Modest Proposals On Gun Violence

White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked several questions about gun control during his press briefing today. Breitbart summarizes his responses, which were more of the same: endless references to “common sense” reforms which are never specified. Earnest wants to keep firearms out of the hands of “criminals and others who shouldn’t have them”; so do we all, but how?

To state the blindingly obvious, mass murder is, and always has been, illegal. All mass shooters violate any number of laws, including, by definition, laws relating to firearms. The burden is on anyone who proposes adding new laws to the many that already exist to show why they would be any more effective than the laws already in place.

Earnest offered only one specific proposal:

That’s why you see such strong support all across the country for proposals like closing the gun show loophole. This is a loophole that allows individuals purchase firearms without going through a background check.

Here, Earnest is simply wrong. There is no gun show loophole. The law relating to background checks at gun shows is exactly the same as it is everywhere else. If you are a registered firearms dealer at a gun show, you have to run a background check. If you are not a dealer, you don’t have to run a background check. To my knowledge, no mass murderer has ever acquired his firearm or firearms at a gun show.

The Democrats’ gun show obsession is part of a broader push for “universal background checks.” As I have written many times, background checks are already universal if you are buying a gun from a store. However, very few people fail background checks. Criminals aren’t dumb; a convicted felon knows he can’t buy a gun in a store, so he buys it from a fellow gang member, or convinces his girlfriend to be a straw purchaser, or steals it.

Insane people, on the other hand, are able to buy guns in stores because they aren’t on the NICS list. We have seen this time after time–murderers who, after the fact, are seen to be crazy as bedbugs nevertheless have not been subject to an order of involuntary commitment or otherwise placed on the don’t-sell list. So they are able to buy firearms legally. We don’t know the facts yet regarding the Oregon murderer, but I will be very surprised if he didn’t acquire his guns in full compliance with the law, having passed a background check. Calls for “universal background checks” are a useless diversion unless background checks can be made more meaningful. That would require a substantial overhaul of the country’s mental health system, which the Democrats have no intention of proposing.

Moreover, the problem that we have is not “gun violence,” it is violence. In Great Britain, where private ownership of guns is suppressed, there is endless discussion of what to do about “knife crime.” The problem isn’t guns or knives, it is criminals. Ten people were shot and killed in Oregon last week. Meanwhile, at least ten people were fatally shot in Chicago last week, too, but no one seemed to notice. Certainly not the Obama administration, which has dropped the ball on firearms prosecutions. While it demands that Congress pass new gun laws, it has been lax about enforcing the firearms laws already on the books:

Federal prosecutors brought a total of 5,082 gun violation cases in 2013 recommended by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, compared with 6,791 during the last year of George W. Bush’s presidency in 2008, according to data obtained from the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys.

The 2013 totals represent a 42 percent decline from the record number of 8,752 prosecutions of ATF cases brought by the Justice Department in 2004 under Mr. Bush, according to the data. …

U.S. attorneys have been slowing gun prosecutions even further, with 2,598 brought in the first seven months of this fiscal year [2014]. The pace of activity puts the Justice Department on track to prosecute the fewest ATF cases since 2000….

Barack Obama and Eric Holder never had much interest in actually prosecuting criminals or preventing crime. Their objectives were always political.

Still, over the last two decades the U.S. has been highly successful at lowering the homicide rate generally. It is currently about half what it was during the Clinton administration. This improvement can be attributed to a combination of improved police techniques, longer prison sentences, more widespread handgun ownership and demographic changes. The last thing we should do is throw away the progress that has already been made in reducing violent crime, including, especially, homicide. Yet that is exactly what the Democrats are doing, through their anti-police campaign. In cities like New York and Baltimore, homicide rates are ominously rising once again, as liberal policies wreak their inevitable havoc.

Mass shootings are a special case: they are rare, involve few victims, and, unlike the overall homicide rate, have held steady rather than declining. According to the Congressional Research Service, there are only around five “public mass shooting” events per year, in a nation of 320 million. Such incidents receive far too much attention in relation to their frequency or in comparison with garden-variety murder. Still, as a separate problem, mass shootings may require a separate approach.

I have already argued that the best way to reduce the number of mass shooting incidents would be for the press to stop publicizing the shooters. Their motivation is the supposed immortality that reporters and editors can bestow. If newspapers, television stations and magazines stopped naming mass murderers and giving their deeds disproportionate coverage, the number of such incidents would decline. No one is to blame for a murder but the murderer, but if anyone should examine whether his conduct has been a contributing factor, it is the reporter or editor who has named the murderer, publicized his social media ramblings or crazed ideological perspectives, and so on.

To this, I would add two further suggestions. First, government at all levels should encourage the private ownership of handguns and the issuance of carry permits (concealed or otherwise) to qualified, trained citizens. It may require only a single armed citizen to stop an armed, media attention-craving lunatic.

Second, the federal government should pass a law that makes it illegal for any public place to be a “gun-free zone.” Recent mass shooting incidents have always taken place in “gun-free” zones. Many years ago, my father used to tell a joke the punch line of which was, “I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.” The criminally insane are plenty smart enough to understand that a “gun-free zone” means easy pickings.

Abolishing gun-free zones wouldn’t completely eliminate mass shootings, but it would help. While I haven’t researched the issue, I assume that such legislation would be constitutional as an act in furtherance of the Second Amendment. Such a law would confer a federal right on any licensed citizen to carry a firearm in any public place, any state law or private posting to the contrary notwithstanding.

Those are three modest proposals that would do more than anything we will see from the Obama administration to reduce the already-low number of mass shootings. The first requires only the cooperation of the press, the second can be carried out by state and local governments, and the third would, I think, pass Congress if the administration proposed it. It all comes down to whether you actually want to do something to reduce violent crime, or are only interested in scoring cheap political points.