Gun Ownership, Gun Control, Rights, and Responsibilities.

Rob Knop just wrote an article arguing against new gun control laws. He did this hours after someone went nuts at Virginia Tech and shot a whole lot of people. He did so in the full knowledge that many people would find this to be an incredibly insensitive time to make such an argument. He was right that it is an insensitive time to make the argument, and he was also right in his belief that it is at times like this that it is most important to make such arguments.

Rob's basic point is that we - both as people and as a society - tend to react to tragedies like this by demanding that the government take action to keep the tragedy from happening again. When we take such actions, they frequently come at a price to our liberties. The music and movie industries want to keep people from illegally copying and sharing music and movies, and we wind up with digital rights management software that makes it impossible to do things like make backups of CDs and DVDs that we've purchased. A major terrorist incident happens, and we wind up with a law that permits the government to look up your library records.

Events like the tragedy in Virginia today do demand action, but they also demand that care be taken to avoid overreaction. There will, after today, undoubtedly be calls for more gun control legislation. There will certainly be calls for a national dialogue on the issue - and we should have one. Public safety is important, but so is the Constitution - all of it, including the Second Amendment. There does need to be a balance between the two, and it's going to be a very delicate balance.

Before I talk about what I'd like to see, I'm going to take a second to point out one spectacular bit of stupidity in Rob's otherwise good article. Toward the end, Rob says:

I would just mention one thing however. First, according to CDC statistics, in 2004 the number of people who died in automobile accidents was about 44,000. The number of people who died from gun homicide was about 11,000. Four times as many people died from cars than from guns. If we're talking about further restriction of private gun ownership because of the mayhem it causes, shouldn't we also be talking about further restriction of private automobile ownership?

The key words in that argument are "accidents" and "homicide." Let's make sure that we keep that straight, and don't confuse issues by comparing apples and oranges. Most of the deaths caused by automobiles are not the result of people actively attempting to kill other people. Most of the deaths caused by firearms are. That needs to be clearly pointed out.

It's also worth pointing out that we do take steps to reduce automobile-related deaths. We require drivers to be licensed, and licensing is contingent on the driver's ability to demonstrate competence behind the wheel. In many states, we require periodic vehicle safety inspections to insure that the vehicles themselves aren't a threat to others. New vehicles are subject to a range of safety requirements, and cannot be sold in the US if they don't meet those standards.

We could, should, and don't do similar things with guns.

Personally, I am both philosophically and pragmatically opposed to using purchase and possession restriction laws as the primary method of preventing firearm deaths. I do like the way the Second Amendment ensures that the government does not have complete control over the weapons in this country. I've been hunting, and enjoyed it, and I (briefly) owned a model M1917 Enfield rifle. I believe that gun ownership is a right, and while I'm not opposed to reasonable restrictions, I do believe that any action taken needs to keep that right firmly in mind.

I also don't think that purchase and possession restrictions are likely to put any significant dent into gun crime rates, at least in the short term. There are a hell of a lot of weapons out there right now, and there's no way that any law is going to get them off the streets. There are other possible ways of reducing gun crime, which would probably be more profitable.

One might be to drastically increase the penalties for using a firearm to commit a crime. Let's get the non-violent drug offenders out of the prisons and into treatment, and let's free up some beds for folks who use guns to commit a crime. Let's put laws into effect that treat the weapon as a sentence multiplier - if you take a gun into the store you're robbing, you'll do double the time total and double the time before you're eligible for parole. If you fire the weapon, it'll double again, with extra years tacked on for every round fired. Triple time if the gun's illegal, and quadruple if it's stolen. Put enough gang-bangers away for thirty or forty year minimums, and I'll bet that the glock becomes a hell of a lot less attractive as a fashion accessory.

At the same time, though, we should also do a lot more to ensure that there is responsible firearm ownership. I grew up in a building where an idiot could easily put a round through three or four apartments just by accident - and there are a lot more buildings like it. We require automobile drivers to demonstrate competence before driving, and I can't think of any good reason to require anything less from gun owners.

Let's make people demonstrate competence with a weapon before they can buy one. Let's make sure they know how to store the weapon safely. Let's make sure that they know how to clean the weapon without killing anyone. And let's, by all means, make sure that they know how to shoot the weapon properly and with a semi-reasonable degree of accuracy - let's make them shoot to qualify before they bring one home.

Gun ownership is a right, but there are also responsibilities that come with the right. We need to make sure that we preserve the right, but we need to make sure that we do more to demand that those who exercise the right also fulfill the responsibilities.

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NOTE added 04/17: from the response I've seen, and from the all-out assault Chad directed at me and others, it's clear to me that I made some mistakes in my original post, undermining what was my main by inadvertently pushing a hot button or two. I leave this post here in the interest of honesty,…
I was curious to see what kind of defense Matt would put on against my suggestion of additional regulations to address the problem of gun violence and homicide in the US, and I was a bit disappointed to see that the response is largely a "no problem" argument. I had actually come into this debate…
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.…
As ScienceBlogs' resident firearms enthusiast (I might own more guns than the rest of the SB writers combined - and I don't own very many), I've occasionally written about gun rights and related issues. One of the things I've noticed is that a lot of people aren't very familiar with what gun laws…

The worst argument I have heard in defence of guns is: You have to own a gun, as it gives you the ability to protect yourself.

To an outsider, who has never felt the need to hold or own a gun - and didn't live a sheltered life either - this makes absolutely no sense. If guns were illegal to the general public, as in many other countries, you would not need a gun to "protect yourself".

I must say though, I feel sorry for people in the States in this regard. I find the prospect of myself having a gun, and possibly even USING it a terrifying thought. At the same time, I find the thought of irrational maniacs with access to guns even more terrifying. Chosing the lesser of two evils, I'd probably own a gun...

Marine Geologist - Although Virgina does mandate checks on gun sales at weapons stores (the shooter did have a computerized background check and did have to supply ID), that does not apply at gun shows or 'private sales'

There was no waiting period for the Glock that he did buy, and it seems he got more ammo from elsewhere, possibly without a check. And there is no requirement for any sort of check at all (nor any records kept) at gun shows, the internet or private sales (such as the guy interviewed last night on the BBC who ran a business selling Sig pistols from his kitchen). Cho Seung-Hu had no problem buying weapons legally, he didn't need to wait, and he didn't need a licence, nor tell anyone what weapons he owned.
If he had wanted to, he could have walking straight into a gun show or go to any 'private' dealer and purchased what he wanted (although legally he could only buy one handgun a month - without a record of sale, who would know?) - including an M16, Uzi or AK47. And while they legally must only be semi-automatic, the first link on Google searching for 'M16 converting semi automatic' comes up with this site which will show you exactly how to convert an M16 to military spec RPM for only $25.50. Theres this one as well The Violence Policy Center also has a list of publications which allow you to do the same thing to other weapons, and well as instructions on how to make silencers and homemade explosives.
Yes - the shooter did get a Federal and state background check - and then bought two weapons which allowed him to kill over 30 people, so perhaps the BS is believing that only sane people buy guns.

Regarding the doubling, tripling of prison sentence as a deterrent: what difference does it make when the shooter is dead at the end of the attack? I seem to recall that usually in shootings like this one, that is the case. What if before the act, the shooter had already decided to commit suicide after the massacre?

"I do like the way the Second Amendment ensures that the government does not have complete control over the weapons in this country." I found this comment particular interesting.

Why do you like that the government does not have complete control over the weapons in your country? It seems to an outsider that Americans have a deep distrust of their government. Frankly, I don't blame them. I don't trust your government either. But Instead of putting your energy into maintaining this ludicrous "right", wouldn't it be a better idea to address the distrust of the government, then you wouldn't need to worry that they control the weapons. How about putting your energy into campaigning for a true, representative and accountable democracy instead of that abortion of a political system you have now.

Bruce: Because 180 million people were murdered by their own governments in the 20th century. They are not to be trusted.

Mike I agree with all of this. (Even the part where you say what I'm saying is stupid -- although I don't think it's stupid, it is true that there is an apples/oranges comparison in there. On the other hand, I'm simply trying to point out that the "guns kill people, they must be outlawed" argument is too simplistic, and that if we applied that reasoning generally we'd end up with an awful lot of stuff outlawed.)

Guns already are licensed, but demonstrating that you must have some competence to own one, and demonstrating that every so often (just as one must renew a driver's license), is a good idea.



One must ALWAYS have some distrust of one's government. If you allow your government absolute power because you trust it to be good, you're in trouble. The government is built on checks and balances between different branches, and also between the people and the governing.

Addressing the mistrust isn't the problem. Addressing what's screwed up about the system, yes, that should be done. But a certain level of healthy skepticism, even mistrust, is necessary if you are going to keep your government honest.

As for your description of the US as not at all a representatitive democracy and an abortion of a political system: mind you, it has flaws, especially right now, but that kind of characterization has me wondering if I should just file you in the "troll" bin as somebody to be ignored....


Actually, I'm expressing an opinion that is fairly common in my country.

In case you're wondering what country that is... I'll give you a clue - it was the first true democracy.

In case you're wondering what country that is... I'll give you a clue - it was the first true democracy.

Athens wasn't a country. It was a city-state.

Just because your opinion is common doesn't mean that it isn't pig-headed and ill-informed. Come to my area of my country and talk to a lot of people about evolution, and you will find a common opinion that is quite wrong.

um, Athens wasn't the first true democracy?!

I'm talking about New Zealand.

"Actually, I'm expressing an opinion that is fairly common in my country," was in reply to you calling me a troll.

Why multiply penalties when guns are used? If someone were to kill people with their car, or their chainsaw, or their bare hands, would that somehow be better? Would they be less dead? Would they suffer less before passing?

Bruce, the United States was founded because the British government of the day proved that one cannot blithely trust one's government.

I must point out that Virginia Tech is a "gun-free zone". They already had prohibited weapons on campus. Rather than making the place safer, it just meant that this nutso had plenty of unarmed victims.

You know, the argument that an armed citizenry is the best way to keep the government in line is specious.

Unless we're planning to arm up with M-1s, F-18s, Apaches, RPGs, etc.

Any decent government will always be better armed than its citizenry -- and ours happens to be one of the best-damned-armed governments in the history of our species.

So I'd like to see a much better argument than even the suggestion that firearm ownership is somehow desirable in order to protect us against the government. Please.

Why multiply penalties when guns are used?

Because punishment for crimes, ideally, is only secondarily for revenge and recompense. Supposedly, the real reason we punish people for crime is to deter others from performing that crime.

It is true that if a gun is involved in a violent crime, that crime is more likely to turn out to be lethal. You might argue that the lethality will already increase the penalty. However, we should acknowledge and recognize that the use of guns tends to make bad situations more dangerous.

Given that, while (as Mike and I argue) it doesn't mean we should just outright disallow all guns, it does make sense from a societal point of view to label crimes which have guns involved as "more dangerous" or "more in need of deterrence" than other crimes.

If the goal is eye-for-and-eye, no, it doesn't make sense; one is dead whether it's a gun or a knitting needle. But that's not the entire goal.


"I must point out that Virginia Tech is a "gun-free zone". They already had prohibited weapons on campus. Rather than making the place safer, it just meant that this nutso had plenty of unarmed victims."

Great idea, lets turn it into a gun battle?!

I really don't understand the American mind :(

Warren: Nonsense. There are 80+ million gun owners in America owning over 200 million firearms, and plenty of know-how otherwise. Our army, by contrast, is tiny, and is stretched to the breaking point trying to pacify a tiny country like Iraq. Given that, as well as the high level of desertion in the event of a domestic conflict -- the citizenry could easily win that fight.

I suggest that much of the commentary misses the key point - this is not a question of laws or controls; it's a question of societal attitudes towards guns and personal security. Unless the US can address that, it's only bandaids ...

By Scott Belyea (not verified) on 16 Apr 2007 #permalink


Warren: Nonsense. There are 80+ million gun owners in America owning over 200 million firearms, and plenty of know-how otherwise.

You forget who has the nukes, the flamethrowers and the 3600-RPM gatlings. In any conflict between the people of the US and our own military, the military would prevail.

I'd also like to see a cite for your claim of 80 million gun owners. I think it skews a little high.

KeithB: New Zealand gave women the right to vote in 1893 women weren't allowed to vote in US federal elections till 1920.

And then there is also the whole issue of blacks voting in america...

Warren: they're gonna nuke themselves? I find that highly pointless. Nobody uses flamethrowers anymore. Talk to anybody who actually knows something about military affairs - i have - it always comes down to boots on the ground. The US military could not hold this country against its will. No contest.

The 80/200 million is inaccurate, it's true - while it's very well-documented (google is your friend, and I'm not your research assistant) the figure is a decade old. I suspect it's considerably higher now. I know a lot of people who have started buying guns since the Patriot Act was passed, myself included.

Ok, let's see if I can organize my thoughts properly here.

First, I agree that this discussion needs to be had, and that these emotionally charges incidents cannot dominate the discussion.

Second, I need to see a breakdown on that CDC statistic, because it still sounds like an Apples to Oranges comparison: i.e. are fatal gun-related accidents and suicides listed in the same category as homicides? Both of those are also important issues regarding gun control. Discussions of casualty levels; how many people have been injured requiring hospitalization, would also be relevant to the discussion here.

Finally, I am very mixed on the idea of gun ownership as being a "right" i.e. a vital component to the maintenance of a liberal democracy. I've seen no correlation, and merely anecdotal evidence between gun ownership levels and the level of totalitarianism displayed by the government.

Most of the views of a government warring against it's own people takes on a cartoonish view of a government so corrupt, ideologically imbalanced and powerful that the entire population is united in arms against it. In reality, even totalitarian governments are supported by a percentage of it's people, and even those citizens who don't actively support corrupt regimes may be to apathetic, afraid to take up arms, or actively opposed to both the government and the opposition force. Historically, groups of people who take up arms in revolt against the government are viewed as terrorist acts by a small group of fringe extremists.

This also doesn't touch on the issues of authoritarians intent on overthrowing the "Tyranny of the Masses" of democratic rule in favor of an authoritarian system that favors their own personal rights and freedoms, as noted in The Turner Diaries.

I am not entirely anti-gun. I think banning guns would ultimately be worse for society than mandating gun safety courses and stricter penalties/ownership restrictions on individuals who abuse their guns. But to that end, it's much the same as the "War on Drugs", in that it's a bad policy that causes more harm than it prevents, but not one that directly affects the ability for the individual to participate in government. I think that it's view as an integral right in the US constitution has given gun ownership a privileged position against any form of legislation that I don't believe it doesn't deserves, given the hindsight of history.

This is indeed like comparing apples and oranges...I just bet that the author didn't present those statistics correctly. The question is, are there as many car owners in DC as gun owners? I think not! Therefore, the number of murders by firearms vs. the number of deaths due to automobiles does not compute. Case dismissed.

By Annie Oakley (not verified) on 16 Apr 2007 #permalink

Two points:

First, severity of punishment has little or no effect on violent crime (or most other crime for that matter). The European statistics on this matter are not hard to interpret. Multiplying the punishment of crimes that involve guns will thus likely have disproportionally little effect.

Second, as others have noted, the notion that an armed citizenry helps prevent a military dictatorship is specious at best. Even assuming that 80 million riflemen might win out against 100 thousand well-armed and well-drilled soldiers in a fight to the finish, that is not as much of a safeguard as some here make it out to be, since the establishment of a dictatorship usually does not involve pitched battles between the army and the population.

Off the top of my head, the only historical case I can think of in which a wanna-be dictator squared off against an armed population is Franco's insurgency against the Spanish republic in 1936. And that precedent, frankly, does not auger well for the efficiency of an armed citizenry in resisting a coup d'etat.

In any case, Iraq is a poor analogy, because many of the militias involved in the early shooting contain cadre of former Baathist army and police members, and the rest almost certainly receive covert military support from outside factions.

- JS

In any case, Iraq is a poor analogy, because many of the militias involved in the early shooting contain cadre of former Baathist army and police members, and the rest almost certainly receive covert military support from outside factions.

Actually, the early part of the Iraq War was the part that was easiest to deal with, from the American perspective. Back then they were mostly using conventional weapons and their IED skills weren't nearly what they are today. Much of that "covert military support" you refer to was simply training.

Any hypothetical square-off between the US military and the citizenry would be between a much higher percentage of skilled veterans, gun enthusiasts, hunters, former police officers and deserters than the US ever saw in Iraq. One of the more tragic long-term consequences of the Iraq War has been to show the whole world, live and in color, how to effectively mobilize a few people armed with relatively rudimentary weaponry to immobilize a bulky, up-armored military. I think the people would have a pretty good chance against DOD, were it to ever come to that.

Just to keep this comment in line with the thread, the bread and butter of the insurgency in Iraq is still the AK-47. While I wouldn't advocate legalizing Kalashnikovs, it should at least be pointed out that a major reason why the largest, best-equipped and best-trained professional military in history is having so much trouble keeping a third-world nation down is precisely because those people have both a compelling reason to fight (nationalism is a severely under-reported justification for opposition to the US presence) and the material means (ie, guns) to form that resistance.

Finally...someone who makes sense. Thanks Decline and Fall. I agree that if the US Citizens did want to overthrow the govt due to corruption, it would be more then a fair fight. First of all, you have to have a defense dept. believing in what the govt is advocating, which itself is a crapshoot to even defend the corrupt govt in the first place.

Also, I do feel that gun control laws ALREADY in place like banning guns from the school campuses did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to stop the gun violence today. Only a gun stopped the violence and that was the same gun when the gunman shot himself. It would take another gun to stop a madman using a gun. Why people cannot understand this is beyond me. Even if there were no guns, this madman would have killed. He could have used a knife, or any other form of weapon. Also to the comment where if we armed the students, then a gun fight would have broken out is short sighted at best. First, the likelihood of anyone going to doa mass shooting in where the potential victims are better armed then yourself is none. There are lots of criminals and guns at the police station. Ever notice why no one trys to do mass murder there? Policemen are armed and can defend themselves. Why are schools usually selected by crazy gunman? Schools are not armed. No one to stop them. This is as clear as day and yet people rather keep law abiding citizens from defending themselves and allow the criminal element easier access to victims then ever before.

You cannot even blame US society for this one as the gunman might have been a foreign national from china. wake up people. Next time a crazed person starts to shoot people at the police station, I will eat my words. Until then, realize the solution to this crisis is to allow law abiding citizens the right to arm and defend themselves.

> Next time a crazed person starts to shoot people at the police station, I will eat my words.

Happened about 5 minutes from my workplace in broad daylight.
Granted, the shooter was suspected to be mentally ill; but I think that is a given, for what kind of sane person would start shooting at police station or school?

James, (and others wrt guns/dictatorship)

The only problem I have here is that were I a proto-dictator for the US, I would certainly look to build a large scale 'citizen's organisation' as part of the power grabbing process, since this is an absolute precondition to grabbing dictatorial power in a 1st world country (States where there is no effective division between politics and militairy are different in this respect).

So in this case, I would not be crushing you underfoot with an army of 100,000 (Although the army would be heavily penetrated by my organisation to ensure loyalty); I would have most of those 80 million thinking that I was on their side, and use them to dispose of the minority who saw through my sweeping aside of 'beltway insiders' and 'special interest groups'. A new start. Clearing away all of these liberals who hate America. Freedom for true patriots. Etc.

After all, how many people with families to support (and think about) would really fight me? The only people who get the midnight knock on the door (at first) in my dictatorship are those who I cast as 'to blame' for america's troubles - and how many people will abandon everything to defend them? How many people will fight for the inmates of Guetamalo right now?

Obviously, over time I'll move gun ownership to my-party-faithful-only, but it won't be overnight and there will never be a grand announcement that I'm taking everyone's gun. By the time enough of you realise what's happened, you won't stand a chance - and we can't deal softly with traitors, not with the Mexican and Canadian wars going on, can we?

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 17 Apr 2007 #permalink

The most disappointing thing about the gun rights argument that always comes up after a tragedy like this is that it effectively channels huge amounts of energy away from actually addressing the social problems that contribute to these events.

If someone in our society wants to hurt a lot of people and are intent to do it, guns are merely one possible tool out of many at their disposal. The defeatism inherent in lashing out against the tools used is understandable I guess but certainly counterproductive.

And regarding revenge as a secondary use of punishment in our legal system; revenge has no place in the rule of law. Every time a legal system is used to exact revenge its legitimacy is tarnished.

I agree though that the second amendment is questionable; results beneficial to the population of armed uprising against its own government are rare, and it should be quite obvious that the cultural situation when the law was drafted was night and day different. That said, it's in our Constitution, and as such it's law until drafted otherwise.

Direct restriction of gun ownership laws would effectively disarm the wrong population group (think prohibition). There are many examples of countries with gun restrictions in which the criminals are still quite well armed, and one I've had personal experience with. Such restrictive laws effectively increase the potency of firearms in the hands of a criminal, which isn't all that great of a situation.

As I was saying when I started, though, as a country we've got much more pressing, relevant problems to contend with than gun control and the argument only serves to distract us by trying to find the easy road to catharsis.

You forget who has the nukes, the flamethrowers and the 3600-RPM gatlings. In any conflict between the people of the US and our own military, the military would prevail.

No, it wouldn't. Because a lot of the soldiers -- almost certainly a majority -- would refuse to participate. This is one of the differences between an army and a bunch of armed thugs. It's also one of the differences between the US and many other countries. A professional, trained army will not repress its own citizenry. US soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are taught that it's their duty to refuse an illegal order, and any attempt at a military coup would certainly be illegal.

By wolfwalker (not verified) on 17 Apr 2007 #permalink

I have a question for those Americans who oppose gun control on the grounds that gun ownership makes people safer.

The US has some 200 million handguns in the hands of some 80 million people. (Figures taken from an earlier post). This represents a far higher level of gun ownership than in the EU. Yet the EU has a far lower murder rate, and a far lower rate of deaths from firearms.

So if owning a gun makes you safer why is the US still such a violent country ?

By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 17 Apr 2007 #permalink


Although I wouldn't advocate trying to disarm the US (this would make me too unpopular for my bid at evil dictator to succeed), I would mention that mass murder on this scale is extremely difficult to achieve without a gun. We don't arm soldiers with cars, baseball bats or bricks in socks. We give them guns because that's the best tool for killing people.

As far as crime goes, there are surprisingly few 'criminal' situations where posession of a gun would do you any good. Criminals always have the advantage of surprise, and any criminal act is likely to be over before you've even realised it's going on.. which is why gun availability/crime data is so ambiguous.

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 17 Apr 2007 #permalink

The view from the UK is largely one of incomprehension. Don't get me wrong, personally I don't hate guns - I've always had an interest in firearms, and shot while in the Air Cadets and while at university. I'm also perfectly aware of the possible interpretations of the Second Amendment. And yet..

In the UK, almost nobody is allowed to have guns. You can get a shotgun licence, which is easier to get than a full firearms certificate. Shotguns are assumed to be available to farmers, etc, although its often questioned as to why you can apply for a shotgun licence far more easily than a licence for, say, a rifle, when both will kill people fairly efficiently.
Rifles are available for those with a firearms licence, but these are of course more difficlt to get than a shotgun licence.
Handguns and automatic weapons are only available to those with a Home Office Certicate - which is very rare. Even many air weapons and (increasingly) replica firearms are being brought under stricter controls.

This is not to say that there is no gun crime. Gun crime rose by 30% last year, but this is probably due to weapons coming in from eastern Europe and, most importantly, a large number of deactivated or replica weapons being modified to fire small bore ammo. Unfortunately, much of this crime is closely linked to drugs, inner-city areas and 'black-on-black' violence. However, guns are involved in no more than about 0.5% of all crimes . The UK could certainly do better, with the Home Office still unable to come up with a working computerized record of guns in the UK after a decade, and loop-holes such as the weaker shotgun certificate. However, the police will be going after replica firearms more aggressively now.

Our biggest problem (which was clearly shown after both Hungerford and Dunblane) was that the controls were there, but not properly used, and lax procedures allowed people to obtain arms and ammunition who should not have done.

That might sound draconian to many in the US. But in a country which has no great tradition of gun ownership, its fine. True, there are field sports lobbies who argue against these rules, but there was not one UK paper this morning (even the most right-wing) who argued in favour of gun-ownership rules found in the US.

We don't have shooting spree's like that we saw this yesterday, because there simply isn't the means for them to occur. Yes, you could run amok with a sword, etc, but you simply cannot get (legally) pistols or military calibre weapons. Can anyone please explain why anyone needs an M16 at home? You can't hunt with it, target shooting would seem slightly pointless, and having one for personal protection would seem slightly over the top.
JS has it right - the idea that you need such weapons to stop a US dictatorship seems fanciful, and if Andrew Dodds is right (and I love the logic of your idea), then more guns make it more likely that dictatorship will occur!
Farh said it for me; 'what kind of sane person would start shooting at police station or school?' - no sane person: but under Virgina law, anyone can buy a gun immediately, with no background check and no record of the sale - and they don't have to be sane.

Matt: You mean Social, Cultural and Geographical issues aside?

Andrew: I wholeheartedly agree that in most crime situations owning a firearm, realistically, is a liability for most and in most situations. Perceptually, however, the situation is quite different. Similar to how a gate that one can easily jump over is an affective deterrent against a certain percentage of criminal activity.

Mass murder is difficult without a gun without a basic understanding of chemistry, yes. There seems to be a solid argument, however, that IEDs are fairly effective.

Regarding nukes -- yes, I think if things got so bad we had the US gov actively oppressing its own people, you'd see them using anything they needed to in order to get the job done. Thus the "we need guns to protect us from the government" argument is, as I said, specious.

Maybe it's even correct to assert that US soldiers wouldn't move against their own people -- thus, again, the "we need guns to protect us from the government" argument is specious.

That's why I suggested there had to be a better pro-firearm argument out there. The best I can think of is civil defense, which falls nicely under the first part of Amendment 2: a well-regulated militia. That sounds more like the National Guard to me than anything else, but I suspect there's latitude for citizenry as well.

But when it comes to suggesting we'd somehow need firearms to keep our own government in check -- I call bullshit on that kind of apocalyptic over-the-top rhetoric.

Let's put this in NRA terms:

"If you don't take away guns from the honest citizens, you're supporting the right of maniacs and criminals to have guns."

"Guns don't kill people: people with guns kill people."

As for the "love my country, fear my government" argument--one can see how England, Switzerland, and Canada have been turned into the Fourth Reich, started unilaterally invading countries and begun spying on their own citizens. One can see the moral decay in their active torturing of enemy combatants and their refusal to acknowledge the Geneva Conventions.

Oh--hang on a sec. I was thinking of somewhere else ... where an appointed president has made it his business to circumvent the Constitution and turn the place into his personal power play park. All with the apparently willing consent of all those people who say they fear the knock in the night.

Perhaps, as the wingnuts are claiming, we should just arm everybody; it works in Iraq, doesn't it?

Gun control works.

To claim otherwise at this time and in this place, under these circumstances, in the face of the civilized world, is to express a deliberate, conscious willingness for another massacre to happen.

The Second Amendment is as outmoded as the Eighteenth. The Constitution is not carven in stone nor set into glass. That is why these things are called Amendments. It is time for another Amendment.

What have people got against just trying it for two decades? If gun control in the US proved to be a failure, the "Free-Fire Zone America" rule could be reinstated in 2027.

If I sound outraged, I am. And weary of the same old rhetoric. Every time this happens, well-paid, well-fed white men make money by analyzing this and talking about that and "proving" that it wouldn't have made a difference to the country, to the culture, or to the victims if there had been a gun control amendment.

And then they crawl back into their holes, ready for next year.

In this case, given the media attention, I'm looking for a copycat within the week. I hope to the FSM I'm wrong.

Oh--I'm Canadian by the way. I include this just in case someone who disagrees with me wants a good reason to simply dismiss my opinion out of hand.

Because there isn't any other.

Warren, in 1776, Americans DID have to have firearms to keep their own (British) government in check. That 2nd amendment wasn't put into the constitution for hypothetical reasons, it is there because the founders of the country had memories of having to use exactly that right only a few short years earlier. So, you can call bullshit all you want, but keep Santayana's words in mind.

Metro, on a per-capita basis the rate of gun ownership both in Canada and in Switzerland is higher than it is in the United States.

Ed -- that was more than 200 years ago. Times have moved on considerably since it was practical for citizenry to consider pressing a civil war. It was tried here in the mid 1800s, after all, and failed.

Remember that the British had a supply line that took about 6 weeks to traverse and roughly the same armaments as the American colonists once they'd arrived. The odds were not in their favor. That's not to say the revolution was guaranteed to succeed, of course, but the colonists had several obvious (retrospectively) advantages.

A home-turf war in the 21st Century simply would not break the same way. You'd see the Fed winning ... if, as was pointed out, it could convince US soldiers to even move against their own fellows, which of course makes the idea somewhat unlikely to happen in the first place.

Santayana's words, by the way, were not meant to excuse living in the past.

"no sane person: but under Virgina law, anyone can buy a gun immediately, with no background check and no record of the sale - and they don't have to be sane.

Posted by: MikeB"

I call BS. You really need to learn something about US Federal and Virginia laws.

By Marine Geologist (not verified) on 17 Apr 2007 #permalink

Not sure how you're framing those numbers, Ed.

Switzerland has roughly 3 million weapons for 7 million people, held in about 27 percent of Swiss households.

Depending on your statistics of choice, there are about ten million firearms in Canada for 30 million people, held in 26 percent of homes.

The US has about 220 million firearms, for roughly 330 million people, held in 39 percent of households.

But none of that matters. I'm sure other people have numbers of their own. What matters is that prescriptive gun control laws work.

What matters is the firearms homicide rates: 3.72 per 100,000 in the US versus 0.76 in Canada and 0.6 in Switzerland.

Since the number of guns generally available is due to the framework of laws used to protect a society, isn't that at least an argument to try gun control for a while?

The notion that the revolutionary war was in fact a revolution against the government of the time is also more than a little specious. It makes far more sense to view it as a colonial war in the same fashion as the French attempt to repress the Algerian resistance or the British Falkland war.

There is at least two important differences between a revolution and a colonial war: First, in a revolution there is no retreat. The government cannot simply say 'all right, good riddance' and get on with the business of being a government. In a colonial war, on the other hand, the colonial power can simply cut its losses when the conflict becomes unprofitable.

Second, as mentioned by others above, in a colonial war, the insurgents have home turf advantage, while the colonial power has to project power - sometimes across half the world.

I would also argue that there are important differences in the post-war societies of colonial wars and revolutionary wars brought about by the presence, respectively the absense, of an external enemy. But that is for another discussion.

Finally, I would echo the poster above who refered to the European crime statistics. Of course, part of the reason for the lower rates of violent crime in Europe is that most European countries do not have as many crushingly poor people as the US does. Nevertheless, to claim that the gun control laws in place are not contributing to the greater safety of European cities would be mildly hilarious if the subject were not so serious.

- JS

Even if there were no guns, this madman would have killed. He could have used a knife, or any other form of weapon.

It seems to me that it would take a very committed individual to kill nearly three dozen people with a knife under those conditions. I think that's the point.

By Troublesome Frog (not verified) on 17 Apr 2007 #permalink

So lets see if I understand the need for the 2nd amendment. A country has a stated aim of spreading democracy around the world [and enacts it through an invasion, setting off something that is not a civil war however much it looks like one, right?] but this country has such an inherent distrust of its own democracy that it must be prepared to create a civil war at home?
The reaction to this tragedy that enables some to claim a need for more guns does nothing for the standing of the US in the rest of the world.

The most disappointing thing about the gun rights argument that always comes up after a tragedy like this is that it effectively channels huge amounts of energy away from actually addressing the social problems that contribute to these events.


One wishes all this emotion would be better spent considering the needs and problems of the mentally ill. The evidence is everyone knew this guy needed serious counseling but no one could do anything.

The fact is that for all the debate no one is going to pass gun control laws in the US after the backlash after Clinton's crime bill. You'll note that none of the Democratics hoping for the nomination brought it up. You'll note that the Senate leader said he hopes they don't.

It's not the Guns, its the culture...

Like "Metro", this is a view from North of the 49th...

I own a rifle (Winchester 30-30 model 94, grandfather bought it in 1930), most of my neighbors own rifles or shotguns
(cause we all gota eat)

But no one in this community uses those firearms as interpersonal problem solving tools.

The people of our first nations have a suicide rate about 4 times that of our urban citizenry (the ones who make the laws for the rest of us)their incarceration rate is grossly out of proportion to their percentage of population.

Firearm ownership is nearly 100% in rural first nations communities, but within those communities the use of a firearm to commit suicide is very rare,(sorry no citation) and I can't recall a police officer ever being threatened with a firearm by a person of metis or FN heritige.

Because although they have have significant other social problems, they dont have a culture that sees a firearm as a tool used to kill people.

So, in my humble opinion, the problem is not owning a firearm, its ownership by boneheads who have been taught to live in fear of the others and think they need a firearm to protect themselves from those people (like their own government).

The only thing to shoot in Virginia is other people; ergo anyone in Virginia who owns a firearm is a murderer just waiting for the opportunity to kill.

First, to respond to the thread topic: yeah, I'm definitely in favor of licensing courses to own guns, increased penalties for crimes committed with guns, and much more stringent limitations on handgun ownership.

And now, some comments responses:

Great Britain is a fairly homogeneous population on a small island. New Zealand is a fairly homogeneous population on two small islands. Most of western Europe are fairly homogeneous populations, even though they're not on small islands.

The US is the 3rd largest country in the world, population and size, with the most diverse people to boot. So, let's compare apples to the forest here. How's about we compare the US to say, China or India?

The US can't control Iraq, with the entire army fighting a different poorly trained and organized ethnic group that is easy to spot and easy to rally the troops' prejudices around. How in the world could the US army handle 330 million people? That they care about? With large amounts of ammo and military and police training?

The US can't control Iraq because the people (now, anyways) have arms, kind of like no country can attack the US, and the US can't become a totalitarian state against it's own people, either. That's the whole point of the second amendment.

Oh, and pikwi,
Bush has stated he wants to spread democracy to the world. Most of Northerly, but not to Northerly, Americans don't care. Most of us don't like the war in Iraq, and Bush's policies, and we voted that way in the last elections. It's just that the president is elected for 4 years at a pop, so we have to wait a little bit on that one. And, I'm sure someone who advocates against guns is certainly not in favor of us forcably removing him from office.

As an Old European, I'll mention what I find most incredible: the amok runner simply bought a gun. Just walked into a store and bought a gun. That's what I can't grasp. Obviously it's no good if only the campus is a gun-free zone when the rest of the state is not!

All over Europe you need a license to buy a gun. It's not perfect*, but I don't see why it shouldn't be considered as explaining a large part of the difference to the USA. To pick just the most spectacular example: the USA has fewer people than the EU but a school massacre or something similar every few years, the EU has had three I can remember.

* For example, you need a psychological test. I've read acceptable answers are somewhere online, and gun nuts simply learn them by heart.

The "homogenous population" argument is not convincing. Canada? Or France. I currently live in Paris and hear three languages per day in the subway, not always the same ones. Sure, frustrated unemployed immigrants burnt cars here, but they didn't shoot anyone.

The argument that guns protect against a dictature is also at variance with observation. Under Saddam, every man who considered himself one owned a Kalashnikov, and Saddam didn't make any attempt to do something against that. He just made sure his bodyguards were well-armed and led a paranoid but very luxurious life. He was completely safe before W wanted a war.

The attitude difference to Canada, where the primary purpose of guns is not considered killing people or threatening to do so, is certainly important. But if you don't have a gun, you can't use it to kill people, and using kitchen knives, baseball clubs, or even a chainsaw is much more difficult. Isn't this obvious?

On the punishment issue... that's probably a good idea, but criminals almost always assume they won't get caught. If they thought they would likely get caught, they wouldn't do it.

Let me conclude by turning some attention to that bizarrity unique in the world, the Second Amendment. The very fact that (if only due to its 18th-century punctuation) it's not immediately obvious what it means -- extreme, but probably not unreasonable example: I've read on some left-leaning website that it was actually only meant to apply to the state militias, when a federal army didn't really exist yet, and is therefore actually totally obsolete and hardly applies to anything anymore -- proves that it must be amended in some way or other.

Wait, one more thing. I happen to know of a tragic suicide in the US where the same thing happened: the guy simply went and bought a gun.

And if you're afraid of being shot, buy a bulletproof vest. The criminal will draw faster than you anyway. Concealed weapon, my ass.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 18 Apr 2007 #permalink

Let me explain something that I think most of the non-Americans (and some Americans) commenting here don't seem to get. A lot of us Americans don't like the idea of the gov't having a monopoly on the ability to use force. That is not because we do not like our little Republic; rather it is because we like it alot and want to keep it. War is politics by other means, so politics can be thought of as war by other means. Once upon a time the strongest alpha-male got to lead the tribe. Think of politics as a way for alpha males to compare their ability to fight without actually killing a large part of the tribe/city/nation in the process, much like the posturing displays seen in other animals. I know it may seem a cynical and old-fashioned view of human nature, but history does not seem to support the 'happy face' trust-in-your-fellow-man view of politicians and generals. Mao said "all power grows from the barrel of a gun"; you could also say that military power is the ultimate veto. Why should a group with a monopoly on military power allow someone else to boss them around if they don't want to, even if that other group has lots of fancy titles and documents and ballots?

I don't think it is a coincidence that the early Greek city-state democracies happened in a place where mass units like the phalanx were the state-of-the-art in military power. If a politician could get more men to vote for him then he could also get more men to fight for him, and in the technology of the day the battles tended to go to the bigger legion. So someone who loses an election has little reason to believe that they would win a rebellion to overturn that election. If you look at times where feudal governments ruled, like Europe in the middle-ages or feudal Japan you see something different in military power. The ultimate in military power in feudal society tends to be a heavily armored and highly trained elite warrior that costs a lot to equip and maintain. Call them either knights or samurai, but either way a few of them can wipe out any unruly village that doesn't want to pay taxes. Feudal power rests in the hands of the few members of the political class who have enough wealth to maintain those elite units. Democracy makes its appearance again when military technology shifts to empower mass units once more, like the pike square (that built Switzerland) or lines of muskets.

Political structures only seem to be stable as long as they approximate the distribution of military power in the society. They can exist if they do not, but only until the right person has the thought, "Why am I doing what the government says when I could beat them in a fight?" So societies are only stable as long as political and military power are distributed in similar fashions.

So if a feudal government wants to be stable, then it should discourage any technology that allows the unwashed masses to overpower their elite units. That is why feudal Japan outlawed those simple, Samurai-killing firearms and why the European nobility got so nervous about the suit of armor puncturing crossbows and longbows. If a democratic government wants to remain stable (and I don't mean in terms of years, but of generations) then it should ensure that the military power is spread out in a way roughly analogous to the way political power is spread among the voters and government. We Americans just want to make sure that no President or General ever has the temptation of "Why do I have to step down? I don't have to obey the voters as long as I keep the military on my side." So we want to make sure that the federal government could overpower any state government and any state government could overpower any individual, but that the whole body of the people could still gather together and remove the federal government from power with bullets should there ever come a time when they refuse to be removed by ballots.

The 2nd Amendment and civilian gun ownership is a success just by being a deterent for anyone who thinks about throwing out our Republic in favor of something more, feudal or centralized. It isn't just about rebelling against the governemnt, but about the threat of doing so. In this way the 2nd Amendment is alot like nuclear weapons. They can succeed in averting war just by deterring someone from risking their use. Very few Americans want to actually have to use the 2nd Amendment for rebellion just like very few Americans want to use our nuclear arsenal... but a lot of Americans are comforted by knowing the deterence is there. If we are lucky the deterence is all we'll ever need. Maybe we don't even need the deterence anymore, but we are still too skeptical about the fallen nature of man to risk it. Let the rest of the world give up their individual guns first, and if their politicians don't turn them into subjects or serfs in a few centuries, then maybe a new type of politician really has been invented and we'll consider changing our position. Until then, in the words of Charlton Heston, you'll get my gun from my cold dead hands. Not because I don't like the Republic... but because I do like it and want it to remain stable for centuries to come.

By C. Taylor (not verified) on 18 Apr 2007 #permalink


Try and kill 32 people with a rope.

Ban all guns except shot guns for farmers, and sports guns for bonifide Olympic events, and the person is a member of a shooting club, and the club stores the guns. The trigger mechanism should be stored at the members house.

C. Taylor -

As I've explained, when I become Dictator of America, most of the people with guns - such as yourself - will support me. Do you seriously think that I'll EVER suddenly appear on TV all of a sudden declaring myself dictator for life and the constitution suspended? It's perfectly possible to be a dictator in America without breaking the constitution. Given that I would be assuming power at a time of economic and/or social chaos, anyone rising in rebellion would clearly be doing so in violation of the constitution and in defiance of my efforts to bring stability. And the police and military know how do deal with rebels and terrorists who threaten the stability of our country.

Sheesh, I don't see many NRA members rising up to protect people who are locked up without any form of trial right now. Like they will suddenly awaken when I control the media. Remember, the more government officials you kill, the more you get portrayed as terrorists.

And, being not completely stupid, I realise that directly passing a law to take people's guns away would incite immediate rebellion; so it would be gradual. Felons would, of course, not be allowed guns. Many undesirables (Liberals, lawyers, activists, whatever) would find themselves felons. Of course, my political supporters and party members would find themselves very well armed and extremely hard to convict. I'm sure you'd be able to protect yourself against them, just as those white farmers in Zimbabwae were able to use their guns to protect their property..

The defining feature of societies that would be described as free is equality before the law, not the chance to resort to violence; if it were as you say then military dictatorships would be the most stable form of government. Indeed, when you have reached the point where your only argument is that you have a gun and the government can just try taking it, you have already lost.

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 18 Apr 2007 #permalink

"Peter" wrote: Ban all guns except shot guns for farmers, and sports guns for bonifide Olympic events, and the person is a member of a shooting club, and the club stores the guns. The trigger mechanism should be stored at the members house.

Any legislator who tries to do this needs killing. Anyone who advocates this also needs killing.

Andrew Dodds wrote: "I realise that directly passing a law to take people's guns away would incite immediate rebellion; so it would be gradual."

After reading that I hope all of you people who wonder why the NRA starts screaming "nose under the tent" arguments every time somebody proposes a new 'sensible' gun control law understand now why gun owners are paranoid about that.

Dobbs also wrote: "Sheesh, I don't see many NRA members rising up to protect people who are locked up without any form of trial right now."

I admit I have not stopped the government from rounding up anybody and locking them away without trial. Of course, they haven't done any of that in my town yet. How many people have been arrested without trial at your University? Are the purges bad there? Alot of Bush ciritics just disappearing in the dead of night? From what people say on the internet it must be terrible; you are very brave to still be speaking out after what happened to Rosie.

BTW, Mr. Dodds... it was a nice plan, but FDR already did it better. You didn't even mention packing the courts with cronies to rubber stamp your nationalization of private property and businesses.

By C. Taylor (not verified) on 19 Apr 2007 #permalink

Dan, I assume you don't really mean 'Any legislator who tries to do this (Ban all guns except shot guns for farmers, etc) needs killing. Anyone who advocates this also needs killing.' If its satire, its not bad. If you really think this to be the case, then its incitment to murder.
BTW - the case that Peter laid out, is, by and large, the situation we have in the UK. We havn't had a case like VT for 11 years.

I'll say it.

Any legislator who tries to ban guns needs killing.

Do I really want to see anyone killed? No, of course not! But neither do I want to see people's fundamental rights violated. Just to be clear, I advocate neither killing nor tyranny. I am merely stating a fact.

Look, this is all basic games theory. A deterrence doesn't do any good if the opponent believes you won't use it. So you have to say you're willing to use it regardless of whether you are or not. Read some Herman Kahn books.

BTW, is it incitement to murder if I say that women who are being raped should shoot their attackers? Is it patriotism or incitement to mureder if I say any president who declares himself king should be killed? Or is it both? Would you be more comfortable if the word "this" in that sentence meant "establish a national theocracy" instead of "ban guns?"

If we establish that there are certain lines that we will not cross, then an opponent will be free to push us to the maximum limit of our bargining position. Again... that's just basic games theory. Is it also incitement to murder? I'll take my chances. Who's going to come forward and claim that I am advocating their murder? I assume that there would NEVER be a legislator in my country so unpatriotic and illiberal as to want to violate my most basic rights... right? So hopefully the discussion is only academic.

By C. Taylor (not verified) on 19 Apr 2007 #permalink

After reading that I hope all of you people who wonder why the NRA starts screaming "nose under the tent" arguments every time somebody proposes a new 'sensible' gun control law understand now why gun owners are paranoid about that.

The flip side to that is that somewhere between "no sharp objects for American citizens" and "nukes for everybody" there's a reasonable place to regulate arms. I don't know of many people who claim that the 2nd Amendment is without limitation who would also think that it was OK for some random guy down the street to keep a hydrogen bomb in his garage to protect his rights and property.

Clearly, there's a line to be drawn and it's not reasonable to attack people simply for suggesting a place to draw it. It makes much more sense from a policy perspective to debate the merits of the line's location. The idea that regulating weapons is simply a non-starter is ridiculous.

By Troublesome Frog (not verified) on 19 Apr 2007 #permalink

Just so I'm clear on this--'cause I'm Canadian and unsure what laws may apply.

The people in the thread above who said that anyone who tried to establish and enforce gun control "needs killing;" these folks are allowed to buy guns under the current regulations, are they?

Just curious.

The people in the thread above who said that anyone who tried to establish and enforce gun control "needs killing;" these folks are allowed to buy guns under the current regulations, are they?

Yes, Metro. You understand perfectly.

your stupid