipment” yep (well actually the military version is capable of select fire…. so the civilian AR is a tamer version, but you get the idea)

    Can they “contribute to the common defense” yep

    Are they “in common use for lawful purposes” yep

    I’m not sure if you just don’t understand the difference between an AR and a machine gun, or if you aren’t aware of how common ARs are, or what the deal is, but you’re digging up more quotes that just keep making my point, not yours.

  17. “It says the right specifically does apply to weapons used by militias. That would be an AR-15.”

    Not necessarily. By your reasoning a machine gun could be protected by the 2nd Amendment.

    “During oral argument in DC v. Heller, the Justices asked many questions about whether the Second Amendment protected machine guns. Alan Gura, who argued on behalf of Dick Heller, conceded (to the disappointment of many gun-rights supporters) that machine guns “are not appropriate to civilian use” as they are not “commonly in ordinary use.”

    “The Supreme Court’s interpretations of the 1939 Miller opinion:
    District of Columbia v. Heller (2008)
    “Miller stands only for the proposition that the Second Amendment right, whatever its nature, extends only to certain types of weapons. It is particularly wrongheaded to read Miller for more than what it said, because the case did not even purport to be a thorough examination of the Second Amendment.”
    Printz v. United States (1997) (concurring opinion of Thomas)
    Our most recent treatment of the Second Amendment occurred in United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939), in which we reversed the District Court’s invalidation of the National Firearms Act, enacted in 1934. In Miller, we determined that the Second Amendment did not guarantee a citizen’s right to possess a sawed off shotgun because that weapon had not been shown to be “ordinary military equipment” that could “contribute to the common defense.” Id., at 178. The Court did not, however, attempt to define, or otherwise construe, the substantive right protected by the Second Amendment.
    Lewis v. United States (1980); Footnote 8
    (the Second Amendment guarantees no right to keep and bear a firearm that does not have “some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia”); United States v. Three Winchester 30-30 Caliber Lever Action Carbines, 504 F.2d 1288, 1290, n. 5 (CA7 1974); United States v. Johnson, 497 F.2d 548 (CA4 1974); Cody v. United States, 460 F.2d 34 (CA8), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 1010 (1972) (the latter three cases holding, respectively, that 1202 (a) (1), 922 (g), and 922 (a) (6) do not violate the Second Amendment).”

  18. are you even reading the last quote? It says the right specifically does apply to weapons used by militias. That would be an AR-15. They are in common use for lawful purposes. All of that would lead to the conclusion that AR’s would be covered under the second amendment, and banning them would be unconstitutional.

  19. motored, that’s not how it works because the 24th Amendment forbids a poll tax – if you can read anything other than the 2nd Amendment.

    A reasonable tax on firearms though would be constitutional. It would also be up to the voters to determine if they would accept one.

  20. motomed says:

    “Quotes are from the Heller decision, not difficult to find. Better check sales figures on AR’s before you try to make the argument that they don’t pass the common use test.”

    Here is an excerpt from Heller:

    “(2) Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons. Pp. 54–56.”

    ” does not limit the right to keep and bear arms to militia purposes, but rather limits the type of weapon to which the right applies to those used by the militia, i.e., those in common use for lawful purposes. Pp. 47–54.”

    So your assertion that the AR ban would be unconstitutional is hope at best, and stands no legal ground – at least for now.

  21. Fact: “When it comes to guns, the United States is exceptional. The U.S. has the highest civilian gun ownership rate in the world, with 89 guns per 100 people, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey.”

    The U.S. gun lobby sometimes cites peaceful, alpine Switzerland as an example of a country that has many privately owned guns and little violent crime.
    Like the United States, it has a strong gun culture and with plentiful shooting clubs — but also a mass citizen militia. Members of the part-time militia, in which most men serve, are allowed to keep their weapons at home, and the country of less than 8 million people owns at least 2.3 million weapons, many stashed under beds and in cupboards.
    But while Swiss homes contain guns, but little ammunition, which is largely kept under lock and key at local military depots. Most adult gun users have military training.

    We have a history of romanticizing guns and “gun-slingers” that goes back to the “penny novels” that came out of the American West. And of course, when the country was settled many Americans needed guns to protect themselves against wild animals and Indians (who quite naturallly objected to the fact that we were invading their land.)

    As for finding someone to blame– the Tea Party’s website blames teachers and teachers unions, among others.

  22. very true, but you can’t vilify society, as too vague a scapegoat. Nope, gotta find a select individual or group to pin the blame, so we go after, in order, gun zealots, video game and hollywood producers of violence, mental health patients and providers, and people who don’t scream in absolute perfect echo the mob mentality agenda.

    Extremism has f—-d up this country in so many ways, but, as long as moderate and independents continue to shy away and let the extremists get away with their shrill pontifications, society loses.

    Societal factors? Start at the top, Republican and Democrat thick skulled representatives who in the end aren’t interested in constituents, just who is keeping them in office. Obama in office 4 years and has done NOTHING to promote any semblance of interest in gun control, yet hypocritically goes to the Sunday service for, what, more camera time!?

    And the Repugnocants, er, Republicans, they haven’t met a lobby or special interest that they would bend over for as long as they keep their titles. Pathetic, these people in office, but, the electorate deserves them as long as they reelect them.

    You’d think after the Giffords shooting, that would show them that they are at risk just as much as the general public. But, as was pointed out in one of the talking point shows, going to the Capital makes going to a prison a walk in the park these days. Oh well, good luck getting to that root!

  23. “The problems cited as causing the first ban to fail have only been magnified since.”

    Certainly not because of attempts at gun control, to the contrary, because of a lack of proper gun control.

  24. What research? Gun control research? Maybe you an point me to some biased gun control research by liberal profs?

  25. we are most certainly not alone among civilized nations when it comes to allowing such weapons. There are countries with just as much access to firearms as the US who don’t have anywhere near our violence, and there are countries that attempt to restrict ownership beyond what has any hope of happening here that have violence and death far greater than the US.

  26. What are the sociological factors that are causing a tragedy like this? Unless we get to the root of the problem we haven’t solved anything

  27. The problems cited as causing the first ban to fail have only been magnified since. Far more rifles and magazines on the market now than there were in 94. Any ban that has any chance of passing now would still only limit future sale, so even if there were a definition of what was banned that was solid enough to prevent manufacturers from going around it, the market is still more than saturated. We can dream about a military style roundup, or even a law that prohibits guns already owned and calls for a voluntary turn in, but neither scenario has any chance of happening, so why bother discussing them? Let’s deal with reality.

  28. I don’t need to get into the killers mind to know that in the two shootings last week, the one in which there was a good guy with a gun there were ten times fewer deaths. This is consistent with what happens in these situations, I’m not going to do your research and track down the links, if you care as much as you claim to you’ll be able to find them. Ask yourself a simple question. In these mass shootings, what happened when the attacker first met armed resistance? (Hint: they kill themselves, doesn’t take a badge or a SWAT team or anything else, they are cowards, they look for easy targets, then they kill themselves)

    Quotes are from the Heller decision, not difficult to find. Better check sales figures on AR’s before you try to make the argument that they don’t pass the common use test.

    The NCVS provided the data for the 108,000 defensive gun uses, cited here in JAMA http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=187805

    Unless you’re limiting your definition of defensvie gun use to be only those times when someone is shot and killed in self defense, which admittedly would be a much smaller number, I’m curious what data source you believe when it comes to estimating defensive gun uses? (The NCVS is one of the lower numbers often quoted( Or have you even considered the concept?

  29. I am in total support of using this experience to motivate the public and the legistators to start enacting sensible gun control. Maybe this will be like the case that started the M.A.D.D. movement against drunk driving that has been so successful. We are alone among civilized nations at allowing such weapons and their resulting carnage. The madness needs to stop now.

  30. First, consider the fact that the U.S. is the only developed country in the world where these mass murders occur with some regularity. Do you really believe this is becuase there is little or no mental illness in these other countries? Or is it because guns are not so readily available?

    Someone once aid: Canada is a North American country where everyone has health insurance. The U.S. is a North American country where everyone has a gun.

    “Following the massacre in Aurora, Colorado Adam Gopnik wrote:
    The reality is simple: every country struggles with madmen and ideologues with guns, and every country—Canada, Norway, Britain—has had a gun massacre once, or twice. Then people act to stop them, and they do—as over the past few years has happened in Australia”

    Yes– and this is what this post misses. Something can be done. Other countries have done it. Just as other countires provide health care for all.
    Is this another case of American “exceptionalism”–that we cannot do nothing about a slaughter of innocents that is becoming routine in this country?”

    .Gopnik continues: ” Only in America are gun massacres of this kind routine, expectable, and certain to continue. Does anyone even remember any longer last July’s gun massacre, those birthday-party killings in Texas, when an estranged husband murdered his wife and most of her family, leaving six dead? . . .

    “Only in America. Every country has, along with its core civilities and traditions, some kind of inner madness, a belief so irrational that even death and destruction cannot alter it. In Europe not long ago it was the belief that “honor” of the nation was so important that any insult to it had to be avenged by millions of lives. In America, it has been, for so long now, the belief that guns designed to kill people indifferently and in great numbers can be widely available and not have it end with people being killed, indifferently and in great numbers. The argument has gotten dully repetitive: How does one argue with someone convinced that the routine massacre of our children is the price we must pay for our freedom to have guns, or rather to have guns that make us feel free? You can only shake your head and maybe cry a little. “Gun Crazy” is the title of one the best films about the American romance with violence. And gun-crazy we remain.”

    The notion that it we are “exploiting al tragedy” is we talk about gun control in the wake of one of these violent assaults on our children is nonsense. Now is precisely the time to talk about gun control.

    Following the mass slaughter in Aurora, Hullaballo’s Digby wrote: “the twitter scolds began lecturing progressivesl. We are not supposed to talk about this mass murder except to share clinical details about what happened and express condolences to the victims. This of course shuts down any discussion of the social, cultural and political implications of yet another horrific act of deadly gun violence is becoming more and more successful after each event.”

    She’s right. At this point, in face of these murders, my guess is that the vast majority of hunters believe that hand guns, automatic weapons and other weapons used in these assaults should tightly controlled. In NYC we have had quite a bit of success collecting hand guns–you turn them into hte police dept. You are paid for the gun. And no questions are asked. That is just a beginning.

    The NRA is just one organization. It does not represent all Americans who hunt. For too long, politicians have been afraid of the NRA. Journalists are afraid of it. If you write about gun control, you will be buried in hate mail.

    I think President Obama is getting ready to stand up on this issue. I expect
    legislation sometime during his second term.

    As I have written on HealthBeat, there are some issues where we cannot compromise. These tend to be cases where what is at stake is not money, but blood. Gun control is one of those issues: http://www.healthbeatblog.com/2012/08/medicare-medicaid-global-warming-and-gun-control-can-liberals-and-conservatives-find-middle-ground-should-they-part-1/

  31. “You’re not interested in data”

    Yes I am, but I’m not interested in a persons interpretation of events or their belief that they could get inside the shooters mind.

    “My apologies, the data is actually Department of Justice data, fron the NCVS. Finds just over 100,000 defensive gun uses a year.”

    Can you link me to the data, I can’t find it on DOJ web site?

    “but here’s a few quotes from recent gun decisions”

    Link to the interpretations you are referencing to please.

  32. I couldn’t agree more. There is more data available than most are willing to admit. US universities run about 90% liberal, so they have been very hesitant to do the research needed in these areas. a lot of the research that has already been done doesn’t support the desired conclusion. We tried an assault weapons ban once already, many people have tried very hard to show that it accomplished something. It didn’t.

  33. yes, lets tax the polls as well. If you don’t pay, you don’t vote, because that’s how rights work!

  34. What if, indeed? Thankfully concealed carry has been around long enough in a number of states that we don’t have to wonder, we can look at data. Please show me some that indicates concealed weapons permit holders commit crimes at a rate greater than the general public? (Hint: it doesn’t exist, and Florida has been letting people carry since the mid 80’s). I would even settle for anecdotal evidence of a concealed weapons permit holder shooting innocents as they miss the bad guy, or shooting an undercover officer because they were confused. Any examples of this actually happening? I can show you a number of stories where police have done this, maybe we should take away their guns? Or are we willing to accept that while unfortunate, these events where police hurt innocent people while trying to do good still don’t offset the greater good that is accomplished by them having weapons?

    I can assure you me and everyone else I know who legally carries has considered the consequences more honestly than you. We actually look at data to see if these fears you raise are justified. They aren’t.

  35. your refusal to admit the mall shooting was stopped by a good guy with a gun is telling. You’re not interested in data, your mind has been made up. Yes, they made eye contact, but the good guy was looking down his sights when they did it. Bad guy ran into a hall and killed himself. Good guy didn’t fire because he didn’t have a clean shot. He kept his cool and made sure he didn’t shoot any innocent people, the exact opposite of what I’m told by gun controllers will happen in this situation. The bad guy, despite being willing to kill innocent people and having superior weapons, decided like they always do that they want to kill themselves, so he ran away and did that as soon as he was threatened. Guy walks into a crowd with an AR and 2 people wind up dead. Are you accusing the good guy of being a liar as to why this might be? There is nothing speculative about this.

    If you believe that the trigger has to be pulled for a gun to be used effectively for self defense or to stop a crime, I’d encourage you to run that thought by the next police officer you meet. Quite the setup you’ve arranged for yourself. Make the claim that concealed weapons holders will just randomly fire and kill people when put in scary situations, then deny that they even used their gun in self defense when they show enough restraint to stop a crime without firing. Yeah, that sounds like a fair look at things….

    My apologies, the data is actually Department of Justice data, fron the NCVS. Finds just over 100,000 defensive gun uses a year. Unlike you, they count the times that a crime is stopped even without a trigger being pulled. Other studies have found that rape is one of the most likely crimes to be stopped, but yes, please tell me more about there being no civilian use for guns that work well.

    The assault weapons ban never made it to the supreme court, but here’s a few quotes from recent gun decisions that you may want to keep in mind when considering whether or not a ban would be upheld. “The Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding,” and “We … read Miller to say only that the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns” By either standard, an assault weapons ban would be ruled unconstitutional. As I have said many times, gun controllers would be well served to stop pretending like the second amendment doesn’t say what it clearly says, as this ultimately ends up getting their beloved laws tossed once they make their way to the high court. There is a process for amending the constitution…

  36. “I’m not sure why the Left can be right on drug prohibition, but not gun prohibition. Creating yet another black market doesn’t sound like such a great idea.”

    When was the last time marijuana killed 20 children in a school or attacked you in a movie theater? Where would this black market come from?

    “Add to the fact that most gun crimes are committed with illegal weapons”

    Not so:

    “add to the fact that you’re more likely to be hit by an asteroid then be shot at in school”

    How many mass shootings have we had against how many asteroid hits?

    “Canada and Switzerland and Vermont are heavily armed yet most of the most peaceful places on the planet”

    Guns per capita:
    Canada – 30.8, Switzerland – 45.7 U.S.A. – 88.8

    Firearm related death rates:
    Canada – 4.78, Switzerland – 3.5 U.S.A – 9.2

  37. Then start working on your constitutional amendment, if you feel these arguments are no longer valid.

  38. One thought from overseas – I don’t have any involvement in how you approach gun control, but there seems to be a lack of understanding as to what exactly happened, what impact the choice and availability of guns had, and as to how it can be prevented. Lots of partisan anti-/pro-gun discussion but if you are serious about preventing these horrific acts recurring, then this should be approached in a proper, empirical manner. Time spent banning ‘assault rifles’ might be well spent, or it might just mean the next massacre is done with a shotgun, or an illegally owned weapon. That time might be better spent improving access control to school rooms (might something as simple as a deadbolt on a classroom door have saved lives?), or training staff or helping profile the mentally ill or any one of a dozen other things. This is a complex issue, with many confounding data points (like the number of assault rifles in Swiss homes, or the Dunblane killings in the UK) and it needs the same level of scientific rigour we apply to other issues (like medicine, given where we are reading this). If you really want to reduce these events recurring then it is appropriate invest time and effort on a proper review, before deciding on an effective course of action, not just something that feels right

  39. I sympathize with the grieving families. I also sympathize with the citizens of dictatorships and harsh regimes, where atrocities are the norm rather than the rare exception such as in the US. The scale of comparison between these two cases is such as to be unquestionable. The diffusion and entrenched history of capable arms throughout the U.S. citizenry is such that there is no material threat of internal takeover so long as gun rights are protected; however, in the absence of such rights, a concentration of power would be relatively easy even in the U.S. in a relatively short amount of time using situations such as hurricanes, disruptions of the power grid, or (yes) even the fiscal cliff as reasons for martial law. This is no less a myth than the idea that disarmament of the U.S. would preserve freedom while protecting the general public, with all due respect to those of dissenting opinion. But this is not negotiable.

  40. The main reason I oppose any form of gun prohibition is because like any other form of prohibition, it won’t work. I’m not sure why the Left can be right on drug prohibition, but not gun prohibition. Creating yet another black market doesn’t sound like such a great idea.

    Add to the fact that most gun crimes are committed with illegal weapons, add to the fact that you’re more likely to be hit by an asteroid then be shot at in school, add to the fact that any attempts to take away guns (which would never happen) would require a far more invasive and intrusive police state, add to the fact that Canada and Switzerland and Vermont are heavily armed yet most of the most peaceful places on the planet, add to the fact that the gun control issue has become yet another inflatable wedge issue to distract people, and you can see why stuff like this is idiotic.

    Also, Third Way Poster Boy Michael Bloomberg’s obsession with “gun control” for as long as he’s been mayor (now close to 12 years) should serve as a red flag for any progressives, especially those who finally defected from the Legacy Party Charade. The tragic massacre of Newtown is unfortunately proving already to be an “opportunity not to be wasted” by the likes of Obama and Bloomberg who want nothing more than Americans begging hysterically for more subjugation.

    They seem to be getting their wish.

  41. Screw the “historical examples” I want to know where the external threat to the US has been rebuffed by citizens with arms, as opposed to the biggest military in the history of the world. This is a fallacious and ridiculous argument.

    Likewise the “internal fascist threat”. We have had 230 years of successful governments turning over the reins to the next one. Some of them may not be the government we want but none of them have used force against the population in a way that happened in say Russian history. And of course all of them can call on way way more internal force (police, national guard, army, etc) than any citizens could put up if they seriously wanted an armed revolt.

    It’s another fallacious argument against a myth. And there are 26 families in Connecticut grieving because of these arguments.

  42. “The mall shooting that was to be last week’s rallying point for gun control advocates was stopped short by a concealed weapons license holder and his semi automatic weapon.”

    A stretched interpretation at best. No one shot the shooter except himself. The gun owner made eye contact (so he says), extending that to this is why the shooter stopped is speculation from a poster who wants us to look at facts.

    “Don’t let the media’s refusal to report defensive gun uses fool you, they happen every day, FBI data confirms this.”

    Care to link to the FBI data?

    “Your interpretation of the second amendment isn’t supported by history or recent court decisions.”

    The Supreme Court (which I guess you agree with all of the time) said guns needed for reasonable home defense are legal. The assault weapons ban was constitutionally correct. If we advance your logic then we could own any weapon.

  43. To my knowledge, the USA is singular in its identity as a unique republican democracy within the tomes of history. However, history is replete with examples of non-democratic states lacking gun rights.

  44. Tax bullets and guns. The deadlier the weapon the higher the tax. All firearms would be registered with yearly renewal required. At the time of renewal the tax would be due or the owner would loose his “right” to own the gun. Bullets would also be taxed in the same manner, the larger the caliber or the more destructive the bullet the higher the tax.

    I would tax assault rifles at several hundred dollars. We would also be able to know who currently owns the gun using this method.

    The receipts from this tax could be used for mental health care (currently underfunded) and for law enforcement.

    We’ll see who cherishes their guns when they have to pay according to the damage they can do on the rest of society.

  45. The gun owner nuts who think that increasing concealed weapon permits is such a simple solution don’t think about the consequences, do they?

    They really think that anyone who gets this license automatically deputizes the owner, so they can go play instantaneous police officer if someone brandishes a weapon in public. Well, you gun zealots, what if someone shoots one of your loved ones and misses the crazed shooter when a public shooting takes place? Or, what if a concealed weapon holder takes it upon him or herself and shoots an undercover cop who accidently shows a weapon in public?

    What logic of extremists, oh, let’s have more guns to solve the problem of guns in the wrong hands of people.

    Like the logic of enforcing everyone has insurance so we can pay for the care of those who will use too much of it and bankrupt the country. Oh, that’s happening already. Extremist people setting public policy. Gotta love it!

  46. Bull-fucking-shit, The evidence is clear from the Australian reaction to their 96 Tasmania massacre and the British one to their 86 Hungerford one. Ban all semi automatic military weapons and these mass killings virtually stop. Thats not emotion, that’s evidence

    There are ZERO reasons for a private citizen to have one of these weapons. (Statistically it’s also fucking stupid to have a handgun at all in your house and 99% of its their uses are for suicide or killing another family member,but we can leave that to another day).

  47. These massacres are not merely about mentally disturbed loners or lax gun control laws, Legacy Flyer. They are the logical outcome of an increasingly militarized culture that glorifies violence — whose leaders publicly tout their “kill lists” and readiness to use armed force to further the “national interest.” We are a gangster nation — we should expect the occasional drive-by massacre.

    When I saw the picture of Barack Obama, the mass murderer of Muslim children, weeping a bitter tear over the deaths of these children I could not believe the cognitive dissonance.

    We as a country practice moral disengagement, like concentration camp commanders who could kill thousands in the day and come home to a loving family in the evening.

  48. The problem of the shootings in Connecticut, Colorado and Virginia Tech all occurred at the intersection of mental illness and guns.

    Guns without mental illness don’t yield these mass shootings, mental illness without guns makes a rampage (like the one that recently occurred in China where 22 kids were stabbed) less lethal.

    Preventing all people from having certain types of guns may make these episodes less lethal, however, there is plenty of damage that can be done by someone carrying several pistols with autoloaders or by someone with a pump shotgun and a bag of shells.

    What we should strive for is to keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill.

    Having said that I am not sure how this can be accomplished without violating civil rights other than the Second Amendment.

    Also, both the Colorado shooter and the Connecticut shooter had apparently never shown any violent tendencies before.

  49. so much misinformation I don’t even know where to start…

    your statement as to the purpose of semi automatic weapons is factually not true. millions of these scary black guns have been sold, very few people have actually died at the hands of them. An overwhelming majority of them are used for purposes other than killing people. Your failure to recognize or accept the other purposes doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Beyond that, killing people under the correct circumstances is a perfectly defensible purpose. What sense does it make to admit that people have a right to self defense, but only if they use weapons that aren’t all that effective?

    The mall shooting that was to be last week’s rallying point for gun control advocates was stopped short by a concealed weapons license holder and his semi automatic weapon. Two high profile shootings last week with the same weapon, one killed over two dozen, the other killed two…. So how many lives were saved in the mall because of the good guy with his semi automatic weapon? How do you collect that data? How does that figure into your cost benefit analysis? Don’t let the media’s refusal to report defensive gun uses fool you, they happen every day, FBI data confirms this. And if epidemiology trumps ideology, I’m sure you’re prepared to abandon the concept of gun free zones immediately, right? The data on where mass shootings happen is pretty clear. I’m sure you’re also looking at the ways in which Israel responded to a spree of school shootings in the 70’s? They put an end to them over night by putting armed citizens in the schools. So if epidemiology trumps ideology, that option is on the table, right?

    Who is saying we would all be safer if everyone had a semi automatic weapon in their hands? Nobody I’ve heard. Would you argue that we would be safer if the police no longer carried semi automatic weapons? I will assume you at least accept that the presence of semi automatic weapons in their hands makes us safer, so why is it so hard to imagine that safety could be enhanced if a self selecting group of people went through the necessary training and sacrifice to also legally carry weapons? This is not the same thing as saying everyone should be armed. Your epidemiological study will find that those licensed to carry a concealed weapon commit crimes at roughly the same rate as the police, and well below the rate for society on the whole. What evidence has led you to believe that these people shouldn’t be allowed to carry semi automatic weapons? There are already plenty of laws in place to deal with the rest of the people who choose to carry a gun illegally. We should enforce those.

    Your interpretation of the second amendment isn’t supported by history or recent court decisions. The supreme court has held that it is an individual right, and the actual words of the people who wrote the amendment were pretty clear on the intent. They wanted average citizens armed as well as soldiers so they could go to war, for or against their country. They couldn’t envision AR-15’s, but they could envision the best and most deadly guns of their time, and that’s what they wanted people to have. And if they intended for people to only have these guns, and to leave them at home, “keep” and “bear” would seem like a pretty odd way to state that. You may not like what the second amendment says, but it most definitely applies to this debate. Gun controllers for years have tried to pretend like it doesn’t, and that’s why pretty much every major supreme court decision in recent years has struck down gun control laws. There’s a process for changing the constitution, pretending like it doesn’t say what it says isn’t part of that process.

  50. The Second Amendment settled the issue, but even before that it has been one of the fundamental rights and responsibilities of our free society to live with firearms. America would likely have been conquered by external invaders or internal fascists long ago had it not been for the reality that common citizens have ready access and skill in handling even advanced weaponry; similarly, the right to keep and bear arms insures that citizens will not be mere prey when criminals or others of malevolent or misguided intentions bear arms against the innocent. I do not question the motives of those who feel the answer to tragic gun violence is to restrict guns or types of guns; but I do question the logic, and the legality. The real issues involved in gun-related tragedies center around more responsible handling / ownership of firearms – and in better mental health resources for the public. Free people must accept the harsh realities of violence in the world – and accept the concomitant responsibility to bear arms of at least equal potency at the ready to protect those within our charge. This does not just mean the police and tge formal military: simple math proves that approach will never guarantee adequate safety. There is just no way around these realities.

  51. “The second is that no imaginable degree of stringent gun control could fully exclude the possibility of an unhinged adult shooting a kindergartener.”

    Bullshit. That’s Perfectionism Fallacy 101 (not accusing you of that assertion, btw).


    “In other words, things matter because of their effects. If everyone had an Uzi, but no one ever got shot — who would care? The reason for us to care about who has what guns is how they wind up being used.”


    Precisely the operative point.

  52. Ok, so when is this best time to talk about gun control, or restriction of firearm access, or renaming firearm access for what it is, a privilege, an earned one at that! Hey, lots of people drive and can kill indiscriminately, but, you need a license and pretty much need to be insured to operate a vehicle.

    Also, I am with Bill O’Reilly with severely punishing people who commit crimes with firearms. And, aren’t there industries that limit buying certain products in large quantities? Shouldn’t ammunition have that kind of boundary?

    Getting back to my question, when is it time to talk about ending tragedies of this magnitude? Hmm, didn’t happen months after Aurora, nor Columbine, how ’bout after Virginia Tech? Fort Hood, oh, that doesn’t count, that involved the military. The disingenuous dishonesty of gun nuts is not tremendous, but just plain terrifying. The needs of the few just target the needs of the many!


  53. As I write I am listening to NPR where they are having the same old arguments about the same old issues – background checks, what defines an assault weapon, etc. The old term of ‘necessary but not sufficient’ applies – there is no one silver bullet for this problem. In aviation, the current record of elapsed time without a major crash did not result from one silver bullet, but from conscientious application of numerous changes, small and large, resulting from the new commitment following the wake-up call of the Tenerife disaster.
    Gun control is one thing, yes. But also talk about mental health, video games, TV and movie violence, and electronic bullying. And funding. We must address many things, and we must do so now.

  54. That’s similar to the logic to people in NYC and across the country were using when people were fighting back against the loss of freedom after 9/11, Francois. As tragic as 26 lives lost is, it is not an excuse to ban 20% of all firearms. anymore than a bus full of 60 students driven of a bridge by a driver means we should stop public school bus transportation. These are emotional and illogical responses to a tragic and unpredictable situation,.
    PS great article David.

  55. As a resident of Newtown, CT, I have seen first hand the utter devastation wrought by a weapon of mass murder. There is no doubt whatsoever that the damage done would have been significantly (if not entirely) reduced if Adam didn’t have a Bushmaster. It’s far more difficult, for example, to take down a couple of people rushing at you when you have a handgun, even if you’re a practiced shooter. You’re also limited in how many rounds you can fire off before changing chargers. Seconds matter a lot in events like these. Ten, twenty, thirty, even forty seconds of loading, cocking, aiming a handgun could have saved many of the lives lost by giving first responders more time to get there and prevent the massacre. But those precious seconds were never lost by him (or gained by the police), because Adam had 30 rounds in each magazine and you don’t have to aim a semi-automatic rifle to make maximum damage. You just shoot. And that’s what he did.
    So anyone, and I mean anyone, posting on this site and arguing to keep semi-automatic rifles legal should come first to Newtown, and look at the fresh graves that were dug today for two of these tiny children. And then come and see me. I dare you.