Go by and check out Matt’s second response on gun control.

I think this response is a good argument. After all, my arguments are correlative. It is impossible to do randomized controlled trials on whole countries after all.

I would ask a few questions in response to this rebuttal, however. Matt, what do you think about about data that demonstrates, within our own country, higher gun prevalence correlates with higher homicide, independent of other risk factors? Can we really dismiss the potential impact of federal gun laws using local gun laws as an example? Its pretty clear from places like New York and Chicago, that any local law is undermined by whatever nearest state (or county) has the softest laws.

The issue of whether or not increasing or decreasing gun ownership is also a bit besides the point. After all, that was not the major thrust of my suggestions. Repeatedly, it seems, I am arguing against a straw man that I am advocating gun bans. Matt acknowledges this problem:

This is true, and fair enough as it goes. We gun-rights types are justifiably a bit jumpy about this sort of thing. It would be nice if Mark were the one writing the various laws being proposed in congress and various state legislatures. Unfortunately it’s people like Dianne “Turn ‘em all in” Feinstein and Carolyn “Shoulder thing that goes up” McCarthy and Andrew “Confiscation could be an option” Cuomo. It’s great for the two of us to discuss our Platonic ideals of the way things ought to be, but we also have to remember that we’re dealing with members of the world’s second oldest (and least reputable) profession. Since their stated intent is to take a mile, I’m not very willing to give them any free inches without an airtight case as to effectiveness and respect for the rights of the law-abiding.

I have emphasized in the past, I despise the stupidity and futility of the cosmetic Assault Weapons Ban as advocated by Feinstein for the twin sins of demagoguery and uselessness. But pretend for a moment I am an honest broker in this debate, and I’m not trying to land you on the slippery-slope towards gun confiscation. Do you really believe there is nothing that can be done on the supply-side to decrease either mass violence or, separately, gun homicide in this country? Or that there is nothing that can be done to prevent these guns from falling in the wrong hands in the first place? I believe we can prevent on the supply-side by preventing these guns from getting into the wrong hands, and this can be accomplished without bans.

As a closing statement on this debate, I’d reiterate the laws I advocate do not ban guns. You hear that commenters? During the entire debate, I haven’t suggested a single gun ban, so I don’t need to have this nonsense showing up in the comments. No. I believe there should be two major regulatory efforts: (1) there should me more scrutiny on gun purchasers who want to buy weapons that make mass violence easy, and (2) secondary markets need to be subjected to the same minimal level of scrutiny as the primary markets for all guns (background checks for shotguns, revolvers, bolt-action rifles etc., my higher level of scrutiny and responsibilities for purchasers of semi-automatic weapons).

I’m not talking about any kind of ban, but scrutiny on purchase of magazine-fed semi-automatics. This means people have to do some paperwork, have a check to make sure they’re not a crook (these two already exist), find a couple people to vouch they’re not nuts, demonstrate they can use and store the weapon safely, and they understand simple things like high powered semi-automatic rifles shouldn’t be used with metal-jacketed ammunition in a dense metropolis. Scrutiny, training, safety. These should be relatively noncontroversial measures.

We’ve all done this before after all, or don’t you remember the first time you showed up to the DMV to get a driver’s license? Similar theory, a car is a very dangerous machine, before you start driving you show up, they make sure you haven’t been arrested for joy-riding, you go for a little ride with an instructor to make sure you aren’t completely incompetent at operating the very dangerous machine, and you pass a little test to make sure you know the rules for safe use of the machine. Not a big deal. And how about using technology to make unauthorized use of the machine more difficult? Make it hard for the “dead-eyed killer”, as Matt calls them, to get their hands on the weapon, either from the store, or from someone’s home. Even more ideal, start working on technology to prevent unauthorized use, like the humble car key, that makes it harder for the unauthorized user to jump into your very dangerous machine, and run over a bunch of kids on the playground. Sure they can always hotwire it, but that’s hard, it takes special knowledge, and unauthorized use of the very dangerous machine shouldn’t be easy. It will invariably be argued ad nauseum that such measures can be defeated. Sure! I agree, they can be defeated. Almost any preventative measure can be defeated by a motivated, intelligent and skilled individual, but that doesn’t mean tomorrow banks will stop using vaults, or that we should give up on restricting access to grenades and C4. Barriers are just that, barriers, not perfect preventatives. All human efforts are imperfect, but these barriers may be effective strategies to decrease the likelihood or frequency of such attacks. There’s an expression, low fences keep in big animals.

And what’s so scary about such regulations for an item that kills as many as 30,000 of us a year? For years, we’ve recognized we need to regulate cars, they’re one of the single most dangerous objects in our daily existence. Automobile accidents are the most likely thing to kill you for a good chunk of your life. That’s why we make sure before people can drive, they know how. That’s why we require safety features. For years, the NRA has resisted any equivalent regulation to make gun ownership safer, they’ve resisted any attempt to incorporate safety features into weapons, they’ve resisted any scrutiny before gun purchase, and they’ve resisted scrutiny of secondary gun markets. Why is it so controversial to treat dangerous machines as something that need to be respected? Guns are machines that require training to use, they should have safety features that prevent improper use, they require safe storage when not in use, and there should be barriers and strategies in place to prevent possession by criminals and the mentally ill.

The second major thrust, and I’m not sure Matt really disagrees with me here, addresses the fact guns in the hands of criminals are coming from secondary markets. I discussed extensively in part II guns used in crime are usually fairly new guns. The generally-agreed upon sources are secondary gun markets – straw purchases, trafficking, and stolen guns – only about 10% are used in crime by the original purchaser. If we acknowledge that gun crime is a problem in this country and actually want to do something about it, we have to extend criminal background checks to all transfers of firearms. We have to make secondary markets subject to the same scrutiny as primary markets, and when guns end up in a criminal’s hands, we have to be able to track down the source of the weapon and punish them.

This is how guns get to the street. If we don’t arm law enforcement with the tools to punish gun traffickers and straw purchasers, we’re not going to be able to stop the steady flow of weapons to the streets, and into the hands of criminals. I know, 300 million guns are already out there that couldn’t be tracked by a newly-implemented system, but I’m assuming the overwhelming majority of gun owners are decent citizens who aren’t interested in selling their guns to criminals either, will gladly use the NICS system, and won’t sell their guns to criminals once the existing secondary markets are tightened. Straw purchasers, gun traffickers, and anyone else who sells guns or makes guns available to criminals should be put in jail, and treated like the accessories to crime that they are.

In these debates I’ve suggested these two overarching strategies, one to prevent mass shootings and one to decrease firearm use in crimes. For the first I admit, as does Matt, the data on viable preventative strategies is poor. The events are rare. One of the few examples of a specific response to the problem of mass violence, Australia, is consistent with a benefit to reducing mass violence by restricting magazine-fed semi-automatic weapons, but is questionable in its reduction on gun violence as a whole. I agree with Matt, making these weapons harder to obtain isn’t going to make a huge dent in gun violence as a whole, but I reiterate, increasing scrutiny of purchases of magazine-fed semiautomatics is specifically my suggestion to decrease mass violence. It is possible however, my storage and training portion of that strategy might decrease gun homicide rates modestly by decreasing the frequency of accidents and gun thefts. My second strategy, that of subjecting all gun transfers and purchases to this type of scrutiny, is specifically meant to address gun crime, based on the clear data that guns on the street are (1) usually new guns, and (2) coming from secondary gun markets 90% of the time. If we dry up the flow of guns to the street we are likely to accomplish two goals. We may decrease gun homicides, and we will arm law enforcement with the tools to track down and punish those that supply weapons to criminals.

Neither of these strategies should prevent any law-abiding citizen from obtaining any weapon that is available to them today, at the same time, they obstruct the flow of guns to criminals and erect barriers to those that might commit mass violence.

Comments

  1. #1 Joe
    January 31, 2013

    Thank you Mark. I’m a legal car owner. I have to have some basic checks before I can legally get in a car and start driving. We don’t wait until I’m causing accidents to see if my eyesight is fine or if my liability insurance is in order. We do that before I can walk out of the DMV with my license. That isn’t penalizing legal car owners. That’s common sense. And I do it because I know it will help keep us safe.

  2. #2 jane
    January 31, 2013

    As a gun and car owner, I would be willing to support almost all of the measures you suggest in this post. It’s not unreasonable that everyone should have to get some sort of approval before “using” (owning) guns, even if purchased privately, just as you do before using (driving) a car. If private sales and even gifts could be run through the NCIS system without significant financial burden or confiscation of family property upon an individual’s death, I could cooperate with that.

    However, many gun owners will be concerned that the records that are kept of those sales, as of commercial sales today, may eventually be used to compile a list of the guns that they are known to have received and will be told to turn in at the police station within a month, or else. This is not an unreasonable concern, since there are influential politicians who have announced their desire to do just that. This concern could be obviated by rapid and complete destruction of records related to approved sales – but we were told this would happen for commercial sales, and the promise was rapidly broken. Do you have any alternate suggestions?

    The one point on which I will most strongly disagree with you is the suggestion that to purchase modern models of firearm (even, apparently, a .22 rifle or handgun for target shooting), you should have to produce two locals who approve of your buying the gun and will stick their necks out to vouch for you. If you have recently moved and/or live in a very liberal area, an inability to meet this criterion hardly proves that you are a Nut, and attempting to meet it could have serious repercussions for your career and social life. Americans can leave the right to own guns in the Constitution or take it out – that’s what democracy is all about – but if they leave it in, one’s exercise of a right can’t be made contingent upon whether one’s neighbors approve of that right. Driving a car isn’t a right, but you don’t need to have character witnesses lined up every time you buy a car.

    On the other hand, if someone who knows you believes you to be an impaired driver they can report you to the DMV, which is at least supposed to look into it. If your neighbors fear that you may be a violent lunatic, they should be able to report it to the police and expect that someone will look into it. And then there is the question of what they do about it, because American culture spawns an amazing number of nuts, like this guy in Alabama most lately. If everyone who sees a person is sure he’s going to kill someone someday, do we really have to sit on our hands and wait until he does it before anything is done? I remember a case twenty years ago or more in which a mentally disturbed bully who had terrorized a whole neighborhood for years with no resistance from law enforcement was finally shot, and mysteriously nobody saw anything. Someone had finally decided that it was the only way to protect his community. But few Americans can get to that point or want to. So what are we going to do about nut control?

  3. #3 Mark
    January 31, 2013

    However, many gun owners will be concerned that the records that are kept of those sales, as of commercial sales today, may eventually be used to compile a list of the guns that they are known to have received and will be told to turn in at the police station within a month, or else.

    What I suggested in the initial post is that people have to keep their own records of what happens to their firearms. When a gun is traced by ATF the trail ends at the last purchaser from the FFL. They should then be able to from your records determine who you sold it too, and with a NICS check you should have some confirmation of the check occuring.

    Alternatively, each NICS check on a secondary sale should then be the same end point tied to that gun’s serial number with updating of the database appropriately. So it would be like the current system for FFLs, except updated each time the gun changes hands. No national database, but a set of records that can be investigated when a gun needs to be traced in crime. If you can’t explain where your gun went, you should be liable. People won’t like that, too bad. Guns are dangerous, you should be able to keep track of them unless your a total irresponsible moron. If they’re stolen, there must be a report filed with the police to explain where they went. Not every state currently requires reporting of stolen guns. Another major flaw that needs to be sealed.

    This concern could be obviated by rapid and complete destruction of records related to approved sales – but we were told this would happen for commercial sales, and the promise was rapidly broken. Do you have any alternate suggestions?

    No, I think the police should be able to trace guns used in crime to the source. This can be done, as it is now, without a national database. Instead, the serial tracks from the manufacturer to dealer to FFL to original purchaser. It’s requires effort by law enforcement. It’s not an simple database search, and I think that’s fine.

    The one point on which I will most strongly disagree with you is the suggestion that to purchase modern models of firearm (even, apparently, a .22 rifle or handgun for target shooting), you should have to produce two locals who approve of your buying the gun and will stick their necks out to vouch for you. If you have recently moved and/or live in a very liberal area, an inability to meet this criterion hardly proves that you are a Nut, and attempting to meet it could have serious repercussions for your career and social life.

    Really? You think that there’s no two people in the world that won’t vouch for you the first time you buy a gun? That gun ownership creates a social death? First I’ve heard of it. I’m even in a liberal area. Frankly, if you don’t have two friends in the world that would do this for you, maybe you shouldn’t have guns. This is kind of the point. The profile we’re getting of these shooters is just that. They are socially isolated, they’re not plugged into any community, you just look at their pictures and you say “aaah!, who sold that guy a gun!” They fail the most basic smell test. That’s what the voucher system is meant to entail. In my well-regulated militia, gun use only comes when two other respectable folks vouch that you’re all right. I don’t think that’s too much.

    Americans can leave the right to own guns in the Constitution or take it out – that’s what democracy is all about – but if they leave it in, one’s exercise of a right can’t be made contingent upon whether one’s neighbors approve of that right.

    So the well-regulated language has no bearing here? Then why does mental illness prevent ownership? Do the mentally ill not deserve their constitutional rights? Or criminals for that matter? Felons should be able to own guns then too. Free speech doesn’t end at the schoolhouse door, kids should be able to buy guns too! And bring them to school!

    No, the well-regulated language, for decades has meant that we can make some decisions about when this right doesn’t apply. I think the voucher is an incredibly low bar. Also note, that I’m not even suggesting we apply it to breech fed rifles, shotguns, bolt actions, and revolvers. So you can still have arms, but as the arms increase in their capacity for harm, there are additional barriers to ensure safe use.

    Driving a car isn’t a right, but you don’t need to have character witnesses lined up every time you buy a car.

    Hah. But you effectively have that, because to drive a car you need insurance. You have someone that says, I’ll take the risk of this individual driving, and yes they do it for a fee, but it’s directly related to how responsible you are or are likely to be as a driver. The insurance company is your voucher. Perhaps we should require insurance instead? This has been a frequent, and interesting suggestion.

    On the other hand, if someone who knows you believes you to be an impaired driver they can report you to the DMV, which is at least supposed to look into it. If your neighbors fear that you may be a violent lunatic, they should be able to report it to the police and expect that someone will look into it.

    But the car is in the driveway, no one knows about your gun ownership status.

    And then there is the question of what they do about it, because American culture spawns an amazing number of nuts, like this guy in Alabama most lately. If everyone who sees a person is sure he’s going to kill someone someday, do we really have to sit on our hands and wait until he does it before anything is done?

    We try, but it’s very hard. For instance, my understanding is the campus psychiatrist for the Aurora shooter tried to do just that, but was unsuccessful. It is very difficult to institutionalize people from such feelings. Maybe this should be loosened. Maybe psychiatrists should be able to file weapons holds on people. That will generate some interesting due process issues.

    I remember a case twenty years ago or more in which a mentally disturbed bully who had terrorized a whole neighborhood for years with no resistance from law enforcement was finally shot, and mysteriously nobody saw anything. Someone had finally decided that it was the only way to protect his community. But few Americans can get to that point or want to. So what are we going to do about nut control?

    I think I remember reports of this too, maybe on 60 minutes or something, it happened in NYC right? Reverse deinstititutionalization, or create mental health parity to decrease the number of citizens like this that fall through the mental health cracks. Either way, based on the profile, this doesn’t seem to have been the issue with the VT, Aurora, or Tucson or Sandy Hook shooters.

  4. #4 Matt Springer
    January 31, 2013

    Matt, what do you think about about data that demonstrates, within our own country, higher gun prevalence correlates with higher homicide, independent of other risk factors?

    This is a big subject. As a physicist, I’m tempted to stick my nose in the air and dismiss it all offhand for the total lack of predictive power – failure to predict the secular decline in homicide rates, failure to predict homicide rates across different demographic groups, failure to predict homicide rates in a given country or state, and so on.

    A more fair and more detailed look would have to go study-by-study. The most common problems I’ve seen involve that “independent of other risk factors” thing – attempts to account for these tend to be either nonexistent or wildly inadequate.

  5. #5 Gil
    February 1, 2013

    To gun nuts like Jane: where are guns specifically mention in the U.S. Constitution? For some reason when gun nuts hear the assertion that the 2A should allow individual to own grenades, rocket launchers, landmines, bombs, tanks, etc., they accuse the other side for being silly yet the 2A never mentions guns. Tench Cowe quite clearly suggested his reading of the 2A means that individuals/militias should have access to the same weaponry as the military. Hence for him if you can afford to build a hardcore military arsenal then you ought to have no interference from the Government.

  6. #6 Matt Springer
    February 1, 2013

    Mark and I considered discussing what exactly is meant by “arms” in the context of the second amendment, but it didn’t really come up. My two main points on the subject:

    1. As the etymology suggests, “arms” (from the Latin arma: arms, fittings, tackle, gear) in this context has typically meant something like the gear issued to an ordinary infantryman. In a militia context it’s not particularly ambiguous.

    2. The proliferation of different types of weapons is not new. The era of the drafting of the constitution featured rockets, bombs, cannons, and warships. The discussion around the ratification of the bill of rights indicates that these were not the types of weapons in question.

  7. #7 jane
    February 1, 2013

    Gil, namecalls do not encourage me to believe that you have the best interests of all subgroups of Americans deeply at heart. Of course the Second Amendment referred to guns – not modern guns, but not spears, swords or halberds either, not in the late 18th century. Read some history.

    Mark, there’s something to be said for the idea of insurance. There are also arguments against it; poor rural people for whom hunting is important, or poor people in dangerous urban neighborhoods who are in the greatest need of self-defense but might be most subject to redlining, should not be forced to pay a big chunk of profit to a private corporation for the privilege of continuing to own their property. I don’t necessarily have a good answer.

    But I do know that if you just moved across the country to take a job in an urban anthropology department, say, and the only people you have had time to socialize with are your liberal Democratic colleagues, asking around for people who will help you buy a gun is a good way of ensuring you won’t get tenure. Then it simply isn’t a right. Imagine that you had to get permission from your neighbors for any religious practice, and you were a pagan who just got a job in Bibleville, Alabama. You further talk about requiring “respectable” witnesses, and about being able to determine from people’s pictures that they shouldn’t have the right to own guns. I wonder what qualifications you would demand from these witnesses and whether people from certain subgroups would find it harder to find people who qualified.

    No, the neighbor who might report a deranged person doesn’t know whether he owns guns, and doesn’t need to. Deranged people can be dangerous whether they own guns or not; they can kill with bombs, chainsaws, Doc Martens, whatever. This guy in Alabama beat a 120-pound dog to death with a lead pipe. (Killing a dog the size of a small horse that’s come onto your property might be rational self-defense. But still.) When a person is reported as being potentially dangerous, the police should look into whether he has an FOID card or the equivalent, and take that into account in deciding whether the situation warrants further investigation. But even if he doesn’t, multiple apparently legitimate reports ought to be taken seriously.

  8. #8 Gil
    February 1, 2013

    So Jane – what does the 1A mean? What speech is restricted according to your or according to the Founder by your interpretations? Are websites not protected by the 1A because they were around in the Founders’ day? Tench Cowe’s words are:

    “The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible. Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American … the unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.”

    He quite clearly sees that the People/Militia are free to arm themselves as equally as the military. His quote makes it clear he’d prefer the People/Militia to have such weapons instead of the military. Anyone who says “the 2A means guns and only guns” is being clearly quite fallacious.

  9. #9 Mark
    February 2, 2013

    So Jane – what does the 1A mean? What speech is restricted according to your or according to the Founder by your interpretations? Are websites not protected by the 1A because they were around in the Founders’ day? Tench Cowe’s words are:

    Gil, you might need to take a night course on law so that you don’t come across as bad as this. Just because one crackpot founder (Coxe now Cowe) said something totally nutty 200 years ago doesn’t undermine 200 years of case law. Get over it.

    Also free speech is restricted in all kinds of ways, from the very obvious “fire in a movie theater”, to time and place restrictions (free speech zones in airports, permit requirements for marches), to control of commercial speech (fraud is illegal of course). I’m not interested into turning this thread into a kindergarten-level legal debate on original-intent. It’s irrelevant, unrealistic, and a total waste of time. There’s a reason lunatics like Robert Bork have been blocked from the court.

  10. #10 Matt Springer
    February 2, 2013

    It’s always worth mentioning that “fire in a crowded theater” as an argument for constraining first amendment rights was first articulated in Schenck v. United States, a WWII-era case wherein the supreme court ruled that a man could be imprisoned for publishing pamphlets that argued against the draft. “Fire” is a blunt instrument that can be used to justify just about anything, and the decision was justly overruled in the 60s.

  11. #11 Gil
    February 2, 2013

    To Mark:

    My response bordered on the reductio edge because LibertariansConservatives like flitting between the “original meaning/modern meaning” whenever it gets them what they want. Gun owners are trying to make the 2A a gun-owning free-for-all. Even Tench Cowe’s quote makes better sense in that the 2A only refers to the militia/National Guard and not the average person. Rough drafts of the 2A make best sense in the well-regulated millitias view. Undoubtedly, saying the 2A never restricted the well-regulated militias to just guns makes better sense than to say the average person can have whatever weapon they want.

  12. #12 Joe
    February 3, 2013

    You mean I can’t say my product will cure AIDS AND cancer without worrying about the government! Dang!

  13. #13 Bill
    February 5, 2013

    Thanks Mark for some insightful remarks delivered in a rational, non-confrontational manner. As a responsible gun owner, I can speak for many like myself when I say that far too much of the recent discourse makes me feel like I am being treated as the problem, when in fact the problem is the criminal element of society. We don’t want to “own whatever we want”, but many of the proposed gun bans are far too restrictive and – more importantly – will not lead to a safer society. The Department of Justice and the FBI have done a LOT of studies and have shown that they have not worked. We need to protect our society against criminals, not turn people into de facto criminals by installing a larger number of complicated rules. We can do this by rational discourse and analysis. Somebody earlier brought up the First Amendment, and we should all remember why it was (and still is) so important: The Framers knew that only by rational and free discourse and exchange of ideas will we actually solve our current problems and elevate ourselves and our society to a higher level. We area society of many different people with many different ideas and ideals. We need to remember that and respect that. We need to LISTEN to each other, not tell each other what to do and what to believe. We can’t simply legislate our way to a better society

  14. #14 Eric
    February 7, 2013

    Jane: if you don’t have the time to make friends in a setting more likely to accept guns than an anthropology department, where will you find time to buy a gun and take it to the range to practice, or clean it afterwards?

  15. [...] Denialism: Gun Control Part III: Some Final Questions for Matt and Closing Remarks [...]

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