The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good
by The Mad Rocket Scientist
On July 22, 2011, A person who shall not be named conducted a planned and methodical mass murder against government and children. He used simple arms, a simple bomb, a disguise, and carefully choose his target. He killed 77 & injured 319 more.
In the period that followed, the Norwegian people did not vilify gun owners; they did not demand the Norwegian Patriot Act. Instead, they demanded a more open & democratic society. They had a national conversation where, to this outside observer, the majority were willing and able to respect one another and find a common ground.
I think they understood Voltaire. They understood that there is no perfect solution, no perfect safety, and attempts to achieve such are fraught with unintended consequences.
I’d like to have a similar conversation about guns. I’d like to find a common ground that balances the rights of gun owners with public safety. I’d love to discuss the cultural shift we need to have such that guns return to a quiet place in our society where they are tools that are respected, but not feared.
The problem is that those who are demanding that “Something Must Be Done! (TM)” are either ignorant of the facts about guns and gun laws in general, or willfully deceptive. It is very hard, as a gun owner, to be willing to give ground to people who can not be bothered to learn or who lie about guns or gun laws. It is even harder when the media is merrily skipping along carrying the water of such people. Making false statements like the 1994 AWB would have prevented the purchase of a 30-round magazine. (Tt banned the manufacture of new 30-round mags for civilian use, but did not outlaw those in circulation) When Mayor Bloomberg can go on the air and state that, “No one has defended the 2nd Amendment as much as I have“, and he is not laughed out of the studio, or when David Gregory of NBC violates DC gun laws so he can show a standard capacity magazine on TV (which is illegal in DC, where his show was taped) and is not arrested on his way out of the office (something that would get a common man brought up on felony charges pretty quick). In addition, many high profile advocates of Gun Control are perfectly fine with having armed men on hand to protect their persons & families. And don’t even get me started on the violent rhetoric of many in the gun control crowd.
In the face of such hostility, ignorance and/or hypocrisy, why should gun owners give an inch? Why should they budge, when media outlets publish maps of law abiding gun owners in a blatant attempt to stigmatize them, endangering them in the process? Why, whenever studies & statistics show that people use guns to defend themselves and families everyday and that we should improve firearm safety and usage training, such studies are dismissed as biased, or anecdotal; but mass killings or accidental shootings of children demand a conversation about gun control. When it is said that 94 million gun owners did nothing wrong and their guns hurt no one, it is ignored – or shouted down with cries of “Something Must Be Done! (TM)”. I always hear calls for ratcheting up the regulations, laws, & penalties, but never anything about removing those that do nothing but frustrate lawful owners.
So how could gun owners be brought to the table?
You could try by making all non-violent weapon offenses misdemeanors. You might dissolve the BATFE and roll its budget and function into the FBI, requiring firm written rulings on anything that requires a regulatory judgement. (The BATFE is notorious for saying one thing, then changing it’s mind later and taking action against people who thought they were on solid legal footing, or other such shenanigans). No one goes to prison and has their rights stripped for a burned out taillight or a lapsed automobile registration, unless they’ve been a habitual offender. This action one will garner a ton of good will amongst gun owners and the 2nd Amendment community, who are tired of looking over their shoulder for law enforcement and a felony conviction.
Another method might be to provide a clear path back for those convicted of a minor felony, or committed to a mental hospital. People get sick, or stupid, and they should not have to bear the cost of that for the rest of their life once they’ve served their time, or gotten help. With no path back, what is the incentive to change?
I hear calls for closing the Gun Show Loophole – which isn’t a loophole, really, it’s just a law some people don’t like. Still, if you want to reduce the number of firearm transfers that happen without a background check, I suggest making the Form 4473 a downloadable PDF and open the NICS to anyone. If I don’t have to pay a gun dealer up to $100 to run the check for me, I have more of an incentive to do it myself. Why? My peace of mind that the guy buying my gun is allowed to do so. Also, I can keep the 4473, so if the police come calling because my gun was found at a crime scene I can point them in the right direction. (Most gun owners are happy to help law enforcement with an active investigation).
Why not just create a gun registry? Well, there are a few reasons:
1) Registries are aggressively opposed and people will do everything they can to fail to register their guns. Especially criminals, doubt they’d register their guns at all.
2) Registries would be electronic, and thus hackable (Governments are not always very good at securing data). That database would be gold to thieves, who would use that data to know who has what guns. This, of course, assumes that the government doesn’t make the database public, and you get the result mentioned above.*
3) Government has used registries in the past to perform confiscations of firearms.
4) Our government, as of late, has been very, very irresponsible with all of our other personal data – why should we give them more?
5) Registries are expensive and have a very poor track record of being useful for preventing or solving crime.
It isn’t perfect, but I bet you’d get more people actively running NICS checks on their own sales (and keeping the paperwork in a safe place) than you ever would registering their guns.
How about Federal Assault Weapons Bans? Been there, done that, did Jack Squat. Even Feingold, the Progressive Champion, declined to renew it. It did nothing in Connecticut, even though they had such a ban. So what is the point of a new one, other than to irritate and frustrate the 94 million people who did nothing wrong?
Magazine limits? First off, 20-30 round magazines (mags) are standard capacity, not high capacity. (Seriously, getting the terminology right is important. It signals that you have done your homework, and are not simply trying to drum up fear and hysteria). Secondly, after a day of practice at the range you can swap mags in a second or less. Third, high capacity mags (like 100 round drums) tend to weigh more than the mag well was designed for, and are highly prone to jamming – which is why hunters, the military, and the police never use them, and why they only exist as novelty items for enthusiasts. Fourth, if an AR-15 is being used for home defense it is nice to not have to try and carry extra 5-round mags in your PJs while defending your home from multiple attackers. If you must, I’d say 10-15 rounds is a good middle ground**.
Insurance is another decent idea. Say that if I own firearms, I have to carry a rider on my home owners/renters policy. I already know people who have carry permits who have riders and policies to protect themselves from civil lawsuits, or to assist with the cost of a criminal defense should it be necessary. I have such a policy. Make it a pre-requisite for owning a firearm, or for owning more than one, or something (sticky spot here, requiring a third party market transaction in order to practice a right). Your rates would be determined by the number and types you own, your method of storage, where you live, your background, your level of training, etc. We would need a law so as to prevent the government from artificially hiking the rates to levels that would exclude the poor, but that aside it is amazing how much insurance rates help people more carefully assess risk.
In a similar vein, a national Concealed Carry standard (and reciprocity), or a Federal Concealed Carry Permit would be nice as well. Want to be able to carry your gun anywhere? Get trained, get checked, get the permit. A concealed permit generally requires a pretty extensive background check with fingerprinting (while the NICS check during the purchase of a firearm is essentially an attempt to validate an ID against a criminal conviction database), so you have a much higher level of confidence that the permit holder is a decent person, or at least is probably not prone to violent outbursts or rash action. Gun owners get to travel harassment free, and you have a registry of gun-owners who you know are trained & trustworthy.
Another hot button is waiting periods. Not so much the idea itself, but rather its application. If I already own six guns, why do I need to wait five to ten days to buy another? Adjust the law so persons with a Concealed Carry Permit or proof of insurance don’t need to wait. Also, persons with a TRO (or similar) can avoid the wait as well. (And IMHO, persons with such an order should be able to get the local PD to give them a quick course in how to use the gun).
But honestly, what can you do with regard to the guns themselves and hope to have a real impact?
Mother Jones did a study of Mass Shootings. It’s not bad, except for the cutoff. The killer had to kill at least 4 people. The problem is, this ignores all the instances where someone opened fire in public, and was met quickly with return fire (or decisive action) by someone on the scene (typically an off-duty or ex-cop, or a person with a concealed carry permit). If you look at all such shootings, you’ll see that armed response puts a stop to such things quickly. The other thing you see is that the “successful” killings all share a common trait – the location was essentially a soft target. A gun free zone, or a place where the capacity for defensive action was greatly reduced (e.g.: a medical center, or a elementary school***).
Same goes for any place in our society. Good people, people who are trained and evaluated, can act as a first line of defense. Even if they can’t kill the shooter, they can demand his attention; while he is busy having a gun battle, everyone else can try to get away. So encourage people to get checked out, trained, get their permit, and practice, practice, practice. If we can trust police (who are human and flawed, just like the rest of us, and have no super powers to speak of) we can trust our neighbors.
It isn’t perfect, there is lots of room for mistakes and bad things to happen. But it is better than people dying in job lots for the sake of somebody’s peace of mind that there are no civilians nearby with a scary gun****.
* Sure the data is public, but it requires a bit of effort to request it & put it all together like this. And the point is obvious, so gun owners who follow the law, register their weapons, get their permits, can be stigmatized and endangered? Imagine of this was done with everyone who had a same-sex marriage certificate?
**** Strange that veterans, who often have far more weapons training and better weapons discipline than the police, are viewed as untrustworthy to carry as a civilian by many. And do such people know that off-duty and retired police can carry anywhere? I also find it interesting that our government bemoans that weapons of war don’t belong on our streets, but they then happily turn around and arm the police with those same weapons of war.
Final note about Body Armor: Lately we’ve been hearing media reports that shooters are wearing body armor. Bear in mind that not all body armor is made equal, and it is not a shield against Physics. Even the best Kevlar vest will not stop a rifle round, and many will not stop large caliber handgun rounds. Even if the armor can stop the bullet it intercepts, physics is a stone cold &*$#! & will not be denied the transfer of energy. This isn’t the movies; they are not the Terminator. The wearer is going to feel like they just got punched or kicked – hard – and they will probably be staggered or knocked down. Breathing is gonna be difficult for a few moments. They are gonna have a hell of a bruise from that. They are going to lose precious seconds, time when people can clear out, or defenders can reposition, seek cover, or close the distance and disarm or kill the shooter.