Once again, we’ve had a tragic and brutal mass shooting at a school. Once again, there is a clarion call: DO SOMETHING! I would argue for a better call: Do something effective.
Before looking forward, we should look back. The call to do something is a call for government action. Before asking government to do more, we should thoroughly understand why government failed in Florida and Washington DC. It wasn’t as if there was not ample warning. The kid called 911 to report himself. The assumption that government can solve all of our problems is a dangerous one. We need to figure out what government can realistically be expected to do and hold it responsible. The fool who pulled the ICBM alarm in Hawaii was “reassigned”. He was finally fired after a public outcry. The Veterans Administration was rocked by a long series of damning revelations. At the end of the day, NOBODY WAS FIRED. Lois Lerner, in answer to a planted question at a public forum, admitted that she used the IRS to violate the rights of citizens whose political views she found objectionable. She was allowed to take the fifth at a congressional hearing and then retire with full benefits. Until we hold government employees accountable for their derelictions of duty, asking government to solve our problems is a waste of time.
Next, we need to be careful about the rush to legislate. Rule of law is the foundation of democracy. It is a precious commodity. The tsunami of laws and regulations spit out by our governmental process is a clear and present threat to that foundation. Everyone who reads this is undoubtedly in violation of a number of regulations and laws, most of which you’ve never heard about. The thicket is so dense that you may very well be violation one rule in an attempt to comply with another. Before we enact a new law, we should abolish some old ones. Virtually every law should have sunset provisions, so its effects can be analyzed. Consideration should be given to unintended consequences, both at the time of passage and the time of review.
If the gap between the owners of 300,000,000 guns, many of whom are clinging to guns and God, and the advocates of gun control is to be bridged, some truths are going to have to be faced. Gun control folks think anyone who owns a gun is a barbarian. They like to point out that 40% of the guns are owned by 10% of the population. I instinctively mistrust narrative statistics, many of which are pure inventions, but lets stipulate to this one. That would mean 180,000,000 guns are owned by those who aren’t part of the evil 10%. That is a big percentage of the population. They have to be assured by gun control advocates that they are not standing on a slippery slope; that the real aim of gun control (confiscation) has been abandoned; and that the right of law abiding citizens who are not emotionally unstable to own a gun will be respected. Those who want to hunt game, and/or shoot at targets and/or protect their persons and possessions with a firearm are not the problem and should be let alone.
We cannot avoid the topic of mental illness. The NYT had a fact checking piece on the subject. It was an egregious example of the bias of the so-called fact checkers. It asserted that mental illness was a factor in only 4% of mass shooting incidents. Let me stipulate that anyone who takes a gun into a school or concert or theater and starts shooting strangers at random is psychotic. I don’t care if the NYT or the psycho-industrial complex chooses not to label them as such.
All that said, what could we actually do that would be effective?
Automatic weapons are already illegal. We could pretty easily outlaw any device that transformed a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon. We might also be able to eventually outlaw the manufacture and ownership of any weapon that could be easily rendered automatic, accompanied by a generous buyback program and a significant transition period.
Upgrading the background check system has been proposed and is a good idea. But government is not the right vessel. Government has a horrible track record when it comes to technology. Farm it out. Let the big tech companies bid to run the system and review the contract on a regular basis. Have a system with three categories. Those with a criminal or mental health history would not be able to buy a gun. Those with some lesser background problems (such as the Florida shooter) would have to undergo additional vetting before being allowed to buy a gun. The rest would have a wait of a few days to confirm their identity and history. Those in the do-not-buy categories should have access to an appeal process that did not require them to hire a lawyer.
Outlawing “assault weapons” is, in my view a waste of time. It is a process of categorizing guns by their appearance, not function. Gun owners, gun smiths and gun manufacturers will find ways around any such ban in a heartbeat. If you want to get it done over the long haul, here is a suggestion. No weapon in civilian hands should be able to discharge more than one round per pull of the trigger under any circumstances. With enough time and buybacks, you might be able to limit all civilian firearms to three rounds fired before reloading is required. A hunter who can’t hit the game with three shots deserves to go home empty handed. A homeowner who can’t hit the intruder with three rounds is going to be overwhelmed in any event.
Finally, we address the suggestion of Trump the Barbarian that we arm teachers. As usual, there is a kernel of truth in his bluster. Schools should be protected. But one size does not fit all. A school in Montana with a sprawling campus that cannot easily be secured with a physical barrier might very well have a teacher who is familiar with firearms and has endured the adrenalin rush of live combat. Arming such a teacher to take on an intruder before the police arrive would work. An urban school might be able to secure a perimeter and have bulletproof classroom doors and an armed guard with a flak vest. The most effective thing government can do is research the subject and share best practices. Let the local authorities figure out how to best protect their children.
The gun tribe and the gun control tribe are separated by an ideological Grand Canyon. But I think both want to do something to protect children. There is hope for compromise.