Guns Again and Alas.

            “Troubled people” abound in any advanced society.  The vast majority do not engage in mass-killings.  So far, we have not found a way to predict which “troubled people” will turn into mass murderers.  Therefore, while more spending on mental health issues would be welcome, it isn’t a serious solution to the problem at this time.  What would be “common sense” solutions in the here and now?  “Sick of Massacres?  Get Rid of the Guns” wrote the New York Times columnist Gail Collins on 18 May 2022.  Same thing goes for the vastly more numerous “ordinary’ gun homicides and suicides. 

The United (for the moment) Kingdom suffered mass shootings in 1987 and 1996.  After the first, it banned assault-style rifles; after the second it banned most hand-guns.  The firearm ownership rate has fallen to 5/100 people and the gun homicide rate is at 0.7/million people.  Australia suffered a series of mass-shootings which culminated in a particularly bad one in 1996.  The country imposed a mandatory gun buy-back, then melted down about a million weapons.  The gun buy-back was not universal: it required the surrender of semi-automatic rifles and certain kinds of shotguns.  This reduced the stock of weapons in private hands by 20-30 percent.  Those policies have been followed by a near-absence of mass-shootings.  Canada had long required the licensing and registration of hand-guns.  After a mass killing in 1989, these procedures were extended to rifles and shotguns.  The same thing happened in Norway. 

American gun control advocates emphasize that in the wake of mass murders, people willingly surrendered or agreed to do without firearms.  They seem to count upon the intense emotional revulsion that follows these crimes.  Make no mistake: these countries have engaged in a large-scale disarmament of the population.  That is what it takes to drive down both gun homicide rates and mass killings.  American gun-rights advocates understand this, even if gun-control advocates will not come right out and say so.  For example, a recent “Interpreter” article in the New York Times described the mass weapons bans as merely “tighten[ing] gun control laws.”[1]  Is it possible that gun-owners believe that a) gun control advocates are liars and that b) accepting any controls on guns will just lead to a near-complete ban on all guns? 

The Canadian restrictions on rifles and shot-guns only came into effect six years after the mass killing and were repealed in 2012.  Norwegian restrictions on semi-automatic rifles came into effect seven years after the mass killing.  Australian gun-ownership rates and gun-related homicides have all begun to rebound (at least for the moment) in spite of the restrictions.  There have been two terrible mass killings in Britain since the restrictions. 

One common feature of the gun restrictions in the wake of mass shootings is that they were pushed by conservative governments.  Legal gun-owners in America seem to be one-party voters in the same way as Blacks are one party-voters.  Already, a large majority of Americans favor restrictions on access to guns.  One of these days, the political balance is going to tip.  When that happens, the nightmares of legal gun owners are going to come true.  If the Republican Party could fashion a package of “common sense” reforms to gun ownership, they might be able to bargain.  Let the ATF off the leash to cut access to firearms by those who do most of the “ordinary” killing (and dying), and raise the legal age for gun-ownership.  

[1] Max Fisher, “After Mass Shootings, Other Countries Acted To Change Direction,” NYT, 26 May 2022.