One More on Gun Laws: It’s Not Over

James Fallows:

Unless something is done, the American fascination with violence and the easy availability of guns — as a “right” —  will generate more mass murders.

Like everyone, and I’d say especially like every parent, I am of course saddened and horrified by the latest mass shooting-murder. My sympathies to all.

And of course the additional sad, horrifying, and appalling point is the shared American knowledge that, beyond any doubt, this will happen again, and that it will happen in America many, many times before it occurs anywhere else.

Recently I visited the site of the “Port Arthur Massacre,” in Tasmania, where in 1996 a disturbed young man shot and killed 35 people and wounded 23 more. The site is a kind of national shrine; afterwards, Australia tightened up its gun laws, and there has been nothing remotely comparable in all the years since. In contrast: not long after that shooting, during my incarnation as news-magazine editor, I dispatched reporters to cover then-shocking schoolyard mass shootings in West Paducah, Kentucky, and Jonesboro, Arkansas. Those two episodes, coming back to back, were — as always — supposed to provoke a “national discussion” about guns and gun violence. As always, they didn’t; a while later they were nudged from the national consciousness by Columbine; and since then we have had so many schoolyard- or public-place shootings that those two are barely mentioned.

The Brady Campaign’s list of mass shootings in America just since 2005 is 62 pages long.

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  • My frustration with all of this is that all we seem to be able to do is to sit around and say things should be changed. Where are all the ideas of what we can change that would prevent a tragedy like this. I admit I don’t have any because I don’t see any. What this man did in that movie theater was against the law. Maybe I’ve been an evangelist for too long but the only help for folks like this is Jesus. This man’s heart and mind were not right toward God. I’m sorry but I feel that there are not enough laws that could be written or cops to be hired that would have stopped this from happening.

  • Rob

    John @ 1,

    I have heard this argument from several people in the last few days. “What can we possibly do to prevent these things from happening?” Let’s agree that the answer is “nothing!” We can’t be 100% successful in preventing people from using guns to kill people. But let’s now ask a different question: “What can be done to reduce the frequency and severity of such tragedies?” Now, we at least have some things we can talk about. How can supply of guns not be part of that conversation?

    I am by no means an expert in this area, and I don’t have answers but I do have lots of questions. I will use the latest event in Co as the context for a few of my questions. From what I have read, the Aurora shooter legally bought 4 guns (including an assault rifle), thousands of rounds of ammunition, and tactical assault gear.

    My questions:
    1. Is there no way to track and possibly flag potentially suspicious purchases/patterns of purchases?
    2. At any point in the process of purchasing these items did he have to justify or otherwise provide any evidence related to his need/use for them (can one justify the need for an assault rifle)?
    3. Did he need to be certified or otherwise trained to buy any of these guns, especially an assault rifle? Is gun registration/permitting anything more than providing your name and address(?) ?

    I realize that state laws vary, but I think you can see where I am going. It seems to me legitimate gun owners could stand a bit more “inconvenience” or red-tape if meant it was harder for future murders to acquire them.

  • gingoro

    I disagree with John above. If people had SAMs or other military weapons easily available they would get used. Other than folks like Brinks guards I see little need for hand guns although licensed target shooting clubs are fine. Hunting rifles and shotguns are fine so long as they are not fully automatic either by design or modification. We license car drivers so I see no reason that gun owners should not likewise need to take appropriate courses and obtain police clearance before buying a hunting gun. At out church all workers that deal with children have to get a police statement to protect the church from liability so why not gun owners?

  • Eric

    It is assumed that it is the ease of availability of the guns that temp people to do this sort of thing, rather than the national media which is like no other in the world that promotes evil people like this guy to world wide recognition. I have seen this guys face and apartment 50 times more than I have of the victims and their heartbroken families.
    Was his motivation to kill people or to gain national attention? Which was more important to him? If he was looking to be a celebrity, that is not the guns fault but our hyper crazed media. If he was bound and determined to kill people as his only motive, he would have gotten the guns he needed through the black market anyway or used something else. We live in a broken fallen world. It is a sad deal all the way around.

  • I see no problem with requiring people to register their weapons. I also have no problem with a ban on the sale of fully automatic weapons. The problem is that the people who want to commit these crimes won’t mind breaking one more law in order to get the weapons they desire. You can not make enough laws or hire enough cops to stop this. The only cure is a change of heart inside the criminal.

  • In the United States, mass murders, like the murder rate and violent crime rates in general, are at their lowest point since the 1960’s, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    Violent crime rates, including murder rates, have been falling steadily for 20 years, even as the number of guns (legally) owned by Americans increased greatly, and the availability of concealed carry permits, which allow law-abiding citizens to carry firearms with them, went from almost nothing to huge (3% of the population in some places).

    Media attention is greater, sure. But actual crime rates are way down.

    We do have some problems as a nation. We glorify violence in the media. We stigmatize the mentally ill, but fail to properly treat them. We allow bullying to continue unchecked, and even glorify bullies who get away with it (Romney’s hair-shaving incident is frankly disgusting). But lawful gun ownership? Not one of our problems.

    I can appreciate and respect pacifism, though I am not there (at least not yet).

    But I cannot support your call to strip law-abiding citizens of the means of effective self-defense. Such laws will give the criminals a material advantage, will likely reverse our falling crime rates, and may even lead to more victimization and violence.

    I do not think we can bring about the peacable kingdom by getting “Rome” to disarm its law abiding citizens. History shows us that only leads to violent crime and sometimes even governmental tyranny.