Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How to stop mass murder

I admit, I'm not a policy expert. I haven't done the years of research to know the ins and outs of these issues from a policy level. This post is largely a response to a friend who asked what I think should change from a public policy perspective to try and prevent the next gun-involved massacre like the one we just saw in Newtown, CT.

First to address the axiom, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." This is essentially true, but it ignores the fact that people use tools to do everything from trim their toenails to landing rover robots on Mars. And certainly the tools which people use allow people to kill. Guns, in particular the type of guns used too often in these gun massacres, allow people to kill quickly and proficiently before anyone has a chance to react.

Hypothetically, if I were to invent a little box with a button on it that killed anyone I would like within 100 yards of me, you would expect that I wouldn't be able to sell them on Craigslist to anyone I'd like. While the user of the death box is ultimately responsible, as the acting agent, the box itself would be recognizable as the conduit for such deaths which occur. We as a society wouldn't just throw up our hands and say, "Cat's out of the bag; we can't do anything about it now." And we certainly wouldn't make the scurrilous argument that we should get the death box in the hands of everyone to react against those who would use the death box for evil purposes.

On the matter of gun ownership for self defense, we're talking measures used to abate the level of crime. The argument is that if you were to arm more people, they would be able to defend themselves and others from would-be attackers. So for every number of attacks a percentage of them would be defended successfully. No gun advocate I've ever read has said gun ownership would end all crime 100%. But when it comes to common sense gun regulation that would slow the instance of, and abate the severity of, senseless violet attacks on public spaces, these same gun advocates argue that it's pointless because you can't stop all of them all of the time. They argue that because it wouldn't achieve a 100% success rate, it's pointless to regulate weapons of mass destruction.

Really, gun advocates are arguing that saving a percentage of lives that would otherwise have been lost is less important than the ability for them to own and use any gun at their own private discretion. They're saying losing the occasional classroom full of first-grade students is an acceptable price we pay for our liberties. Those liberties are exclusively: unlimited gun ownership.

I for one am sick of sacrificing children on the altar of gun rights. This goes to the heart of what Destroy:Ideas is all about. I cannot put ideology ahead of people.

But what are these rules? How can we prevent the next school massacre?

The relationships people have with guns vary greatly. People in rural areas have different needs than those in cities. Chicago has approximately 500 murders a year, so people there don't think more guns are a solution. But people who live in rural Montana do know that rifles are important tools to protect their property and livestock from predators such as wolves, bears and badgers. Because of this, I do not think a uniform code will work across the nation. However, there definitely has to be a way to safeguard this difference in law so guns aren't purchased in rural counties and delivered into urban centers where they are not used to ward off wolves but to commit violent crime, as the case of Washington D.C. shows.

The first changes have to be with poverty abatement, and health care access. If we can pretend that our violence here is every bit a threat to our society as violence in Iraq, we could do really positive things. Studies have shown poverty is the leading indicator of violent behavior. Similarly, economic inequality and social stratification are causes of violence and other criminal behavior. While crime rates in American have recently been falling to historic lows, they rose sharply as our equalizing institutions were dismantled in the 70s and 80s, and crime peaked in the early 1990s. (The internet played a large role in reducing crime rates as the internet is a democratizing leveler of social classes, where nobody has power over other people, and everyone can express their frustrations in non-violent ways.)

When it comes to health care, the US government already pays more than twice, per capita, what the average industrialized nation does on health care, yet doesn't achieve universal coverage, and the outcomes are lower. Incidentally, we could solve our long-term deficit problem immediately if we achieved truly universal health care. Providing access to health care can and will lead to lower rates of crime, especially violent crime. As there is a link between poverty and crime, there is also a link between health care access and poverty. Specifically, health care costs are the leading cause of bankruptcy, and send families into poverty every day.

Along with universal health care, we need emergency mental health services. These don't exist everywhere. Those that do exist trend to be nonprofit organizations, and their outreach isn't wide enough. And their resources are too little. I bet you didn't even know there was a 211 number anyone can dial on their phone to reach a nonprofit organization that can help guide people to these resources.

Studies show the majority of violent criminal offenders have mental illness, or mental developmental problems like fetal alcohol syndrome/affects. One study tested 16 death row inmates and all of them, 100%, had experienced brain trauma. What some would call "evil" is being found to simply be mental disordered/impairments.

These previous issues, I'm glad to say, are pretty noncontroversial. Most gun advocates I know aren't for government-run universal health coverage, but they do understand that providing better access to health services, especially mental health services, is an important step in mass murder abatement.

What about gun control?

To be more specific about the gun regulation steps I alluded to previously, we should look at a few common sense issues related to this idea.

In the previous few decades gun manufacturers have deliberately increased the lethality of guns in order to boost their profits. Their industry faced a problem: guns don't wear out and fewer people are entering the traditional gun markets (hunting and sport shooting). As a result, they have begun marketing to urban dwellers and survivalist fear mongers a fantasy of self defense. They increased round capacity, caliber size, and rate of fire in addition to making the arms smaller and more concealable. They also developed more lethal ammunition rounds, including rounds that splinter upon entry which only means the bullets are harder to remove. (A completely unnecessary feature for anyone who isn't a demented freak.)

Foreign arms manufacturers are also playing a larger role in the US market as other markets have been becoming more highly regulated. Surplus Russian and Chinese military weapons would previously be sold in third world countries, but there's now a huge market for these military-grade weapons in America.

Because of this utter lack of regulation, I propose:
  • Ammunition needs to be tracked better, and taxed the way we tax cigarettes. We generally recognize tobacco as a public health concern but not gun violence.
  • Ammunition types need to be regulated to remove unnecessary body mutilation features.
  • Handguns should have limited capacity. Nine rounds is plenty to scare off an intruder - if that is really the agenda. Larger magazines don't create a larger deterrent. Magazine replacement should require two hands to slow reload times.
  • High caliber weapons should be of the single action hunting variety only and limited to five rounds.
  • Shotguns should be limited to two rounds with single action.
  • Military style weapons (long rifles and carbines with high capacity magazines and semi-automatic function) should be kept in community armories or other licensed gun clubs. This should be sufficient to handle the "well regulated militia" clause of the second amendment. Military style weapons are not suitable for home protection nor for hunting, they're strictly for recreational and militia use.
  • Gun owners should be licensed - this is different than the checks we have now which are essentially honor based questions which don't have the answers screened - but a full written test and practical test. These licenses should be given grades for the different classes of guns, just like drivers licenses are given for each class of of vehicle. These licenses should be renewed in person every three to five years.
  • Each gun should also be licensed and registered just like cars.

What about people who don't follow the law?

Yeah, people don't follow the laws at all times, but most people seek to be law abiding, so we could catch a lot of these problems before someone has a mental breakdown, or experiences a transient life event that puts them in enough stress to go off the proverbial deep end.

There is certainly an element of society which lives in an informal economy, or black market. These people don't follow laws. But these people also don't commit mass atrocities like the ones we saw this past week. You also can't really compare the failing drug policies with proposed gun regulations because:
  1. You can't grow guns in your closet
  2. There's a profitable market for drugs
  3. There is no market for mass murder
Over the past 30 years, over 80% of the guns used in mass shootings were obtained legally. This murdered in Newtown, CT borrowed the weapons from his mother. Even if this guy had a history of mental illness and was denied sale of a gun (he would have anyway because he was too young for a handgun), his mother didn't and wasn't. These mass murders are not committed by career criminals, and usually this is their first (and last) offense. We can't exclusively focus on keeping arms out of the hands of "bad guys" when it's not the "bad guys" who are committing these most heinous crimes, but the guy nobody would expect.

Furthermore, we have ~30,000 gun-related deaths in the USA every year. Only about ~10,000 of those are homicides. That leaves ~20,000 gun deaths in our country every year where nobody committed any intentional crime. I didn't go into the relationship between guns and suicide here, but the statistics on that are pretty remarkable.

I'm no expert, but these seem to be common sense solutions. They wouldn't stop every bad event every time, but it could reduce a percentage of them from happening at least. I just can't accept that recreational gun use is more important than the lives of children.


Mike A. said...

You should have ended this article after the first sentence. There are far too many issues with this simple-minded article to list. Some of your suggestions are outright laughable. I wasn't aware that a 5.56, which has been around for almost half a century has magically increased in lethality recently. Also, what are military style weapons? Learn history so you don't look like a complete idiot. The action of every modern firearm was used by the military at some point in time. So any firearm is technically a military style weapon. I believe you were attempting to refer to the AR 15, which isn’t an assault rifle either. AR stands for ArmaLite Rifle. Assault rifle is a generic term made up by idiots of your ilk. These firearms ARE IN FACT suitable for home defense. They are actually better suited than a shotgun. Certain 5.56 ammo (frangible) is actually safer to shoot inside the home because it will not penetrate several walls and put innocents in harms way like shotgun ammo will. There are plenty of other reasons, too many to list in a comment. Anyway, Just because crazy Joe Biden advocates using a shotgun and committing a felony by shooting in the air or through the door doesn’t make it true. I also happen to hunt with an AR style rifle and I am not the only one. The AR is the preferred rifle for anyone who hunts wild hogs. Ironic that you choose the name DestroyIdeas when the only thing you are destroying is your credibility (which you really didn’t have to begin with). SelfDestruction would have been a better fit. If you have ever wondered why you have a pathetic little blog that hardly anyone reads, you just need to look in the mirror. I sign off with a FOAD to you and your shitty little blog.

Steven Kippel said...

You must have not read the article at all and went straight to your insult center where you also keep your talking points.

I did not once in this article use the term "assault rifle" so you have used up your entire evening writing a straw man argument which is not worth a pound of sand.

5.56 is a specialized round developed for military use because of its ability to kill human beings at distance. It's not a hunting round, and it is not suitable for close quarters combat, let alone home defense.

Military style weapons are those which have been designed with military application. This isn't a controversial description. Gun manufacturers use this same description.

The AR15 is one military style assault weapon designed for the purpose of killing human beings with efficient lethality. This is also the preferred weapon of mass murders, which is why five mass shootings in the USA last year used this exact same weapon.

Shotguns do not have anywhere near the same penetration as a high-velocity military round. The 5.56 (or .223) is highly-charged for the purpose long distance and great penetration. It's purpose built for penetrating walls, armor, and human flesh. Shotguns are used to kill fowl, and usually can't fully penetrate a bird. Shotgun pellets are low-velocity with low penetration. It doesn't pierce walls and armor.

I'm glad you commented on by shitty little blog. It's always nice for people to come here and present their true colors. Considering you have no real arguments you simply resort to name calling and insults.

Steven Kippel said...

One more fact: Assault Rifle isn't a generic term, it's well defined military term dating back to World War II. It is defined in the military code.

It's also defined in laws such as the National Firearms Act of 1934 as amended by Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968 and in the Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986 (saint Reagan was proud of this).

An assault weapon is a handgun or long rifle derived from the military assault rifles with the same features but lacking selective fire.

The More You Know.