After the killings in Newtown, CT, there has been some clamor from the moderates and more liberal parts of the population for the passage of new gun control laws. Gun advocates such as the NRA have argued that new laws won’t help and that we need to create what amounts to a police state to safeguard children in schools. There have been weak attempts at gun control at the federal level. The argument is made that the assualt gun law of 1994 did not help reduce crime or gun violence. One thing that people disregard is that the passage of the law did not have any effect on the guns already out there. That is one reason that the earlier assault bans were not obviously instantly effective.
Maybe the US is just a violent country and no effort can be expected to work. The assault death graph shown here shows how much an outlier the US is compared to other countries with the same level of income. Maybe it is the presence of guns that caused the level of violence. There a clear relation between the easy availability of guns and gun violence. A Guardian chart shows a similar disparity between the US and other similar countries.
Is there anything that can be done? First of all we need to reduce the level of firepower that can be carried by a gun owner. There is no justification for high capacity magazines. There is probably no reason outside of the battlefield for a magazine with more than 10 rounds in it. Even pros make mistakes when confronting a possible shooter and innocent people get hurt. When there was a gunman by the Empire State Building last December, all the bystanders were his by police gunfire. When Amadou Diallo was shot by police in 1999, 41 rounds were fired by 4 officers and 19 hit Diallo (and Diallo didn’t have a gun). You didn’t need 41 bullets to stop one man. Just imagine how a civilian gun owner would do in a movie theater (bloodbath anyone?), or a teacher in a school who hasn’t shot a gun under a high stress situation.
The assault gun ban and magazine ban may help stop the specific kind of thing that occurred in Newtown Ct. In Newtown the guns were legally acquired by one of the victims. The gun laws might have helped in Webster, if a benighted young woman would have been stopped from buying guns for her neighber. It is not the obvious solution for the general kind of mayhem that infests some of the poorer parts of our country. A more general sort of gun control may be necessary. We need to actually change our violent pro-gun culture. That will take time. It can be done. We have, over a few generations stopped smoking in most public places (when I started at AT&T 27 years ago, the cafeteria was full of smoke at all times). We have cracked down on drunk driving without eliminating the ability of people to drink either at home our outside.
The 2nd amendment is not holy writ. The intent of the amendment was to stop the national government from taking control of local militia’s stores of guns and ammunition, as the British had tried to do in the 1770’s. Even in 1770’s the value of the local militia was overstated. Even in the 18th century our local militia was pretty useless, they might be good against Indian raiding parties, but hardly against a professional army. It was the French who defeated the British in North America not a bunch of untrained farmers. Today I doubt any local militia could defeat a trained group of soldiers, without a lot of firepower. We are willing to restrict other freedoms if appropriate. So, we should restrict the 2nd amendment, too.