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.




Founder and president of Solutions Consulting which focuses on public policy issues, strategic planning, and strategic communications.

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