Everything I’ve Learned About Gun Control

Or, “Holy shit, stop trying to ban assault weapons”

Photo: Getty

An assault weapons ban is a relatively useless law, and every time it is brought up — as among the first policies typically proposed by liberals — we reveal our own ignorance.

The reason an assault weapons ban is useless is pretty simple. Automatic weapons, where you can pull the trigger and continually fire bullets, are essentially banned in America. It’s possible to acquire them under some extremely tight restrictions, but outside of that, the only guns one can reasonably acquire in this country are semi-automatic, meaning that you have to pull the trigger for each bullet you fire.

As I understand it, the most robust finding in gun research is that the more guns a particular geography contains, the more likely people are to die violently in that geography. This is true at both the national and state levels.

Here’s a chart of gun deaths per 100,000 people plotted against guns owned per 100 people:


Many gun laws in the U.S. are legitimately under- or un-enforced.

Here are some current federal laws:

  • If you sell guns repeatedly for profit, even not as a formal business, you need a license
  • Buying a gun from a licensed gun dealer requires a background check
  • Anyone who buys two or more handguns in a week is automatically flagged and reported to the federal government and local law enforcement
  • Felons are prohibited from owning guns
  • Anyone who has been committed to a mental institution is prohibited from owning guns
  • You must be at least 21 to purchase a handgun at a gun store; you must be 18 to purchase a rifle or a shotgun
  • If you try to buy a gun as a felon or fugitive, you’ve committed a federal crime, which is identified when you are rejected by the background check
  • Purchasing a gun for someone who is otherwise prohibited from buying one (aka “straw purchasing”) is illegal
  • Close the least contentious of these loopholes at the national level and the more contentious ones at the state level. There’s a consensus about bump stocks. That’s an easy one to close. But we should also give the FBI more time to deal with flagged cases — no one’s 2nd Amendment rights are truly at risk if they have to wait a week or two in occasional cases like this — instead of giving up after three days. The “private seller” loophole is something I’m sure Republicans will fight tooth and nail on, so make this a priority at the state level rather than the federal level.
  • Make gun ownership at least as rigorous as car ownership. I don’t know all the right policies, but licensing, tracking, required insurance, etc. seem pretty reasonable. Guns accidentally injure or kill more than 7,000 children each year, and suicides and homicides kill more 15–24 year-olds than car accidents. It’s pretty damn reasonable to say gun owners should be required to carry insurance to compensate the victims of accidents. Again, Republicans will kick and scream that this is an overreaction, so handle this shit in blue states where they won’t have power.
  • Pass laws allowing “gun violence restraining orders.” These would allow people to report individuals who have access to guns and show signs of intending to commit violence. Various mechanisms allow for due process of the gun owner, and the restraining orders can be extended as needed. Such orders could’ve allowed concerned individuals to act upon signs shown by the Parkland killer, and some conservatives are open to the idea.
  • Experiment with gun buyback programs. In the late 1990s, after a massacre that killed 35 people, Australia conducted a buyback of about 650,000 guns, and murder and suicide rates plunged in the following years. My gut is that these really do make a difference when they achieve enough scale, and we should study this in more depth to be sure. Reducing the number of guns floating around society will make all of us safer.
  • Study gun violence as a public health problem, much like car accidents. Currently, the Center for Disease Control is effectively prohibited from studying gun violence, even though it’s a major cause of preventable deaths in the U.S. Nicholas Kristof writes convincingly on this. And this intriguing Politico piece suggests copying the anti-tobacco “Truth” campaign which dramatically reduced teenage smoking rates. What if people actually realized that the presence of a gun in their home makes a member of their family more likely to die, not less?

Former 5th grade math teacher interested in how to make the Peninsula a more equitable place.

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