Thinking About Guns

The shootings in El Paso and Dayton have once again re-opened the discussion of what we should do to regulate guns and reduce the number of gun-related homicides.  Since we are also in the presidential campaign season, they have also led to candidates offering up their proposals, including a couple that are simply unrealistic.  Beto O’Rourke proposes mandatory buy-backs while Kamala Harris would ignore Congress and impose controls by executive action. 

Where is the serious discussion about reducing gun-related homicides and mass shootings?   Extremism seem to be controlling the debate.  The status quo should be unacceptable.   We need a mature and thoughtful discussion and debate on ways to reduce mass shootings and gun-related suicides that does not violate Second Amendment guarantees.  

Too many assert that mass murders won’t be solved by more regulation of weapons and ownership.    That is a hypothesis; not a fact.  We first need to have a good understanding of the problem and then a systems approach to solving it.  We should not let the best the enemy of the better.  There is a spectrum of actions for responding to gun deaths that ranges from doing nothing to confiscation, which obviously is unconstitutional.  You don’t have to be a constitutional scholar to know that proposals along the lines of Beto O’Rourke’s and Kamila Harris’ would have no serious legal standing.

Auto fatalities and gun deaths are comparable—39,773 auto deaths in 2017; 40,100 gun deaths in the same year.  Over the past 4 decades there have been laws and regulations to make driving safer. Shouldn’t we be willing to consider some analogous actions firearms?  isn’t there a compelling case for action?  

No one objects to requiring renewable licenses to operate a motor vehicle.  So, what is so objectionable to requiring gun owners to have a license and background check?   Requiring gun owners to be licensed to buy ammunition wouldn’t be an onerous burden.  Some states require alcohol purchasers to show proper identification, usually their driver’s license.

Why should the CDC be prohibited from doing research on mass shootings?  Red flag laws can be abused but carefully thought-out and crafted ones might help interventions with the most unstable and dangerous. State laws can serve as testing laboratories.  We need to better understand how changes in our mental health laws could contribute to reducing homicides without stigmatizing people with mental health problems.

There are existing laws that ban or tightly regulate weapons like sawed-off shotguns, fully automatic weapons, burst fire weapons, and grenade launchers.  So, there is precedent.  While it clearly would not make sense to ban all semi-automatic weapons, is there a valid reason for not banning any semi-automatic weapon that is a clone of what is used in combat by our armed forces?   Similarly, limits on magazine size would not adversely affect hunters and target shooters.

Safety regulations reduced auto fatalities from over 54,000 in 1973 to less than 40,000 even though the number of vehicles on the road has more than doubled.  We should aim for doing at least as well with reducing firearm deaths.



Climate Change and the Horizon

Democrat candidates for president appear to have succeeded in elevating the debate over climate change and in selling the idea that unless we take dramatic action now civilization as we know will be radically changed in a little more than a decade. They and the proponents of the Green New Deal appear to be having an impact on public opinion. However, when the size of the bill becomes explicit and the public is forced to address its real priorities climate change may not be in the top tier, especially when the public learns that forced emission reductions here will have little impact on global concentrations of greenhouse gases.

Over the three decades since climate change or global warming has been labeled an existential threat, the day of reckoning has been like the horizon, it recedes as we approach it. How likely is it that that will happen again?  It’s probably a safe bet.  John Christy in Congressional testimony demonstrated that the climate models use to predict catastrophe greatly overstate warming.  Climate sensitivity is less than advocates choose to assume. Of course, climate orthodoxy believers dismiss Christy’s work by labeling him a denier.

More recently—2018—the peer-reviewed American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate published a study by Judith Curry and Nick Lewis that reaffirmed Christy’s analysis.  Their results suggest that actual warming could be 30%- 45% lower than predicted by the apocalyptics.  The Curry-Lewis work is consistent with a 2018 article in Nature by Peter Cox, et al that also concluded that temperature projections were overstated.  These are not the only analytical/ scientific results that should have a tempering affect.

Climate advocates would do well to take a deep breath and acknowledge that there is room for debate.  As someone once said, all models are wrong but some are useful.  Certainly, that is the case with climate models.  Instead of weaponizing uncertainty and skepticisms, they should serve as the foundation for an informed scientific debate and collaboration.  A couple of years ago, Richard Muller, co-founder of the Berkeley Earth Project said that skepticism is “not only healthy but essential for anyone who considers himself objective. … anyone who completely dismisses the skeptics arguments, is not being objective. Climate change is subtle and complicated.”

While Muller believes that global warming is caused by human greenhouse gas emissions, he has also been clear that “there is no compelling scientific result that indicates temperature variability is increasing, that hurricanes (severe or not) are increasing; no good evidence that hurricanes or tornadoes are increasing…”

If more climate advocates would adopt his view that “Any scientist who doesn’t retain substantial skepticism on this subject is not behaving in the classic mode of science.”  Doing so could narrow the differences among scientists and importantly make it more difficult for politicians to exploit climate change as the current gang of candidates is doing. Deficit spending, the national debt, social security, medicare, and increasing violence are genuinely serious public policy issues.  Wasting scarce resources on climate change prevents them on being used to address issues for which there is little doubt about their seriousness.