We passed another milestone in America this past week: the worst mass shooting in modern American history. Predictably, almost before the shooting stopped, the gun control advocates were “up in arms”, so to speak. But this time Republicans have chimed in as well saying we need to look at “banning bump stocks”. Even the NRA, caught a bit off its game, is promoting more regulation, but not legislation.
Showing outrage and pledging to consider taking action is the political thing to do while the event remains the center of the news. Unfortunately, after the shock wears off and the media goes back to reporting on other things nothing is likely to happen in Washington.
But what if Congress were to ban this latest technical work-around of the automatic weapons limitation laws? Would President Trump sign it? And if he did, would the average American be safer? Probably not!!
The kind of carnage we saw in Las Vegas gets everyone’s attention. It gives the shooter a measure of notoriety and probably will lead to similar criminal efforts in the future. Evil people do learn what works from listening to the media and observing other twisted minds. However, it has been demonstrated several times in countries with vastly more restrictive gun laws than ours that massacres sometimes still happen regardless of preventive measures.
Generally, law enforcement in the US and most other developed countries do a pretty good job of thwarting these attacks. But there is simply no way to prevent all mass murders in a free society, especially if the perpetrators are willing to die themselves. It will happen again someplace and we need to acknowledge that reality!
The United States is alone among civilized democratic societies in its love affair with guns. Fifty-eight people dying at the hands of a lone sniper is certainly a tragedy. But that is not even a typical full day’s worth of gun deaths in the United States. On average 82 people are shot to death every single day in America. People are much more likely to be accidentally caught in a crossfire or kill themselves than to be shot by a mass murderer. The “normal” daily firearms killing rate rarely makes the national news unless there is something really unusual about a particular case. Law enforcement professionals will certainly learn from Las Vegas and do everything they can to anticipate and protect against such events going forward. But reducing the overall rate of gun deaths is what American citizens should be focusing on.
In a truly rare event Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and I actually agree on something. We both say we ought to adopt the Israeli model of gun control. The only difference is that he is either utterly stupid on the subject or lying through his teeth and hopes you won’t investigate. I suspect the latter.
Wayne says that like the US, Israel has lots of guns but lower rates of gun violence. So, he concludes, the problem in America is not our guns but something else. He is right that the incidence of civilian gun violence in Israel is much lower than in the United State. Gun deaths in Israel per 100K population are about one-tenth (1.1 versus 10.3) of those in the United States. But he is wrong about the relative number of civilian guns. The problem is with civilian ownership. In the United States there is approximately one gun in private civilian hands for every resident. In Israel it is about one gun for every 25 residents. That is hardly the same firearm ubiquity that LaPierre would like you to believe.
LaPierre also says that Israel had lots of school shootings until they put armed guards in their schools. He claims that is the only thing that stopped them. Well, not quite, Wayne!! There have never been lots of shootings in Israeli schools. Three events one might call school massacres have occurred in Israel’s entire history as a sovereign nation. All were outside terrorist events not remotely like the home grown killers at Sandy Hook and Columbine. And while they do have armed guards at many public buildings including schools, they were not put in because of ongoing school massacres. They were first stationed outside schools in 1995, two decades after the 1974 school massacre which was the only one in Israel’s history before that time. Israel has since suffered two smaller terrorist events involving school children, one in 2002 and one in 2008.
So what about Israel’s gun laws that the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre says we should adopt? I am all for it!! Here is a summary of the key elements of Israel’s gun laws:
1) All private owners of firearms must be licensed; normally licensees are allowed to own only one firearm, and assault style weapons are banned;
2) Only security workers, people who transport valuables or explosives, residents of the West Bank, hunters, and retired or reserve members of the IDF above certain ranks may have a license for private ownership of a firearm. And 40% of the applications for license from those in one of the qualified groups are rejected for lack of demonstrated need or other reasons;
3) Members of these qualified groups must be 21 years old if they have current or previous IDF service (otherwise 27), have been a resident of Israel for more than 3 years, pass both physical and mental health exams as well as a criminal background check, and complete both classroom and shooting range training;
4) Once licensed the individual may purchase a gun. Their firearm will come equipped with a one-time supply of 50 cartridges; no more cartridges may be purchased except at a shooting range for use on that premises;
5) The gun owner must retake the license exam and re-currency training every three years. And the gun owner must prove that he/she has a safe at home to keep the weapon in.
My own thinking about guns in America:
To be clear, the bump stock at issue now has no hunting or sporting value. It is good for only one purpose: to indiscriminately kill as many human beings as possible in the shortest amount of time. No one needs a weapon like that, or an assault style rifle that can easily be fitted with such a stock.
Semi-automatic firearms should be limited to 5 rounds, if not banned all together. There is no valid reason hunters and sports shooters need a larger magazine. If a hunter can’t hit his prey in five shots the game is not likely to hang around. And there are also no legitimate shooting sports that could not be tailored to meet a small magazine requirement and still be fun.
Even self defense is not a legitimate excuse for large magazines. The typical trained police officer in a firefight hits his target only about half the time. An untrained civilian shooter with a large magazine just represents more collateral danger to other innocent bystanders. That is a risk we should not allow.
Everyone who wants to own a firearm should be required to submit to a criminal background check, mental evaluation, firearm training on the weapons the individual owns, and recurrent competency training at least every couple of years.
Every gun should be registered to its owner, and that individual must be held personally liable for the use of that firearm by himself/herself or any other person. Subjecting firearms owners to background screening, re-currency training, registration, and personal responsibility for the firearm will reduce gun deaths by accident and suicide, and lead owners to control their weapons much more carefully.
As for the millions of guns already out there: I suggest we offer a buy back program, also a grace period during which people can register their guns, apply for licenses, submit to criminal background checks, mental evaluation, and take necessary competency training. After the grace period ends, unregistered guns could be confiscated and the owners subject to felony charges, fines and/or imprisonment depending on circumstances.
Those are my thoughts! But I am not naive. I know that none of the above will happen. That would require the gun lobby to yield to the will of the people and stop buying or intimidating our national legislators. Sadly, we as a nation just don’t care enough about 30,000 gun deaths every year to make reducing it a priority. By law we don’t even allow the CDC to study gun violence and death as it may relate to gun control. They might turn up something that the gun lobby wouldn’t like. I don’t see anything changing in my lifetime.