As we’ve discussed previously, many of our assumptions regarding mass shootings — or gun violence in general — consist of speculation and misconception. A science of gun violence doesn’t exist. There are a host of problems that can trigger shootings, but little research to delineate them.
There is no clear evidence to distinguish a bitter resentful man from a bitter resentful murderous man. Of the former, there are many; not so the latter, fortunately.
No published evidence supports the notion that being a bully or a bully’s victim, or playing violent video games, or watching TV, predisposes anyone to mass murder, aka “rampage shootings.” No good evidence shows either limiting or easing gun access would reduce mass shootings.
That’s the way the NRA wants it, and they spend big bucks to preserve the status quo ignorance. Government-sponsored research has been stifled. What are they afraid of? Gosh, another witch hunt?
Or are they worried systematic collection and analysis of data might confirm that indeed guns kill people, and people with guns kill other people more efficiently?
So we need more good data. But some proposed “solutions” to gun violence predictably don’t work. Among these are “enforcing existing laws.”
Existing laws are inadequate. Recently the law actually freed an adolescent who confessed to detailed planning for a record-setting school shooting — planning isn’t illegal until one attempts to implement the scheme.
Many shooters currently acquire their deadly weapons legally. The notorious AK-47 assault rifle comes as a kit, missing the “receiver” which houses the key mechanics, so it’s not subject to regulation. (Civilian AR-15’s are technically not assault rifles, which have a full-auto setting; they still resemble assault rifles, hence their designation as “assault-style” weapons — ASW’s. They can accept high-capacity magazines, or upgrade to full-auto with a bumpstock.)
We merely attend a “build party” workshop to convert the kit’s pre-drilled metal platform into the missing receiver with a quick turn of the vise. Completed, it’s untraceable, no serial numbers, completely legal.
It’s easy to stage rampage shootings without violating any law first.
To be sure, most shootings don’t even involve ASW’s, so bans on bump stocks, large clips, or ASW’s per se can’t influence the problem much. Can’t hurt, rarely helps. Any semi-auto will do when a shooter strolls along popping individuals who enter his field of vision. Modified into automatics, ASW’s provide “spray and pray” gunfire, used to massacre crowds rather than single victims.
While rampage shooters sometimes do display signs of preexisting mental illness, we often realize it only in retrospect. Most “disturbed” persons never become violent. Locating a few violence-prone persons among the vast numbers of the mentally ill amounts to searching for a needle in a stack of straight-pins.
We desperately need to invest more in the identification, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. Just don’t expect that to impact overall gun violence.
Why do we use or need guns? Three main activities, with some overlap: hunting, self-defense, and recreation. (Dang it, it’s fun to blast away at cans, bottles, and other targets of opportunity; it’s like a live-action video game.)
Hunters consider their hobby good healthy recreation, since most don’t rely on game for subsistence.
Self-defense virtually never would require automatic fire or large magazines. Fire-fights with home invaders or aggressive road-ragers tend to be brief.
Basically the only reason we’d want ASW’s, modified or not, is for recreational applications. A good 12-guage shotgun, a pistol, a regular semi-auto rifle will serve for self-defense or hunting.
To reduce gun violence, I’d settle for a firearm I could use for hunting or defense, and forego the delights of amped-up macho firepower.
It wouldn’t be easy socially and politically, but then neither is it easy to clean up after hundreds of fatal shootings every year. A tragedy of this magnitude demands aggressive intervention.
Despite limited gun-violence science, we can’t just wait this out while research finally materializes — and battles NRA opposition at every stage. Some reasonable proposals include:
1. Ban all weapons accepting detachable magazines, of any size, shape, or descriptor. A legal firearm must be loaded by hand, one bullet at a time, six max per gun. No body-armor-piercing bullets.
2. Treat all guns like cars. License and register them all.
3. Background checks before each purchase, using the license.
4. Smart tech on most guns, to prevent unauthorized use.
5. National gun buyback program, with a two-year time frame to sell the newly illegal guns back for melting. Failure to comply means you are no longer a “law abiding citizen.”
6. Domestic manufacture and foreign imports would be curtailed to allow only legal guns in smaller numbers, no “missing” parts sold separately.
7. Ban gun ownership by anyone convicted of domestic violence, for a minimum of five years.
Exceptions can be made for family heirlooms and legitimate collectors.
While accommodating contemporary realities, the Second Amendment would still be conserved. The Founders specifically predicated it on their now-obsolete Minuteman-style militia for territorial defense. Our military forces now have plenty of their own weapons; we won’t need to flee our plows and grab our squirrel guns.
Eventually, there would be fewer arms in circulation, legal and otherwise.
We’d still be able to keep and bear arms, to blast the burglar or down the deer.
We need to “denormalize” gun veneration. The 2000s are not the 1700s.
Jon Hauxwell, MD, is a retired family physician who grew up in Stockton and lives outside Hays.