Gun Control Cannot Prevent Mass Killings

After the recent shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, many anti-gun groups and politicians have renewed their cries for stricter gun control in the United States. As inconvenient as the facts may be (especially in this case), these folks continue to push that just a few more laws would prevent tragedies like we have seen this week. Given these assertions, let us take a look at why they simply are not correct (in keeping with site policy, shooters’ names will not be mentioned).

Universal Background Checks Would Not Work

In Charleston, the shooter passed the mandated NICS background check when he purchased the handgun back in April. While anti-gun groups like to argue for the effectiveness of such checks, the truth of the matter is that most mass killers pass these checks without issue. Shooters at Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Aurora, Newtown, the D.C. Navy Yard, and in Charleston all passed (or would have passed) the NICS background checks. A few other instances, such as Columbine and the shooting at Clackamas Town Center involved shooters that stole firearms from family or friends.

“Assault Weapons” Bans are Ineffective

The shooter in Charleston used a low capacity, .45 ACP handgun to commit his heinous crime. The only two recent incidents involving any firearm that would be politically considered an “assault weapon” were the killings at Sandy Hook and Aurora. The deadliest shooting incident in U.S. history, at Virginia Tech, involved the use of two standard handguns (a Glock 19 and a diminutive Walther P22). The Navy Yard shooter took 12 lives with a common pump-action shotgun. Columbine took place in the midst of the Clinton-era Assault Weapons Ban.

Magazine Capacity is Irrelevant

Arguments that shooters can be overwhelmed while reloading have not proven themselves reasonable. The shooter in Charleston reloaded his handgun 5 times before fleeing the scene. At Columbine, the attackers reportedly reloaded 13 times during the course of their rampage. The Virginia Tech shooter reloaded at least 17 times during that incident. In Newtown, the assailant reloaded frequently, often dropping magazines that were at least half full. At the Navy Yard, the killer used a low capacity shotgun. Reports following the Arizona shooting where Gabby Giffords was wounded indicated that the assailant’s high-capacity magazine jammed, which ultimately led to his apprehension. Similar information from the Aurora shooting has implied that a high-capacity magazine jammed during that incident as well. Put simply, magazine capacity limits are entirely arbitrary and their supposed benefits are entirely theoretical with little empirical support.

Waiting Periods Have No Effect

The idea of a “cooling off” period before taking possession of a firearm is wishful thinking, especially when it comes to mass murderers. Every mass casualty shooting has involved shooters who possessed the firearm well in advance of the crime. When these sick people spend months planning their attacks, a waiting period is trivial.

Gun Free Zones Aren’t

Firearms are banned from churches in South Carolina by statute. This did not stop a disturbed criminal from entering a church with a firearm. Likewise, the shootings at Sandy Hook, Columbine, the D.C. Navy Yard, and Fort Hood all occurred in places where firearms were laws banned firearms. At this point, it should be clear that the only people that respect these restrictions are those that mean no harm in the first place.

Gun-A-Month Limits are Pointless

In every recent incident, the shooters have used no more than three firearms. Most have used one or two. Some have argued that these restrictions help combat trafficking, but reality is that the current background checks could do this just as effectively. As it stands, these sorts of laws harm peaceable collectors and do little to curb crime.

Ammunition Restrictions Will Not Prevent Crime

Some states have pushed for bans on online ammunition purchases. The theory is that forcing buyers to purchase in person (perhaps even with a background check) will help catch dangerous individuals. If the background check for the firearm is not going to stop a potentially violent person from acquiring a gun, the same checks are not magically going to succeed when it comes to ammunition.

Likewise, limits on the amount of ammunition that a person may purchase or possess would only punish legal gun owners. The Virginia Tech shooter fired more rounds than any other mass killer and even he only expended approximately 170 rounds. That may seem like a substantial sum to many, but the fact is that most enthusiasts and competitors will fire more than that on an average range day.

Conclusion

If people are serious about curbing violence, then we need to do a better job of identifying the causes of these incidents. We must also be more effective when it comes to flagging those that might be at risk of committing such acts. In many cases, these individuals have shown signs of potential violence, only to be completely ignored. That must stop for these events to be effectively minimized. As it stands, there simply is no reasonable way to attack these challenges from a gun control angle.

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2 thoughts on “Gun Control Cannot Prevent Mass Killings

  1. Explaining point-by-point why nothing will prevent ALL crimes does not explain why taking some of these actions could not prevent SOME crimes, or reduce the number of victims.

    I agree with you that violence is a complex problem with a variety of causes. We might need to address it from a dozen, or a hundred different directions at once.

    • Mikey,
      I appreciate your willingness to discuss these issues. Please realize that this article was intended more as “quick hits” approach to the issue. I could (and in some cases have) devote an entire article to individual proposals called out here.

      The common sorts of violence that we see each day in many of our nation’s cities are indeed much different than these relatively uncommon incidents. As a result, we do have to treat these as separate issues. That said, the weaknesses of popular gun control proposals apply to both.

      The push for “universal background checks” sometimes includes an admission that such additional diligence may not prevent mass shootings. Given that most of these killers have passed the NICS checks, it is practically a given that they cannot predict and prevent future violence. Some might argue that these would help to keep firearms out of the hands of known criminals, but case studies exist that indicate this may not be the case.

      After Colorado passed its UBC bill in 2013, the Colorado Bureau of Investigations (CBI) endeavored to track the additional background checks that would be performed as a result of the law. A year later, they reported an increase of only around ~4%, an order of magnitude below the expectations put forth by gun control groups. Of these, only a handful resulted in denials. Colorado gun owners have either completely ignored the law (and law enforcement is not catching them), or the prevalence of face-to-face transactions was wholly oversold. At the same time (summer 2014), CBI did not indicate whether or not they had experienced an increase in arrests for improperly transferred firearms.

      Even without additional laws, it is still illegal to cross state lines for face-to-face transactions. We have case studies like Colorado, Maryland, California, New York, etc. that indicate many of these proposals are dubious at best. In 2013, Maryland passed a package of these laws, including magazine limits, universal background checks, permits to purchase, and an assault weapons ban. These changes did not alter the already falling crime rates in the state. Now, even with these laws on the books, the state has seen a substantial increase in violent crime and a decrease in arrests, statistics which seem to indicate that other measures are far more effective than gun control when it comes to fighting violence.

      A common counter-argument is that neighboring states with lax gun laws are to blame for gun control’s failures in many places. Growing up in Indiana, I frequently heard this from politicians in Illinois. When Michael Bloomberg was mayor of New York, he often blamed Virginia and the Carolinas for violence in the city. Assuming law enforcement is actually making an effort to enforce current laws, these complaints have no merit. It is already illegal for a face-to-face transfer to cross state lines. If a firearm is found in New York, but was last on a Form 4473 in South Carolina, a crime has been committed and it would be simple to bring charges against the illegal seller. The same applies in states that limit monthly firearms purchases. Such laws are not necessary when existing records can be used to tell the story.

      The problem with “assault weapons” bans is multifaceted. First, these types of firearms are among the most popular in the U.S. and are valued for their versatility. Indeed, an AR-15 makes a great hunting, target, and defensive rifle with few modifications. Second, they are not commonly used in crimes. Even so far as mass shootings are concerned, such rifles are uncommon. Lastly, the classification standards for “assault weapons” are laughably superficial.

      To those who do not own firearms, restrictions on magazine capacities might seem like reasonable measures. However, magazine capacity almost never affects the damage inflicted. The only incident in recent memory where capacity did play somewhat of a role was during the shooting at Seattle Pacific. Even so, the impact of the shooter’s decision to use a low-capacity shotgun is uncertain. In that case, the man that subdued the shooter happened to be a firearms enthusiast himself, a fact that no doubt helped him. A similar shotgun was used during the Navy Yard shooting. Generally speaking, magazine capacity is irrelevant, especially when the victims are unarmed.

      Another issue to consider when it comes to magazine capacities is that most home invasions involve between 2 and 3 perpetrators. If 10 rounds is your arbitrary cut-off (in New York it is 7), you start to put even an armed victim at a severe disadvantage. Reloading may not be a challenge for mass shooters, but when a homeowner has one or more criminals closing in, loading a new magazine can be very difficult.

      These are really just a few examples. The takeaway should be that the factors that make common gun control proposals ineffective with respect to mass incidents also diminish their ability to address more common types of violence. If desired, I can expound upon this issue more, but I hope this provides a more complete explanation.

      The truth of the matter is that the violence our nation struggles with is rooted in much deeper causes. Until we can appropriately account for these drivers, these incidents are bound to happen again, regardless of our gun laws. This is why many of us gun owners were so disappointed that the President’s speeches last week focused so heavily on the gun issue. He has a platform to fight violence as a whole, but has become so narrow minded that he is missing an opportunity to support those who seek to understand the true causes of violence.

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