Obama’s gun proposals: Much Sound and Fury signifying nothing

Nothing can make up for the lost and shattered lives which occur every time there is a public shooting. Sandy Hook and all the senseless massacres before it cry out for explanation and justice.  Everyone agrees that action should be taken to reduce the likelihood of such shootings or, when they occur, the amount of carnage that results.  However, when I hear politicians state in support of some proposed law “If it saves just one life, it will be worth it,” I cringe and am angered because I know that they are cynically playing the public, not responding seriously to the problem.  Millions of laws could be passed that would “save just one life,” but they are not worth passing because they have huge costs in terms of liberty, convenience and yes even in terms of greater lives lost.  Enacting a national speed limit of two miles per hour would save countless lives, but at what cost?  Disarming the police, and not allowing doctors to practice medicine would equally prevent thousands, if not tens of thousands of premature deaths each year (see the stats for wrongful shootings and medical errors resulting in deaths) but at vastly greater costs in terms of lives lost.  Saving lives, one or hundreds, is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for a law to be enacted, though it could be one starting point for a law to be considered – and all politicians know this.

In this instance, the question is not simply what actions are most likely to reduce mass shootings in particular or shootings or violence in general , per say, but rather what laws would do this without violating Constitutionally protected liberties or producing even worse, unanticipated, harms.

The President’s proposals fall into three categories (with some overlap).

1)     Small gestures, that might be helpful and at worst are innocuous.

2)     Grand gestures that play to his constituency but have already been tried and proven ineffective (old wine in new bottles)

3)     Proposals that could threaten constitutionally protected rights and civil liberties but would do little or nothing to prevent the types of gun violence generating the current attention paid to firearms policy.

In short, the President’s proposals would not prevent the types of horrific incidences experienced at Sandy Hook Elementary and in Colorado.  Our children and the public in general deserve better, more focused, proposals.

Some of the executive orders the President signed might be a slight improvement over current regulations.  Improved sharing of between federal agencies and between federal and state agencies, increased specialized training for emergency response teams and improved emergency response plans, increased prosecution of crimes involving guns, increased effort to trace guns and producing and sharing data concerning lost and stolen guns, for instance,  all seem fairly sensible.  Other executive orders, however, have little or no relevance to public school shootings – finalizing regulations pertaining to certain aspects of Obamacare, for example.  In addition, asking the CPSC to review safety standards for gun safes and locks would have had little or no effect on public shootings – gun storage hasn’t been an issue.  There are, in general, two types of gun safes: Expensive, heavy and difficult to break into; inexpensive, light, relatively easy to carry off or break into.  Even the latter safe is better than nothing and will dissuade smash and grab thieves and all but the most committed criminals from stealing the owners’ guns.  If the CSPC, however, decides that such inexpensive safes must be more secure, their costs will soar as more expensive materials and locking mechanisms will have to be used.  As the costs of safes rise, fewer gun owners of moderate incomes will use them, meaning easier illicit access to guns. Other executive orders may compromise public health or threaten civil liberties. For instance, while nothing in the orders require doctors to ask about guns or make off the cuff mental evaluations, the fact that doctors may feel either pressured to at least freer to do so may reduce communication between doctor and some of his patients leading to ineffective or harmful care.  In addition, it might reduce a patient’s trust in his/her physician and lead to fewer doctor visits despite medical need.  Directing the AG to review new categories for denying people their gun rights, combined with the medical concerns raised above, could violate civil liberties, especially if the new categories result in patients being treated for mental health concerns routinely being flagged and disallowed from owning firearms despite no procedural findings of incompetence or being a threat to themselves or others – the ACLU has expressed similar concerns.

The President’s more comprehensive proposals would require Congressional action to become law: all private sales requiring background checks; a permanent, 10 round limit on ammunition magazine capacity; and a ban on the manufacture and sale of new military styled rifles (weapons the President refers to as assault weapons due to their appearance rather than performance).   This seems unlikely for a couple of reasons.  First, millions lawful gun owners would be negatively affected, and Congress is already hearing of their displeasure concerning the proposals – Congress critters that want to stay in office in the off-year elections will be unlikely to vote in favor of the proposals.  Second, and as importantly, the latter two proposals have already been tried for 10 years, and multiple studies have shown that they had no appreciable effect on gun violence in general or mass shootings in particular.  These proposals are feel good measures, that don’t warrant further serious consideration.  Though in some instances, children have stolen their parents guns to commit mass murder, in no instances that I’m aware of have parents passing their guns down to their children or neighbors selling a spare rifle to neighbor had anything to do with mass shootings – such transactions haven’t been the source of guns used.  And gun research has consistently shown that criminals don’t get their guns from gun shows (indeed, less than 2 percent of guns linked to crimes originated from gun shows).

On the other hand, President Obama has not just ignored but rather derisively dismissed proposals that might actually have a positive effect of reducing gun violence: either allowing teachers or school staff authorized to carry concealed firearms in their state to carry concealed in school or, as the NRA has proposed, having armed officers or security guards in every school.  The President’s response to the NRA’s serious proposal was: “I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in our schools.”  First, no one ever said it was the only answer.  Second, all guns are not equal.  Guns in the hands of good guys are not the same as guns in the hands of bad guys – otherwise, why would we arm police?  For police, intelligence is the key to solving crimes after the fact but armed officers in an area are the prime disincentive we offer criminals to prevent criminal acts.  Indeed, almost all multiple shootings only ended after the assailant was confronted with an armed citizen, or an armed police response – even in those incidences where the shooting ended in the with the assailant’s suicide, the killer didn’t kill himself until an armed response appeared.  Despite widely hyped fears, there have been no instances of mass shootings where an armed response, either by the police or by private citizens, has resulted in worse results or innocents being shot in a cross fire between responders and the killers.

Public opinion polls indicate that the public recognizes this fact and supports armed guards even if the President doesn’t.  More importantly, these same polls show that while there has been a temporary (now declining) support for guns restrictions like those proposed by the President, the public recognizes that these laws would be unlikely to prevent or reduce the number or harm from mass shooting.  Only good people with guns, can discourage action by or reduce the carnage from bad people intending harm with guns.

 

Comments (12)

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  1. Pam says:

    One thing that has been ignored in this whole debate in favor of sticking it to law-abiding gun owners is the treatment of the mentally ill. In an effort to protect their rights, we have laws that prevent them from being involuntarily committed. These laws have unintended consequences, in that the mentally ill get to do whatever they want now. My best friend used to be a nurse in a county psychiatric clinic, and she said that some people need to be monitored 24 hours a day (mainly schizophrenics who will not take medication regularly unless they are surpervised), or they end up hurting themselves and others. There has to be a way to balance the rights of people who need help in this way while making sure they are not out killing people.

    I support the sheriff in my county who recently said he would not enforce any newly made gun laws he finds to be unconstitutional. Good for him!

  2. Evan Carr says:

    Unfortunately, I think this is mostly a cultural problem. And a public health problem. There is clearly a problem. And I appreciate the POTUS’s intentions. I don’t think he woke up one day with a vandetta against guns. I have faith that the Supreme Court will ultimately protect our constitution. Like Sterling said, some of the orders make sense. Others are simply misguided in their attempt to quell any fear of this trend continuing. Until we as individuals take more responsibility for violence, mental health, bullying etc. in our society, I’m not sure what will change.

  3. Agent says:

    I don’t think the issue is a simple as categorizing “good” vs “bad” people. While legislation after legislation is not the solution, simplifying our violent culture is not responsible either. I believe gun control legislation should be a state right’s issue, but I do support a federally-designed comprehensive emphasis on background checks. I think most people (92%) agree with that in the country.

    As long as states and the fed are respecting basic constitutional amendments (within reason, don’t think one should be able to foster a pseudo-military in his/her house), some of the executive orders make sense under this premise, and some of the proposed legislation may be problematic with these aforementioned constitutional granted rights. Legislation aside, as Evan mentions, our societal violence is a cultural issue and I don’t think most legislators are trying to infringe on our rights in order to become a dictatorial regime one day.
    Most teachers I’ve spoken to are against guns floating around schools by anyone other than a police guard — if that. Trained policemen have also caused violence in our society instead of deterring it, although these are extreme exceptions, but they exist. Also, we have policeman in every city, yet crime and murders occur at high rates in many cities.

    Point being, the “good” vs “bad” guy argument is grossly oversimplifying a deep cultural problem our nation has been facing for a very long time. I am afraid that the expensive action of equipping schools with trained policemen or guards will not solve our violence, nor will any mere piece of legislation. However, focusing on better background checks seems to be more cost efficient than training teachers or hiring policemen for the unlikely and isolated randomized shooting that may occur in a school. I don’t have a solution, but we need to look deep into our culture to start reducing a senseless violence.

  4. Gabriel Odom says:

    I am a community college professor, and I have spent time as a school teacher as well.
    I want to be able to carry my gun to school.

    Agent mentioned that the cost to put armed guards in every school is probably greater than the benefit of these guards, but what about teachers themselves? We go through much more rigorous background checks than any gun owner – we are directly caring for children after all. So why can’t we be allowed to carry a gun? We have proven ourselves to be responsible for the lives of children already, I don’t see a great leap in logic to extend this to in-school concealed carry.

    Last month, a few days after the Sandy Hook shooting, I was teaching a 6th grade maths class. Some of my 11 and 12 year old students asked me, matter-of-factly, “Is someone coming to shoot us today?” I consoled them all, and promised them that I would keep them safe – but I couldn’t shake the feeling that they weren’t really safe at all.
    In that moment, I really wished that I could carry my gun.

  5. Agent says:

    Gabriel,

    Why don’t we carry a vote on how many teachers would feel comfortable with them or other teachers carrying guns. The answer will be overwhelmingly no. The stats can back up that statement, just look it up.

    You may have a seemingly heroic and protective mentality and I applaud you, but rigorous training, much like police officers receive, would be necessary for most people, including most teachers, to be comfortable with teachers carrying guns in school. And for teachers to get that level of training would be costly. Moreover, some people fear children stealing or finding teachers’ guns as they would respect a police officer more than a teacher — so perhaps you would also want to distinguish these teachers as guards as well or some distict level of authority. If the state is ready to include those high costs to allow highly trained people in schools to carry guns, then that is fine, or, if there is another privatized method to train them under certain federal guidelines, even better. But most people are against regular teachers simply carrying their guns in school — less would be against highly trained personnel. However, I am afraid that is far from solving this problem. Far from it — and frankly, a lazy “solution” to senseless murder. Murders are not simply occuring in schools,and again, this is a cultural issue we’ll have to look more into and I support more research on the topic.

  6. Frantic Liberal says:

    Preventing gun shootings with more guns? Why don’t we all just carry our guns everywhere and the moment someone looks at us in a threatening way, we shoot them! How ’bout that, folks? Forget police officers!

    • Kirk says:

      Because however much you fear that this is how it works, this is not how it works. People who have gone to the effort, and the background check, the FBI file, and the fingerprinting in order to have a carry permit have a lower incidence of gun crime than even the law enforcement community can boast.

      Since 9/11, we arm airline pilots, and to date not one of them has failed in his responsibility to safely guard passengers.

      One of the adults killed at Sandy Hook was reportedly shot while lunging at the shooter, trying to stop him. How I wish she’d had a more effective method available to her! We’re not saying that arming school administrators is a panacea, or that it’s appropriate to arm all teachers. But to protect children, capable teachers should be trained and allowed to try.

      To close, I’d like to commend all the commenters I’ve read so far, on both sides of the argument, for a civil and reasoned debate. Thank you.

  7. Agent,I would argue that we shouldn’t even have to be liscensed to carry (bear) a gun. What other right do we have to ask the government to exercise. More to your point, First, police do have some training with firearms, but it is hardly extensive and in many departments after the initial training, the officers only have to qualify with their guns once a year — hardly a rigorous standard. Second, as a teacher or administrator, I should not have to leave my fundamental right to self-defense at the school door. Regardless of how people feel or how they might vote if asked, their feelings or voting preferences should not override my fundamental right to life. We live in a Constitutional Republic not a democracy, wherein the realm of democratic decision making is supposed to be bounded by fundamental rights which the majority cannot override. The right to life is the primary right, but is just words on paper if one doesn’t have a equally fundamental rights to defend that life when under threat.

  8. Agent says:

    Sterling,

    First off, I am fully aware that our country is a Constitutional Republic, but, I may add, with democratic principles. Secondly, your argument rendering and clinging on an amendment to the constitution to give the right to bear arms means is oversimplified. Sir, your argument on the fundamental right to life is oversimplified, as well. There are a myriad of factors that in our modern society inhibit you from fully guarding and protecting your life. I wish things were as simple — alternatively, we could go back to the hunting and gathering era and fend for ourselves.

    Moreover, your interpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution in the Bill of Rights follows the standard model as opposed to the collective rights or sophisticated collective rights model. Yes, a group of Supreme Court judges in 2008 interpreted your way, but that is not say that the same may happen to overturn that ruling in the future, which is open to interpretation, like any antiquated law or rule designed to guide social cohesion for future generations. You champion this constitutional “right” but do not regard that socially, under current society, certain instances make it more dangerous or provocative for you to follow that “right.” If we want to live in a more civil society, then we have to exercise social and collective responsibility, and having untrained teachers in schools carrying fire weapons is irresponsible. Moreover, your neglect of other people’s opinions on the matter based on this “right” is irresponsible and not the way this country was constructed. I am not saying I am against this perceived “right,” but I would not oppose to going through training myself, even though I am not a teacher — so to ask teachers to go through training is far from unreasonable. However, I understand people’s opposition of teachers carrying guns, and, would propose a more skilled person with more authority to secure schools. Why do we not oppose to going through driving education if we are so opposed to the government establishing some sense of uniform education and civic responsibility when dealing with something potentially lethal?

    Lastly, you talk about police receiving limited gun training. This is simply untrue. I have worked for a police department and in order to graduate from one, you do not only receive a good amount of gun training but also psychological and tactical training and the training that is undergone is not simple or easy by any means — it changes your mindset. I know countless other police officers from other counties and states that can corroborate on this fact and would agree that people ought to be properly trained when that person is no longer only defending himself/herself. This becomes much more relevant when we are talking about children.

    Even if we allow any teacher, even untrained, to carry a gun to school, this will absolutely not solve our deeply complex and convoluted cultural and societal problems related to senseless violence. I propose we start trying to study the issue more responsibly before offering simplified solutions. This problem will not be solved by legislation or by allowing anyone to carry a weapon anywhere they go. I’m afraid it takes a whole lot more research and cultural change that this society may not be ready for yet.

  9. Andrew O says:

    I agree that these executive orders seem reasonable. Did he also call for more research on gun control?

    “Other executive orders, however, have little or no relevance to public school shootings – finalizing regulations pertaining to certain aspects of Obamacare, for example.”

    I was not aware of these types of executive orders — thank you for the example, Sterling.

    It seems to me that as these senseless killings occur in schools and other public venues, some politicians are simply attempting to advance their agenda. The government cannot “protect” us all or undermine our right to defend our lives — wherever may be the case and scenario.

    Agent, I feel that the point you are missing is that anyone responsible enough to want to go into a school for purposes of defending his/her students, will be responsible enough to know how to defend his/her students in the unlikely case of emergency, and will also be able to responsibly conceal the weapon so that students aren’t even necessarily aware of him/her having possession of a firearm.

    I think an emphasis on training civilians — not just teachers — on gun handling and composure during these scenarios should increase. Training of this nature probably will increase as some private companies are already providing conferences in universities and teaching students and professors how to appropriately handle these emergency-like scenarios.

  10. Cheyenne says:

    @Agent. You keep mentioning the “oversimplication” of good versus bad, and the Second Amendment, but I would venture to say that those who really think that Feinstein’s bill is going to stop gun violence are oversimplying the effect of gun control. What do you mean by “most teachers” you talk to? How many? While perhaps the ones you talk to do not favor carrying guns, if I was a teacher I would not support advertising my school as a “gun free zone.” That is just inviting trouble and letting criminals know that their occupational risk at the school is incredibly low.

  11. Sid says:

    As the “gun control” debate continues, I’ve noticed there has been no mention of (what I consider to be) one of the major contributors to this violence: the Gaming Industry. I think there is a direct connection between the violence contained in these games and the violence we see on our streets.

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