Something Has to Change

Ironically, if we don’t get to the issue of the availability of guns in the wrong hands, we will erode the freedom we are trying to protect. Trying to second guess which person with a gun is likely to do violence to others will require a massive level of surveillance never seen outside the likes of dystopian novels.

Yet more innocent children were mowed down in school last week and again we have thoughts and prayers, gnashing of teeth and pounding of fists. In this case, the friends of the children who were massacred are speaking out and want solutions. What, if anything will we do?

The direct solution is to limit access to certain weapons for people that have no need for them. Military-style semiautomatic carbines with large magazines are killing machines. They are designed to kill people, plain and simple. They have been used over the past few years to kill everybody from young children in schools to attendees at a country music festival. Innocent folks attending both a church and a nightclub were murderously gunned down. If we don’t limit access to this weaponry, other steps will be necessary, and they aren’t pretty.

If we don’t watch (access to) guns, we need to watch the people. The FBI right now is being chided for not pursuing information on the alleged shooter in Florida. We may greatly expand surveillance of the populace at every level from local constables up to and including the FBI. It would require a massive expansion of manpower, and drastically reduce privacy as we know it.

A third avenue would be to act defensively on a large scale. We could turn our schools into something that more resemble fortresses than places of education. Metal detectors at every conceivable entrance, numerous armed guards constantly roaming the halls, even bulletproof shields surrounding playgrounds. We would essentially be sending our children off to prison, not school.

Also, personal protective gear may be necessary. School uniforms could be used that resemble the clothing of SWAT teams because, well, the children need to get from an armed and fortified home to an armed and fortified school. Actually, school backpacks fabricated from Kevlar are already available, but (child size) bulletproof chest protectors, helmets, and leggings would also be needed.

Granted, the last two paragraphs propose rather extreme and very impractical solutions. The real solutions are all around us. Where there are guns there will be gun violence. In the mid-nineties in Dunblane, England, 20 children were slain while at school. The immediate result was legislation banning private possession handguns. Although there is still gun violence in the UK, it is orders of magnitude lower than in the United States. Similarly, a mass shooting in Australia a few years back resulted in a buy-back and ban of military-style weapons. There have been no massacres since.

Without confiscating a single weapon, simple precautions such as registration, licensing, and insurance will go a long way. Something has to change.

Guns, Guns, and More Guns

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

So reads the second amendment to the constitution. The ambiguity of the construction of the sentence has been a cause of disagreement for centuries. Some view the amendment to give carte blanche to gun ownership, that is, anybody can own any kind of firearm. The other end of the extreme think that it only allows for the formation of organized state militias.

The reality of the courts’ decisions lie somewhere in between these extremes. Most can possess a gun but not all. Guns can be restricted from some locations but not all. Some kinds of guns can be owned but not all.

There is probably no better example of why there must be a final arbiter of what is the meaning of the words strung together in the constitution, it’s amendments, and laws. It doesn’t matter what you or I may think those words mean. It only matters what at least five members of the supreme court think. Their decisions become the law of the land, but even those decisions aren’t static. As the membership of the court changes so may the legal interpretations change.

Equally interesting are the changes to gun ownership. An obvious trend is that every time we have a mass murderer in the news, and every time there are discussions of gun safety, gun sales spike upwards as some fear that they won’t have access to a gun in the future. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives recognizes that we now have more guns than people in the United States.

Does that mean every man, woman, and child has a gun? Of course not. NORC at the University Chicago recently did a study which produced some interesting results. Paradoxically, at the same time the total number of guns in the country is increasing, the number of households with one or more guns is decreasing! More and more guns are held by fewer and fewer people.

This has be attributed in the main to fewer hunters. In 1977 someone in 32 % of households hunted. By 2014 that number had been cut in half to 15 %. This follows the demographic change of increasing urbanization. Fewer and fewer people live a rural life which favors hunting for sport or filling the larder.

Gun ownership by region of the country is unsurprising. Most guns are in the old south because, well, the old south. Sparsely populated Rocky Mountain region was next with the heavily populated mid Atlantic region at the bottom with the fewest households with guns.

Apparently the more money you have the more likely you are to own a gun as there is a straight line correlation between household income and gun ownership. Finally the gender gap for gun ownership is narrowing. Even as total gun ownership by household goes down, the share of guns owned by women is going up.