The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

The Wrong Approach

I, for one, am in favor of enhanced background checks for all purchases of both rifles and handguns. I'd go even further and suggest that each state should define its own testing protocol to ensure gun safety—sort of like a driving test. I'd be okay with outright bans on the sale of mechanical modifications that can convert a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon. All of that, in my view, does not violate the constitutional rights of gun owners and would seem reasonable and appropriate. By the way, existing law already does some of the things I've just noted.

But here's the thing: All of those steps will do little or nothing to address the horror of mass shootings like the one that occurred in Las Vegas. That doesn't make steps to be more stringent about gun ownership a bad idea, but we should be honest about what problem such steps might solve. The Left suggests that if only we had better "gun control" the problem of gun violence would be solved. On it's face, it seems like common sense—more control of guns, less gun violence. Right?

Sadly, the answer is not so much. Like most topics that the Left obsesses about, their positions are high on emotion and very weak on facts. In a recent article, Maggie Koerth-Baker of the data analysis firm 538, makes the following statement:
First, [Mass shootings are] rare, and the people doing the shooting are different. The majority of gun deaths in America aren’t even homicides, let alone caused by mass shootings. Two-thirds of the more than 33,000 gun deaths that take place in the U.S. every year are suicides ...
But everyday gun deaths, like the 500+ deaths recorded in Chicago each year, go under-reported and otherwise ignored by the media, often with a purpose. It's the mass shooting that garner attention, and the Left and it's trained hamsters in the media, true to form, never fail to politicize a national tragedy. (Think: The recent counter-factual attempts to demonize the Trump administration over hurricane response in Puerto Rico.)

The Editors of the Wall Street Journal comment:
... if Paddock [the Las Vegas mass murderer] had an automatic weapon, he probably obtained it illegally. Automatic weapons have been heavily regulated since the 1930s, and it has been illegal to buy a new automatic firearm since 1986. An automatic weapon made before 1986 must be registered, and only specific dealers may transfer them. Buyers must undergo a lengthy FBI check that includes fingerprints and photos, and local law enforcement is alerted.

Paddock also possessed several semi-automatic “assault” rifles, such as an AR-15. But what defines an assault weapon are its cosmetic features—not its caliber or velocity. That is why the Clinton-era ban on such rifles had no discernible effect on gun violence, and why the Department of Justice in 2004 found no purpose in renewing it.

Ah, but what about so-called bump stocks, which Paddock used to simulate quick, automatic-style fire? Outright modification of a firearm into an automatic is already a federal felony punishable by 10 years in prison. Congress could outlaw bump stocks, but how does it outlaw a technique? The practice of quickly “bumping” a trigger with one’s finger to engage in rapid fire long predates bump stocks or other accessories.

Congress could again try to ban certain types of rifles, but a 2015 Congressional Research Service report found that from 1999 to 2013 assault rifles were used in 27% of public mass shootings. The Virginia Tech shooter in 2007 killed 32 people with two handguns. FBI statistics show that of 15,070 homicides in 2016, 374 people or 3% were killed with rifles. Some 656 homicides were committed with “personal weapons” (hands, fists, feet) and 1,604 with knives.

Mass shootings are in more than half of all cases related to domestic or family violence. Another big chunk are crime-related, including gang violence. According to John Lott’s Crime Prevention Research Center, most mass shootings with 15 or more casualties since 1970 took place outside the U.S., including France and Norway that strictly regulate guns.

As for background checks, several Nevada gun shops have told the press that Paddock passed all requisite checks, and he appears to have no history that would have flagged him under a more stringent background system. He was able to buy his guns legally so he had no reason to use what is sometimes called the gun-show loophole.
As usual, the Left is trying to solve the right problem with the wrong approach.

If we truly want to move against mass shooting, the solution is not greater gun control, it is a scary combination of Big Data and Artificial intelligence. But it's also an massive government invasion of the privacy of American citizens.

Let me risk over-simplifying and summarize the approach: All purchases of weapons, ammunition, bomb making materials, etc. would be recorded in a central database. All prescriptions for anti-psychotic medication would be recorded and stored in a central database. All incidents of violence by individuals would be recorded in a central database. All visits to websites that advocate violence (e.g., terror organization websites) would be recorded in a central database. All communication between citizens and known threats would be recorded. All social media would be continuously scanned for appropriate markers. And on and on. These data would then be processed to uncover patterns that might be dangerous. Machine learning algorithms would be continuously adapted to refine the approach, until potential mass murders are identified. Note the word, "potential."

Would you want this level of scrutiny in the hands of big government? I do not.

And if most of us do not, it just might means that sadly, mass murder events present an intractable problem.