April 7, 2020

More Madness

By Stephen Tuttle | Feb. 24, 2018

We aren't going to do anything. At least not anything of real substance.

Politicians will yammer away, one side demanding more gun restrictions and the other saying this is not the time to discuss it. Florida might pass some ineffective law, or laws, but Congress will do nothing but talk. President Trump says he's in favor of tighter FBI background checks, which will do little other than create more work for the FBI.

Mental illness is the villain du jour in these mass shootings. But according to the National Center for Health Statistics, between 1999 and 2015 there were nearly 200,000 firearm homicides in the United States and less than one percent were committed by a person with a diagnosed mental illness. Pointing the finger at an already stigmatized population will do little.

Remember the Las Vegas massacre? Was that two or three or four massacres ago? That shooter used something called a bump-stock, a device that turns the natural recoil of a semi-automatic long gun into a nearly fully automatic killing machine. 

Legislation introduced in Congress languishes in committees where it will likely die a lonely death. The president, to his credit, now says he wants to close any bump-stock loopholes. Fewer than 20 states have taken, or are taking, any action. Bump-stocks are still readily available online and at gun shows, including one that took place in Florida just two days after and 50 miles north of the latest high school slaughter. At least it was the latest slaughter as this is being written.

There are countries that have figured this out; they simply banned certain types of weapons. None are true analogs of the United States, and all have a distinct advantage we'll get to in a bit.

Australia responded to a 1996 assault-weapon massacre in Tasmania that killed 35 people by banning assault weapons and all other semi-automatic and rapidly loading guns. Had its parliament not acted, a national plebiscite would have done the job for them. A mandatory buy-back program, for which the government paid $500 million, collected nearly 700,000 outlawed guns.

Fears of rising crime rates went unrealized. Crime in Australia has declined, the continuation of a 25-year trend. Gun violence has decreased by more than 50 percent since the 1996 ban was imposed, and suicides-by-gun have decreased by nearly 70 percent. And the country has had no mass shootings since the ban was implemented. 

Japan, in a wave of post World War II pacifism, outlawed guns altogether in 1946. They have since relaxed those rules marginally, but only shotguns and air guns are now allowed, and receiving a gun permit is not so easy. Applicants must complete oral and written exams, complete a full-day training sessions, and score at least 95 percent accuracy on a shooting test. Friends, family, and co-workers of the applicant are also interviewed. 

Japan, with nearly 127 million people, had 27 incidents of violence involving guns in 2016, resulting in 12 deaths. Let's repeat that: Japan had 12 gun-related deaths in all of 2016. The United States has about 90 every day.

What's the advantage other democracies enjoy that enables them to react to and reduce gun violence? Those countries have no constitutional right to bear arms. And they have no National Rifle Association-type groups frightening cowardly legislators. 

Nor do they have a Supreme Court that rules “ ... a well-regulated militia … ” includes individual gun owners, regardless of how regulated they might be.

The Court did leave open the possibility of some restrictions and just recently allowed a longer waiting period and tighter background checks in California to stand. We once even had a national assault-weapon ban the courts tolerated, from 1994 to 2004, when President Bush and Congress let it expire. Many states, including Michigan, have only made it easier to own, carry, or conceal weapons.   

The NRA, meanwhile, continues its influence on the American electorate. In 2016 it spent $11 million supporting Donald Trump and more than $19 million criticizing Hillary Clinton. Its effective zealotry and the sycophants it helps elect stand in the way of most legislative fixes.

The solution, repealing the Second Amendment, is a political impossibility. There is nowhere near two-thirds of the House or Senate willing to even whisper such a thing, Even if they did, three-fourths of the states would not approve it, as is required. The Second Amendment has always been, and continues to be, sacrosanct.

We're stuck with a gun culture the Founding Fathers could never have anticipated. We have more gun violence with more efficient weapons than any other Western-style democracy and more guns per capita than any other country in the world.

We're awash in gun violence and unable, or unwilling, to do anything about it. While we watch yet another candlelight memorial service, the madness rolls on. 





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