Rodger Rampage Raises Gun Control Questions

Predictably, Elliot Rodger’s California killing spree has led some to denounce the NRA and call for gun control: “Stop this madness!” says the father of one of the victims. Rodger killed three people with a knife and three more with handguns, but no one is calling for a ban on knives. (In the U.K., where private ownership of firearms is rare, most murders are committed with knives, and debates over “knife crime” are constant in the press.)

While these arguments, which follow after every mass shooting, tend to be sterile at best, the Rodger case does illustrate one area where more stringent laws might actually help.

Start with the fact that Rodger had three handguns–two SIG Sauer P226s and a Glock 34–in his car, all of which he had bought legally from a federally licensed dealer. This means that he passed a background check. No surprise there–he hadn’t done anything that would cause him to be put on a list until Friday. This is one problem with the liberals’ constant demand that background checks be made “universal,” i.e., applied to private sales as well as sales by dealers: the “do not sell” list is grossly inadequate.

Yet those who knew Elliot Rodger were aware that he was deeply disturbed. His family was so concerned about his mental health that they contacted the police; policemen interviewed Rodger but found that he did not meet the criteria for an involuntary commitment. Again, that is not surprising. But just about anyone would agree that a disturbed young man like Rodger should not be able to buy firearms, even though he hasn’t yet done anything that would justify commitment. Currently, there is no mechanism for Rodger’s family, or other families in similar circumstances, to place a relative (including a dependent, like Elliot Rodger) on the federal “do not sell” list.

I don’t think it would be difficult to enable such a system. It would have problems, of course. A decision would need to be made as to who has the power to “list” someone. And no doubt, individuals would occasionally misuse the system by listing a perfectly normal person out of spite. A “delisting” process would need to be established.

Further, I have no idea whether such a reform would have made a difference in the Rodger case or not. I don’t know when he bought his firearms, or when his family became sufficiently concerned that they may have put his name on the federal list. Moreover, a system like the one I describe would be anything but foolproof. A disturbed person who found himself blocked from legally buying a gun could turn to the illegal market, or use a straw purchaser. Whether Elliot Rodger would have the means to circumvent the system, no one can know. But if a listing procedure as outlined above were enabled, the person(s) who listed a disturbed individual could be notified if he made an unsuccessful effort to buy a gun. That, too, could trigger a more effective response. In this case, Rodger’s family has said that they had no idea he owned firearms.

There is no perfect solution to the problem of crime, which has always bedeviled the human race, and always will. Further, any discussion of crime (mass murder or otherwise) is incomplete and potentially dangerous if it fails to acknowledge that violent crime rates in the U.S. are in a long-term decline. We have been doing something right; and, while I can’t prove it, I suspect that increasingly widespread gun ownership deserves some of the credit for declining crime rates.

That said, it may well be that improvements can be made to the federal background check system. It would be good to have a rational debate on that question.

ONE MORE THING: News reports also indicate that Rodger had “34 loaded 10-round magazines for the Sig Sauers and seven 10-round magazines for the Glock.” This illustrates the stupidity of liberals’ obsession with magazine size. A shooter can switch out a loaded magazine for an empty one in approximately one second. Restrictions on magazine size are futile and silly.


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