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Cheers - AE

Monday, 17 January 2011

As predictable as gravity.

It's a fact of life: every time there's a mass shooting there are calls to change gun laws, and generally these come from people who seem to know little about guns. I'm sure I could trawl the web and find half a dozen examples but since I happened to be looking over The Telegraph yesterday I'll tackle their op-ed by Harold Evans in which says that the Tucson shootings show it's time to rethink America's gun laws.

I'm going to explain in some depth why he's dreaming. Settle in - this is not a brief read, but I think a refreshments trolley may turn up about halfway through.

Bad language warning: for a change there isn't any.

President Obama brought the good news directly from the hospital bed where young Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords struggles to recover from a madman’s bullet through her brain.
He doesn't say what this good news is but I assume it's that she's likely to survive. If so I'm glad to hear it, and not only because Congresswoman Giffords has been at least mildly supportive of gun ownership. She opposed Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban and put her name to this amicus brief, which says (my bold):
Like the rest of the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment was proposed to the States by the Congress in 1789. On several occasions, in different epochs of American history, the Congress enacted statutory texts which explicitly declared its understanding of the Second Amendment as guaranteeing fundamental, individual rights.
A ban on handguns is both unusual and unreasonable.
... historically Congress has interpreted the Second Amendment as recognizing the right of law-abiding individuals to keep and bear arms. This Court should give due deference to the repeated findings over different historical epochs by Congress, a co-equal branch of government, that the Amendment guarantees the personal right to possess firearms.
Note the wording: "guarantees" the right, not "grants". I'll come back to that later because Harold brings it up. For now it's enough to point out that Congresswoman Giffords agreed enough to put her name to it just a couple of years ago, and as well as hoping she makes a full recovery I'd hope this horrible experience will not change her mind - objectively she was right on the law at the time, and the US Supreme Court confirmed it (and again last year).1 Since Harold Evans says that the US needs to change its laws presumably he agrees that as it stands now the law recognises that Americans may have guns.
One by one, the President paid eloquent but precise tribute to all the victims of the attempted assassination, and to all the unarmed heroes who risked their lives to stop the killing.
One victim was left unnamed: America’s idea of itself, as an optimistic neighbourly nation of free enterprise with faith in the rule of law, and the openness of its democracy.
Emotive nonsense. If America's idea of itself has suffered in any measurable way as a result of one maniac with a gun in 2011 it must be vastly less than it suffered as a result of 19 maniacs with Stanley knives in 2001. America certainly could suffer more from the Tucson shootings if it caves in to knee-jerk hoplophobic demands to reduce the freedoms of its law abiding citizens yet further. It's supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave, not the land of the sheep and the home of the slave.
It is too painful for a nation traumatised by Tucson to reflect how these virtues have been betrayed once again by the insidious gun culture of America...
Again, emotionally loaded nonsense. Explain how those virtues have been betrayed to a greater extent than they were by Stanley knives. Explain what is insidious about the gun culture. My dictionary defines 'insidious' as 'proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects' and I note that guns were once subject to no control at all - the right to bear arms shall not be infringed - and are now subject to a large number of laws and regulations.2 I'm not certain without doing far more research but I wouldn't be surprised if the number of gun owners while having grown as an absolute figure has fallen as a proportion of the whole US population, but later I'll get onto the harm guns do as well as their net benefit - something that hoplophobes never consider and which I doubt Harold Evans has given much thought to. For the moment I'll just say that the only thing that's insidious per the definition above is the use of law to restrict individuals and to reduce liberty.3 Anyway, back to Evans' list of betrayals.
... betrayed ... by the pathetic weakness of laws which allow criminals and madmen to get their hands on real weapons of mass destruction that can fire hundreds of bullets in a minute...
And here Evans reveals his lack of knowledge about guns. Mostly guns cannot fire hundreds of bullets in a minute, and nor would you usually want one to - it's hugely wasteful of ammunition.4 A gun may well have a rate of fire of hundreds of rounds per minute but that is not the same thing at all. Let me explain the difference by way of a couple of examples.

FN MAG, or General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG)
SA-80, current service rifle of British forces
The GPMG is a 'fully automatic' machine gun firing 7.62mm NATO ammunition on a disintegrating link belt. It has a rate of fire of more than 600 rounds per minute, so if you put together a 600 round belt then you could indeed hold the trigger down and fire that many rounds in a minute (after which you can probably use the barrel to cook with - it might be all it's good for by then). The SA-80, like many modern rifles, is a selective fire weapon, although one of its fire modes is fully automatic in which it also fires at a rate of over 600 rounds per minute. If you can lay your hands on a 600 round magazine, which doesn't exist and would be nearly 12 foot high if it did, then you could fire all 600 rounds in one minute or until you fell off the step ladder. But it doesn't so you can't. You have to put up with 30 round magazines which are eaten up in four seconds and loaded weigh nearly three quarters of a kilo each. A trained soldier might be able to change magazines fast enough to fire more than 100 rounds a minute (aimed shots is something else again) though he'd run out before much longer as he'd only have been issued half a dozen or so spares. Could an amateur loony do the same? I highly doubt it.

So Evans claim that nutters and criminals can "get their hands on real weapons of mass destruction that can fire hundreds of bullets in a minute" is patently false. In addition a quick look of the web finds at least two federal laws that restrict selective fire and fully automatic firearms as well as prohibiting possession of firearms by, amongst others,
Anyone who has been convicted in a federal court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, excluding crimes of imprisonment that are related to the regulation of business practices.
Anyone who has been convicted in a state court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding two years, excluding crimes of imprisonment that are related to the regulation of business practices.
Anyone who is a fugitive from justice.
Anyone who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to a mental institution.
Evans' claim is therefore doubly false, and I'd argue he's unjustified in calling the laws weak as well. Now let's get the last two betrayals dealt with.
... by the gun lobby’s intimidation of politicians in vulnerable seats; by the greed of the gunmakers who nowadays prefer to manufacture weapons more suitable for mass murder than for individual defence.
Not living in the US I don't feel able to judge the gun lobby's level of intimidation, but although I feel that the wording is yet again emotionally loaded the reference to vulnerable seats implies that Evans is not suggesting any threat of violence. Just political pressure in other words - listen to us or we vote for the other guy. Is that intimidating? Well, yes and no since intimidation is entirely subjective and what one person finds intimidating is small biccies to someone else. In any case if lobbying someone in a vulnerable seat is intimidation then are we to believe that the Brady Campaign always avoids this in case it intimidates the politician? Or is it somehow not intimidating when powerful gun control advocates lobby someone in a marginal seat?

And what about this new preference to make guns more suitable for mass murder than individual defence? There appears to be an implicit approval of guns suitable for defence in there - always nice to hear from a control advocate - but let's consider the intended use of various guns and look for the mass murdery ones. We won't go on what the manufacturer says but instead we'll look at form and function. First off let's consider the two pictured earlier. Is mass murder an intended function of either of those, or any other military firearm? Killing, yes, and possibly in large numbers, but not necessarily and not murder. As appalling as large scale warfare is and as unjustified and unnecessary as many wars are the killing is mostly not murder but simply battle. We'd all rather it didn't happen but that doesn't make it murder, mass or otherwise. What about sub-machine guns? Almost all of those fall into the same category as all the other military weapons, and those that don't I suspect are mostly going to be used by close protection people. That would make the intended purpose not murderous but defensive. Hunting rifles do what it says on the tin and are mostly low capacity and bolt action, as are target rifles. Shotguns have obvious limitations being, as Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels put it, "gons that fire shot" - accuracy and range both suffer as the shot string disperses to the point that a few hundred yards is usually enough for safety on clay ranges, and the size of a shotgun cartridge precludes massive magazines. Full auto shotguns do exist but are rare, and as a dedicated over/under type I admit I don't see an obvious purpose for them. However, they're generally called combat shotguns so I'm going to assume the military has an occasional use in building clearance or short range suppressive fire or something, so again not murder but battle.

And then there are handguns. They're relatively small and lightweight so they can be concealed fairly easily, and I suppose that is terribly frightening to the hoplophobes. Who is armed and who isn't? How can you tell? That guy looking at me over there, might he have a gun? Might that woman have one in her bag? But this is also very frightening to armed criminals in places where law abiding citizens can carry concealed weapons. Might I get shot at by armed citizens if I use my gun? Might I be heavily outnumbered here? More than one US prison survey found that a majority of criminals said they fear armed citizens, that they avoid entering occupied homes in case they meet an armed homeowner, that they worry more about encountering an armed citizen than a police officer, and that a significant minority avoid even committing a crime at all if they think their intended victim is armed (see Gun Facts by Guy Smith (p.31) and Stopping Power by J. Neil Schulman (p.38) for examples - and I recommend both books, by the way). So this makes their use in private hands as much defensive as anything else, particularly in the hands of law abiding citizens who might use them not only to defend themselves but also to defend others. In military hands it's much the same, except that it's the last weapon a soldier generally has. This isn't even battle vs murder anymore - when he's down to a pistol he's almost certainly not even in the battle anymore. The gun is there to give him a slightly better chance of getting back to his lines alive and asking them for a replacement rifle/tank/aircraft whatever. Yes, like any gun - or knife, or golf club, or cricket bat, or snooker cue, or rock, or any of a vast number of everyday objects - it can be abused and used to commit violence, but again that is not it's normal role. The hoplophobes claim that the difference between guns and everyday objects that are used as weapons is that guns are designed to kill, but when you look at them closely you find that aside from military guns the natural purpose is pretty much sporting, hunting or defence.

And here's an important point to consider about using a gun defensively. If you want to commit murder you must pull the trigger while pointing it at someone, but if the intention is defensive you don't necessarily have to. I'm not talking about shooting to wound but a warning shot can be pretty effective, as can simply pointing it - you might not need to shoot the thing at all. Just waving it around, and possibly yelling at an intruder that you're armed without them ever seeing the gun in your hand, could have the desired defensive effect, and according to both Schulman and Smith it does in the US on a daily basis.
Out of [approximately 140,000 Los Angeles County gun owners] who say they have used a gun in self-defense, only 2% say they actually fired the gun, signifying that the deterrence value of the firearm without being fired was approximately 98%.
Stopping Power p.47

The 1993 National Self-Defense Survey ... found that there are 2.45 million genuine defensive civilian uses of firearms in a year, 1.9 million of them with handguns alone. That is a defensive use of a firearm once every 13 seconds.
Stopping Power p.140

The rate of defensive gun use is six times that of criminal gun use.
Less than 8% of the time does a citizen wound his or her attacker and in less than one in a thousand instances is the attacker killed.
For every accidental death, suicide, or homicide with a firearm, 10 lives are saved through defensive use.
Gun Facts p.27
More suitable for mass murder, Harold? Hardly. Moving on to Evans' next claim...
A law-abiding American citizen is far more likely to die with a bullet in his body than a British citizen. All the comparable Western countries with reasonable gun laws have long had vastly fewer gun homicides. The murder rate per 100,000 people for the US is 5.2. For Australia it is 0.07, for Japan, 0.05, and for the UK 0.06.
True so far as it goes, but not close to the whole story. For one thing the murder rate in the UK has been increasing while in the US it has been decreasing (see this PPT).

Jamaica has also got worse despite increasing gun control laws, as did Ireland. Here in Australia it hasn't changed significantly - murder rates down a little but robbery and violent crime both up.5 Canada, which also became more restrictive, was the only one to see any drop in the murder rate, though a smaller improvement than the US enjoyed. However, it saw no real improvement in violent crime and, somewhat tellingly, while the rate of firearms suicides did drop the overall rate of suicide didn't, suggesting that those determined to end it all will simply find another way of doing so if denied a gun. (Now consider that last point as applied to those who are determined to end it all and take as many other people with them.)

Not only does Harold Evans not consider the change as well as the absolute figures he ignores the absolutes in other countries and even internally within the US, perhaps because it doesn't do his argument many favours. Take Brazil or Mexico, for example. Both have extremely strict gun laws by the standards of most of the US, but both also have much higher rates of gun violence and murder. On the other hand Switzerland has about the highest rate of gun ownership in the world due to its compulsory militia service for all able bodied males... and the Sig 550 rifle and Sig-Sauer P220 pistol they're issued and told to keep at home in case the nation is ever invaded. Yes, I'm quite serious, and when was the last time anyone heard about a Swiss going postal with their issue firearms?

Anyone? Bueller?

There are something like 1.5 to 3 million guns in private, and overwhelmingly law abiding, Swiss hands - one for about every two or three adults in other words - yet the murder rate there is lower than that of Britain or Australia and remains fairly consistent. And then there's the United States itself, where one finds a variety from the very strict, such as Washington, D.C., which effectively banned handguns two decades before Britain and has only recently begun to allow them again (and only after it was told by the Supreme Court that it was unconstitutional) to the permissive, such as New Hampshire, which requires licences only for carrying handguns in a vehicle or concealed about your person, but otherwise basically doesn't require gun owners to be licensed. The most extreme is Vermont, which has so few gun control laws it doesn't even bother to issue licenses at all and allows anyone aged 21 or more to just walk into a gun store and buy one (I believe 18 year olds may buy privately). Harold Evans might be interested to know that New Hampshire has the lowest murder rate in the US (currently 0.8), followed very closely by Vermont (1.1), while Washington, the nation's capital and home of its toughest gun laws, has by far the highest (24). Interestingly New Hampshire and Vermont are roughly on a par with Switzerland. Does this mean more guns actually increases safety? Some would say so but correlation doesn't prove causation, and in any case I needn't go that far. It's enough to show that there is no correlation between violence and tough gun control laws because a lack of correlation does disprove causation, which sinks Evans' argument that the US would benefit from tougher laws.

Now I could stop there because Evans' article is about why America needs to change its gun laws and I think I've demonstrated that it would gain little or nothing, and stands to lose rather more. Stop here if you like but since he's carried on so will I. Sorry about the refreshments, by the way. It doesn't look like they're going to show up.
Gun massacres are a sad commonplace of American life. In 2009, in six separate incidents over 23 days, gunmen killed 43 people. ... Each of these incidents was followed by long and often rancorous examinations of what should be done to control gun violence.
Because without a gun they'd have been rendered perfectly harmless, law abiding and sane members of society, yes? Oh dear, if you believe that you really are in trouble. I covered this point nearly two years ago.
... the next Michael Ryan or Thomas Hamilton will not be prevented from killing by the UK’s strict gun laws when they can achieve as much carnage or more by means of a home-made bomb constructed from legal, easy to obtain products. The IRA have proved that with diesel/fertiliser bombs, David Copeland proved it with bombs made from fireworks, and of course more recently the London suicide bombers in 2005 murdered more than 50 with peroxide based bombs followed shortly after by a similar unsuccessful attack and further attempts in 2007 using gas cylinders in cars. Frankly if I went nuts and wanted to maim and kill as many people as possible guns look like the second best choice anyway. So what do we do if we are trying to legislate away the dangers of madmen? Ban motor fuel, fertiliser, fireworks, hair products and barbie cylinders?
To which we can also add the US examples of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who used bombs in the Columbine massacre (fortunately with very limited success) and Timothy McVeigh, who used one to such deadly effect in Oklahoma City that even Sigourney Weaver's alien killing flamethrower / machine-gun / grenade launcher combo would probably have been superfluous. Besides, those who really want guns for criminal purposes will always be able to get them. Has gun crime stopped in the UK? Of course it hasn't, and that's because people who don't obey laws about stealing and initiating violent acts aren't likely to worry about the one saying they can't have a gun.
There had been that Weapons Law, for a start. Weapons were involved in so many crimes that, Swing reasoned, reducing the number of weapons had to reduce the crime rate.
Vimes wondered if he'd sat up in bed in the middle of the night and hugged himself when he'd dreamed that one up. Confiscate all weapons, and crime would go down. It made sense. It would have worked, too, if only there had been enough coppers - say, three per citizen.
Amazingly, quite a few weapons were handed in. The flaw, though, was one that had somehow managed to escape Swing, and it was this: criminals don't obey the law. It's more or less a requirement for the job.
Night Watch - Terry Pratchett.
And they do get guns, even in the gun free utopia that is modern Britain. Back in March 09 I gave the examples of someone who was on trial for ordering gun parts and had already assembled two guns, and a teenager who'd come home from a holiday with a taser (yes, not a gun but subject to the same legislation in the UK). That British police forces still have to maintain ongoing anti-gun operations such as Trident shows that these are not isolated incidents except for the fact that they were caught. The increase in UK gun crime shows that guns are still coming in to the country somehow, and even if a criminal or a madman can't get one of those there's still the option to make a home made gun. It'll be fairly unsophisticated but when he pulls the trigger it'll go bang and a bullet will come out (or it might go BANG and take his hand off). And that's assuming he doesn't consider other even more destructive means used by some of those I mentioned just now. And of course there remains a great deal of violence that doesn't involve guns, as indicated by this list of executed US prisoners and the means by which they committed murder. There are stabbings, strangulations and suffocations aplenty, along with a few drownings and one or two killed by fire. And just look at how many simply beat their victims to death. All in all I make it roughly a third who did not use a gun.

Do Harold Evans and other proponents of gun control think that none of the two thirds that did use firearms would not have resorted to the methods of the other third to kill their victims? Are they unaware of all this or are they just able to cope with the cognitive dissonance? I ask only because what Evans says next is even dafter.
[The] silence was a fitting symbol of a nation’s sadness, but there has been another truly chilling silence. This time the political establishment and most of the media have essentially shied away from confronting either of the real issues: the profusion of guns ... for disturbed people who are not declared legally insane.
This sweeping statement necessarily includes not just people like Loughner, whose behaviour had raised concerns before he opened fire in Tucson, but also people who are completely undiagnosed and have caused no suspicions at all. Aside from that it doesn't even consider the possibility that a gun wouldn't be obtained illegally instead or that a disturbed individual might not turn to things that go boom rather than bang. What would Evans suggest? That the entire population submit itself to regular mental health checks? It would take little short of that.
There has been no insistent demand to know why a crazy young man could acquire a Glock 9mm, a semi-automatic pistol with a 33-round magazine and so easily kill six people, including Arizona’s chief federal judge, and wound 13 bystanders along with Congresswoman Giffords.
All we have been offered is evasion disguised as compassion. Asked if it is time simply to limit magazines to 10 rounds, as they were until 2004, spokesmen for both Democratic and Republican leaders mouth the same bromides.
This might sound awful but if only McVeigh had armed himself with a 9mm Glock and a 33 round magazine or two, instead of the legally purchased chemicals with which he murdered 168 people and wounded nearly 700 others in less time than it took Loughner to fire his second shot. And Evans is worried about guns? Pah!
Christina Taylor Green, the zestful nine-year-old victim buried on Thursday, had been recently elected to the student council at her elementary school.
Perhaps it is a little early for the classes to explore the meaning of Bill of Rights 2nd amendment to the constitution: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Perhaps not, given Congresswoman Giffords' own stand suggested by her signing the amicus brief I mentioned earlier.
Was it intended to protect the states from overweening federal or foreign power? Or does it give a right for an unregulated individual to carry a gun?
The answer to Evans' question are, in order, not as such and absolutely yes. It was not intended to protect the states alone against foreign or federal power but the citizens who lived in them too. Per the amicus brief's historical background:
The Second Amendment provides: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” This declares a political principle and then guarantees a substantive right. The term “the people” is in juxtaposition to the government, federal or State. Only individuals have “rights,” while the United States and the States have “powers.”
An important distinction that bears repeating: states have powers, individuals have rights. Where a right is recognised in law it necessarily refers to individuals.
On June 8, 1789, Rep. James Madison introduced what would become the Bill of Rights in the House of Representatives, stating that it would “expressly declare the great rights of mankind secured under this constitution.” In a draft of his speech, Madison referred to the rights of “freedom of press – Conscience . . . arms” as “private rights.” His draft of the arms guarantee stated: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.”
Which underwent a few revisions before ending up before the Senate.
The Senate revised the House language to render the militia clause more concise and delete the objector clause: “A well regulated militia, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” The Senate rejected a proposal to add “for the common defence” after “bear arms,” making clear that the right was not limited to that purpose. The Senate changed “the best security of a free state” to “necessary to the security of a free state.” The Amendment had reached its final form.
J. Neil Schulman also discusses the wording in some detail in Stopping Power, and tests the intention by substituting "books" for "arms" and a "well schooled electorate" for a "well regulated militia" before asking an expert in English usage to parse it.
Mr. Brocki informed me that the sentence was overpunctuated, but that the meaning could be extracted anyway.
“A well-schooled electorate” is a nominative absolute.
“[B]eing necessary to the security of a free State” is a participial phrase modifying “electorate.”
The subject (a compound subject) of the sentence is “the right of the people.”
“[S]hall not be infringed” is a verb phrase, with “not” as an adverb modifying the verb phrase “shall be infringed.”
“[T]o keep and read books” is an infinitive phrase modifying “right.” I then asked him if he could rephrase the sentence to make it clearer. Mr. Brocki said, “Because a well-schooled electorate is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and read books shall not be infringed.”
I asked: can the sentence be interpreted to restrict the right to keep and read books to a well-schooled electorate — say, registered voters with a high-school diploma?” He said, “No.”
I then identified my purpose in calling him, and read him the Second Amendment in full...
I asked, “Is the structure and meaning of this sentence the same as the sentence I first quoted you?” He said, “yes.” I asked him to rephrase this sentence to make it clearer. He transformed it the same way as the first sentence: “Because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
I asked him whether the meaning could have changed in two hundred years. He said, “No.”
I asked him whether this sentence could be interpreted to restrict the right to keep and bear arms to “a well-regulated militia.”
He said, “no.”
And look at what it actually says in that "infinitive phrase modifying 'right'" (also discussed in detail in Schulman's book, for which the Akubra is tipped in his direction):
"... the right to bear arms shall not be infringed."
Not "the right to bear arms is hereby granted" or anything like that, but simply a guarantee that the right will not be infringed. It does not grant the right because it's held to be innate and inalieanable, a God given right in the language of the times, or a natural right as secular types like me might prefer. It all ties in to another famous phrase of the age:
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Who or what the creator may be is irrelevant now and wasn't addressed then either. All that matters is that a person is born with certain inalienable rights - rights that simply cannot be taken away - including, but not limited to, "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." (The slightly earlier Virginia Declaration of Rights, which influenced the Declaration of independence, used the phrase "pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.") The Second Amendment recognises that one of these rights is the right to bear arms and promises that the government will not infringe it.6 Now here's where the authors of the Constitution were rather clever and where things get problematic for Harold Evans - even outright repeal of the Second Amendment doesn't change the right to bear arms. The right doesn't go away, just the solemn promise of the government not to infringe it. Put like that, repeal would be a very tough sell even to those in favour of gun control. Whether you say such rights are innate, natural, God given or "endowed by the Creator" it'd be a challenge to get a majority to acquiesce to a government's preparing to stamp all over one of them by removing the legal restriction that prevents it. Presumptive? Possibly, but why else would it need to remove it if that was not the intent? And if it could do it to one why could it not do it to others?

I'd hope that answers Evans questions before I move on to his last misleading factoids.
If the past is any guide, they’ll see just how the National Rifle Association (NRA) and their spokesmen in Congress lie low while the shock of the killings is fresh in the public mind.
They’ll note how a 10-year ban on assault weapons was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994 but allowed to lapse in the Bush presidency despite a US Department of Justice study finding that the share of gun crimes involving semi-automatic weapons dropped by 17 per cent to 72 per cent.
Apples and oranges, or a highly misleading conflation of semi-automatic weapons with those covered by the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. The ban affected a small number, less than 2%, of gun models on the market, most of which were rarely or never known to be used in crimes, and which were defined as assault weapons by whether they had more than two of an arbitrarily chosen set of features. To a large extent manufacturers side stepped the ban simply by deleting enough features that the firearm no longer met the criteria for restriction. The rifle used by John Allen Muhammed, the Washington Sniper, may have been one but since it was legally on sale in 2002 at the shop where Muhammed stole it (oh, hey, there's a criminal not obeying the law again) it was certainly not covered by the ban despite it being a civilianised M16. In light of all this it's not surprising that the National Institute of Justice concluded in 2004 that it was impossible to "clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence" (Gun Facts, p.4). Even if you chose to believe, as Evans undoubtably does, that the ban was the reason for the drop then you would expect violence to have gone back up again after Congress opted not to renew it.7 What actually happened was that it went down, and has continued to trend downwards since. Given the insignificant number of firearms the ban actually affected it's hardly surprising that its impact was equally minimal.
Assault weapons play a part in only a small percentage of crime. The [ban] is mainly symbolic; its virtue will be if it turns out to be, as hoped, a stepping stone to broader gun control.
The Washington Post, September 1994
They admitted it, so why can't Harold Evans?
Does it make sense to enable the police to track the source of bullets used in a crime? It does, but the NRA has stopped it.
It doesn't make any sense if the bullets are stolen, which like the guns themselves they often will be. These are criminals, yes? Renowned for stealing what law abiding people pay for. And if a bullet or gun is stolen then any paper trail the authorities have stops cold with the last legal transaction.
Isn’t it dangerous to allow gun dealers at state fairs and flea markets to sell any number of weapons to anyone – juveniles, criminals, nuts – without any background checks? Yes, but the NRA has been able to keep the loophole.
The US Department of Justice, the very same DoJ that Evans cited earlier, found that fewer than 1% of convicted criminals bought their guns at shows (nearly 40% prefer the black market and illegal traders), and also that fewer than 1% of "crime guns" came from such sources (Gun Facts p.33). As for background checks, murder rates are not significantly different in states that have them to states that don't, which rather suggests that they don't achieve much anyway. Why would it be different at a gun fair?

All of which leaves us with Evans reaching for prohibitionists' and hoplophobes' final argument, their ultimate put down, the nuclear option for when DEFCON 1 is finally reached (or BIKINI RED if you prefer): it must be done, you see, for sake of the chiiiiiiiiiiiiildren.
The President’s eulogy for the victims of the attempted assassination was altogether his most impressive oration ... I expect it will give him a boost in the polls.
Maybe it will give him heart to work now for a restoration of the ban on assault weapons he pledged in 2008. Call it Christina's Law.
And that kind of statement cannot be argued with at all, not because it's irrefutable but because it's not even debating an issue any more. Evans will no doubt have tugged at many heartstrings with those final words but the appeal to emotion, the appeal to our natural human instinct to protect our young, is the last refuge of a scoundrel. The last refuge of a great many scoundrels actually, since it's often the best place to find almost everyone who's ever wanted to ban anything.

1 -In short the first case, District of Columbia vs. Heller, found that the Second Amendment protects an individual right and applies in federal areas such as D.C. while the second, McDonald vs. Chicago, found that it applies to the states as well.

2 -Reagan claimed 20,000, and though I think that's almost certainly either an exaggeration or was arrived at by adding in everything down to health and safety regs of the Colt factory floor, if not both, we can be sure that the true number is still quite high - fifty states, DC, overseas territories, umpteen city and municipal statutes, federal laws, case law, and so on and so on. Conservatively I'd guess over a hundred.

3 -For what it's worth I feel both main parties in the US have a poor track record on that.

4 -Yes, you do hear automatic gunfire on news footage of gun battles. explain why here (item number 4).

5 -I believe more recent figures for both the UK and Australia show improvements, though since no new gun control laws have been introduced it seems unlikely that gun control deserves any credit.

6 -A promise that arguably has not been kept all that well if the US Supreme Court are striking down gun laws as unconstitutional.

7 -Oh yes, Congress. Ignore the red herring about the Bush presidency. George Dubya was in favour of the ban - no lover of freedom, that one - but left it up to Congress. Or possibly decided not to waste his time and breath since in March the Senate voted down by 80-9 an amendment to extend it. Still, facts often don't get in the way of Dubya bashing, which I find odd given the vast array of things he certainly is responsible for and for which I think he should be bashed until his last breath.
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