Some Comments on Guns

I wholeheartedly endorse the conservative plan to reduce homicides that Paul wrote about earlier today. With respect to the latest round of mass shootings, I haven’t yet had time to delve into the statistics, but here are a few observations.

First, the last couple of mass shooters likely are copycats. More than anything else, giving less press coverage to mass shootings, and especially refusing to publish “manifestoes,” would reduce the number of these events. One might say that mass shootings are a price we pay for freedom of the presss.

Moreover, somewhere around 7,500 people die every day in the US, with about 100 per day dying in car accidents and 46 per day murdered, mostly in “blue” cities. Mass shootings are a vanishingly small cause of death. Whether deaths, violent or otherwise, make the news is a matter of editorial judgment. For whatever reason, our editors and reporters have chosen to magnify the significance of mass shooters.

Second, the U.S. homicide rate has been cut in half since the Clinton administration, coinciding with a boom in handgun ownership and an unprecedented issuance of carry permits. These latest mass shootings don’t change that.

There was an uptick in homicides during the last two years of the Obama administration, apparently because of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Obama administration’s embrace of that movement. But, as I wrote here, the downward homicide trend has resumed under President Trump. We are talking about thousands of lives being saved because of Trump’s pro-law enforcement position. I calculated that the spike under Obama represented more than 5,000 homicides. Somehow our press has little interest in these numbers.

Third, contrary to popular belief, the U.S. is not home to an unusual number of mass shootings. Rather, we are a very large country. On a per capita basis, as of a few months ago the U.S. ranked 56th in the world in mass shootings (as defined by the FBI) and 61st in per capita deaths in mass shootings. Gun laws have nothing to do with these numbers. In the US, some of the states with the highest rates of gun ownership, like Idaho, also have the lowest homicide rates. Cabot Phillips makes the point well on Twitter:

Fourth, liberals are, as usual, advocating policies that will do no good. Mostly, they want to ban certain categories of semiautomatic rifles, based on random, largely-aesthetic criteria that supposedly make them “assault weapons.” Such a ban was tried during the 1990s. It did no good and was abandoned. Rifles–not just AR15s, but all rifles–are among the least popular of murder weapons. Four times as many Americans are murdered with knives as with all rifles combined (not just “assault weapons”). More Americans are murdered with both blunt objects and bare hands than with rifles. Nor are “assault weapons” uniquely valuable to would-be mass shooters. Semiautomatic pistols and other semiautomatic rifles (like my Marlin 60, a rifle that, here in the Midwest, fathers often give to their sons as a 16th birthday present) can fire just as fast and are just as deadly. My guess is that today’s Supreme Court would reject an “assault weapons” ban as an irrational infringement of a fundamental constitutional right.

Finally, liberals do have one proposal that might actually do some good: the so-called “red flag” law, which has already been enacted in some states. The idea is that friends, relatives and family members of an allegedly mentally ill and dangerous person could turn him in, leading to a court hearing that could result in an order barring the person from buying firearms, and directing police to confiscate whatever guns he may have in his possession. Such a hearing might be ex parte, meaning that the allegedly deranged person would have no opportunity to appear and defend himself.

Such a procedure might prevent a few homicides–in particular, perhaps, a few mass shootings. It almost always turns out that the perpetrators of such crimes were generally considered by those who knew them to be crazy and likely dangerous, so providing an outlet for such friends and relatives might prevent a few violent crimes. On the other hand, the potential for abuse is obvious. One can foresee that quite a few of those exercising “red flag” prerogatives will be ex-wives. And best case, we are taking about depriving a person who has done absolutely nothing wrong of a fundamental constitutional right. Far better we should focus on getting violent illegal aliens out of our country–something that the Democratic Party opposes.

Still, the “red flag” concept is the sanest of the Democrats’ proposals, and I would be willing to implement it on a limited basis in hopes of determining whether it might, to a small degree, work.

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