The Gun Debate

January 30, 2013

I’m gonna toss this out here with a handful of caveats…

  1. This post is part of an ongoing thought process, and by no means represents a comprehensive viewpoint…
  2. Feel free to comment, but be aware that I’ll delete anything that so much as feels like a personal attack on myself or any other participant
  3. Any idiot can point out the problems.  Genius is in finding solutions.  Do you have a solution to offer?
  4. By the time this conversation goes live, some of my opinions will probably have shifted.  I’m not always consistent.  Deal with it.

The gun rights debate is something I’ve generally avoided on this blog.  I don’t have much patience for the dogmatic or the knee-jerk, and I recognize that most of the readers here are generally “pro-gun” anyway… although I also expect that the extent of the pro-gun attitudes probably varies a good bit.  I also know the conversation often gets heated, and once it gets personal it stops being constructive.  But with so much going on with this discussion, and because on most levels it does impact hunters and gun owners, I’d be remiss not to take a run at some thoughts.

I’ve done a lot of soul searching on the topic, by the way.  I’ve spent a good bit of time (too much?) reading viewpoints and arguments from one extreme to the other, and hoping to come away with some novel idea to address the problem of gun violence and accidents.  But at the end of the day, I’m just not seeing anything that really makes much sense.

Is that because there’s really not a valid solution?  Is it possible that, at some point, we have to recognize the reality that guns are inherently dangerous objects, and that from time to time their use will result in accidental or intentional death and injury?  Is this a reality that we just have to accept?

I doubt that perspective would get much traction on either side of the debate, but so far it’s the conclusion I’ve come to.  Sure, there are more things we can do to reduce the casualties.  But with over 300 million people clustered in this country, and almost as many guns (between 275 and 300 million, depending on your source), bad things are just going to happen. 

Am I suggesting then, that we do nothing?

Of course not.  But I can say that much is already being done, and some of it has been effective.  Both the murder rate and accidental death toll have been dropping steadily over the past couple of decades.  What is working? Are we putting enough focus on the success of existing measures?

Here’s the other question, though.  What is it worth to us to further reduce the number of people harmed by firearms?  As citizens, neighbors, and fellow human beings, what are we willing to do in an effort to help protect one another?

That’s really what this whole discussion has boiled down to, isn’t it?  The gun control factions are essentially asking (or telling) the gun owners to sacrifice certain freedoms in order to “save innocent lives.” 

It’s created quite an impasse, because the question has been framed in a way that’s really difficult to approach.  No one wants to come right out and say, “Look. I value my personal freedom to own guns over the potential lives that these freedoms may cost.”

Of course it isn’t that simple in reality, but that is what it boils down to.  The gun control advocates argue that their proposed restrictions may save many lives each year.  Their opponents say that these restrictions are unproven, and may not save any lives at all, or (and here’s the kicker), not enough to make the law worthwhile. 

Whoa!  There it is again!  It won’t save enough lives to make the law “worthwhile”.

This is where I get hung up in the debate. What is “worthwhile”?

Most arguments fall back to the numbers.  It’s hard to get solid numbers related to gun violence, ownership, or use, but the CDC is a pretty reliable starting point.  Based on the preliminary statistics for 2011, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 31,000 firearms-related deaths.  Almost two-thirds of those (>19,000) were suicides.  Between 10,000 and 11,000 were homicides.  The remainder were accidental. 

One death in 10,000 seems like a pretty low ratio when you look at all the other things that kill people in this country. If you adjust that ratio to account for factors such as criminal involvement, drug and alcohol use, and geography, the reality is that the average person in the average place really doesn’t stand much risk at all. But, of course, if you or your loved one happens to draw the short straw, those statistics don’t really mean very much, do they? 

So if a new law would raise those odds, just the slightest bit, is it worth it?  At what cost?

What is the break-even point in potential lives saved versus additional burdens on personal liberties.  If, for example, expanded background checks kept one mass-murderer from getting the weapons he needs to shoot a theater full of innocents, is it worth the inconvenience and cost of the program?  If a ban on high-capacity magazines resulted in 10 less deaths per year, would that be “worth it”?  Does the number have to be 20?  100?

Hard questions, huh?

They should be hard questions, and we should be willing to give serious consideration to the answers.  The gun problem isn’t going to be resolved with bumper-sticker simplicity.  We have to be willing and able to think things through, consider the potential outcomes of any given action, and then make a judgement call. 

So what am I saying?  

The truth is, I’m not completely sure at this point.  I’ve struggled for several weeks to put my thoughts into a coherent form, and I feel myself failing even as I tap out these words.  But I need to start somewhere.

I am a strong proponent of gun ownership by responsible, law-abiding citizens.  I believe that we have an inherent right to equip ourselves for self-defense (whether against simple criminals or against a tyrannical government) that supercedes even the oft-quoted 2nd Amendment.  The idea that the government will take care of us and protect us in every aspect of our daily lives is ludicrous, and entirely anathema to the ideals of self-determination, personal responsibility, and freedom. 

However, I also strongly adhere to the idea that your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose.  If my freedoms impinge on yours, or put you at unnecessary risk, then you are no longer free.  And vice versa…  There has to be a balance, and therein is how democracy and society work.  In the context of guns, that concept has been demonstrated by prohibiting civilian ownership of certain especially powerful weapons (e.g. rocket launchers, artillery pieces, bombs, etc.). 

As I mentioned previously, I think we need to take a hard look at what has worked so far, and build on that.  Let’s get past the emotion and rely on logic and common sense to make decisions that will have real, positive effects. 

I also think we need to take a systemic look at the problems, because I am dead certain that guns are only a small part of the bigger issue.  Why is it that most gun owners never even think of picking up their guns in anger, while some do?  Are inner-city gang members really losing their respect for human life?  How does that happen?  How do we restore that humanity? 

And the one aspect of gun fatalities that doesn’t seem to get much light is suicide.  While other firearms-related deaths are declining, suicide is still creeping up.  What’s happening there?  Maybe guns are being used (about half of suicides are committed by firearms), but guns sure don’t cause it.  What is it that’s causing people to seek that final escape? 

Finally though, when all the conversations are done, laws passed or dismissed, and the dust begins to settle… are we left with the simple reality that as long as there are guns, there will be gun-related fatalities? 




21 Responses to “The Gun Debate”

  1. Dave B on January 30th, 2013 20:30

    Very well put as usual. Funny you posted this today. I was already drafting (in my head) an email to you asking when you were going to weigh in.

    At any rate, there are so many factors (as you pointed out) that need to be dealt with.

    I do believe that there will need to be some sacrifice on our (gun owners) freedoms/liberties for the good of the whole but that is only one piece of a very complex problem as you pointed out.

    What bothers me the most is that the majority of my gun owning friends are taking an extreme approach. I am sick of seeing the old “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” arguments or the myriad of Facebook pictures and cartoons. Here is what I know. While we are all sitting around making these outdated, extreme right arguments, the gun control movement is acting. The longer we do nothing, the less of a voice we will have in the big debate.

    On the hunting side we have continued to lose battles by making the same kinds of mistakes. Taking a right wing approach all the while losing the battle to hunt certain predators or losing the ability to hunt with dogs, etc.

    We need to get together and have intelligent interactions with the other side of this debate. We need to come together to come up with solutions and stop blurting out the same old rhetoric we have always used. Change is coming people. We are going to have to face that. We can either continue to make the same ol’ arguments (which is essentially doing nothing for our cause) or we can look at the problem critically and come up with solutions/comprimises that we can all live with.

    I personally would rather be part of the solution, than to have no voice at all while everyone else but me makes a bunch of reactionary laws.

    Get together with your local representatives. Find out where their head is at. Talk to them about what you are willing to comprimise to make the world a safer place. Talk to them about other ideas than just gun control. Talk about mental health funding and screening. Talk to them about cooling off periods and stricter background checks. Heck, we take a hunters safety course to get a hunting license, but last time I bought a rifle, there was no safety or ethics course involved. Maybe we need that. Start thinking outside the box. Quit posting on Facebook…wait strike that comment….Go beyond posting on Facebook and get involved with people that will be making these decisions. Sitting around talking to others that are on your side is doing nothing for you. Talk to your representatives and your politicians. Don’t feel like you can. Find an organization that has a lobby and join them. Do something different. Do something out of the box.

  2. hodgeman on January 30th, 2013 22:36

    Excellent commentary. I’ve written and shredded a dozen pieces about the gun debate and can’t manage to wrap my thoughts around it entirely.

    One of the bigger problems is that the national consciousness is back on guns, which is a debate that really never ends in this country. The talking points are scripted by the extreme ends of both sides and neither are really looking for compromise or any sort of solution leaving those in the middle getting attacked by both sides.

    Politics being what they are- the solutions seldom reflect the issue that drove them in the first place since none of the proposed measures to date would have had much effect on a Newton style shooting.

  3. Bruce Cherry on January 31st, 2013 10:59

    Know what really bothers me? I read Phillip’s post and then Dave’s post and then hodgeman’s post and what strikes me is that all three people are level-headed, rational, and truly open-minded to finding solutions to what is obviously an extremely complex problem. The NRA is none of these. The gun-control zealots are none of these. If you are for gun ownership rights, then the only voice you have is the NRA. If you are for gun control, the only voice you have is Senator Feinstein and her disciples. Two polar opposites with extremist views and nothing in between. Sort of reminds me of the modern democratic and republican parties, extreme left and extreme right and nothing in between. I consider myself a law-abiding, tax-paying, rational citizen yet nobody in Washington represents me. It’s one extreme or the other.

    I’m driving south to an informal shooting range later this morning and I plan to be the first one there so I can sight in my M96 Swedish mauser, my GEW 98 mauser, my M95 Spanish mauser, and my Remington Model 14 pump. I use all 4 of these for hunting, along with a 1903 Springfield, a 1917 Enfield, a Mosin-Nagant, and several antique side by side and pump shotguns. The problem is, since I use antiques now exclusively [well, almost—I use a Weatherby 300 for wild bulls simply because I need the firepower], the other shooters come over and pester me, wanting to know what in the world I’m shooting and why don’t I shoot what they’re shooting and what is my position on gun control and am I a life member in the NRA and what do I think about that Muslim Obama and then they go and set up their human form targets at 50 feet and blast away with their AR15’s and Glocks and tell me that if the government ever tries to take away their guns or some lowlife breaks into their homes this is what will happen. These guys go thru several hundred rounds of ammo in the same amount of time that I shoot 15 times, zero in the rifles, and then pack up and leave.

    I used to have friends that I could go and shoot with or go hunting with, but they all have fallen for the NRA dogma and I can’t stand being around them. I also used to have friends who didn’t necessarily condone hunting, but at least they respectfully tolerated it, but now they think all firearms should be confiscated and that hunters/shooters are savages and that we should rely upon the government for protection and [in my case, being a subsistence hunter] rely upon Costco for our meat. My circle of friends has shrunken dramatically.

    We have become a violent society, as evidenced by movies [check out Stallone’s latest], video games, gang culture, and a steady decline in civility in general. The ACLU will not permit government access to personal medical [specifically psychological] records, so how can any background check spot the prospective firearm owners who have a history of mental instability? The polarization process itself creates lunatics on both sides of the spectrum who will, under no conditions, compromise their extremist views.

    I’m almost 65 now and have seen a dramatic shift in American society, and very little for the better. People who are certifiably insane are out walking the streets, the media dramatizes these firearm tragedies, shooters get their 15 minutes of fame, the debate heats up, both sides dig in, and nothing happens.

    I am for universal background checks for ALL firearm transfers, and that includes a detailed check of a person’s medical records. Drug abuse, sucicidal tendencies, mental instability, impulse control, anger management—all should be reasons for denying firearm possession. I think all persons who own handguns should demonstrate the ability to use them safely. I think people who use firearms in the commission of a crime should spend the rest of their lives behind bars—no probation, no parole, nada. I don’t think that gun shows should exist in their present format, where anyone [in many states] can go in and buy just about anything they want, no questions asked. And Arizona? Any legal-aged person [almost] can buy a handgun, carry it concealed, and then go into a bar and get drunk along with dozens of equally-armed, equally drunk patrons and nobody says a thing. That’s nuts.

    I don’t belong to the NRA anymore and probably never will. They don’t represent me. I am not a supporter of Feinstein and probably never will be.

    The problem is not assault rifles and high capacity pistols. The problem is us, what we’ve become.

    I’m off to the range now. Bet even money that the extremists will be down there and that I’ll be hassled.

  4. JAC on January 31st, 2013 11:18

    The issue is akin to products liability law. Products tend either to fail safely or to fail dangerously when they are subject to user use, misuse or abuse. A butter knife, for example, tends to fail safely in foreseeable use and even when misused (as a screwdriver, say) or abused. They bend before they break, they give a lot of notice that they are failing and when they fail, it’s hard to get hurt.

    Now, guns don’t precisely fit the concept of product failure but they do serve as a workable analogue. They don’t “fail” when taken into a school and discharged into crowds of children, but they certainly are being misused and abused in a manner that they are subject to. Obviously when misused and abused, they become outrageously dangerous. In this way, guns are analogous to products that fail dangerously.

    If something fails dangerously the second question to ask is, how severe is the harm the product causes. I’ve done a number of automotive products cases and the defendants routinely argue that there are millions of fleet miles per incident, which they argue proves product safety. We’re hearing the same thing from AR and AK manufacturers who are arguing that there are so many ARs and AKs they are common and therefore fall outside Scalia’s dicta in Heller. Lots of miles between incidents, lots of guns compared to shootings. It’s a very similar argument.

    But the law doesn’t revolve around frequency per se, (it does for purposes of punitive damages) it responds to severity of harm. In other words, the duty to guard against the dangerous fail increases in proportion to how dangerous the fail is. It’s hard to imagine a product more dangerous than a gun being misused or abused.

    So then, what are the steps that can be taken to make guns more safe? Long before Sandy Hook, I’ve been writing my congress people about magazine capacity. I have the extraordinary privilege to serve as counsel to an association of police supervisors. I am informed that most gunfights are over after two rounds. Not all of course, but the baseline, representative gunfight ends quickly. So the emotional and scary sounding argument that a small-framed wife alone in her home needs 30 or 15 rounds in a single magazine is not based in empirical reality.

    The secondary argument I’ve seen lately is that large magazines are more convenient at the range. That is empirically valid obviously, they are. Anyone who has stuffed a magazine over and over again legitimately appreciates having to do that less often and much less often is even more appreciated. Thus, the balancing test, applied empirically, is convenience at the range (fewer sore thumbs) versus mass shootings of human beings. I think any rational person would choose to inconvenience (mildly) range rats to protect other people.

    So my policy prescription is to lessen magazine capacity. Universal background checks sure, background checks that access mental health patient databases, of course, do that too. But magazine capacity has a material effect even if background checks and database availability fail or take a long time to enact.

    Though, if I were king for a day, I’d also ban .223 (and other combat round) autoloaders. Those are products that are very dangerous when foreseeably used, misused or abused. I don’t think of them as hunting rifles and they are foreseeably unsafe to innocents when deployed as home defense weapons. But I’ll take half a loaf.

  5. Dave B on January 31st, 2013 14:31

    Bruce – Excellent response.

    I didn’t want to get into the NRA, but I feel the same way you do. I stopped my membership several years ago.

    I also relate to your experiences at the range. I have some very similar stories and a few that are worse.

    The comment that struck me the most was when you said, “The problem is not assault rifles and high capacity pistols. The problem is us, what we’ve become.”

    JAC –

    Excellent points about magazine capacity. I also agree with your assertions about the background and mental health checks.

  6. JAC on January 31st, 2013 17:02

    You guys who quit the NRA: Good on you. That is a principled action and a powerful one. Conscientiously choosing your association is laudable. None of that “my country right or wrong” thinking for you guys. And, voting with your dollars is the most efficacious manner to direct your power. I hope you’ll post far and wide about quitting the NRA. People need leaders, and you gentlemen, are that.

    I left the 2nd Amendment completely alone, but rereading Phillip’s post I’m constrained to point out that any time the Court’s entire strict constructionist wing turns into loose constructionists, something besides “original intent” is the result.

  7. Bruce Cherry on January 31st, 2013 21:14

    I’m very, very glad to see the persons who posted above are their own people with their own opinions and perspectives, not disciples of dogma who chant the same, lame mantras over and over again and are led about by their noses.

    I mentioned in my post above that I hunt almost exclusively now with antiques. In the past 3 months, I had the local FFL sell 26 of my modern firearms thru Gunbroker. You’d be absolutely amazed at the quality and inherent accuracy of many of my grizzled rifles and shotguns, even those made almost 100 years ago. One of the rifles I sighted in today was a Mauser 98 in the original 8×57 [8mm], manufactured in Germany in 1918. It’s sporterized with a gorgeous custom walnut stock, lowered 2-position safety that let me mount a scope on it, and a crisp, custom single stage trigger. I paid $190 for it on Gunbroker, using my C&R [Curio and Relic] federal firearms license. The receiver and barrel are the original and are mated, having the same serial numbers. My final 3 shots at 100 yards, shooting off the tailgate of my truck, measured 7/8″. The Swedish Mauser model 96 in 6.5×55, manufactured in 1916, all original [stock, bolt, safety, receiver barrel—everything original but the bolt has been turned down], with a 60 year old Hubertus 4X European Post scope, punched 3 holes at 100 yards that measured a gnat’s ass over 1 inch. My 1917 Winchester Enfield sporter with a 50 year old Armstrong receiver sight and a fiber optic front sight [but the original barrel and receiver], shot a 3/4″ group of 3 at 50 yards. The Springfield, also sporterized but with the original barrel and receiver, has a Bushnell Elite 1.5-5 on top and shot a cloverleaf of 3 at 50 yards. The Russian Mosin-Nagant, manufactured in 1943 and from the looks of it, was used to hammer tent pegs during the seige of Stalingrad, has a cheapo NC Star pistol scope mounted where the rear sight used to be. I sighted it in a month ago and was hoping for a 3-foot group at 50 yards. The group was slightly under [under, mind you] 1/2″. I paid $99 for the rifle, $32 for the scope, and $45 for the scope mount. The ballistics are very similar to a 30-06.

    The Oviedo Spanish Mauser model 95, manufactured in 1926, was something else altogether. I shot handloaded Barnes 120 grain TSX bullets in it a month ago and it grouped fine. I had some factory Federals and used those today. Something weird is going on. After 10 shots at 25 yards, it looked like I had shot a 12 gauge 00 buckshot shell out of an open choke shotgun. If I were hunting pigs, the pigs would have been scared to death because of all the noise but they would have survived intact. I don’t know what happened. I can’t imagine changing loads would cause that. I tore it apart, checked the barrel, throat, bolt, everything, but can’t figure it out. I’d squeeze the trigger and it was anybody’s guess where the hole would show up. Any ideas what’s going on?

    Aloha from the Big Island.

  8. mike on February 1st, 2013 11:32

    Ok, I’ll address the elephant in the room since no one else wants to…

    As horrifying as recent school shootings have been, they are being politicized by the left. Diane Feinsteins bill is an overreach that doesn’t make violence any less using the recent dead as a prop. Regarding guns she has said that she would take them all if she could….

    The state of Illinois had legislation proposed after Sandy Hook that would have outlawed and confiscated pump action shotguns.

    New York’s new laws make you a criminal for mere possession of a magazine that holds more rounds than their new laws allow. And, of course, the limit is so low that most semi-automatic handguns are illegal also because their standard mags that hold ten is excessive. No provisions for law enforcement to have more either because the legislation was so shoddily and hastily written.

    Most gun crimes are committed with handguns… but they’ll start with ‘assault rifles’.

    I’m not a fan of ‘military style weapons’ but I recognize that the approach here is simply incremental… they’ll take what they can now and be back for yours later.

    divide us, siphon off the easier components and come back for the rest later.

    meanwhile, the elites including Fienstein, Bloomberg and other activists carry, have armed security and would deny you the right to protect yourself and your family. Call me an NRA reactionary if you must.

  9. Phillip on February 1st, 2013 14:17

    Hmm.. .so what I’m learning here is that maybe my constant worrying about not putting up a post every day is unnecessary. One or two posts seems to work better, as far as getting participation from you guys and gals out there in Reader Land. Probably not what advertisers want to hear, but I don’t write this blog for advertisers… I write it for fun, entertainment (mine and yours), and to occasionally inform.

    That said…

    Starting at the top, thanks everyone for chiming in. Some interesting perspectives and largely united in the realization that we’re mostly sick of the divisive rhetoric. The unfortunate reality is that divisive rhetoric seems to have become the order of the day, both politically and socially… and not just on guns but on most topics.

    Hodgeman, as far as writing something on this topic for the blog, it has been tough. I think I started drafting stuff about a week after Christmas, and have deleted pretty much every effort until this one. It’s too overwhelming, and trying to find focus is almost impossible. As it is, I’m not at all satisfied with what I’ve written above, but I suppose it’s OK as a starting point for conversation. That’ll have to do.

    I went down a lot of paths, and found most of them winding and endless.

    For example, I kept taking off on a defense of “assault rifles”, because I firmly believe that they are not where the focus of this debate should center. The only thing that sets them apart from any other semi-automatic firearm is the widespread availability of high-capacity magazines that fit them. They are not “weapons of war”. What they are is weapons of an excellent marketing campaign to create and fill a niche in a market that was beginning to stagnate. There are only so many variations on a bolt action rifle that you can make for the general consumer. They needed something new, and the military-style platforms offered an entire new line of products to a new generation of consumers.

    This said, I’ll strongly disagree with John’s King-for-a-day wish, because there is nothing more inherently dangerous about an AR with “combat rounds” than there is with my Remington 742 in 30-06 (which used to be a “combat round”), my BAR in .308 (which is currently a “combat round”), or for that matter, my Mossberg 500 12ga (which is only a pump-action, but is a widely used combat and law enforcement weapon). Misuse of ANY firearm is extremely dangerous.

    I started writing about looking at society and human nature as the root problems here (and I still believe that’s where we should look). What is it within us that draws us to violence? Everyone seems willing to point an accusatory finger at violent movies and video games, yet those things are selling like crazy. Why do we want to play them or watch them so badly?

    When I was a kid, and generations before me, we played at cowboys and indians, or played war with sticks and toy guns. For some of us, that advanced into BB gun fights, and later generations turned to paint ball and laser tag. Sure, that’s all relatively harmless stuff, but isn’t it really an outlet for something much darker inside of us? Metaphoric mayhem.

    But there are no answers there. Only more questions. How can you hope to change human nature?

    I dug into our penchant for warfare. I haven’t quite hit the half-century mark, but in my lifetime our country has seen less than a decade of peace. For my daughter’s generation, this country has been almost continuously involved in armed conflict, from Grenada to Panama to Kuwait to Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of our servicemen have spent their entire careers in harm’s way. Is it any surprise that the rates of suicide and violence among our armed forces are at a historical peak?

    But it can’t just be war. Looking back over statistics, the years including WWII and Korea showed some of the lowest rates of firearms violence in US history.

    See how easy it is to get off on tangents?

    Not to pick on John again, but I’m not sure I’m buying his product liability analogy. I agree that potential for dangerous misuse should be a consideration for regulation (prescription drugs, anyone?), but I also think that there has to be a condition based on actual numbers. Otherwise, I think there’s a dangerous precedent there that goes WAY beyond assault weapons, or even high capacity magazines.

    If you want to use the automotive industry as an example, consider this. The statistics are pretty clear that excessive speed and impaired drivers are two of the leading causes of automotive accidents. Yet the industry continues to release vehicles that are capable of speeds well in excess of prescribed limits. And they have yet to incorporate an interlock system that requires a breathalyzer analysis before the vehicle can start. So how does that play with equating auto industry product liability with limitations of high-capacity magazines or semi-automatic rifles.

    Nevertheless, I agree in concept at least, that restrictions on high-cap magazines would not be a terrible thing. On a purely “gut-level”, I think their potential for misuse by criminals might outweigh their value to the law-abiding citizens. I know that kind of thinking would get me pounded in a 2nd Amendment website, but it’s my honest opinion (and trust me, there isn’t an argument I haven’t heard in the defense of high-cap mags).

    Would such a ban be effective? I don’t really think so. There is no way of knowing how many such magazines are already out there, but they’re currently selling so fast that manufacturers can’t keep up. They are not difficult to manufacture with some basic machining skills, and the advent of 3-D printing may well make it even simpler to do-it-yourself.

    But as many folks have pointed out, just because it won’t be 100% effective, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done. The argument is that if it even stops one or two mass murders, isn’t that enough?

    The same, of course, applies to expanded background checks. We know that the majority of criminals don’t get their guns legally in the first place, but we also know that background checks have stopped a lot of purchases by people who shouldn’t have guns. The problem with universal background checks, of course, is that it’s not very enforceable outside of commercial venues. The one-to-one sale and trade of firearms occurs regularly, even in states like CA that already require background checks for individual transactions. At best, this becomes a punitive tool for use after a gun has been used in a crime or accident. Nevertheless, I still think it’s a reasonable policy.

    I also sort of hate to say it, but any such ban or regulation needs to come at the Federal Level, and then be followed by the states. In general, federal firearms law cannot be more strict than state law (e.g. ban on felons in possession of firearms), except of course, in the case of constitutional law which supercedes everything else. The point being, that if a state passes legislation, such as bans on magazines, ammunition limits, etc., there is nothing to stop an enterprising individual from crossing state lines to fill the armory… which, by the way, in many cases isn’t even illegal.

    It gets trickier and murkier the deeper you dive. Which is what makes this such a hard topic to write about… much less to resolve.

    This has run on… but I’m not done yet.

    Mike, generally the “elephant in the room” is the big, obvious reality that everyone is trying to pretend doesn’t exist. I’m pretty sure that’s not the case here at all.

    I don’t think there’s one of us in this conversation who doesn’t recognize that there are people out there with an agenda aimed at taking away all gun rights from civilians. Some of them have specifically stated that this is their desire.

    We also know that some pretty far out legislation has been proposed, and Sandy Hook was hardly the only precursor. At one point during the 90s, the various definitions of “assault weapon” applied to almost every gun in my safe… and I don’t own a single AR or AK spin-off.

    We all understand the concept of the death by a thousand cuts, and we’d be fools if we didn’t recognize that there are some people and organizations out there who would like to leverage this strategy to whittle away our gun rights and privileges.

    But the simple fact is that we also have to look past that, and consider that some of the people calling for change out there are reasonable and logical folks… and some of them have a pretty good argument. We can’t keep playing this all-or-nothing game, because it isn’t getting us anywhere.


    That’s roughly how many people died in this country from gunfire the year before last. Is that acceptable?

    If you think it is, then the conversation is ended. I’ll be honest, too, and say part of me thinks it isn’t really all that bad… considering the number of guns, and the number of people, and the fact that even situations with the absolutely worst potential usually don’t end in gunfire and bloodshed.

    I mean, think about what Bruce wrote up there, about the folks in AZ who can go buy a gun, strap it on, and then spend the evening fully heeled, slamming back tequila in the bar. Yet for all the people doing that, how many of them are getting all “western” and drawing down on their fellow bar patrons? The potential is there, but the reality simply isn’t happening. There’s a lot to be said for that, and I think it’s worth understanding why it doesn’t happen more than it does.

    But there’s another part of me that thinks it doesn’t have to be that bad. I think we can do a little bit better, and for the sake of a few more innocents, it’s worth the conversation that we’re having here. We all know the answer is not simply in gun bans or restrictions, but those topics should be on the table with everything else.

  10. Mike on February 1st, 2013 15:45

    I absolutely do not buy the ‘if we save only one life’ argument. It’s emotional, dishonest and designed to play on the deaths of innocents. If it were true we wouldn’t drive cars, cut our meat with knives or ever get in a bathtub.

    32,000 Americans dead by firearms is not acceptable. Attack those figures with gun safety education and mental health assistance not more laws that don’t work.

    I don’t know if the situation in Arizona is as Bruce related or not. If it’s as presented it affirms that generally law abiding people are not irresponsible with guns. CCW figures also affirm this. With reasonable training and background check requirements citizens can be allowed to arm themselves. Incidents where a legal CCW citizen uses a gun illegally are very rare.

    Gun control proponents are driven by an idealogical few. They want no guns available to citizens for any purpose. The bulk of their followers agree because they have no experience with guns, are afraid of guns, or had a tragic experience with guns or know someone who has.

    Even the administration lead, Mr. Joe Biden said yesterday that (paraphrased) “ya know, these new laws won’t necessarily reduce the incidence of mass killings. People just want to know that the government is doin’ something.”

    The ‘gunshow loophole’ is a farce. Almost all guns everywhere sold at gunshows are currently required to have a background check. Even so, proponents of gun control use this as a foundation for why I shouldn’t be able to buy a gun from a friend or neighbor.

    Background checks in my state have gone from less than an hour to more than 12 days…. to what point? Almost all are approved and even a majority of those rejected are later approved due to improper input or data errors.

    A story yesterday said that California evidently does require registration of some or all guns by owners. For those who have guns but can no longer legally own guns due to a felony conviction, restraining order, or mental illness claim subsequent to their ownership, the state doesn’t have the resources to remove those guns from ownership. So I have to get an approval but a felon doesn’t get a visit to remove his guns even though the state knows he has them?

    There are limits to what government can do for us all. Government does most of what it does badly and at too great a cost. I see no reason to allow them to restrict legal citizens from gun ownership because it makes a few idealogues and their sympathizers feel better about it.

    Ben Franklin during his revolutionary activity days said “we all need to hang together or we shall certainly hang separately.” I know it’s the NRA’s argument but it’s true. I’m a member but have quit them twice over the years over unsupportable positions. They are, however, the biggest gorilla in the room fighting for my rights.

    ‘Death by a thousand cuts’ should be the motto of anyone who wants to be able to defend his family, shoot a pheasant or punch a hole in a paper target.

  11. JAC on February 1st, 2013 16:37

    Coming back around: I don’t feel picked on. You’re a libertarian and I’m a social- justice liberal. We’re proof positive that political bent doesn’t drive collegiality or friendship, or at least doesn’t need to.

    The notion that military rounds eventually became sporting rounds somehow exonerates the current marketing of .223 autoloaders, and other modern anti-personnel rifles, has been floating around a bit lately and I’ve given it some thought. To begin with, the difference between a BAR in ’06 or .308 and a Bushmaster is twofold. First, the BAR can be a general use hunting rifle, no AR in .223 could be. Second, the BAR has limited capacity. Jimmy Carter once made precisely the same argument about the original assault weapons ban, complaining that his 30-06 Model 70 would be banned since it is a repeater. But that is simply meta-comparison. A BAR and a Model 70 are fundamentally different from a .223 Bushmaster in purpose and use and in the mayhem one can wreak in that use.

    It’s the comparison between utility and dangerousness that I meant to highlight with my resort to products liability. The fact that the BAR and the Bushmaster both have strikers, gas management and fire projectiles is not dispositive. Nor is the fact that they both have magazines. It is the content of the magazines and the quantity of that content that is the distinction I see.

    As to the automotive comparison, while I did not intend to limit the comparison, the facts are these, your pickup truck and my sedan have daily utility. Not one of our guns has equivalent utility. My guess is that you use your truck in some manner every day, but that you use your guns, not enjoy, use, seldom in comparison. And draw out the comparison further. Despite its obvious utility, your truck has a mandated safety cage, air bags, speed governor, catalytic converter, tire inflation monitors, probably stability and traction control and countless other regulation-imposed devices which make an inherently dangerous, but not unreasonably dangerous, product safer. I contend that an AR, in contrast to your pickup, is both inherently and unreasonably dangerous and therein lies the difference.

    One might consider pharmaceutical liability as an alternative to automotive products. Some drugs have marvelous efficacy and are used by vast numbers of people. Particular drugs are not just used by more people than own guns, the drugs are used daily. But if a side effect of that drug is death, our society demands that producers either design out the death dealing defect, guard against it, or warn against it. I fail to see how Colt or Ruger can design out, guard against, or warn against the intended purpose of their ARs chambered in modern anti-personnel rounds, except by limiting magazine size. And even that doesn’t guard against the modern anti-personnel rounds it equips.

    I don’t think an assault weapons ban is coming, but I’d support it. I have yet to see one slippery slope argument that gave me a moment’s pause about the police I represent dropping by to pick up my bolt actions, my sporting shotguns, my revolvers or my .22 target pistol with it’s 10 round magazine. I don’t even know of anyone advocating for the end of gun ownership. If there are politically credible people making that kind of pitch, I’m not aware of them, and if the people making that pitch are not politically credible, they cannot have my attention.

    As to the argument from futility: the fact that there are lots of ARs and big magazines in this country doesn’t make prohibiting more of them futile. Moreover, I get the feeling that people associate being able to do something with having the right to do something, in this conversation, buy a .223 with a 30 round magazine. I submit that the present ability to purchase ARs doesn’t imply some kind of right to them, it only describes our history.

    I’m for a coherent AR and AK ban, but I’ll take, and work for, a robust background check with penetration of mental health databases and the prohibition of more big magazines.

    Sorry for the long response, I’m working and didn’t have time to write a shorter one.

  12. Phillip on February 1st, 2013 18:52

    No worries, John. For what it’s worth to anyone, the only reason I even participate in this discussion is academic. If it makes someone consider their position a little more carefully, or if it does the same to me, then that’s all the better. But I’m not taking or making any of this personal and I honestly have no illusions that I’ll have any impact on whatever happens with all of the uproar.

    But John, you’re factually wrong on a couple of your key points.

    First is the utility of the .223 as a hunting round. It’s very widely used, and has been since before the AR craze ever kicked off. While I’m not a fan of using this round for big game, it is commonly used where legal (as it is here in TX), and often touted as excellent medicine for hogs and whitetail deer. Notwithstanding, I do know that it is an excellent varmint and predator round… much loved not only because it’s effective and accurate, but because it’s pretty inexpensive and widely available, as compared to other varmint rounds like the 22-250, .218 Bee, and others. It is so popular, in fact, that you can find almost every major rifle manufacturer offering it in most of their popular hunting rifles (bolt action, single shot, and semi-auto… it’s even commonly used in the hybrid handguns, such as the Thompson Contender).

    Second is your assertion that the ARs are different or more dangerous than other semi-autos. Equipped with a five or seven round magazine (as most of the sporting versions of these rifles are), they are absolutely the same as any other hunting rifle once you look past the superficial qualities. A high capacity magazine does not define the AR platform. It’s absolutely worth separating the two in this discussion.

    By the way, while my BAR would require some minor customization to accept a high capacity magazine, it’s a simple job that anyone could do (although it would ruin the value of a quality rifle) and modified magazines can be had via the Internet. But I can pick up a factory-made, 30-round mag for my Remington 742 with a few clicks of the mouse… and that would make a FAR deadlier “assault weapon” than any .223 Bushmaster, should I choose to turn it to that purpose.

    I don’t know how much attention you’ve paid the evolution of ARs in the sporting arms field, but they’ve made huge strides away from the old AR-15 .223. You can get them now in everything from .17hmr to .50AE. While I’m not crazy about hunting with semi-autos, I’ve drooled a bit over the .450 Bushmaster as an up-close pig rifle. Crosman even makes an AR-15 upper for .177 pellets. Testament to the versatility and popularity of this platform as a sporting platform can be found in the fact that almost every manufacturer has come out with an AR-styled rifle. As I’ve said before, these civilian ARs are not made to shoot large numbers of people. They’re made to sell guns.

    That’s not going to change the opinions of people who can’t look past their emotional reaction to the scary-looking guns and marketing campaign that has so thoroughly vilified them. But the factual reality should apply to anyone willing to use intellect instead of emotion to take an objective look at these rifles.

    I’ll skip the utilitarian comparison of pharmaceuticals and trucks and guns section because, well, I think it’s a dead-end discussion. I know where you’re going with it, and don’t necessarily agree that it’s a valid direction, but no matter how we hash it, I don’t think we’ll accomplish much.

    And finally, at the end, I do agree with the key point that I don’t believe anyone is coming for our guns either. I saw this hysteria with the Saturday night specials, saw it again during the first assault weapons furor, and we’ll see it again next time something happens. I do expect some changes, and my gut tells me that we’ll see expanded background checks on a federal level, and maybe a restriction on high cap magazines, at least in several states. I also expect the usual suspects (CA, some northeastern states, IL) to jack up their regulations… in some cases well beyond reason.

    I also believe that some politicians who have verbally stated that they’d “like to see all guns gone” never saw that as a realistic goal, and are not working toward it. On the other hand, I know that agenda exists, just as I know there is an agenda to end all hunting for all time.

  13. Phillip on February 1st, 2013 16:55

    Mike, I’m largely in agreement with what you’ve written here. I’m fairly sure that my words prior to this comment are consistent in that regard.

    But if we want to talk about ruling emotion out of the conversation, then we also need to get past the knee-jerk reactions to the extremist proposals and understand that they are to be expected… in the same way that it shouldn’t be a surprise that some on the other extreme are recommending foolish measures up to and including impeachment of the President. A lot of stupid things are being said, but if that’s allowed to shut down the conversation then we’re worse off than we were before it started.

    If we want to talk about an elephant, let’s talk about the source of funding for any of the proposed “solutions”. The reason CA can’t go into those homes and confiscate the illegally possessed firearms is because they don’t have the staffing or the funds. They’ve largely been relying on gang task forces to go after the most dangerous folks on the list, but many of the others are probably as harmless as you or I. Felony convictions cover a pretty wide range of activities, and many of them don’t make the convict public enemy #1.

    The same problem keeps the BATF from pursuing, investigating, and prosecuting people who are rejected during the NICS check. They can’t afford it, especially knowing that a large percentage of the investigations will end in nothing but an upset citizen whose background check got mixed up with someone else’s information.

    And speaking of NICS, how do we think we’ll fund the proposed expansions to that system, especially when it is supposed to include these new mental health databases (that don’t, by and large, exist)?

    Or a better question yet, is when the funding for these types of programs gets proposed, who keeps shooting it down?

    When you look at President Obama’s 23 executive orders, you’ll find most of them cover ground that’s been covered before. They’re toothless recommendations because when the burden is put back on the states, the states don’t have the money to cover them. Others, I believe, are dangerously close to infringing on privacy rights. Opening mental health records to law enforcement is one of those. It’s one thing to be adjudicated by a judge to be a danger to society, but it’s another altogether when a doctor subjectively checks a box that makes a person permanently ineligible to possess a firearm for even the most basic human right… self-defense.

    What we need instead are resources to families to identify and address problems early on. We need better research and controls on the drugs given so freely for “disorders” (especially to young people), and to understand better what role those drugs play in making the problems worse, rather than better. And we need a way to identify the diffrerence between incurable mental issues and those that can be successfully treated. But where does the money for all of this come from?

    As you can see, I’m not a fan of much of what has been tossed around so far. But we have GOT to talk about it, and everything must be fair game in the discussion. That’s how democracy works, whether you like it or not.

    So the best thing is to sit down at the table with a rational approach, dispense with the all-or-nothing rhetoric from all corners, and tackle each proposition on its own merits. This is way too complex to get all wrapped up in ideological roadblocks.

  14. JAC on February 1st, 2013 18:03

    P.S. Phillip: Your comments on auto speed and driver impairment are typically thoughtful and are a prime example of why I read you.

    Here’s the thing, if there is a stretch of road where drivers routinely flaunt the law, the municipality is likely to take engineering action to slow them down and force them to be safer. Those drivers will encounter roundabouts or right angles or stop signs. Or alternatively, or additionally, there is likely to be enhanced enforcement. In either case, external forces intervene to correct a dangerous situation once it’s identified.

    In short, I’m simply advocating the same approach municipalities use to make roadways safer, engineering and enforcement. Don’t let the construct I apply throw you, all I’m advocating is a thoughtful application of engineering and enforcement.

  15. mike on February 1st, 2013 19:18

    very thoughtful discussion Phillip. I am enjoying it very much. I’ve seen others where positions of writers were so rigid that discussion was pointless. I think because everyone here is predominately a hunter there is more room for discussion.

    I agree that we are probably not looking at a semi auto weapons ban but may indeed have mag limitations and more background checks imposed upon us. I think both are legislative window dressing only.

    Regarding extremist viewpoints, I think the left most certainly has one. Me, not so much.

  16. Phillip on February 1st, 2013 20:52

    Mike, when I’m absolutely sure of something, I’m pretty rigid. But I’m seldom absolutely sure of anything. I guess I lack commitment, because if you’re absolutely sure, then you run the risk of being absolutely wrong. Who wants that?

    On the other hand, when we’re bouncing around hypotheses and ideas, I’m the opposite. It takes something to change my mind, but it’s completely malleable under the right conditions. Like lead, I guess.

    And I don’t think you’re an extremist. Honestly, I don’t think many extremists hang around this site very long. It’s not a good place for people who aren’t willing to think for themselves.

  17. Kat on February 2nd, 2013 11:37

    I have to say that I am impressed by most of the responses here. You men are thoughtful and introspective while mentally wrestling with this big issues. Most of you haven’t allowed yourselves to be swayed by the far extremes of either side. I only wish you gentlemen were the ones having this discussion on the national level and not the bozos there now.

  18. The Suburban Bushwacker on February 3rd, 2013 05:28


    Not often I comment on guns rights threads, but this one is more interesting than most. As Phillip and Hodgeman know I write to you from the other side of the pond, where gun control is different, but the societal trends are broadly the same.

    We live in an age where ‘something must be seen to be done’ and the public are disenfranchised from all but ‘single issue’ political debate. So politicians have gotten into the habit of rolling out legislation that presses a button on a dog whistle issue with little thought to the legislations consequences or enforceability.

    Reading the posts on this thread, one point stuck me as particularly pertinent. while much ground has been made in the fight to remove the stigma of mental health issues, an unintended consequence has been the rabid marketing of SSRI’s, every time I look the number of aliments they are prescribed for has risen and the % per capita of people prescribed them has risen too. These medications are known to increase suicidal ideation and reckless behaviour. Which begs the question; Is anyone aware of any studies that chart the use of SSRI’s by people who commit mass shootings, or shootings of any kind?

    Alongside this, culture on both sides of the pond is becoming less caring, blogs with dead goblin counts are proliferating, yes its good that people have been able to defend themselves, but do we really need to celebrate someone’s death whatever they’ve done? Writers like that remind me of video game players, glorifying desensitisation .
    I’m not sure if violent video games are actually the problem, what I see as far more insidious is the culture around online game play. My son is a very big fan of shoot ’em up’s played online, what disturbs me is the language that he and his online ‘friends’ use while playing, the swearing isn’t the issue for me, its the general coarsening of their interactions with the creep of racism, homophobia and misogyny, a competition to see who cares less for others.

    No answers here either i’m afraid

    PS JAC
    “Sorry for the long response, I’m working and didn’t have time to write a shorter one.”
    Nice one i did actually LOL

  19. Phillip on February 3rd, 2013 11:26

    Thanks, Kat. There are lots of level heads in the discussion. You just can’t hear them over the noise from the media headlines, sound bites, and pundits. The signal-to-noise ratio, unfortunately, is likely to drown common sense and will grind this issue down until there’s little left but some symbolic legislation intended to calm the most hysterical, and a bunch of hurt feelings.

    Sten, glad to hear from you and to get your perspective. I agree that there is something going on with the dehumanizing of humanity, or at least some level of desensitization. My personal theory is that there are simply too many of us, and to really simplify it, we don’t see the value of human life because it is in such large supply. “What the hell, kill that goblin!” whether it’s a video came, live police video, or the gun cameras from an attack helicopter.

    It’s a frightening level of detachment which I also see reflected in the street thug attitudes from the inner cities. Life is cheap. On a cynical level, it reminds me a lot of the Frito-Lay, corn chips commercial. “Eat all you want. We’ll make more.”

    As you read above, I do agree that we really need to take a closer look at the dependence on drugs in the modern society to resolve damned near any inconvenient reality… from arthritis to ADHD. I do believe that people are looking into the relationship between prescription drugs and the actions of some of these mass murderers. I’ve read of some damning connections, but unfortunately they didn’t come from what I would consider “reliable sources”, so I took it with a boulder of salt. I haven’t had the time to really sit down and delve into that line of inquiry on my own… so far. Unlike many Internet “experts” talking about these things, I choose to maintain a day job and a reasonably connected personal life.

  20. JAC on February 14th, 2013 18:36

    I just wanted to come back to this one last time and ask a question that has plagued me since I read Phillip’s last response to my application of the utilitarian philosophy to the problem of gun violence. Are guns not products in some way? My sense is that some people imbue guns with a special quality that differentiates them from, say, Percocet and tires. I think, but don’t know, that the reason Phillip objects to a philosophical framework like utility is because guns just are special and therefore not subject to a Learned Hand type cost-benefit analysis. So, are guns products or some other quality of thing?

    So here are my follow up questions, is the right to bear arms a fundamental right or derivative? By fundamental, I mean the fundamental ownership of our person and our thoughts. If it isn’t fundamental, can it be unfettered? And if guns are imbued with a special quality, from whence, or perhaps by what, are they so imbued?

    I would really appreciate everybody’s input., especially from the people who think guns have a different nature that exempts them from utility tests. It doesn’t matter to me that you disagree with me, I need you to teach me. I represent police officers quite a lot and am assailed by liberal police and conservative police wanting my opinion. I’m trying to use the deep thinkers here to educate me before I open my mouth.

  21. Phillip on February 14th, 2013 21:02

    I don’t know how “deep” my thinking is right now, after a wonderful Valentine’s dinner and drinks. But I’ll stick this out there on a relative reptile brain level…

    First, I don’t object to the framework so much as I think it’s a dead-end road for the conversation. Utiltarian products are subject to the producers’ liability when the product fails. When the failure is due to user failure, then the responsibility is on the user, not on the tool. Doesn’t matter if it’s Percocet by overdose, tires by failure under stresses not intended by the manufacturer, such as extreme speeds, or cars by driver abuse, such as excessive speeds or impaired driving. The fact that some courts have found for plaintiffs in cases where they were obviously misusing the tools indicates a failure of our judicicial system… not a failure of the product.

    Guns are no different. Nothing, short of absolute prohibition and removal of guns from existence will ever serve the purpose of stopping a criminal or madman from using that gun to do harm. And then, the criminals and mad men will resort to alternate means… potentially not as destructive as firearms, but certainly deadly to the one or two people they kill (whose deaths are just as tragic to the people who honestly care).

    So when my Remington 700 discharges when I close the bolt, fires a round through the horse trailer and kills my kid, then I hold the manufacturer and their product liable. But when I climb the bell tower and shoot fifteen strangers with deliberate, controlled fire… that’s not the gun at work.

    Point is, the gun has no different nature than my truck, or the tires I put on it, or the fuel I put in it. Without tires, or fuel, or lubrication, that truck is basically a steel and plastic sculpture. But we could bicker on this forever, and never conclude the argument.

    I’m reminded, in this conversation, of the arguments in the tobacco debate. The “People” have successfully sued the tobacco manufacturers, and honestly, in some cases I can see some justice in that… but only because that industry intentionally misled the consumers on the health risks vs. benefits of tobacco. But the truth is, I have a hard time with the concept of making the manufacturers liable for making a legal product. As long as the government not only subsidized, but also legalized the common use of a product that, with it’s normal and accepted use is a huge health risk with deadly outcomes… then the government that legalized this product is at fault, not the people who take advantage of the legality of their poison. The enmity is misguided and misdirected.

    To the other topic, a shorter reply…

    Is gun possession for self defense a fundamental right? The courts seem to think it’s fundamental (McDonald v Chicago)… which puts it beyond the reach of even the 2nd Amendment argument. I agree with that assessment, even though I realize that my agreement is based solely on an immeasurable, emotional point of view. I feel that, no one is more responsible for our personal well being and safety than ourselves. We make the decisions ourselves, whether that’s the decision to own a gun or to reject firearms outright. Both have logical arguments, but those arguments should be our own, as individuals or families… not for our government to make for us.