Friday, July 27, 2012

It's the Handguns, Stupid

Or, we could always do something easier to make
ourselves feel better
Since the Batman Massacre in Aurora a week ago, there has been a groundswell of public sentiment in favor of some new gun control legislation.  This, in itself, is extremely welcome, as the entire discussion has been dominated for too long by extremist voices decrying any regulation as unconstitutional and un-American.  I accept that we are saddled with a constitutional guarantee that will continue to constitute the basis of our national firearms policies for a long time to come, even if in the 21st century this is a profoundly absurd basis for gun ownership rights.  But there should be no argument - you can have effective, common sense restrictions on gun purchases, possession and use that in no way represent a challenge to the basic right as enumerated.  We already restrict machine guns, sawed off shotguns, and other types of weapons we deem unacceptable in our society, and we refuse to allow convicted felons to own or posses firearms, even after they have paid their debt to society.  So clearly, firearms restrictions are acceptable, it's just a matter of demanding restrictions that solve actual problems in the real world.

Which brings us to assaut weapons.  I am very disappointed that, in the wake of the Aurora mass shooting, the entirety of the first serious public conversation about gun control in years is, once again, centered on assault weapons.  This is nothing short of insane.  On the prioritized list of firearms related problems in America, assault weapons aren't even on the first page.  It's as if the public finds the weapon more disturbing than the killing.  But I'm confused. Seung-Hui Cho didn't use a rifle.  Neither did Harris and Klebold.  Nor did any of the dozens of kids in cities all around the US who shot someone last night, or who will do so tonight.  America's most serious problem is the flood of handguns in our cities.  To decide that banning assault rifles will somehow reduce gun violence in America is like deciding to reduce traffic fatalities by banning Bentleys.

Here's what I keep reading:  "A few years ago he couldn't have BOUGHT that gun in Colorado - they had an ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN!!"
But that's only technically true.  He could have easily bought a functionally equivalent gun even during the ban.  Here's the problem.  There is no definition of the term "assault weapon".  So any law you write has to define it.  How do you do that?  With features - detachable magazine, pistol grip, barrel length, flash suppressor, folding stock etc.  As a result, whenever there is a ban on so-called assault rifles, you can still buy them.  The manufacturers just change the features and call it by a different name, and somebody else sells aftermarket parts kits.  Even with the ban, you could always buy a Mini-14 in Colorado.  What's a Mini-14?  Oh, it's a semi-automatic rifle firing .223 Remington cartridge (the same round as the M-16) from a detachable magazine.  It's inexpensive and there's a HUGE aftermarket for folding stocks, pistol grips and hi cap mags.  If you think assault rifle bans are effective, here's an exercise for you.  California has an assault weapons ban.  Go to a gun store and see how difficult it is to purchase a gun you would instantly recognize as an "assault weapon".  You'll be shocked.

OK, then, they say.  Let's just ban those gigantic magazines!!
The large magazines don't actually incur any great advantage to the shooter.  They are unreliable, often causing feeding problems and that much weight on the magazine catch can actually damage the gun.  With a tiny bit of pratice, changing mags is quite fast and easy.  In Vietnam the army issued 20 round mags.  Our soldiers could still put hundreds of rounds downrange.
But more importantly, these things EXIST.  They are cheap and ubiquitous.  They are not hard to find - you buy them on the Internet.  If someone wants to commit mass  murder, is he really going to decide not to buy a hi cap mag because it's illegal?

Well let's limit ammunition purchases, then.
What might sound like a lot of ammunition is really not that much.  Holmes bought 6000 rounds.  But when you shoot, either for fun or disciplined practice, you consume a lot of ammunition.  It only takes a few hours to go through a thousand rounds.  And ammunition is a commodity, and as such you get a much better price when you buy in bulk.  When the best price is on a thousand round purchase, and you're buying ammo for a rifle and two pistols, why that's 3000 rounds just to buy at the best price in three calibers.  And as pointed out above, this "minimum" purchase won't last long.

Look - in the end, there's nothing wrong with legislation like bans on assault rifles or hi cap magazines. Even if they aren't effective, they still express a worthwhile sentiment.  But the biggest problem we face with firearms in the US is that the constituency for even LESS regulation is much larger than the constituency for even minimal restrictions.  There is just very little political oxygen available to Americans who want to reduce the availability of lethal weapons in our communities.  We have to focus on building support for laws that do the most good, because we're not going to get to pass a 'laundry list' anytime soon.  And that means we have to focus on eliminating handguns from our cities.  Once we've got legislation in place to do that, sure, try to pass something else.  But right now, a knee-jerk reaction to a 'black swan' event when every night our kids are shooting each other in massive numbers would be irresponsible.


  1. the real question is how much room for ammunition there is behind the medicine cabinet....

  2. Not sure why you'd use such an ideal hidey-hole for something as pedestrian as ammunition. Unless, of course, you had some of those banned green teflon "cop killer" rounds. Those are AWESOME...

  3. I was most impressed that San Diego loon Holmes used a shotgun. I've a suspicion there wouldn't have been nearly as many injured w/o it, because anyone who got even one pellet in a fleshy spot counts as a casualty.

  4. Yeah. I've been curious about what he loaded in the shotgun. It was always a debate around mikeyHQ. 00 Buckshot? Or something lighter? I always liked 4 shot, Goose Loads. A pretty good combination of pattern and power. But for straight up killing, it's hard to beat buckshot, but you don't get as much random effect.

    1. I saw a picture of a survivor on Tumblr and she had shot pattern wounds along her left side. There were a dozen or so wounds and their diameter were consistent with #4 shot. Definitely not OO Buck (which is 32 cal pellets IIRC).

      The spread of wounds was about 18 inches which means he was some distance off when she got hit.

  5. But more importantly, these things EXIST. They are cheap and ubiquitous. They are not hard to find - you buy them on the Internet. If someone wants to commit mass murder, is he really going to decide not to buy a hi cap mag because it's illegal?

    Things get less ubiquitous when you stop manufacturing them.

  6. Sadly, Substance, Small Arms, like Cocaine, is a global market. To try to control supply just doesn't seem to be the most effective solution...

  7. Hey, guess what just happened in Wisconsin today?

    I ain't linking, ya gotta guess. Hint: Rhymes with "ass booting".