Moderator: Van Canna
Like most gun owners, I understand the ethical importance of guns and cannot honestly wish for a world without them. I suspect that sentiment will shock many readers. Wouldn’t any decent person wish for a world without guns? In my view, only someone who doesn’t understand violence could wish for such a world.
A world without guns is one in which the most aggressive men can do more or less anything they want. It is a world in which a man with a knife can rape and murder a woman in the presence of a dozen witnesses, and none will find the courage to intervene.
There have been cases of prison guards (who generally do not carry guns) helplessly standing by as one of their own was stabbed to death by a lone prisoner armed with an improvised blade.
The hesitation of bystanders in these situations makes perfect sense—and “diffusion of responsibility” has little to do with it.
The fantasies of many martial artists aside, to go unarmed against a person with a knife is to put oneself in very real peril, regardless of one’s training. The same can be said of attacks involving multiple assailants.
A world without guns is a world in which no man, not even a member of Seal Team Six, can reasonably expect to prevail over more than one determined attacker at a time. A world without guns, therefore, is one in which the advantages of youth, size, strength, aggression, and sheer numbers are almost always decisive. Who could be nostalgic for such a world?
n the weeks since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, advocates of stricter gun control have called for a new federal ban on “assault weapons” and for reductions in the number of concealed-carry permits issued to private citizens.
But the murder rate has fallen precipitously since the federal ban on assault weapons expired in 2004, and this was also a period in which millions of Americans began to carry their guns in public.
Many proponents of gun control have observed that the AR 15, the gun that Adam Lanza used to murder 20 children in Newtown, is now the most popular rifle in America.
But only 3 percent of murders in the U.S. are committed with rifles of any type.
Seventy mass shootings have occurred in the U.S. since 1982, leaving 543 dead. These crimes were horrific, but 564,452 other homicides took place in the U.S. during the same period.
Mass shootings scarcely represent 0.1 percent of all murders. When talking about the problem of guns in our society, it is easy to lose sight of the worst violence and to become fixated on symbols of violence.
Of course, it is important to think about the problem of gun violence in the context of other risks. For instance, it is estimated that 100,000 Americans die each year because doctors and nurses fail to wash their hands properly. Measured in bodies, therefore, the problem of hand washing in hospitals is worse than the problem of guns, even if we include accidents and suicides.
But not all deaths are equivalent. A narrow focus on mortality rates does not always do justice to the reality of human suffering. Mass shootings are a marginal concern, even relative to other forms of gun violence, but they cause an unusual degree of terror and grief—particularly when children are targeted. Given the psychological and social costs of certain low-frequency events, it does not seem irrational to allocate disproportionate resources to prevent them.
We should also remember that mass killings do not depend on guns. Much was made in the press about the fact that on the very day 20 children were murdered in Newtown, a man with a knife attempted a similar crime at an elementary school in China. At The Atlantic.
There has been an epidemic of knife attacks on schoolchildren in China in the past two years. As Fallows certainly knows—he is, after all, an expert on China—in some instances several children were murdered. In March of 2010, eight were killed and five injured in a single incident. This was as bad as many mass shootings in the U.S. I am not denying that guns are more efficient for killing people than knives are—but the truth is that knives are often lethal enough. And the only reliable way for one person to stop a man with a knife is to shoot him.
.It is reasonable to wish that only virtuous people had guns, but there are now nearly 300 million guns in the United States, and 4 million new ones are sold each year. A well-made gun can remain functional for centuries.
Any effective regime of “gun control,” therefore, would require that we remove hundreds of millions of firearms from our streets. As Jeffrey Goldberg points out in The Atlantic, it may no longer be rational to hope that we can solve the problem of gun violence by restricting access to guns—because guns are everywhere, and the only people who will be deterred by stricter laws are precisely those law-abiding citizens who should be able to possess guns for their own protection and who now constitute one of the primary deterrents to violent crime.
This is, of course, a familiar “gun nut” talking point. But that doesn’t make it wrong.
Another problem with liberal dreams of gun control is that the kinds of guns used in the vast majority of crimes would not fall under any plausible weapons ban.
And advocates of stricter gun laws who claim to respect the rights of “sportsmen” or “hunters,” and to recognize a legitimate need for “home defense,” simply give the game away at the outset. The very guns that law-abiding citizens use for recreation or home defense are, in fact, the problem
Nor is anyone advocating that we deprive hunters of their rifles. And yet any rifle suitable for killing deer is just the sort of gun that will allow even an unskilled shooter to wreak absolute havoc upon innocent men, women, and children at a range of several hundred yards.
There is, in fact, no marksman on earth who can shoot a handgun as accurately at distance as you would be able to shoot a rifle fitted with a scope after a few hours of practice. This difference in accuracy between short and long guns must be experienced to be understood.
Having understood it, you will in no way be consoled to learn that a madman ensconced on the rooftop of a nearby building is armed merely with a “hunting rifle” that is legal in all 50 states.
The problem, therefore, is that with respect to either factor that makes a gun suitable for mass murder—ease of concealment (a handgun) or range (a rifle)—the most common and least stigmatized weapons are among the most dangerous. Gun-control advocates seem perversely unaware of this.
As a consequence, we routinely hear the terms “semi-automatic” and “assault weapon” intoned with misplaced outrage and awe. It is true that a semi-automatic pistol allows a person to shoot and reload slightly more efficiently than a revolver does. But a revolver can be reloaded surprisingly quickly with a device known as a speed loader.
(These have been in use since the 1970s.) It is no exaggeration to say that if we merely had 300 million vintage revolvers in this country, we would still have a terrible problem with gun violence, with no solution in sight.
And any person entering a school with a revolver for the purpose of killing kids would most likely be able to keep killing them until he ran out of ammunition, or until good people arrived with guns of their own to stop him.
The worst mass shooting in U.S. history occurred at Virginia Tech in 2007. Thirty-two people were killed and seventeen injured. The shooter carried two handguns (a Glock 9 mm and a Walther .22) of a make and caliber that will remain legal and ubiquitous unless all handguns are banned. (Again, this is not going to happen.)
It is true that rifles like the one used in the Newtown attack fire rounds at a much higher velocity than handguns do. These bullets also tend to tumble and fragment in the body, which makes them more lethal.
However, one cannot say in every case that an assault weapon in the wrong hands is a greater threat to innocent life than a handgun. Rifle rounds travel at such high velocity that they sometimes pass through a person’s body before tumbling or fragmenting—doing less damage than one would expect from a handgun round.
Conversely, these bullets are so light and frangible that they are sometimes stopped by barriers such as doors and wallboard.
It is also generally easier to grab the barrel of a rifle and wrest it away from a shooter than it is with a handgun. And rifles are far more difficult to conceal. Approaching the doors of Sandy Hook Elementary, Adam Lanza probably looked every inch the dangerous lunatic with a gun.
Had an armed guard been at the school, this could have allowed for a defensive response. Given these facts, it is difficult to say that assault weapons pose a greater risk to the public than handguns do.
Regarding ammunition itself, there is not much more to say, because any type suitable for home defense or hunting—and, therefore, bound to remain legal as long as guns are sold—is also perfect for killing innocent people.
The only other variable to consider is the number of rounds a gun can hold, because this dictates the frequency with which a shooter must pause to reload. Here the path to increased public safety is reasonably clear. In California and New York, for instance, one cannot buy magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
As a consequence, the moment at which a shooter can be tackled by bystanders comes after every 10 shots. Ten is a lot better than 30, of course, but it still requires the action of a true hero (probably several) who just happens to be standing close enough to the shooter to attempt to bring him down, and who is lucky enough to be alive and uninjured after the last barrage.
As Goldberg notes, with understandable despair and amazement, the security plans at many schools encourage students to spontaneously arm themselves with pencils and laptops and engage a shooter directly in defense of their lives—all the while forbidding the lawful possession of firearms on campus, no matter what a person’s training.
As Goldberg says, “The existence of these policies suggests that universities know they cannot protect their students during an armed attack.”
More Guns Are Not The Answer—Until They Are
Coverage of the Newtown tragedy and its aftermath has been generally abysmal. In fact, I have never seen the “liberal media” conform to right-wing caricatures of itself with such alacrity. I have read articles in which literally everything said about firearms and ballistics has been wrong.
I have heard major newscasters mispronounce the names of every weapon and weapons manufacturer more challenging than “Colt.”
I can only imagine the mirth it has brought gun-rights zealots to see “automatic” and “semi-automatic” routinely confused, or to hear a major news anchor ominously declare that the shooter had been armed with a “Sig Sauzer” pistol.
This has been more than embarrassing. It has offered a thousand points of proof that “liberal elites” don’t know anything about what matters when bullets start flying.
Most liberals responded derisively to the NRA’s suggestion that having armed and vetted men and women in our schools could save lives. Some pointed to a public-service announcement put out by the city of Houston (funded by the Department of Homeland Security), in which the possibility of having guns on the scene was never discussed.
Several commentators held up this training video in support of the creed “More guns are not the answer.” Please take a few minutes to watch this footage. Then try to imagine how a few armed civilians could respond during an attack of this kind.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VcSwej ... e=youtu.be
To help your imagination along, watch this short video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AA_dgRdDhkin which a motel clerk carrying a concealed weapon shoots an armed robber. The situation isn’t perfectly analogous—the wisdom of using deadly force in what might be only a robbery is at least debatable. But is it really so difficult to believe that the shooter might have been helpful during an incident of the sort depicted in Houston?
Needless to say, it is easy to see how things can go badly when anyone draws a firearm defensively. But when an armed man enters an office building, restaurant, or school for the purpose of murdering everyone in sight, things are going very badly already.
Imagine being one of the people in the Houston video trapped in the office with no recourse but to hide under a desk.
Would you really be relieved to know that up until that moment, your workplace had been an impeccably gun-free environment and that no one, not even your friend who did three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, would be armed?
If you found yourself trapped with others in a conference room, preparing to attack the shooter with pencils and chairs, can you imagine thinking, “I’m so glad no one else has a gun, because I wouldn’t want to get caught in any crossfire”?
Despite what the New York Times and dozens of other editorial pages have avowed in the weeks since Newtown, it isn’t a vigilante delusion to believe that guns in the hands of good people would improve the odds of survival in deadly encounters of this kind. The delusion is to think that everyone would be better off defending his or her life with furniture.
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