THAT WHICH CANNOT BE DONE

Thank god the Supreme Court session has ended and we can stop talking about this stuff. Soon.

So, lots of weeping and rending of garments over the Chicago anti-handgun decision. Even more hysteria about the concept of incorporating the 2nd Amendment. As I don't subscribe to the slippery slope school of logic (incorporation today = striking down background checks tomorrow) and I think this will have shockingly little impact on substantive gun control legislation, I'm more interested in the underlying issue here – everyone, save for the NRA hardliners, recognizes the need for some kind of "control" on private firearms. The big problem is that we know exactly which guns are the problem and, as Chicago just discovered, it's virtually impossible to craft legislation to restrict them.

As a kid, my family was not big on guns. I think my dad had his father's WWII .45, which was more for sentimental reasons than any of the usual motivations for gun ownership. But as a public prosecutor for many years he always impressed upon me the futility of the kinds of showy gun control legislation produced by Congress. The mid-90s "assault weapon" panic was, and still is, a textbook example of a red herring. "Assault weapons" are involved in about 0.1% of gun crime, if that. The other 99%+ primarily revolves around one type of weapon: small, cheap pistols with large magazine capacities. The movies in the 1980s convinced a lot of people that criminals and gang members were wandering the streets with machine guns and AK-47s. Such instances are rare and exceptional. By and large, violent crime is committed with the bottom of the barrel in the firearm market.

Take the Virginia Tech slayings as an example. The killer used .22 pistols. They are usually used for shooting at paper targets. A decently heavy wooden door has a chance of stopping a .22 pistol round. This is absolutely the last kind of firearm that legislation would ever try to ban. Yet the small round (which enables many to be crammed into a single magazine, giving the handguns a high capacity) works just fine against "soft" targets, i.e. someone's chest. Focusing on the guns alone and not the killer's mental issues, on what basis could legislation be written narrowly enough to ban such things?

Given the obscene number of handguns already circulating in the U.S., bans on new weapon sales can't even begin to solve the problem. And as long as people persist in the delusion that having a gun in the house makes them safer, there will be howls of protest about such laws despite their relative ineffectiveness. Our solutions appear to be:

1. Take the right-wing argument to its logical conclusion; arm everyone to the teeth and live out some kind of Mad Max scenario.

2. Ban handgun sales and ownership – a move that, as gun propaganda rightly points out, will not stop people who aren't concerned about things like laws and licenses.

3. Ban all gun ownership. Same problem, plus the Constitution makes this untenable.

It seems like we're drifting toward #1 not because the conservative majority on the Court and in Congress for the last 30 years have been successful at executing a nefarious plot to manipulate the law, but rather because the other two options are some combination of ineffective, unrealistic, and unconstitutional. We've saturated this society with so goddamn many guns – especially the worst kind for criminals to have, the small, cheap, big-magazine ones – that I don't see how we can make this country "gun free" even if we wanted to. And the 2nd Amendment clearly does confer some kind of right to individual ownership (although we could reasonably debate in what context that applies).

The problem, in essence, is that we're out of answers and we, like the Courts, appear to have settled on the least terrible one. Yet we know that it's a non-solution, even when our bluster and attempts at self delusion indicate otherwise. We know goddamn well that the pistol isn't going to protect us when someone breaks into our home as we sleep or charges in through the front door, gun in hand, as we watch TV. Deep down we know or at least should know that the odds of using a firearm to successfully execute any of the fantasy scenarios presented by NRA types are close to nil.

So what is the answer? How do we do the impossible, or at least the highly improbable, and craft legislation that addresses the massive supply of guns already in circulation while protecting the basic 2nd Amendment right and parsimoniously targeting the kind of cheap, disposable handguns that actually fuel street crime? The next good answer I hear to any of these queries will be the first.

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67 Responses to “THAT WHICH CANNOT BE DONE”

  1. bb in GA Says:

    Ed:

    I had no "logic" I was providing data. I made no editorial comment on the numbers.

    I am a numbers geek.

    "I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind"

    Lord Kelvin

  2. Nunya Says:

    BB, as a fellow numbers geek I have to point out the obvious. "There are lies, damn lies and statistics." Simply choosing the numbers that support your own argument is to be untrue not only to the facts but to science.

  3. Prudence Says:

    "Although America is the greatest country in the world, the frightening reality is that Americans are not safe in their own homes."

    I live in DC and some right wing nut (i forget which, there are so many) is constantly litigating to allow yet more guns into my lovely swamp. And I tell you, it makes me want to shove a Back-Up up his backside.

  4. Graham Says:

    But as Michael Moore pointed out some years ago, Canada has a similar level of gun ownership to America but has a tiny fraction of its gun death rate. He went on to say that it is not guns that kill people but Americans.

    Now why IS that?

  5. Monkey Business Says:

    I posted this in the previous thread, but it fits better here.

    We don't need gun control in this country. We need bullet control. A gun can't kill anyone, unless you pistol-whip the shit out of them. Neither can a bullet, unless fired from a gun.

    The Second Amendment is open to a ridiculous amount of interpretation. It either guarantees the right to own firearms, or it guarantees the right to own firearms in the service of a State Militia. Seeing as there are no officially recognized State Militias anymore, if you choose that interpretation it would be easy to ban guns. The problem is that almost no one uses that interpretation, regardless of what the Founding Father's intent might have been.

    As the article states, that would be damn near impossible. Banning firearms in this country simply isn't possible. Even if you did, there are too many.

    That being said, the Constitution says absolutely nothing about a right to have bullets.

    Restrict the sale of bullets to armed forces and police services. Gun clubs, firing ranges, hunting areas, etc. may also purchase bullets, but they will be heavily taxed. Each bullet will be individually numbered and registered, so that there is a clear chain of ownership from the manufacturer to purchaser to end user.

    The problem arises with what to do with the bullets already in circulation. Well, start by making non-registered bullets illegal. Set the penalty for possessing unregistered bullets the same as a modified firearm like an AR-16 turned in to a M12 or a sawed off shotgun. Next, provide an amnesty period where people can exchange their non-registered bullets for registered ones.

    It's not a perfect solution, but I'd like to hear feedback.

  6. Parrotlover77 Says:

    This isn't in any way a solution to this problem, but I just have to vent for a second…

    FUCK the second amendment. Seriously. Fuck it. Fuck it with a long hard wooden spoon up its ass until you scoop out the appendix. I am so fucking tired of the second amendment getting in the way of common sense. The right to own a weapon whose sole function in all of existence is to kill is not a right I want anybody to have. So fuck it.

    Okay, I'm done venting. Now back to reality.

    Gun control legislation is a very long term investment. Restricting the purchase of new firearms of any particular style (be it the cheap hand guns you rightly point out is used in the majority of crimes, or the ridiculous automatic assault rifles which serve absolutely no purpose except to kill humans in very large quantities very quickly despite the relatively little crime actually committed with them) does not solve the problem now. But, given forty or fifty years, the guns will eventually break, get lost, get melted, or whatever else, and since the circulation of those guns is less, the crimes able to committed with them are less.

    With the aforementioned god damned second amendment in effect, this is a very difficult line to tread. I don't think you'll ever see remarkably tangible difference in the short term, but even if only ONE death is prevented due to an assault weapon ban (for example), that's reason enough to have the law in place.

    As mentioned by previous posters, restricting ammo sales with high taxes or whatever other mechanism is another way, although I'm not sure that will do much except maybe create a black market for ammo for the gangs (etc), but since you can tell I have so much affection for gun fags, I don't see a problem with milking them heartily for their cash to give them the freedom to shoot the thing.

    Hopefully as society progresses, we can find a way to control our innate violence and channel it effectively into productive competition (ie, 'space race' type of stuff instead of 'cold war nukes'). I don't know how we can, but it would certainly solve a hell of a lot of problems.

  7. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Good to see Zamboni Sam's comments. Word. And to the asshats who bounce back with the "are you vegan" to angst against hunters, screw you. Are YOU? How are you so sure he ISN'T vegan?

    And can you really not see any difference between (1) stalking a prey animal who is, quite literally, outgunned and not even close to equal footing for routes of escape and the giant penis enlarging effect for the hunter of controlling the animal's very life and death and then eating it, even though you have absolutely no actual need to do anything of this, and (2) animal husbandry which is absolutely atrocious in this country in large effect due to the giant corporate interests controlling farms, BUT has the potential for happy stress free captive animal lives when done on a small scale by caring farmers who use ethical farming practices, including the possibility of painless slaughter?

    But blarg blarg, it doesn't matter. If people would be open to non-meat protein substitutes (ie, fake beef/chicken/fish/whatever), companies would produce much better tasting products in those lines. And what they have now is already actually very very good.

    But now we're really diverging from the point of this whole discussion, so I'll just end it there. :-D

  8. Ecks Says:

    @Nick: no, I was talking about SeaTurtle:

    Start with the ability to own a single-shot .22 and work your way up (over years of training) to being able to own a 50 caliber BMG sniper rifle or a fully-auto AK-47.

    Also:

    But as Michael Moore pointed out some years ago, Canada has a similar level of gun ownership to America but has a tiny fraction of its gun death rate. He went on to say that it is not guns that kill people but Americans.

    Canada has lots of guns, but they are mostly rifles held by rural types. Those aren't the insanely dangerous ones. A city slicker CAN own a handgun in Canada, but they have to apply for a license, keep it at a gun club, or stored in a locked container separately from the ammo. You can get a license to carry a concealed handgun in Canada, but only if you prove that your life is in some real form of danger – so there are exceptions that can be made when absolutely needed.

  9. bb in GA Says:

    Nunya:

    I was grinding no axe w/ my precious numbers, but merely reporting them. And I gathered them from non-tendentious sources as best I know (CDC, National Safety Council, etc.) It's not like I quoted FOX NEWS….

    The only comment I made on the whole deal was about how we all would like to see these numbers change, but would probably disagree on which ones,, and how much. True, dat?

    Your Mark Twain quote is quite apt though.

    //bb

  10. bb in GA Says:

    ParrotLover, I believe…Constitution lover, not so much

    //bb

  11. Shell Goddamnit Says:

    As far as home protection, I have a cell phone, & I'm not afraid to use it. I believe the same weapon would be at least moderately effective against a crew of burly miscreants on the streets, also; don't see the burning need for everyone to carry, these days. Yet another way the cell phone has changed the world. Yeah, I know, the police are not such a great alternative, but we will certainly not succeed in banning them, and the fact is that criminals generally don't like having them around much.

    Indeed, it's not long guns that are the problem; it's the easily concealable, portable, keepable-in-the-bedside-table handgun that is the issue with gun homicides. I say, ban em; sure, then fewer law abiding people will have them relative to criminals, but so what? Use yr shotgun, for heaven's sake; it's not such a huge imposition, is it? Eventually we'd end up with fewer handguns in the hands of criminals, as well as in the hands of those people who wake up in the nighttime and shoot off their own foot thinking it's an intruder.

    Apologies to those who truly enjoy target-shooting with a handgun, but tough shit. Actually, I think I kinda like the "you can have one as long as it stays locked in the gun club safe" idea.

  12. Matt L Says:

    Its amazing to see that guns, gun control, and the Second Amendment bring out the stupid in everyone in the US. We really are our own worst enemies. Mad Max here we come.

  13. Mike Says:

    @ Parrotlover77:

    I'm fairly liberal on many issues, but with regards to the ownership of firearms I would have to say I'm very much a supporter of how we have interpreted our 2nd amendment rights. I'm sorry this doesn't seem to fit your Utopian Gun-Free America Vision, but I'm glad you aren't in charge of what rights people should have.

    For the record, I don't hunt. I don't have to. I grow vegetables and raise chickens and pigs for meat. I don't have the need, nor desire, to gear myself with thousands of dollars worth of shooting equipment and go drink beer for 2 weeks in the middle of nowhere so I can "bag" something. If I was forced, in a life/death situation, to hunt for my survival, I would. Otherwise, I really do not see the "sport" in it, and that is my opinion and choice.

  14. bb in GA Says:

    The problem with "Make all the handguns go away" position is simple to explain. In societies that have recently attempted to, the criminals have not cooperated with the program and they now know that their potential victims are less likely to be armed when they strike. Unless I'm just reading twisted NRA propaganda, things have not gone well in the UK and Austrailia in this area.

    //bb

  15. Patrick Says:

    It ends up being an arms race for law enforcement. Ever read about the North Hollywood shootout? After that the LA police force was effectively militarized.

    More dangerous weapons have the potential to produce much more sensational events and our society responds more readily to sensational events than chronic festering conditions. Not saying this is right, just that it is.

  16. Melatonin Supplement ` Says:

    gun control should always be imposed strictly to avoid another Columbine scenario,;.

  17. Wrench Set Says:

    i think that gun control is a must because more guns means more deaths ::,