Month: April 2013

Will New Gun Laws Work?

It’s one of those hot topics right now.

Each time there is a mass shooting, the subject of gun control heats up.

The Sandy Hook tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14th, 2012 was supposed to be the final straw.

Finally we would get the gun control laws passed and no longer would we have senseless shooting deaths in the United States.

Politicians spoke out for and against stricter gun laws and the promises were made that we would all be safer.

Now we are 5 months removed from that day in December and it appears that action will be coming soon on a Federal level.

It seems like no one is happy with the compromises that are being made to get a new law passed.

The anti-gun crowd says the new law doesn’t go far enough while the pro-gun crowd says it is the 1st step to taking away their guns.

I believe that there are two major problems with all of this.

1st off, I don’t believe our Federal Government has the constitutional authority to create laws, rules, or regulations at this level.  This is a State by State issue.  Many states have passed laws already.  Tough laws, laws that are appropriate for their individual states and citizens.

2nd, I don’t believe this will achieve what the gun control advocates are “promising”.

Saturday morning, I was watching the show “Up” on MSNBC and one of the guests in the panel discussion represented a group called “New Yorkers Against Gun Violence”.    That is an organization that by name, everyone except organized crime and gangs could support.  I mean, if there truly was an opposite, opposing group, they would go by the name of “New Yorkers For Gun Violence”, right?

The issue is how do we make our society safer and prevent gun violence.  But the discussion is being focused on creating new laws that restrict the use and sale of firearms and ammo.

Here’s a basic flaw to the premise that we need more laws.

Nearly every shooting of a human being is already illegal.  In other words, we already have laws against shooting and killing each other.  These laws are being broken by law breakers.  Some call these law breakers criminals.  Is there any law that will stop criminals from doing bad things?  No.

Punishment versus reward is a concept that needs to be considered.  I drive 60 miles a day. Half of those miles are on roads with a 55 mph speed limit.  I can go 60, maybe 65 without getting a ticket.  70 and I’ve definitely broken the law.  Earlier this month, I let my speed inch up to 70 and a kind sheriffs deputy just flashed his lights to remind me to slow down.  I heeded his warning and now use my cars cruise control to keep my speed at 65 or less.  The punishment for speeding is costly, so I choose to obey.  My reward is keeping my driving record clean and not having to fork over extra money for tickets and increased insurance premiums.

This punishment versus reward thinking didn’t apply to the Sandy Hook shooting, or several other mass shootings. The shooters died.  Sometimes by their own guns.  But while these mass shootings that get so much publicity are on  the minds of the public today, they probably represent a tiny percentage of gun violence in our country.

Finding accurate numbers is nearly impossible.  Here are a few sites that offer some data:

That last source has a few quotes I want to share:

Several criminologists deny that mass shootings are increasing. Although these incidents dominate headlines and conversation, it’s important to remember that they account for only a small fraction of gun violence in the United States. For example, the spike of 72 deaths in 2012 includes only 0.8% of all firearm-related homicides in 2011 (the last year for which statistics are available.) Many gun deaths, especially in large cities, never make the news. This means that the most effective gun violence reduction strategies — in terms of lives saved — might not target mass shootings at all.


In principle, it’s not necessary to keep guns away from everyone, just those who would misuse them. Background checks are promising because a high fraction of future killers already have a criminal record. In one study in Illinois, 71% of those convicted of homicide had a previous arrest, and 42% had a prior felony conviction.

Yet current federal gun regulation (see above) contains an enormous loophole: While businesses that deal in guns are required to keep records and run background checks, guns can be transferred between private citizens without any record. This makes straw purchases easy. In other words, these laws may generally make guns harder to come by, but those who really want them can still obtain them through private sales.

Also, although it’s generally illegal to sell guns across state lines, in practice this is very common. There’s abundant evidence that under the current system, guns flow easily between legal and illegal markets. Washington, D.C,. banned all handguns in 1976, and Chicago did the same in 1982. In neither case did the percentage of suicides using firearms — considered a very good proxy for general gun availability — fall significantly.


Here are some approaches that don’t seem to work, at least not by themselves, or in the ways they’ve been tried so far:

  • Stiffer prison sentences for gun crimes.
  • Gun buy-backs: In a country with one gun per person, getting a few thousand guns off the street in each city may not mean very much.
  • Safe storage laws and public safety campaigns.

We don’t really have good enough evidence to evaluate these strategies:

  • Background checks, such as the Brady Act requires.
  • Bans on specific weapons types, such as the expired 1994 assault weapons ban or the handgun bans in various cities.

These policies do actually seem to reduce gun violence, at least somewhat or in some cases:

  • More intensive probation strategies: increased contact with police, probation officers and social workers.
  • Changes in policing strategies, such increased patrols in hot spots.
  • Programs featuring cooperation between law enforcement, community leaders, and researchers, such as Project Safe Neighborhoods.

There is no obvious solution here, and there’s a huge amount we still don’t know. But it’s possible that combinations of these policies, or variations in a different context, might work better. For example, background checks would probably be more effective if they were also applied to private sales. Also, of course, this list does not include policies that have not yet been tried.

If you’ve read all 1000 plus words I’ve written, so far, congratulations.  You apparently care and want answers.  You want to make a difference.

I believe new gun laws alone will not work.  As mentioned above, we need more community involvement.  We need to provide alternatives to a gang or criminal lifestyle.  We need to take responsibility for each other.  Person to Person, at a grass roots level.  You don’t even need any organized effort or special funding to make this work.  You and I just need to open our eyes, our ears, our lives to others whom we can have a positive impact on, and begin, one person at a time.