by contributing author
Dr. James Harlan
We’ve heard for years about “common-sense” gun control. Every time gun control is discussed in the political arena, we hear this term. People on the anti-gun side criticize the NRA for not supporting “common-sense” laws that [they claim] will keep us safer and also not infringe on our Second Amendment rights. Now, how much safer we will be with these laws is open for debate. The gun control crowd talks about background checks keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, but even the liberal media has reported about all the mass shooters in recent history who passed background checks and bought their guns legally. They say that magazine capacity limitations will keep us safe, but that has also been shown to be false considering how many guns the average mass shooter carries. Besides, that is essentially claiming that it’s okay if the shooter kills 6 or 7 people, as long as they can’t kill more than that without at least having to reload first….I hardly call that a victory for safety. But, nevertheless, the cries for more “common-sense” gun laws only grow louder. And the NRA and gun rights activists are only further demonized by the anti-gun crowd who claim they would rather cling to an outdated ideology about arming a militia than protect our children.
While I am an avid shooter, staunch gun rights supporter, and NRA member, I believe there are ways to compromise on the issue, and I am disappointed that the NRA hasn’t been more active in this area. They certainly haven’t won any supporters by being the party of “no.” I think they could do a lot of good by discussing common-sense gun rights. But before we can discuss this issue any further, we have to clear up a few misconceptions about guns. You see, many on the anti-gun side have absolutely no knowledge of firearms and continue to spew false information in order to further their anti-gun agenda. They rely on fear-mongering and scare-tactics to win support. This is disingenuous at least. At worst, it’s outright dangerous, because some of the laws they propose are based on a completely flawed understanding of how firearms work, and the law will in fact have no effect whatsoever, except to disarm law-abiding citizens, making us less safe. Many people already know these things, but if you don’t, let’s clear things up:
- Assault Weapon: the typical “assault weapon” that the anti-gunners talk about is some variant of the AR-15. It is a semi-automatic rifle that fires a small-caliber bullet (caliber means diameter) every time you pull the trigger, until the magazine is empty. They can generally accept 10, 20, or 30-round magazines, depending on the model. They are NOT fully-automatic machine guns that spray hundreds of bullets a minute, like the military uses. And, contrary to popular belief, they are not that powerful. Most hunting rifles—the kind with a scope on top—are far more powerful than an AR-15 or one of its variants. In fact, a basic shotgun used for turkey hunting has more “killing power” than an AR-15. So these are not sleek “military-style” killing machines as some in the anti-gun crowd would have us believe.
Likewise, the attachments for the rifle do not make it more deadly. The anti-gun crowd thinks that an adjustable stock, a fore-end grip, a red-dot sight, a barrel shroud, a pistol grip, a sling, or any other attachment somehow converts an otherwise simple rifle into a lean, mean, killing machine. This is false. They might make the gun look scarier, but they do nothing to make it deadlier. In fact, they usually make the gun heavier, more difficult to maneuver with, and more difficult to conceal. They are helpful if you are carrying the gun on a long patrol, taking out Taliban from 300 yards away, or defending your home from an intruder in the middle of the night, but they don’t make your gun more deadly.
- High-capacity magazine: First of all, it is a magazine, not a “clip.” A clip is a device used for loading ammunition into a magazine, cylinder, or directly into the chamber of a gun. With the exception of some so-called “moon clips” for revolvers, they haven’t been widely used since World War II. So please quit saying “30-round clip.”
Second of all, the anti-gun crowd claims that any magazine holding more than 7 or 8 rounds is “high-capacity.” In fact, the average handgun comes standard with at least 8 rounds, and many over 15. Most police officers carry 12-18 rounds in their handguns. That’s because some handguns shoot smaller bullets and they can fit that many in the grip of the gun. It’s standard. Not high-capacity. High capacity to someone who knows a thing or two about guns means a magazine that is an after-market part, which is elongated and sticks out the bottom of the gun farther than normal, and holds up to 20 rounds or more. Do these allow you to shoot more rounds? Sure. But the common misconception is that you have to “stop to reload” after the magazine is empty, and the anti-gun crowd says that a shooter could be tackled while they are reloading. Once again, anyone who has ever done any serious target shooting knows this is false. With some experience and practice, an empty magazine can be replaced with a full one in less than 2 seconds. I’m not going to tackle somebody who is going to be ready to shoot me again in 2 seconds.
- Once high-capacity magazines are empty, they’re empty. Well, in the literal sense, yes, that’s true. But apparently some lawmakers who want to ban them think they also can’t be reloaded, and that if we simply ban new ones, all the old ones will eventually be “used up.” Case in point: Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette has been the lead sponsor on a federal ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines in two Congresses. Asked how a ban on these magazines would reduce gun violence at a Denver Post forum on gun control, the congresswoman replied:
“I will tell you these are ammunition, they’re bullets, so the people who have those know they’re going to shoot them, so if you ban them in the future, the number of these high capacity magazines is going to decrease dramatically over time because the bullets will have been shot and there won’t be any more available.”
Later, after the obvious fallacy of this statement was pointed out, her spokeswoman attempted to save face by stating:
“The Congresswoman has been working on a high-capacity assault magazine ban for years, and has been deeply involved in the issue; she simply misspoke in referring to ‘magazines’ when she should have referred to ‘clips,’ which cannot be reused because they don’t have a feeding mechanism. Quite frankly, this is just another example of opponents of common-sense—[there’s that word again]–gun violence prevention trying to manipulate the facts to distract from the critical issue of keeping our children safe and keeping killing machines out of the hands of disturbed individuals. It’s more political gamesmanship that stands in the way of responsible solutions.”
This sounds like a good response at first, and if you didn’t know better, you might believe her. She even took the initiative to do some technical research and point out that a clip doesn’t have a “feeding mechanism.” That’s true, bravo. The problem is, a clip can still be reloaded, which she obviously didn’t dig deep enough to find out. The other problem is, no modern firearm commonly used in America today accepts clips, so Rep. DeGette is still wrong. Nice try, though. If you want to have even a shred of clout when you try to ban guns, at least get your facts straight. Also, did you notice she called them “killing machines?”
- Guns are inherently dangerous: Guns don’t go “bang” unless somebody pulls the trigger, period. I don’t see any reason to beat this one into the ground.
- Hollow-point bullets are “man-killers”: This is a common argument. If people think they can’t ban the gun, they try to ban the ammunition. Hollow-point bullets are actually safer for innocent bystanders (the same people the anti-gunners claim to be trying to protect), and may in fact be safer for the person shot with one. A “full-metal jacket” bullet, like the military uses, is designed to stay together and hold its shape. They will usually pass completely through the target, in one side and out the other (including some bullet-resistant vests). This means two holes, and where there are more holes, there is more bleeding. This also means a stray bullet flying out the other side destined to hit who-knows-what. Hollow-points, on the other hand, are designed to expand and stop quickly, expending all of their energy inside the person shot with one. This means that a person is likely to be stopped—not necessarily killed, but stopped—with fewer shots. And each one of those shots generally only makes one hole. The fact is, most people shot with handguns actually survive, believe it or not. Regardless, I don’t care to get shot with ANY bullet, I don’t care what it’s made of. If “less deadly bullets” is their solution, they’re really out of ideas.
- Legally armed citizens don’t prevent mass shootings: This isn’t a misconception, it’s just an outright lie. First of all, the only evidence that is ever offered for this is the fact that we never hear about mass shootings being stopped by private citizens. Well, obviously! Something that never happened can’t be measured! How many accidents are prevented by good driving? How many break-ins are prevented by “Beware of Dog” signs? How many DUI’s are prevented by laws against driving under the influence? How many people don’t get the flu because they got a flu shot? Who knows! The lack of measurable data does not mean that an intervention is not working. It merely suggests that you don’t have adequate data to come to a conclusion. And yet the anti-gun crowd swears up and down that armed citizens don’t prevent shootings. In research, this is known as Type 1 error, meaning the researchers came to a conclusion that is not supported by the data. Many a research article is discarded during the peer review process for this very reason. The problem is, opinions are never peer-reviewed.
If being armed can’t prevent violence, then why don’t mass shootings happen at police stations? When was the last time you heard about a shooting at an NRA convention? Gun shows should be filled with mass shooters according to anti-gun logic, but I haven’t heard of a single one. And of course, a mass shooting is only a mass shooting if many people are shot or killed (the definition is usually four or more). Somebody who intended to shoot many people but is stopped after shooting only a couple is, by definition, not a mass shooter. Of course, we never hear about these from the anti-gun crowd, because it would disprove their thesis. If you want some real evidence, try doing a little research yourself. Here’s a good place to start: Cincinnati man shoots a 1-year-old boy, is shot by man with concealed carry permit; Customer carrying a concealed weapon shoots suspected bank robber; Uber driver, licensed to carry gun, shoots gunman in Logan Square. These were just a few that made the news, and all in just the last few months! A quick Google search will bring up dozens more. Each one could have turned into a mass shooting were it not for the quick response of an armed citizen. Only two newsworthy “mass shootings” happened over the same time period.
- Police officers are better shots than private citizens. It is not uncommon for anti-gunners to claim that it is too dangerous for regular-old citizens to be shooting guns in public. They might hit somebody else, they claim. They won’t react fast enough, they claim. First of all, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have at least a chance for successful defense of themselves and others. Secondly, the premise is false. Multiple studies have shown that police miss their targets far more often than they hit them. This study, published in the New York Times, found a range of accuracy from as low as 17.4% to as high as 43% in police shootings. The fact is, many police departments only require their officers to qualify with their firearms annually or bi-annually. And the qualification standards can be surprisingly low. Now, some officers who enjoy shooting—and many of them do—may shoot for fun a lot more often than they do at work, and they may be excellent shots. The same is true for private citizens. People who carry guns for self defense, and who are serious about carrying guns—as most people who take the time to get a permit are—typically practice fairly regularly. Many are outstanding marksmen. A serious permit holder who shoots regularly for practice is going to be a lot more reliable than a portly policeman who only qualifies every 6 months with the minimum standards.
- Gun violence caused over 33,000 deaths in 2013. This is the most recent year for which complete statistics are available from the CDC, the same group that wants to make firearms a public health issue. And yes, there were 33,636 deaths caused by firearms that year. The anti-gun crowd loves to point out this figure in the same sentence as mass shootings and gun violence, as if they are one-and-the-same. The fact is 21,175 of all gun deaths in 2013 were suicides, or 63% (www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/). There were actually 11,208 firearm homicides in 2013, which is the number that the anti-gun groups should be talking about, since their claim for wanting to ban firearms is rampant gun violence. There were also 10,062 suicides by suffocation and 6,637 suicides by poisoning in 2013. And these are only the successful suicides, they don’t take into account all of the failed attempts, including failed attempts with firearms. 33,804 deaths were caused by vehicles in 2013, over three times as many as by firearm homicide, and slightly more than the number of total gun-related deaths. There were also 48,545 deaths by poisoning in 2013, 144% more than total gun-related deaths. In fact, considering deaths in 2013 related to any type of bodily harm, firearms accounted for only 17.4%. Clearly cars, poison, fireworks, and falling off of roofs are bigger threats to public health than firearms. Don’t let the Brady Campaign or Diane Feinstein give you their skewed data—look up the numbers yourself.
Now that we’ve cleared up a few things, let’s establish some facts:
- America is a violent place. I agree. Not as violent as Mexico, Syria, or Somalia, but violent nonetheless.
- Mass shootings happen too often in America. I agree. However, guns have been around a lot longer than mass shootings, so guns cannot possibly be the only problem. Likewise, cars are not the reason people get drunk and do stupid things that hurt other people. People have been getting drunk and doing stupid things a lot longer than we’ve had cars.
- There are nearly 350 million guns in America. You can ban them all you want, but they’re already here. And I wouldn’t want to be the one sent to confiscate them, if you know what I mean. We’ve banned drugs, and we all know how well that’s working. So don’t even bother talking about banning them—it won’t work. Some people may give them up, but there’s a whole lot of Bubbas living in trailers Down South who ain’t about to give up their guns to “the gub’ment.” I’m not one of those people, nor do I support them, but they’re out there, trust me.
- Criminals do not obey the law. You can make gun ownership, mass shootings, concealed carry, etc. as illegal as you want to. Murder is already illegal, and yet we have murders. It’s already illegal to carry a gun without a license in most states, and yet criminals carry guns without licenses. It’s illegal to steal guns, and yet guns get stolen. So suggesting that laws alone will keep us safe is nonsense that has been disproven every time we have a mass shooting. Likewise, while various studies are frequently quoted as showing a link between gun laws and rates of gun violence, no consistent, demonstrable, causative link can be found. Violence just happens, period. Here is an in-depth article examining the claims of both sides of the debate, and if you read to the end, you’ll see what I mean.
- A person has to decide, consciously, to shoot other people. See Misconception #4. Yes, they are usually mentally unstable, but, nevertheless, it still takes a person to commit a mass shooting. So focusing the solution on gun control is a “Band-Aid® solution;” it is treating the symptoms, not the disease. People have also caused mass casualties with knives, bombs, cars, and fire. Somehow, somewhere in history, liberals forgot about personal responsibility. They never blame the individual. If someone’s a thug, it’s society’s fault. They need rehabilitation, not jail. If people are dealing drugs on the street, it’s because The Man has kept them down, and they haven’t been afforded the same economic opportunities as everyone else. BULLS**T! If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. Criminals commit crime, not the inanimate objects they use. I don’t care what kind of economic opportunities you’ve missed out on, you shoot at me and I’m gonna shoot back! Which brings us to Fact #6:
- People have the right to defend themselves. This is not a privilege granted by a benevolent government. This is instinct. You cannot tell me that I don’t have the right to fight back if somebody attacks me. Secondly, my right to defend myself outweighs someone else’s poor choices. The fact that some people aren’t responsible enough to have freedom doesn’t mean that I don’t deserve freedom. It is well established in case law that one has the right to exercise their freedoms, as long as they do not encroach upon the rights and freedoms of others. Prisons are full of people who were irresponsible with their freedoms and therefore had them taken away. That’s not my fault.
These are facts. They are not open to interpretation. Facts should be the foundation of any gun control debate.
So what can we agree on as potential solutions to the problem? I know there is a lot of emotion tied to this debate. I have children, and I want them to be safe just as much as any other parent. So saying the Republicans and the NRA and “gun-nuts” don’t care about our children is false at best, and outright slander at worst. I think people should be allowed to own and carry guns for sport, hobby, and self-defense. Many people disagree. But where can we find common ground? I propose the following common-sense gun laws:
- Concealed carry should be legalized for anyone 18 and over, without a license, in any place that does not provide for the security of its occupants. I don’t support concealed carry on airplanes or in federal buildings, but these places are all protected by armed security and metal detectors, and people can be easily prevented from carrying weapons into said establishments. Schools, banks, churches, grocery stores, etc., are not. Therefore if you can’t protect me while I’m in your establishment, then I should be allowed to protect myself. This goes along with Fact #6 above. If a building is not protected by armed security, metal detectors, and the like, then there is nothing to keep anyone from carrying a gun in there, mentally stable or not (see Fact #4 above). If you think that requiring a license will prevent people from carrying guns illegally, you are lying to yourself. And if you are scared of the notion of private citizens carrying guns around you, see Misconception #4 above. Bottom line—my right to defend myself trumps your fear of my gun. I realize this brings firearms into the public health arena, which is a slippery slope, but we all know how many “mass shooters” had a long history of mental illness which went unreported—or at least, unreported to the right authorities. Would this mean an outright, permanent ban for somebody with depression or Bipolar Disorder? Not necessarily, but they should at least be evaluated and cleared by a psychiatrist before they be allowed to buy 5 guns and 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
- We already do this with child neglect cases. A healthcare worker is mandated to report cases of suspected child abuse or neglect. It is not optional. When such a report is made, CPS opens a case, an investigation is carried out, and if there is legitimate neglect or abuse, appropriate charges are filed and the children are removed from the unsafe environment. If there is no evidence of wrongdoing, the case is dropped. I support protecting children from abuse in this manner, and I don’t think it is too much to ask to protect children from potential psychopaths in the same manner.
- 3. Mental health reporting should be mandated and centralized. I’ve spent some time in a psychiatric ward—not as a patient, but as a medical student. And I can tell you from experience that there are some people who DEFINITELY should not have access to firearms. There are some real nut jobs out there—no offense. The problem is, patient privacy laws (HIPAA, mainly) prevent us from sharing important information about patients except on a need-to-know basis. The law is very strict, it does nothing to improve healthcare, and the only people targeted by it are healthcare providers. Doctors can be sued, lose their license, or lose their job for a HIPAA violation, so there is very little incentive for physicians to report dangerous people. This isn’t the time for a healthcare debate, but the point is, there should be a centralized, streamlined way for psychiatrists and other physicians to report potentially dangerous people, the same way they report Hepatitis C, HIV, and tuberculosis to the Health Department.
- 2. Comprehensive background checks for ALL firearms purchases should be mandated. Yes, I said it. I’m a gun rights supporter, and I believe in closing the “gun show loophole.” The NRA and many gun rights activists have stated that Universal Background Checks (as the Obama administration has called for) are nothing more than a government scheme for universal firearm registration, which will lead to confiscation in the future. History actually supports this argument. That is exactly what happened in Australia, which Obama slyly alluded to after the Umpqua Community College shooting, and which Hillary Clinton now supports. I don’t support registration, although if the government wants to take our guns, I’d like to see them try. The fact that they run a background check doesn’t mean they should also have to register the gun you purchase. But I know that background checks actually do prevent some purchases by those who should not have guns. And if you are a law-abiding citizen, you should have no trouble passing a background check. I think this is a small price to pay for a little increased security. Is it the be-all, end-all? No, but it helps. I also think you should have to show a government ID to vote, but that’s a discussion for another day.
- Now, since I respect the right to private property, I also believe that a private business owner has the right to restrict carrying weapons into their private place of business. I simply won’t go in there, and I’ll take my business elsewhere.
- We need to enforce strict, zero-tolerance sentencing laws for repeat violent offenders. I know the liberal left don’t like to punish the individual for society’s failures, and I know our prisons are overcrowded, but the fact is the majority of crime is committed by repeat offenders. School shootings get the media attention, but the street shootings by career criminals are the real source of violence. And if you watch the news, you’ll see that most people arrested for violent crimes already have a criminal record. Most of the time the news already has a previous mug shot! A police officer in Kentucky was just recently killed by an ex-con who shot him in the head because he “had spent half his life in prison, and was not going back.” These people cannot be rehabilitated. They’ve been convicted before, sentenced to jail, were released and went right back to crime. Not all of them, but enough that it should worry us, especially when Obama plans to release more. If you prove by your actions that you are a violent person with no respect for human life and that one term in prison hasn’t fixed you, then you’re done. You should spend the rest of your life in prison. Those on the left probably think that’s too harsh. They’re willing to pass any gun control law if it can save “just one life.” Well, how many lives would have been saved if these career criminals were behind bars instead of on parole? And if that’s too harsh, guess what? That’s not my problem! I’ve managed to go my entire life without committing a violent crime, it really isn’t that hard. If others can’t do the same, then remove them from society.
So there you have it. Let those who want to legally carry guns carry them; make every firearm purchase subject to a background check (without registration); report those with mental illness to a centralized database; and punish the hell out of repeat offenders. I think that’s real common-sense.
Liberals hate teaching “abstinence-only” birth control because they know it won’t work. So why do they keep teaching “abstinence-only” gun control?