Don't be pessimistic about changing gun laws

A handful of us in the science-skepticism-secularism blogosphere have been saying roughly the same things for a few years now about gun ownership, regulation, and safety. (Here's 67 posts of mine on this topic. Oh, and here's another 60 on a different blog.) While we were busy with this issue as well as other pet projects, the rest of the bloggers and writers were busy with their own important and interesting projects. But when the "Dark Knight" shooting in Colorado happened, I noticed a lot of other bloggers who had not touched on the gun issue before at all to my knowledge chimed in and started saying things. In may cases they went through the same process as those of us who had long ago begun to address gun ownership. The same sorts of pro and anti gun comments made by a roughly similar group of people wafted back and forth, arguments started general and get more specific, eventually certain roadblocks one may or may not have seen coming were encountered, and finally, everyone potentially ended up with a roughly similar knowledge base and similar understanding of the social, cultural, and political forces involved in the online version of this discussion. (Or at least, that would be the case for those who stuck with it long enough.)

But only a few of my bloggy colleagues did that, and it didn't change anyone over to a gun-issue blogger. They went, as is appropriate, back to their usual issue.

Then Sandy Hook happened. Sandy Hook is starting to look like one of those events that changes things: a tipping point, if you will. And those bloggers and writers and more are back in the game, more prepared and more intent. A wonderful example of this relates to my friend and admireee Maggie Koerth-Baker. Maggie, who often blogs about energy issues and wrote one of the most important books ever for the general public on that topic, underwent a very important revelation that everybody who writes about gun ownership from a scientific, logical, or skeptical perspective eventually runs into: The knowledge we have to make informed policy decisions is less than adequate in large part because the gun lobby has intentionally and successfully damaged efforts to carry out the appropriate research, with the full complicity of elected members of congress. Here's Maggie's post: Gun lobby has opposed research on effects of gun ownership/gun laws.

I can't tell you how happy I am that Maggie and others like her are delving into this very important social, political, and health-related issue. The more voices like her's the better. And me saying that is NOT a Minnesota Passive Aggressive way of saying "Jeesh, it's about time other people started paying attention to this issue that I've been pointing to and talking about for years... what does it take, a massacre?" ... well maybe a little. But mostly, seriously, not. I am sincerely glad.

Another friend and top writer, Tom Levenson indicated the other day that he thought it was completely unrealistic to think about the 2nd amendment being changed or removed. But you know what? Six months ago it would have been hard to imagine a widespread and (potentially) sustained conversation about this topic across all known media produced or consumed in the United States. It would have been impossible to imagine a Republican Governor not signing a pro-gun law because he wants to think about its implications a bit further, or a famous conservative talking head suddenly expressing non-NRA approved opinions, or the President of the United States saying that it is time to have a conversation about doing everything differently.

So, Tom, you are probably right. But maybe, just maybe not 100% right.

Let's be optimistic that this conversation will go forward, expand, and result in change.

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The 2nd amendment is not your issue, the 10th is. Gun ownership is a state controlled right, and all the federal government can do is make the manufacture/sale/transfer of guns more difficult via the commerce clause. Why do we still have private ownership of machine guns? Because all congress could do is put a tax stamp on the transfer, not confiscate existing guns (1934). This also introduced a registration requirement on the sly, later made explicit (1968). To further curb their spread they then made the registration of new guns impossible (1986). As that predictably drove the prices up, machine guns are now $10,000+ items, and usually properly secured against unauthorized access.
Now, you could probably get a similar procedure in place for assault rifles, but it would be decades before it makes a dent in the availability. And probably not change anything in regards to safety from massacre, a couple of pump-action hunting shotguns are cheaper than an AR15 and as effective.
As reports show that most mass murders are not spur-of-the moment things, you're just forcing the perpetrators to get mildly more creative. As they are typically on the brighter side of the populations, that will not hold them back.
To totally disarm the US you only need to change the 2nd, 4th (so you can search for the guns), 5th (so there's no due process) and 10th (see above). And getting that by 33 state legislatures, of which only 12 are democratic controlled, I'm indeed pessimistic.

Mu, your comment is full of the usual misconceptions. I'll leave most of it alone for now (I'm busy) but I'll point this one thing out: Only you are speaking to mass murders as the problem. The rest of us are talking about all the thousands killed by your guns every year.

We're coming for your guns, Mu. One way or another.

The bad part for this country is, just like the idiots on the right the left can't find a reasonable compromise either, in which you're not very different from most totalitarians. You're not really interested in reducing gun violence, you're only interested in total victory over the forces of evil aka people thinking different from you. You would forgo a mandate to have all guns under lock and key at all times (and thereby reducing accidental gun death by a lot) because "it's not enough". And you're completely missing the correlation between restrictions on guns and restriction of speech, oddly enough half the stuff you write would get you in real legal trouble in those "enlightened" gun-restricted countries like Britain and Germany.
As for me personally, compared to a Russian tank division 20 min from my house you're "coming for you" threat is not even in the same league of scary; maybe rating mildly meddling.
Take all the time you want. I spent years in college opposing the ideology of the SED and their flunkies from the SDS, just to see their ideology die spectacularly in 1989. I'll wait for your "victory".

No, Mu, I am focused on reducing death and morbidity associated with guns. You said "gun violence" not me. That is part of it.

Restriction of guns is not restriction of speech. If you really think guns are there for average citizens to make a point, then perhaps you should volunteer yourself to be locked up asap, because that is a very scary thought.

You don't have a Russian tank division 20 minutes from your house.

Better check your guns and ammo, we might have already taken it when you were busy writing that comment!

I don't think we should take people's guns away, it is not the American way. All we need to do is insist that anyone who
owns a gun is fully insured for full third party damage resulting from that gun. Market forces will take care of the rest.

The US has the highest gun ownership per capita in the world – nine guns for every 10 Americans, per this article and not one law abiding citizen was allowed to bring their guns onto the "Gun Free Zone" called Sandy Hook Elementary to include the gunman that killed 26 people that day...only difference is, the criminal did it anyway knowing law abiding citizens would not be there with guns to defend their own children.

Sailor, any and all guns, any kind of clip, and any number?

Rick, provide the list of teachers at Sandy Hook who complained that they couldn't bring their guns to school.

Up here in Canada, CBC (public radio) interviewed a guy from the gun club in Sault Ste. Marie (Ontario) on Tuesday. His first sentence after the salutation was "Gun control laws don't make any difference....". Sigh.

Dealing with those kind of people is like dealing with climate change deniers, anti-evolutionists, moon-landing hoaxers. No study, no evidence, no analysis will ever convince them they're wrong. Hard not to be pessimistic when these same people have bought and brought their pet politicians to pass along their message of denial, doubt and obfuscation.

By Dan J. Andrews (not verified) on 19 Dec 2012 #permalink

Since when did you acquire the knowledge of self protection?Who and what will protect me from home invasion? Tell me the solution

Absoutely - all guns - those with lower potential harm will have lower rates.