Doing Nothing is Better Than “Meaningful Action” by Government Following a Tragedy
Following a horrific event – i.e., terrorist attack, mass shooting – the general public and our elected representatives are overcome by do-something-ism. A lot of us mistakenly believe that every tragedy could have been prevented, and politicians are more than willing to appeal to our emotions by doing something, which usually involves proposing bad laws. Although we can probably assume most of them are being sincere, government actions taken in the wake of tragedies don’t have a good track record: the Global War on Terror, the PATRIOT Act, the Transportation Security Administration, and murder by drone are only the most recent examples.
President Barack Obama’s first remarks after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting included a promise of “meaningful action” by the government. We always expect our elected officials to do something when awful things happen to good people – even when there is no evidence that new laws would have prevented whatever tragedy they are named after. Early indications are that our government’s response to Sandy Hook will be more of the same.
The story so far…
There have been more casualties from mass shootings in the U.S. in 2012 than any other time in the last several decades. A familiar pattern of blame has accompanied these events. We try to blame shortcomings in services for the mentally ill. We blame the media for how its coverage showers killers with attention. We even blame violent video games.
But mostly we blame American gun culture, and by “we” I mean “people who have no interest in or understanding of firearms.” If you do have an understanding of firearms, you are as saddened by inexplicable tragedy as much as anyone – but you also may be wary that politicians may use a tragedy to punish you for having the wrong kind of interests. So when President Barack Obama – a Chicago pol who once accused non-urban folks of bitterly clinging to their guns – starts talking about doing something, it might raise some concerns:
We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.
But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that — then surely we have an obligation to try.
Although he just said no single law or set of laws can prevent every senseless act of violence, does anyone doubt that a new law or set of laws is exactly how Obama will respond? A couple of Democrat senators are already calling for a new assault weapons ban. As of Tuesday, the White House seemed anxious to “actively” support such a measure.
I’m sure there are plenty of sincere, patriotic Americans who believe that a tougher assault weapons ban would somehow stop future mass shootings, or in any case have some tangible impact on gun violence. These patriotic Americans are mistaken. Here are a few things to keep in mind as our elected officials prepare to pass another piece of rubbish do-something legislation.
Gun controllers apparently don’t know the difference between automatic and semiautomatic firearms
Well-known lefty media mogul Rupert Murdoch tweeted, “When will politicians find the courage to ban automatic weapons?” The answer is 1934, when they were banned by the National Firearms Act. For good measure, automatic weapons were re-banned in 1986. I guess we could re-re-ban them in 2013, but the guns used in the Sandy Hook shooting weren’t automatic. They were semiautomatic. FYI, all “semiautomatic” means is that when you pull the trigger, a single bullet comes out. You pull the trigger again, another bullet comes out – you didn’t have to reload or re-cock between trigger pulls.
“Assault weapons” is a meaningless term
An assault weapon is basically a gun that looks scary to someone who doesn’t know anything about guns. Based on the way politicians and gun controllers use it, they seem to think “assault weapons” means automatic guns, which are already illegal. The features of “assault weapons” in the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004 are totally arbitrary. For example, a semiautomatic shotgun with a capacity of five rounds was not an assault weapon, but one with a six-round capacity was. A semiautomatic rifle with a flash suppressor? Assault weapon. No flash suppressor? I guess you’d call it a non-assault weapon. A .357 Magnum revolver is as deadly as any firearm, but is not an assault weapon because it’s not even semiautomatic. These are not meaningful distinctions.
The gun used in the Sandy Hook shooting was legal
Reports indicate that the rifle used at Sandy Hook was a .223-caliber Bushmaster M4 carbine. Again, this was a semiautomatic rifle, not automatic, and as such was legal under Connecticut’s state assault weapons ban. Since “assault weapons” is a meaningless term, any ban comes down to defining cosmetic characteristics that have nothing to do with a weapon’s lethality. If the law bans pistol grips on semiautomatic rifles, gun makers will just alter their existing models to eliminate pistol grips. Passing a new ban with a slightly modified definition of “assault weapon” can’t possibly have any affect – other than the gun used in the next mass shooting will look just a bit different than the one used at Sandy Hook.
The type of rifle used at Sandy Hook is extremely common
The Bushmaster M4 carbine is modeled on the renowned AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. Unbeknownst to gun controllers, this type of firearm is very popular in America. This NYT story provides some perspective:
What neither side questions is the popularity of AR-15s, which dealers say fairly leap off the shelves. Richard Taylor, the manager of the Firing-Line in Aurora, Colo., said the store each year sells several hundred of the rifles, which range from $600 to more than $2,000. At least 60 companies manufacture AR-15s or AR-15 accessories. The AR-15 was first built by ArmaLite, and the name was trademarked by Colt, which bought the design, but it is widely used to describe all brands and models of the rifle. […]
Gun makers do not release sales figures for specific types of firearms. But Mr. Halbrook, who compiled manufacturing estimates for a lawsuit, said that by a conservative estimate, 3.3 million to 3.5 million AR-15s were made in the United States from 1986 through the first half of this year and were not exported. A similar estimate, for manufacturing from 1986 through 2009, was summarized by a District of Columbia circuit court judge as sufficient evidence that the rifles were in “common use.”
Despite the fact that the U.S. is swimming in AR-15s, violent crime in the U.S. is at a 20-year low. If the availability of so-called assault weapons led to more crime, as gun controllers seem to believe, we would have seen some evidence of it by now. On the contrary, there are loads of guns out there, and mass shootings are not more common.
There are too many guns out there for a ban to be effective
Although one Democrat Congresswoman has asked nicely for people to “turn in your guns,” even an absolute ban on all guns wouldn’t work at this point. It’s widely accepted that there are something like 300 million privately-owned firearms in America, with millions more entering the market each year. Even if all guns were outlawed tomorrow, there would be no way to confiscate all those guns. Some countries have banned guns entirely, but as far as America goes, that boat sailed long ago. And as for those countries that have banned guns…
Gun bans do not prevent gun crime
The United Kingdom banned handguns in the late 90’s. Since that time, gun violence in the UK is off the bloody charts. The idea that a similar ban would work in the U.S. – with our much more vibrant gun culture – is magical thinking.
Even though our elected officials will always jump at the chance to do something lest a crisis go to waste, it’s never a good idea to pass sweeping legislation while we’re still emotional. Once we’ve had time to reflect, maybe we’ll come to the conclusion than no one other than the shooter was to blame for Sandy Hook – not guns or video games or sensational media coverage. Contrary to what President Obama might think, we may have to tolerate these tragedies, because it doesn’t appear there is a top-down, one-size-fits-all, Big Government solution that can prevent them.
As far as I can tell, the only “something” we can definitely do is mourn. And then move on.