An Argument for Effective Gun Regulation: An analysis of the last 15 years of gun violence in America
by Bradley Alexander Hyde - December 23, 2012
The author is a 30 year old Army Veteran and a gun owner from Arizona.
Illustrations by Clay Bennet·
I was hoping it would be longer before I had to write up another one of these commentaries, but after another national mass shooting, this time involving 20 children and 6 adults, I feel that it’s necessary to address the issue head on. Ultimately, we have a duty to the victims of this tragedy to have open and honest dialogue about what changes we can make to prevent this from happening in the future.
My last write up was a bit “thick”, as it addressed the 2nd amendment issue from a legal and philosophical standpoint (http://www.facebook.com/notes/politics-religion-and-the-global-economy/on-2nd-amendment-rights-and-gun-violence-in-america/380282812026718). This comment however will be a more personal discussion, so it should prove slightly less painful to read. I’ll start with a bit of my background and passion on the subject, then discuss some of the main arguments for and against gun regulation, adding in analysis from the last 60 mass shootings in the United States in the last 15 years. I’ll conclude with some suggestions for positive change, and as always, welcome any feedback.
First and foremost I am a 30 year old Army veteran and a gun owner. My battalion was also the battalion that was processing through pre-deployment screenings in Fort Hood when Major Hasan walked into the building, pulled up a chair, and shouted Allahu Akbar, before pulling out two pistols and killing 13 people (and wounding over two dozen others). Almost two months before this, my cousin, the closest person I had to an older brother and a man whose passion and verve for life enriched everyone he met, took his own life with his police issue 9mm. In 2011, my home of Tucson, AZ was the center of national attention as U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot along with 18 other people, in the parking lot of a supermarket. And this week, after another massacre, this time involving 20 children, I’m forced to examine the choices we have made as a society, and ask what I can do, and what we can do, to make it safer for our friends, family, and children.
Out of respect for those that have fallen, I feel that every reader, every citizen, regardless of your perspective on gun rights and gun regulations, should be open to at least the honest discussion of the issue. Thus, if you are pro gun regulation, I ask that you honestly ask yourself which regulations are effective. And if you are against gun regulation, I ask that you honestly examine what restraints and safety measures we can put forth to reduce the occurrence of these tragedies. There is no slam dunk solution to this problem, and in the end, a myriad of solutions are needed, including: Proper mental health assessment and treatment; Restructuring our security and responsive plans to these types of attacks; and Limiting access to dangerous weapons to those who would use them to commit atrocities.
As one could fill a book with discussions on proper mental health assessment and treatment, as well as proper tactical responses to emergences, I’ll keep this comment focused on the concept of limiting criminal accessibility to dangerous weapons. First and foremost, let us be clear: A request for gun regulation is not a request for a gun ban. As detailed in my last write up, the Supreme Court ruled in DC v. Heller that a total ban on guns is a violation of the 2nd Amendment, though some restrictions based on lethality are allowed. Thus, the argument that “any regulation is a path to a total ban”, is unfounded and merely an attempt to shift the debate into more easily attacked terms.
The first question in this analysis is: Does gun regulation work, and if so, which ones? Finding the balance that allows law abiding citizens to protect themselves, while limiting the flow of weaponry into the wrong hands is a challenge, and the results have been ambiguous. The Federal Assault Weapon ban saw conflicting results in reducing gun violence for several predominant reasons. First, Assault Weapons in general made up a small fraction of the total gun violence problem, with semi automatic pistols maintaining the largest share. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, there were many loopholes in the Act that allowed manufacturers to make minor changes to guns classified as “assault weapons” and continue to place them on the market. In the end, ambiguous results and a different political spectrum allowed the ban to expire in 2004 (Seehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Assault_Weapons_Ban). Several states have enacted a similar ban, but requirements and results differ by region.
So what regulations can work? In answering this question, I looked at the last 60 school/mass shootings in the U.S. from 1996 to current day (found athttp://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0777958.html), and pulled out data that included: the age of the shooter(s), the type of weapons used, the gun regulations at the time in that state, the types of ammunition used, whether the weapon was obtained legally, and whether a gun free zone was targeted. My hope was to determine what specific regulations or safeguards could have helped to prevent each of the shootings.
While the data is a bit much to cover in a short comment like this, there were a few clear trends that became apparent. First, the majority of the weapons used in these attacks were obtained legally, or taken from a close friend or family member who obtained them legally. Second, while Assault Style Weapons make up only a small fraction of nation-wide gun violence, they make up a much larger percentage of these mass shootings. Additionally, it’s hard to tell whether gun free zones were specifically targeted, or whether the schools/public facilities were merely targeted for their shock value or connection to the shooter. I won’t get into the specific regulations that could have prevented every shooting in the last decade, but I’ll cover a couple of the most recent to demonstrate how proper safeguards could have saved innocent lives.
In the most recent tragedy, Adam Lanza used a .223 Semiautomatic Bushmaster Assault Rifle, with several high capacity clips. He also carried two handguns and had another shotgun accessible. Adam’s mother obtained these weapons legally, and Adam was able to secure them from his mother and ultimately take her life and the lives of 26 people with these weapons. In analyzing this attack, there are a few clear regulations and safeguards that could have limited the nature of this tragedy, or even prevented it completely. First, the lethality of Adam’s attack may have been reduced drastically without use of the Assault Rifle and extended clips. The rapid fire and reload system, combined with deadly close range lethality exponentially increases destructive efficiency. Second, Adam’s attack may have been avoided completely had there been proper safe storage and locking requirements for weapons in his mother’s house.
In the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, James Holmes used a similar AR-15 Assault Rifle, along with a shotgun and semiautomatic police pistol. It can be noted that the AR-15 used had previously been banned in the state, although the law had been allowed to expire. Additionally, Holmes had purchased the majority of his weapons and large amounts of ammunition online. In this case, civilian casualties may have been minimized by removing Holmes’s access to the Assault Rifle. Additionally, had the large ammunition purchases triggered any red flags for investigators, this tragedy may have been prevented entirely. At a minimum, a proper mental health assessment and background check for such lethal weapons and ammunition could have also made this tragedy avoidable.
Not every mass shooting/school attack follows a predictable or easily preventable formula, and it is not certain that such regulations would have guaranteed prevention. However, if even one school shooting could have been avoided, or even one child had been left alive, we as a nation would be better for it. It is likely however, that far more than just one shooting could have been avoided, all while still allowing law abiding citizens to exercise their 2nd amendment rights.
As mentioned above, there are three main regulations that could have helped prevent these tragedies, and may help prevent them in the future:
1. Consistent (no loopholes) nationwide Assault Weapon bans, including high capacity clips;
2. Nationwide thorough mental health and background checks that increase based on the lethality of the weapon, or amount of ammunition purchased;
3. Nationwide regulations on how weapons are stored or locked, especially around minors, and increasing storage regulation as the lethality of the weapon increases. This regulation in particular limits the access of these dangerous weapons to minors, unstable family members/friends, and criminals.
The above regulations still allow law abiding citizens to own and use guns for personal protection and recreation, while limiting access to individuals who would use them to commit atrocities. There is no rational argument against these regulations, beyond potential negative effects on the profit margins of gun manufacturers.
The main conclusion of this comment is which regulations can work, based on analysis of our previous mass shootings. Thus, if that’s all you’re interested in, you can go back to Googling pictures of funny cats. For the rest of the comment, I’ll address some of the main arguments against gun regulation that have popped up recently:
1. “Gun free zones are the problem” - One of the most common arguments from the NRA advocates after each one of these tragedies is that “unarmed civilians are easy targets”. Images of a lone hero saving the day with his personal colt 45 pop into everyone’s head, and you see links to 2nd hand sources claiming that somewhere else in the world an “attacker was stopped by local hero exercising his 2nd amendment rights”, and “if only someone in the crowd, or at the school had been armed”. There are two main problems with this argument however. First, there is the issue of training. While police officers and certain military personal receive constant training and certification on accurate shooting in a chaotic environment, civilians (in general) do not. Having one shooter turn into two shooters in a cross fire has the potential to merely add casualties. Second, while “having a guard in every school” has been suggested by the NRA (whose answer to too much gun violence is “more guns”), this solution has been debunked as being unfeasibly expensive and ultimately ineffective. ://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/21/nra-armed-guards-schools
Additionally, while there may be the possibility of a situation of a lone hero being in the right place at the right time, while being properly trained and having solid aim, and being in the right state of mind and location to stop the attack, there are far more situations where individuals with weapons merely escalated an incident that could have been resolved without lethal force. While these mass shootings stick more permanently in our minds, personal grudges and fights that end with someone pulling and using a gun are far more common, and result in far more deaths per year. (Also examine the semi-recent Trayvon Martin case). In the end, the most effective tool in preventing a shooter from bringing a weapon into a gun-free zone is to ensure that shooter does not gain access to the lethal weapons in the first place.
2. “Gun regulations don’t work! Chicago banned certain types of weapons and saw a rise in crime! The UK Banned certain types of handguns and saw a rise in gun violence!” - The next meaty argument used by anti-regulation advocates is that gun regulation actually leads to an increase in gun violence. These arguments are a bit unfounded, as they mistake correlation for causation, and establish conclusions that are unwarranted. More specifically, gun regulations and gun violence numbers between cities and states have many different contributing factors. Primarily, if one city adds extended restrictions on weapons, and a neighboring county does not, the net result is merely a trafficking of weaponry from region to region. These observations however lend more credence to the conclusion that we need a national solution to gun regulation, rather than a region by region approach.
The UK in particular saw a rise in gun violence over the last decade, after enacting rather strict gun control laws. Upon further analysis however, it is clear that the increase in gun violence has been linked to an increase in gang activity, and more specifically: gang on gang violence. This growth in gang crime, and inner city crime in general is a a corollary of a dampened economy. Removing gun regulations in this country and increasing access to weapons nationwide, would only serve to further arm these violent factions, while adding little to no safety to the civilians left in the crossfire.
There are other counter-arguments that have popped up in the last week, but they are not as substantial as the “Put a guard at every school” and “gun regulations don’t work” arguments, so I’ll simply provide a list of the arguments and a link to the counterarguments below:
3. “Israeli teachers carry weapons, and have only had one school shooting!” - This is actually a misrepresentation of fact. -http://www.addictinginfo.org/2012/12/16/israeli-teachers-are-armed-and-other-stupid-right-wing-myths/
4. “Aurora shooter selected the only gun free movie theater!” - This has popped up a few times, but there are actually a few gun free theaters/malls in the area, not just one, and there has been no testimony or evidence from Holmes to suggest he picked that theater due to the “gun free” nature of the area.
5. “If you ban guns, only outlaws will have guns” - This is mostly addressed above, but I feel this needs to be quickly debunked: 1. No one is trying to ban guns, we’re trying to regulate the procurement of these weapons so that the wrong people cannot get them so easily. 2. Laws act as deterrents. We have traffic laws because they deter unsafe driving. We have laws against murder because they deter murder. They are not meant to prevent all crime from occurring. They merely act as a deterrent and system of recourse.
In the end, after another 20 children are buried, the NRA is standing firm in its stance that more guns is the answer to increased gun violence. With the profit margins of their donors at stake, it’s hardly a surprise. : http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/n-r-a-leaders-defiant-in-television-appearances/
The only question is, what will you to do to help prevent these tragedies from occurring in the future? Go out and buy as many semi-automatics as you can? Or call your congressmen and ask for effective regulation of lethal weapons?