Yes, We Should Keep Talking about Our Gun Laws

When an event like the mass shooting in Colorado happens, it's a fair bet that people on every side will take the opportunity to say, "See? This just reinforces what we've been telling you all along." But that's easier for some than others. I looked around some conservative web sites today to see what their reaction was, and much of it ran to this: Awful liberals are going to use this to push their anti-gun agenda, and they should be ashamed of themselves (see here or here). But is there really anything wrong with taking the events that occur in our country, even horrible ones, and making the connections to our policy and political choices? Isn't that what people who write about politics are supposed to do?

Obviously, making those connections can be done in ways that are crass and inappropriate. But so can a discussion about anything. You can say we should talk about something else out of respect for the victims and their families, but the idea that the families' grief might be lessened one iota if we refrained from discussing gun laws for a week or two is beyond ridiculous.

So here goes. This horrifying event demonstrates, as though we needed any demonstration, how removed from reality so many gun advocates are. When they push laws to allow gun owners to take their weapons anywhere and everywhere, they often paint a picture of a nation of skilled crime-stoppers, ready at a moment's notice to cut down that psychopath before he has a chance to draw his weapon. But this is an absurd fantasy. Colorado is a state with lots and lots of gun owners, and it has a concealed-carry law that allows you to get a permit without too much trouble. We don't know if anyone else in the theater had a gun on them, but even if they had, it probably wouldn't have mattered. Lots of gun owners imagine themselves to be some kind of Jack Bauer figure, who will see an event play out in slow motion while he calmly draws his weapon and delivers one perfectly aimed shot to save all the civilians. But that's not how things work in real life. A mass shooting like this one is chaos. Things don't happen in slow motion, and a few hours at the shooting range don't turn you into Jack Bauer.

I wish I could say "This would never have happened if we had passed Law X." But extremist Republicans and cowardly Democrats have guaranteed that our nation is and will continue for the foreseeable future to be awash in guns, about one for every man, woman, and child in the country. They're easy to get and easy to amass. And if you're angry or mentally ill or plenty of both, you won't have much trouble putting together the arsenal that will enable you to vent your rage in the most spectacular and destructive way imaginable.

Around 30,000 Americans are killed with guns every year (the figure includes murders, suicides, and accidental deaths). Our political system has, in its wisdom, decided that that's an acceptable price to pay for the "freedom" that isn't enjoyed by people in England or France or Japan, where this kind of mass shooting is unknown. When it happens here—as it did last year and the year before that, and as it will next year and the year after that—nobody should act surprised.

Comments

I find your imagery of mentally ill people amassing weapons to "vent...rage in the most spectacular and destructive way imaginable" to be disturbing perhaps beyond your intent to make it so. I assure you painting a picture of a nation filled with crazy people that we need to keep to guns away from is not going to help your case with gun advocates. Crazy people account for very little violent crime compared to the general population. If the only argument you have for keeping guns off the streets is that a crazy person might get them the gun advocates are going to have a field day with you. And possibly with my rights as well, being a mentally ill individual. And mind you. one who has never shot anybody. Never even came close!

Imglady,

Unfortunately as a society we don't have a politically correct term for generalizing who may become a threat to society if they are freely allowed access to weapons of any kind. Instead we call people we are attempting to identify either criminals or mentally ill. Technically, based on the numerous psychology courses that I took many long years ago people who are career criminals and people with manageable conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder and others are all categorized as mentally ill.

I don't think that is what the other party really intends to indicate, I'm inclined to think they just don't have the words to more carefully identify people whose mental status makes them a much greater risk than everyday neurotics. I suspect the other commenter might agree that people with psychoses are more readily able to be safely categorized as someone undesirable to have possession of weapons just as we do people who are convicted of felonies.

If someone has been convicted of a felony there are varying degrees of refusal for them to even be considered for purchasing any weapon. Like someone who's "mentally ill" there are categories of felonies that aren't life-threatening but still all felons are at least for spans of time up to life are automatically disqualified from ownership or even use of guns for any purpose.

Would you agree that there may be reasonable cause to create a database of people who have been treated for major mental illness such as schizophrenia or pyschosis the same as we do for felons that automatically disqualify anyone on such lists from ownership or operation of guns, knives other than butter and paring knives or any other controlled device useful for mass murder?

So you admit that you think the appropriate reason for owning guns is armed insurrection against the government? And you think that an appropriate reason for armed insurrection is that Fox News doesn't like the guy who won the last election, and keeps pumping out misinformation about how he's a Communist instead of the moderate centrist that he obviously is? Thanks for sharing.

teerex,

The exact reasons for owning guns were twofold at the time of the American Revolution.

The first was that Americans, unlike in European society did already freely own guns, used them in everyday life and knew from the experience of other nations that disarming the people made it far easier for kings, queens and other not-so-nicely titled people to control large groups of people and prevent popular uprisings.

The second was exactly as you say: to empower the people to remove unpopular or oppressive government by armed insurrection if necessary. Read the documents published by the founders, they did clearly provide for the right of the people to throw off such governments at will. Typically we do it by election anymore in this country and a few others but all of them make a tiny subset of nations.

The people weren't willing to risk trusting any government to respect them. There were no such governments at the time our founders wrote down the guidelines for the united States of America.

Lessee, you think that the reason to stop law abiding citizens from having guns is because they wouldn't have helped in this situation. Nothing in what you've said indicates that it would have hurt. In most states that have what you consider to have loose guns laws, it's illegal even for those with concealed carry pemits to carry guns in a movie theater. That's why nut cases like this choose places like movie theaters and schools. I don't know Colorado law but, it's quite likely the gunman was in violation of the law before he fired a shot. How would more laws have stopped him?

You can speculate that in the confusion a law abiding citizen with a gun wouldn't have helped but, you don't know that. It's certainly possible they might have. Besides not helping is a pretty thin argument for taking the gun away from that law abiding citizen. You might as well be saying someone wearing red didn't help so we need to stop people from wearing red.

Law enforecement is not omnicient. It cannot stop people that want something from getting it. It can only make it illegal. The years and billions that have been spent on drug law enforcement demonstrate that clearly. No law is ever going to be able to stop a determined person from getting a gun. What it can do is render those that obey the law helpless against those that are willing to disobey it.

If I was in that theatre, a gun might not have helped but, it would have been a lot more likely to help than anything else I might have had.

Once again, without the typos:

Those poor people in that stadium type seating were like the Ducks in a shooting gallery game. But standing there with a full size rifle in front of them all, the loon was obviously just as clear a target from their point of view, had any of them been armed.

Do you really think "it probably wouldn't have mattered" if an armed citizen had fought back? Really?!?! By your logic, there's no reason to arm police. After all, "it probably wouldn't matter" if a policeman had a gun and was attacked by an armed felon, right?

Consider this: What if there had been, say, 10 armed citizens sitting in that stadium seating style theater - each with a clear view of the loon? Do you STILL think "it probably wouldn't have mattered?"

Facts: If I or someone like me had been sitting there, yes, we would have had to contend with panicked people around us. But while the loon was shooting at anybody and everybody, WE would be focused on shooting him and only him. Having taken the time to train and knowing what Federal Air Marshals train to do in similar situations, I personally would have hopped up onto the armrests to get myself above the innocents and I would have aimed my laser site at his face. And I would not have stopped shooting until he was down and dead. Can I guarantee that I or we'd prevail? No, of course not. But can I guarantee the odds of survival for the 12 dead and the odds of not getting wounded for those 70 others would have been significantly better?. Yes, of course I can.

There have been many cases of mass shooters stopped by armed citizens - they just don't get as much publicity. Check out one of them here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appalachian_School_of_Law_shooting

Too bad the theater change chose to have rules that left everyone defenseless. I hope they get sued into oblivion.

I wonder why there haven't been any mass shootings at police stations or NRA conventions?

The two most dangerous cities in the United States also have the most restrictive gun ownership laws. Coincidence?

Every municipality that has made gun ownership easier and allowed either concealed or open carrying of hand guns has experienced lower violent crime rates, especially those involving guns. Coincidence?

Every mass shooting has taken place in an area designated as 'gun free' and that includes Fort Hood. Concidence?

Paul --

Here is the thing. The number for gun deaths is daunting ... but the number for alcohol related deaths is 5-10 times that.

You are not talking about making alcohol illegal -- cause you KNOW how that will end up.
And alcohol is not even remotely covered under the constitution.

The second part of this is the most important. If you want gun control, support only candidates who promise to pass gun control legislation no matter WHAT their constituents think.
When your list of candidates who get elected reach 55 ( out of 535 Congress+ Senate ) let me know.
Seriously. You talk about Cowardly Democrats. They aren't cowards. They know -- KNOW -- they will be summarily fired. And replaced with people who will reverse their legislation.

You are right this is a good time to discuss gun laws. The simple truth is, no law of any type could have prevented the mass killing in Colorado. Criminals or those with criminal intent will always obtain a weapon or killing devise, and the rest of us, if guns are banned, will be defenseless. In the countries you mentioned the preferred choices for mass killings are bombs, incendiary weapons, or chemical weapons. Had an attendee at the movie had a conceal carry on them they knew better then to return fire and run the risk of they themselves killing other innocent people in the chaos. The flip side of the coin is how many lives did the 71 year old man save by firing at armed robbers in the Florida restaurant? How many have saved their own life by being able to shoot at or kill someone who broke into their home or place of business. Not too many years ago I was shot five times for no reason by some underage punk who had an illegal gun. I guess you could say I am still alive because I can write this opinion. In retrospect my only regret was I didn’t have a gun to shoot back with. I corrected that problem. When there is law passed making my gun illegal; it will be the first time in my life I will knowingly and willfully break the law.

Mr. Waldman, as you no doubt noticed, the majority of replies here don’t seem to share your views. Which is why I wouldn't say that Democrats are “cowardly” at all. You see, the gun control issue is to Democrats what the abortion issue is to conservatives; whenever each respective party tries to make serious political hay of either issue…they lose. They know this, and in fact we all know this. You calling Democrats “cowardly”, is little different from religious nutjobs suggesting that their favorite politicians are “cowardly” when those politicians aren’t willing to further impede a women’s right to choose. This is something for you to think about.

That aside, I wanted to write to take you to task on what you called “an absurd fantasy”; the notion that guns might actually be used to prevent deranged people from killing others. It’s as if you’re completely unaware that, according to the FBI, guns are actually used to PREVENT crime tens of thousands of times per year. And those are just reported numbers, of course. The likelihood is that the real number is much higher, since many defensive uses of guns are not reported.

When people like you discuss the evils of guns, you never address this fact. How come? I might suggest it’s because if you acknowledge it, it takes the debate to a place you don’t want the debate to go: the admission that gun use likely saves thousands of lives every year. Your failure to acknowledge this, almost makes it seem as if you are – to use your own phrase - “removed from reality”.

Yes, there is room for debate on the gun control issue. I, for one, agree that there needs to be more stringent review of a person’s mental health before a gun may be purchased (although that opens a large can of worms for anyone who cares about civil liberties). But until you and others with similar views are willing to approach the debate with a degree of intellectual honesty that might cause a moderate like myself to take you seriously, well…there will continue to be no real debate.

There's no real point in continuing this debate. The pro-gun folks have won and nobody's going to make a dent in the issue barring a literal revolution and government regime change, complete with new Constitution, an event that is far too unlikely in the near term to even bother discussing.

In any event, some halfway decent risk analysis will tell you that while events like the Aurora shootings, Columbine, Virginia Tech, etc., are ugly and horrendous, they're also exceedingly rare on a statistical basis. Over a period of twenty years, how many of these events have there been and how many people have died? Not that many on a percentage basis.

It's the same analysis that should be applied to terrorism. You're more likely to win the lottery than you are to be blown to smithereens, crashed into a building, or otherwise killed in a terrorist attack.

More people die of cancer every day than died in Aurora and nobody's shorts get twisted over that, besides those directly involved.

Relax. Climb down from the ceiling. Buy a lottery ticket. It really doesn't matter that much.

I think of carrying a gun like wearing a seatbelt. I have never been in an accedent where a seatbelt might have helped me but I still wear one just in case. I know that in some circumstances it won't matter if I have a seatbelt on or not. I think that movie theatre may have been the equivalent of a 16 wheeler. I don't think I could have done much, impared by tear gas, caught in a stampeeding crowd. But of course that is not the norm. The people of Colorado and America have had this gun discussion for years. We have passed some laws to restrict guns, some to ease gun ownership. For example, in my state firing a gun within 1/4 mile of a home or store is against the law. If this guy had fired his gun into a bucket of sand in his appartment he could have been arrested. I believe Colorado's laws even more restrictive. To say its time to start discussing guns is to ignore the fact that we have been doing just that for more than a generation.

You assume that a person needs "Jack Bauer" skills to effectively use a gun to stop a threat and mention that "a few hours at the shooting range" aren't enough to acquire these types of skills. Are you aware of how little most police officers are required to practice? In most jurisdictions cops only need to qualify with their weapons once or twice per year, practice is usually not required. Many of these qualifications are extremely easy and anyone with basic firearms experience could pass.

So I really am puzzled as to why I always hear "only cops should carry guns" and this nonsense about needing superhuman ninja skills only found in hollywood simply to be able to carry a defensive firearm.

Despite what you want people to think most gun owners are not trigger-happy, Rambo wannabe's. We just seem to have a better grip on what the real world is like and the possibility that we could come under attack at anytime, however unlikely. It's not paranoia, it's called being prepared.

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