Misfire, or Bad Aim? The "Debate" Over Gun Control

January 22, 2013
/ Author: Rick

You’d have to be living under a rock, or perhaps in another country, to miss that the latest marketing campaign of the mainstream media in America is targeting gun ownership.

So hard is the new paradigm being pushed that the news is making up stories about how assault weapons work, schools are going on lockdown because of bright lime-green Nerf guns that shoot foam balls, five-year-olds are being suspended for “threatening to shoot” other five-year-olds with pink bubble-blowers, and  six-year-olds are suspended for “using their fingers to make an imaginary gun” while playing cops-and-robbers.

And don’t think “it’s just crazy-ass Maryland,” as it’s happening elsewhere, as well.

The purported goal is to stop mentally-ill people from shooting others — particularly small children — with assault rifles.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. 

To make this point, we really need look no farther than Vice-President Joe Biden.

“As the president said, if your actions result in only saving one life, they’re worth taking,” Vice President Joe Biden declared on Wednesday as he previewed what his commission on gun violence might actually do.

“There are executive orders, there’s executive action that can be taken. We haven’t decided what that is yet. But we’re compiling it all with the help of the attorney general and the rest of the cabinet members as well as legislative action that we believe is required.”

Biden insisted that it is a moral imperative for the White House to do something: “It’s critically important that we act.”

Only an idiot would think that you’ll save “one life” by banning assault weapons, but you won’t save “one life” by going after other guns.

Yet, despite the claims of the Vice-President, it is not critically important that we act. What we should do is seriously look at the evidence — not just one, two, or even five shootings, but all the evidence — to see if we really must act. And, even if it were true that “it’s critically important that we act,” it’s actually more important that we act responsibly. Is it possible that going after guns is not helpful? Is it possible that it’s even counterproductive? Or should we maybe do away with all guns; i.e., not just those for private citizens, but those for law enforcement as well? (After all, in Great Britain, the majority of police officers do not carry guns. In 2012, Iceland — where the police are also unarmed — was thinking about maybe giving officers tasers.)

According to Biden — or, technically, I guess the President, since he’s apparently quoting him — “if your actions result in only saving one life, they’re worth taking.” But if that were the rule, there would be some discussion of outlawing automobiles, or perhaps unmanned drones. Nuclear power plants? Too risky.

According to recent statistics, nearly as many people die because of cars in the United States each month as died in the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers.

The fact of the matter is that America needs to have a realistic discussion of cost-benefit analyses, because, realistically, “if your actions result in only saving one life, they’re worth taking” means we can never do anything. Think about it: if we could have prevented Adam Lanza from getting any guns, we could have saved those poor children and school personnel; if this Loganville woman could have been prevented from getting any guns, her family would be dead. According to this New York Daily News story, 

Similar stories are available from across the country. They include shootings at schools that were stopped before police arrived in such places as Pearl, Miss., and Edinboro, Pa., and at colleges like the Appalachian Law School in Virginia. Or attacks in busy downtowns such as Memphis; at a mall in Salt Lake City, or at an apartment building in Oklahoma.

So “if your actions result in only saving one life” means that “they’re worth taking,” we have to find a way to stop people like Adam Lanza from getting their hands on guns, and make sure lots of people can get their hands on guns.

But how are we going to do that? Trying to ensure the mentally ill cannot obtain guns might be a good thing, but while some mass murderers are mentally ill, “Mass murderers often not mentally ill, but seeking revenge, experts say.” And how do you spot a person who is seeking revenge, before they seek revenge? Are we going to have a background-check questionnaire that asks, “Are you buying this weapon because you’re seeking revenge?”

We will never be able to stop mass murders from occurring. Not even if we ban all guns, including those carried by law enforcement. The largest mass murders in the United States in recent years were committed without guns. Don’t think that because that last link talked about bombs and fire that you’re safe, either. While it’s true that the largest school massacre in America — committed in 1927 — also involved the use of explosives, in 1935, a mass murder was committed in Seattle with a knife fashioned out of a bolo. And whereas a mass murderer in South Korea in 2003 killed 198 people (and injured at least 147 more) using fire, eight children were killed, 13 more were wounded, along with two of their teachers in 2001 using only a kitchen knife.

So “if your actions result in only saving one life” means that “they’re worth taking,” we have a hell of a lot of work ahead of us, which will ultimately be stymied by self-cancelling actions, all of which are worth taking. Even though self-cancelling actions would seem to be, by definition, a waste of time.

Or we could recognize that the problem of finding a way to limit mass murders is complex.

Unfortunately, the “debate” focused on gun control — which is really not any kind of debate, anyway — has so far been far too simplistic. It’s mostly people just cherry-picking their stories and talking at, rather than to, one another. As this Bloomberg story puts it,

One reason the gun debate seems so radioactive is that gun-control proponents refer almost exclusively to the cost of widespread gun ownership, while the NRA and its allies focus on guns as instruments and symbols of self-reliance. Very few, if any, participants in the conflict acknowledge that guns are both bad and good, depending on how they’re used. Robbers use them to stick up convenience stores, and convenience store owners use them to stop armed robbers.

For my part, I think the whole “debate” is misguided. But, as a criminal defense attorney, I’m a big believer in the United States Constitution. I recognize the extent to which law enforcement officers violate that Constitution every day. I also know that police officers killed as many people in 2012 as were killed by mass murderers between 1982 and 2012. (Incidentally, the title of that last article linked is actually not true.) As U.S. police forces become more and more militarized, I expect it to get worse.

Some of my friends, including other criminal defense lawyers, think I’m “over-the-top.” Some probably would even call me “crazy.” But, frankly, I see no difference between me, and them, when it comes to the “debate” over gun control.

My argument may be a misfire, but theirs has a bad aim.

What do you think? Sound off below in the comments section. And don’t forget to use one of the buttons near the title of this post to share it on Google+, Facebook, or to subscribe to this blog.

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  1. Eric Essman says:

    Hi Rick:
    Your article is right on the money. I always thought the argument “if it saves only one life, it is worth doing” is an insane way of thinking. Think of how many lives would be saved if we banned driving at night except in cases of employment or emergency. Many lives would be saved as I believe the majority of fatal car accidents occur at night. But as a nation we have decided that we enjoy the freedom of being able to drive at night and that the trade off is worth it. And we have come to the conclusion that the freedom of being able to drive at whatever time we wish is worth the number of people who die at the hands of night time drivers. Everything is subject to a cost vs. benefits analysis as you stated. This idea that if “it saves just one life” we should do it, is pure idiocy. You hit the nail on the head once again rick.

  2. Bill Ryan says:

    We protect our President with guns; we protect our judges with guns; we protect senators and congressmen with guns. We protect our children with a sign that says: “Gun-free” zone, and then call-in an emergency need for gunfighters to save our kids. By then it’s too late!

  3. Bill Ryan says:

    We protect our President with guns; we protect our judges with guns; we protect senators and congressmen with guns. We protect our children with a sign that says: “Gun-free” zone, and then call-in an emergency need for gunfighters to save our kids. By then it’s too late!

  4. Eric Essman says:

    Rick: I don’t think you are crazy. The police are becoming increasingly militarized and I am glad to hear you speak out about it. This country is sadly turning into a police state and we do not have nearly enough people like yourself speaking out about it. They plant drugs on people, continually lie to people, use peoples ignorance of the law to their advantage and are guilty of many other behaviors that are too numerous to go into in this forum. I use to speak out against you Mr. Horowitz and other attorneys like you and now I have seen the light , so to speak. I hope you accept my sincere apology for comments that I have made in the past.

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