Reasonable gun rights and the constitution

You can expect the gun control debate to shift into high gear following president Obama’s recently announced proposals for gun control. I do not own a gun, have no intention of ever buying one, and have never even fired one (apart from an air rifle as a child). But I am not one who offers unqualified support for a total ban on gun ownership. I think a case can be made for the private ownership of some guns by some people who have a reasonable need of them and I have written on this topic earlier (see here and here). But what types of guns could be owned depends on what one means by ‘reasonable need’ and it is clear that there is a wide divergence of views on this.

I can understand why hunters would want to possess guns and do not see why they should be restricted if they have demonstrated that they know how to use them carefully. I can also understand those people who are genuinely fearful of their safety (because they live in dangerous or remote places or are being specifically target for harm by others) and would feel safer if they had some means of defending themselves, though having guns in the home or on one’s person also carries the risk of accidental injury to innocent people. But neither of those reasons requires semi-automatic or other forms of assault weapons that can fire a huge number of rounds in a short time so one would think that people would be able to agree on banning the sale and possession of those items. This move is fiercely opposed by those who seem to think that any restrictions on gun ownership is a form of tyranny.

But no freedom is absolute and as I said earlier:

Where I disagree with the extreme pro-gun groups like the NRA is in their desire to view even reasonable restrictions on gun possession as evil. I can see the need to make sure that people who buy guns are screened in some way to weed out criminals and the mentally ill and that they be required to undergo firearms training to show that they know how to handle them. The right to own a gun should be treated like the right to drive a car. Just as we are willing to give ordinary people the right to drive vehicles (which can be lethal weapons) provided that have shown that they have had training in how to use it and handle it responsibly, so it should be with guns.

I can also see the need for long waiting periods to buy guns to screen out those who buy them in a fit of rage to attack someone and a registry to more easily identify those who use guns in crimes.

What I think is far-fetched is the idea that ordinary people carrying guns can thwart a criminal if they happen to come upon a crime scene. The kind of training that one requires to respond coolly in such a situation is quite rigorous, and goes far beyond mere technical competence with the weapon as this report from ABC news points out. It also requires mental discipline that is not acquired easily and only comes as a result of extensive and continuous practice. Even people who are skilled with a weapon get rattled by a sudden crisis and fall apart. Furthermore, when lots of people carrying guns are at a scene, it becomes confusing for the police and others to know who is the criminal causing the problem and who are the armed persons who just happened to be there. Frankly, it seems unlikely that gun-carrying citizens would be able to stop an armed assailant except in rare cases. I can’t recall ever hearing of successful citizen vigilante actions of this sort.

But there is a catch to this interpretation of what constitutes reasonable possession and that is the US constitution. The second amendment says in its entirety:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

The amendment makes it clear that a blanket ban on the private ownership of all guns would be unconstitutional so those who want one would have to essentially repeal it. But at the same time, the language also makes clear that the right to own a gun has restrictions and is a limited one. But where that limit is drawn is the tricky point, depending on what is meant by a ‘well regulated militia’ and what is within the boundaries of its purpose of preserving the ‘security of a free state’.

Writing in the National Review Online, Kevin D. Williamson makes a good point:

The purpose of having citizens armed with paramilitary weapons is to allow them to engage in paramilitary actions. The Second Amendment is not about Bambi and burglars — whatever a well-regulated militia is, it is not a hunting party or a sport-clays club. It is remarkable to me that any educated person — let alone a Harvard Law graduate — believes that the second item on the Bill of Rights is a constitutional guarantee of enjoying a recreational activity.

There is no legitimate exception to the Second Amendment for military-style weapons, because military-style weapons are precisely what the Second Amendment guarantees our right to keep and bear. The purpose of the Second Amendment is to secure our ability to oppose enemies foreign and domestic, a guarantee against disorder and tyranny.

I agree with Williamson that my idea of what constitutes reasonable reasons for the possession of guns is not what the framers of the constitution had in mind and that the only real purpose of having an armed citizenry is to defend against a tyrannical government. But times have changed. The US government now has a staggeringly vast array of weaponry at its disposal. It is absurd to think that a ‘well regulated militia’, however large and even if it possessed all manner of semi-automatic (or even automatic) weapons, could resist for long a government that had a huge supply of trained soldiers, tanks, planes, ships, drones, bombs, and missiles at its disposal.

If some dictator happened to take over the country and decided to suspend the constitution, the US military could wipe out any internal opposition easily. The only chance of overthrowing such a dictatorship is if there is a mutiny within the ranks of the military from those who oppose this move or there is a popular mass uprising of people so large and widespread that it could not be suppressed by force and so would make guns superfluous. Those supposed patriots who think that having some people roaming the woods with assault weapons can deter a government bent on tyranny are doing nothing more than indulging their paranoid fantasies derived from comic books and video-games.

So we have the paradox that the gun ownership right that is seemingly protected by the constitution has become useless in this day and age while the reasonable reasons to own guns (at least as I see them) have no constitutional protection.

This seems to leave us at an impasse and as long as it is not resolved the US will continue to have levels of gun-related deaths that are absurdly high when compared with other countries. Cartoonist Jen Sorenson cynically suggests that maybe the only way that gun-related violence will decrease to acceptable levels in the US is after it reaches catastrophic levels because of the widespread availability of guns in the hands of people who should never have them.


  1. says

    I agree with almost everything you said, with one minor exception. Semi-automatic doesn’t mean what people think it means. Almost all pistols are semi-automatic. Semi-auto merely means that the blowback from the previous shot prepares the next one. You still have to pull the trigger for every shot, but you don’t have to cock the gun for every shot.

  2. Mano Singham says

    Thanks for the clarification. I have been trying to understand these shades of differences but am limited by not being a gun owner.

  3. machintelligence says

    I would agree that most people don’t know what semi-automatic means, but since fully automatic weapons are already illegal I think what we are talking about here:

    But neither of those reasons requires semi-automatic or other forms of assault weapons that can fire a huge number of rounds in a short time so one would think that people would be able to agree on banning the sale and possession of those items. This move is fiercely opposed by those who seem to think that any restrictions on gun ownership is a form of tyranny.

    are semi-autos with interchangeable high capacity magazines. Calling them assault weapons is a misnomer (usually.) As Mano points out, it is rate of fire that is the problem. Restricting civilian weapons to those with fixed magazines would still allow plenty of firepower for hunting and home defense while reducing the lethality of those who run amok.

  4. psweet says

    Given Washington’s response to the Whiskey Rebellion, I tend to doubt that the founders truly thought that resistance to the government was the primary reason for the 2nd amendment. If you read the Federalist papers, one of the recurring themes is the fear of a standing army. If you’re not going to have a standing army, you need a well-regulated militia to defend the nation, something that the US had an immediate need for from the very beginning. (Mostly against the Indians we were pushing off of their land, but that’s another story.)

  5. slc1 says

    Prof. Singham should be aware that the extreme gun lovers argue that the 2nd Amendment prohibits the government from preventing private ownership of nuclear weapons. Several years ago on Mr. Brayton’s previous Scienceblogs blog, I raised the issue as to whether the 2nd Amendment allowed private ownership of nuclear weapons and several commentors responded by claiming that it did.

  6. richardrobinson says

    With regards to vigilante scenarios, I can think of two interesting cases. Sorry, I have no links, but you can probably find news articles about them with a little googlefoo.

    In 2006, someone tried to rob a Burger King. Luckily one of the customers in the store was armed, so he drew his weapon. A shootout ensued. The robber was killed, the “hero” got his sorry ass shot and spent a week in hospital. Total amount of cash in the register: $100. Not even enough to cover the cost of repairing all the bullet holes the two shooters made, let alone the downtime for the store. He was damn lucky no one else got shot.

    In 2011, a short time after Aurora, a somewhat deranged fellow got all stabby in the entrance of a supermarket. An armed citizen drew his weapon and talked the assailant down almost immediately, so that only one person was injured.

    Guns are not magical crime-fighting talismans. They don’t confer any ability to aim, and in most successful cases, it’s really the person holding the gun, and not the gun itself that will make the difference.

    I could very much support permits to carry, if they came with the requirement of a great deal of training not just on how to use the gun, but also on how to avoiding using it altogether. If you want to be a hero, prove to us that you’re willing to spend the time to really be good at it and you aren’t just indulging a comic-book fantasy.

  7. bubba707 says

    Let me start by saying that I quit hunting several years ago and gave my guns to my sons who still hunt. Semi auto rifles and pistols are not the problem at all and can be very efficient in the field if you need a follow up shot. On the other hand I see no legitimate need for high capacity magazines, though I did like detatchable magazines. Let me define what I consider a high capacity magazine, which most people neglect to do. I consider high capacity as more than 7 rounds. Frankly, I never had the need for more than 4 rounds in my hunting rifles, though I did like more in my .revolver in bear country. One other thing that bugs me is the term “military style”. It’s as much a dog whistle as “they wanna take away our guns”. It only refers to appearance, not function. Military rifles have select fire including burst and full auto while “military style” are semi auto only. The political stampeding over this disgusts me.
    I’ve been saying for years that we need to scrap the patchwork mess of often contradictory gun laws we have in the US, verying not only from State to State but also from town to town. What needs doing is to establish a uniform national set of weapon laws based on common sense and practicality. We know that no little civilian “militia” is going to last more than a day against the army, if that long. IMO our National Guard fulfills the old role of organized militia in todays world. All the posturing and ranting and raving is doing us no good at all and the sooner we can ignore the extremes on both sides and have a rational discussion of what’s really needed the better off we’ll be.

  8. Mano Singham says

    Thanks, that’s interesting. I keep meaning to read the Federalist papers but it keeps slipping to the bottom of my reading list …

  9. DaveL says

    I’m skeptical about the rate of fire argument. I’m not aware of any mass shooter who’s ever come close to exploiting the theoretical maximum ROF of a semi-automatic weapon. The Sandy Hook shooter got off 79 rounds in 20 minutes, close to the theoretical maximum for a flintlock musket. We don’t have an exact count of the number of rounds fired in Aurora, but the Virgina tech shooter averaged about 17 rounds per minute. None of these rates of fire are unachievable with manually cycled actions.

  10. stephenyutzy says

    Here’s the way I see it: I’m happy and proud to live in a nation where wants do not have to be justified as needs. And I’m glad that our founders saw fit to protect certain rights against infringement by the government. However, “shall not be infringed” does not mean “cannot be regulated/limited/etc”. But, if one of my rights is going to be limited or reduced in some way, I expect to see a very compelling reason why. “It might do some good” doesn’t cut it. And I haven’t seen that reason yet from those who see “gun violence” as a gun problem rather than a violence problem.

    With that said, there is an exceptional amount of ignorance in the country (concentrated in larger cities) about firearms, whereby those who have zero exposure to them seek to regulate them. People actually think you can buy a machine gun at the corner grocery store, or that military weapons (currently the M4 carbine) are available for civilian sale (they’re not if manufactured after 1986). People think the second amendment has something to do with hunting. The original “assault weapon” definition was created by Dianne Feinstein looking through a few gun magazines, and the term was originally created specifically to confuse the public, as can be seen in the comments on this very blog post.

    “The semi-automatic weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons — anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun — can only increase that chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.” — Josh Sugarman, 1988, Violence Policy Center

    So I’d be happy to answer any questions anybody might have about firearms, or why a “reasonable” person like myself opposes some “reasonable” restrictions on my rights.

  11. stephenyutzy says

    Example of defensive gun use

    There are some interesting things to see here:
    -A relative firearms novice shot all 6 rounds from her revolver, hitting the bad guy with 5 of them
    -That bad guy still left under his own power
    -If that bad guy pressed his attack, or had an accomplice, then her “reasonable” amount of firepower would have failed, and her family would be in serious trouble

    And I should also point out that DaveL is right on. When a shooter is given 20 minutes of uninterrupted time to commit his crimes before meeting resistance, the weapon becomes irrelevant.

  12. says

    This Williamson guy is as completely full of shit as nearly every other gun-rights propagandist I’ve encountered…

    There is no legitimate exception to the Second Amendment for military-style weapons, because military-style weapons are precisely what the Second Amendment guarantees our right to keep and bear.

    Has this guy even read the first half of the Second Amendment? If he had, he’d have no choice but to acknlowledge that “a well-regulated militia,” to ensure “the security of a free State,” comes FIRST, and the right to bear arms comes SECOND, and SUBORDINATE, to that objective. And that limiting language gives us the power to regulate, and prohibit, any weapons that threaten the security of a free state if posessed by undisciplined civilians. (Yes, slc1, that most certainly includes nukes, as well as tanks, mortars, bazookas, sarin, VX, etc.; those fools you mention were dead wrong about that.)

    The purpose of the Second Amendment is to secure our ability to oppose enemies foreign and domestic, a guarantee against disorder and tyranny.

    A more plausible answer would be that the Second Amendment is a response to laws passed by the English king and parliament restricting the colonial governments’ ability to raise and arm militias for local law-enforcement and defense purposes. That was one of the major grievances that led to the Revolution, and the colonists wanted to ensure that their new national government didn’t make the same mistake as the old. (Other bits of the Constitution say that the US government is responsible for national defense, except in “circumstances that will not admit of delay,” which is what local militias are for.)

    The idea that the Founders would go to all that trouble to create a viable democratic form of government, and give it power to enforce our basic rights aginst any incursion — and then give people a legal right to resist and overthrow that same democracy — is simply absurd, not to mention antidemocratic.

  13. stephenyutzy says

    Give this a read. It’s an explanation of what a “well-regulated militia” would be called in today’s language.

  14. bubba707 says

    Stephen, I pretty much agree with you on the way the term assault weapon got used. It was pure nonsense. Assault rifle, otoh, is a fairly specific term referring to a class of select fire military rifles first designed near the end of WW II by Germany to use a smaller cartridge and be lighter and smaller than the standard battle rifle. It may sound like nit picking but upon such nits truely stupid legislation can be based.

  15. stephenyutzy says

    It’s also worth pointing out that according to the FBI, all types of rifles (of which “assault weapons” are but a subset) were used in an average of 2.73% of murders from 2007-2011. However, there is another 12.93% of “firearms, unknown type”, of which some are presumably rifles.

    I find it hard to take a politician seriously when their solution to “gun violence” is to ban the type of weapon used in a very small portion of homicides. 48% of all murders in the most recent 5 years have been committed with handguns, and I’d think that if crime reduction is actually the goal, they’d go after those.

  16. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    -A relative firearms novice shot all 6 rounds from her revolver, hitting the bad guy with 5 of them
    -That bad guy still left under his own power

    After 5 rounds with a .38 revolver at short range? That’s proving the point that before you get a gun for “self protection”, you should have to pass a test showing that you can target an assailant with enough accuracy to have a self-protective effect.

    I got a gun permit in Mexico. They are rarely granted to gringos, but I was working and traveling in areas where rabid animals and bandidos were a problem. A friend was willing to loan me a pistol and vouch for me. They made me clean it, load it, unload it and take a range test and have a minimum passing score. I don’t know what the minimum was because I passed with all the bullets in the center and second ring.

  17. says

    While there might be extreme cases, I think most make the distinction between “arms” and “artillery”. When the 2nd amendment was written, I don’t think anybody thought it applied to cannons and the like. So, by extension, nuclear weapons (or even tanks) would not be included in any modern definition of “arms” for 2nd amendment purposes.

  18. stephenyutzy says

    Tsu, you could also interpret that 5 out of 6 as pretty amazing, given that it’s a far greater hit rate than law enforcement typically achieves.

    I do agree with you though, all gun owners should be responsible, know how to use their firearms properly, and be trained in their use. That seems like a “reasonable” restriction, and is one that I’ve had to comply with for concealed carry permits.

    However, I could only support such a thing if cost could be made a non-issue, otherwise requiring a training class starts to look like taxing an enumerated right like poll taxes or literacy tests.

  19. slc1 says

    Go over to Ed Brayton’s blog an read a post about Larry Pratt (it was posted today so it’s on the front page). Someone with the moniker erichong claims that the well regulated militia part is really a preamble and, like some other preambles, can be disregarded. It is my contention that it’s the preamble that prevents private ownership of nuclear weapons because such ownership hardly constitutes a well regulated militia.

  20. slc1 says

    One of the things I always get a kick out of is gun nuts claiming that handguns are useful for hunting. Maybe small game but I recall a newspaper article several years ago about an African lion attacking its trainer. Another onlooker emptied all six rounds from a 357 magnum into the lion which didn’t even distract it from its attack on the trainer.

  21. PossibleImposter says

    Although much air is spent on “a well-regulated militia”, I never see any reference to the other 2 clauses in the Constitution that discuss the militia — in Article 1, Section 8 — in which the purpose of the Militia is defined. The 2nd Amendment is not just a “oh, we forgot about guns” amendment — there is something that it modifies / expands.

  22. stephenyutzy says

    One of the things I always get a kick out of is being referred to as a “nut” just because I engage in a constitutionally protected activity (gun ownership, that is, I’m not a hunter).

    On hunting though, there are plenty of handguns that are used in hunting. But like all hunting, you need to match the weapon to the game. The round the military uses (5.56x45mm), for example, is only considered humane for small game up to maybe a coyote.

  23. stephenyutzy says

    The idea that I subscribe to is that “arms” in common usage at the time referred to weapons a person would typically carry (ie the weapons of a foodsoldier). So the second amendment doesn’t actually specifically protect guns, it also protects knives as well. Then again, when the constitution was written there were large fleets of cannon-armed ships under civilian ownership.

  24. mike behrent says

    slc, handguns are very useful as a backup for hunting. I carried a .44 magnum in bear country. Anyone going out in bear country without a backup is a fool.

  25. slc1 says

    Some of the blogs don’t seem to support logging in. Go to Ed Brayton’s blog and log in there. The login works for all freethoughtblogs.

  26. slc1 says

    I was generally referring to gun rights extremists. Sorry if Mr. zutzy was offended. Note that I specified small game.

    However, a .357 magnum is a hell of a lot more powerful then a 5.56.

  27. Jared A says

    I’m having trouble finding the source, but I was given to understand from an expert on grammar that the seemingly strange construction of the 2nd amendment is taken from latin grammar, and was commonly used by classically educated english speakers during that era (e.g. the people who wrote the bill of rights). In modern english it reads as:

    “If a well regulated militia is required to secure the freedom of the state, the right to bare arms will not be enfringed ”

    The important bit is the condition, that the right to bare arms only exists when a well-regulated militia is required for public security from hostile external entities. Also, I am given to understand another driving force for this was a financial one: Alexander Hamilton didn’t want to to pay arm your local militia, so he put the responsibility on the locals to fund it. Sort of like the (pre-marius) republican Roman armies.

  28. machintelligence says

    I’m skeptical about the rate of fire argument. I’m not aware of any mass shooter who’s ever come close to exploiting the theoretical maximum ROF of a semi-automatic weapon./blockquote>
    True, but why wait until one comes along who does?

  29. DaveL says

    However, a .357 magnum is a hell of a lot more powerful then a 5.56.

    No, no it’s not. The much higher velocities of the 5.56×45 NATO more than make up for the lighter weight of the bullet. Muzzle energies top out around 1J for the .357, 1.5J for the 5.56.

  30. machintelligence says

    I would like to quote a fellow who was evaluating a 2 shot derringer as a self defense weapon: “If you need more than 2 shots you probably have already lost”.

  31. bubba707 says

    Jared, the odd thing about this is the National Guard fulfills the role of a well regulated militia today. They are always available to be Federalized, as units are today. One of my sons is in the Guard and currently deployed in Afghanistan. It kind of eliminates the need for everyone to have a military grade weapon and be on call. Having seen some militia wannabes I’m convinced that given military weaponry they’d be more of a danger to their friends than to the enemy.

  32. Jared A says

    These are some interesting points, and I am in agreement, but I am not sure how it is apropos to my comment. Perhaps you mistook is as a defense of gun rights? It was intended as the opposite. You may be right that the National Guard is the closest thing we have to a well-regulated militia, and it may be deployed internationally by the federal government from time to time. But I wouldn’t say that those two facts necessarily satisfy the condition implied in the amendment, that the existence of this well-regulated militia is required for securing the freedom of the states. The usage of the national guard to prosecute a voluntary war seems to contradict its necessity to protect the homeland

    Anyway, should the conditions be hypothetically met, the language of the amendment is only protecting people to bear arms in the context of the militia. It shouldn’t extend to every person who isn’t operating within that well-regulated militia regime. So in summary, I am arguing what I think you are saying, that the 2nd amendment hardly protects universal gun ownership, and in the current state of our country says absolutely nothing.

    As an aside, I feel the 2nd amendment is entirely anachronistic at this point. The types of issues it is dealing with just don’t seem relevant at all. I wish we could agree to set it aside momentarily and talk about these issues pragmatically. I want to ask what is so valuable about gun ownership in particular that it must be so vociferously defended. The glut of weapons in our culture costs us so much, and I am not sure we are gaining that much in return.

  33. DaveL says

    Because that isn’t realistically going to happen. Short of full auto or burst fire, the time required to cycle the action has long since ceased to be the limiting factor to practical rate-of-fire.

    In other words it would strip law abiding people of their property to no practical end.

  34. Jared A says

    Average fire rate is meaningless and you know it. Do you think the crowd your firing into is just going to sit there while you manually reload your one-shot flintlock? What’s important is that the attacker has the capability of shooting rapidly enough on the short term to protect himself from being overwhelmed by the crowd. Do you honestly think this could happen with a flintlock?

  35. DaveL says

    “If you need more than 2 shots you probably have already lost”.

    A pithy quote, but not in keeping with the reality of defensive gun use. In 2006 the NYPD averaged a hit rate of 34%, and in the average engagement each officer averaged 3.5 shots. That’s an average, so a shot count capable of covering the vast majority of engagements would be significantly higher.

  36. DaveL says

    Jared, a shooter with any manually cycled repeating weapon would be able to do exactly the same thing.

  37. bubba707 says

    Jared, this might surprise you, but I’m in favor of some restrictions on gun ownership. Limits on magazine size strike me as entirely reasonable. Background checks and mandatory firearms training should be required and a certificate to prove it presented before purchase. Common sense. There are a large number of recreational and competative shooters in the country that are harmless and just enjoy the sports. Hunting in my State is a long standing tradition. ( I gave it up for health reasons). Handguns for home defense? Utter nonsense. If you need a weapon for home defense a pump shotgun is far better. Concealed carry? Most people have no need to pack heat. I don’t think we’re as far apart as it might appear. IMO the biggest problem we have is a chaotic patchwork of gun laws many of which make no sense at all. A uniform rational and sensable set of national laws and elimination of the existing mess would go a long way toward fixing many of the problems.

  38. machintelligence says

    I submit that the civilian self defense scenario and the police engagement statistics are not a useful comparison.

  39. machintelligence says

    There is way too much reasonableness on this thread. (Just kidding!) I find almost nothing to disagree with in your comment. I would even go so far as to limit arms to those with fixed magazines. This would not preclude semi-automatic weapons (shotguns with tubular magazines and the M 1 Garand come to mind.) For pistols, revolvers are good enough and more fool proof and safer to boot. Perhaps if we were to limit the sale of new firearms to the more restricted types and forbid the transfer of older non-complying types (with a buy back provision) we could at least stop the hole from getting deeper.

  40. DaveL says

    I submit that the civilian self defense scenario and the police engagement statistics are not a useful comparison.

    Oh really? And why is that?

    Because armed assailants go down so much more easily when they’re attacking a civilian than a police officer?

  41. says

    “I think a case can be made for the private ownership of some guns by some people who have a reasonable need of them”

    The problem is, there is no “reasonable need” for a gun that cannot be solved in another manner.

    “Need” a gun to keep wildlife out of your yard/garden/livestock? Invest in proper fencing instead!

    “Need” a gun for self-defense? Nope. There are plenty of non-lethal ways to defend oneself, none of which require the use of a killing machine.

    Live in a high-crime area? Owning a gun will only make you a target for criminals looking to get a gun. Take the money you would have spent, and start saving up to move if it’s really just that bad.

    Hunting is not a necessity any more, and it certainly isn’t a “sport” or a “hobby”. Go to the store, there’s meat in the meat department… though you’re better off eating less meat, anyway.

    See? No “reasonable need” to own a gun.

  42. machintelligence says

    I think that self defense (especially if done with a concealed carry firearm) is much more likely to be done at close range. Cops are going to be firing at vehicles and suspects holed up inside buildings, which will skew the numbers. Let’s compare oranges to oranges.

  43. kyoseki says

    Unfortunately, DC vs Heller explicitly protects semi automatic handguns, so only allowing people access to revolvers is a non starter.

    Added to which, a ban on firearms TYPES isn’t going to stop the bulk of all firearms murders where only a handful of shots are fired at close range.

    Restricting firearms types or magazine sizes seems on the face of it like a reasonable precaution against mass shootings, but all it invariably means is that the shooter just carries multiple firearms, switching from one to the other when rounds are expended and then reloading whenever they get some uninterrupted time.

    The only sensible legislation being passed around right now is the stuff that targets all firearms equally. Mandatory background checks & waiting periods are perfectly acceptable ideas, banning “assault weapons” and “high capacity magazines” will ultimately prove futile.

    I still think the key to this lies in mandatory training so that at least gun owners develop a reputation for being responsible and safe instead of the current reputation for being a bunch of redneck yahoos, and if you’re not willing to sit through an 8 hour class to learn what the hell you’re doing with a firearm, clearly you’re not responsible enough to own one.

  44. kyoseki says

    I see no reasonable need to own a motorcycle, SUV or sports car either, but I still support everyone’s right to do so (though I remember us having a similar discussion on the “need” for cars before).

    I would certainly love to live in a world where there was no need to own guns and to be honest, I don’t need to own a gun either, but since none of mine are ever likely to be used for self defense, I don’t see that this matters.

  45. kyoseki says

    A uniform rational and sensable set of national laws and elimination of the existing mess would go a long way toward fixing many of the problems.

    Completely agree.

    What’s the point of California outlawing 30 round magazines if I can just drive to Vegas or Reno and buy them?

    Let’s simplify & standardize everything nationwide.

  46. bubba707 says

    This has been the most intelligent and reasonable discussion on the topic I can remember. Once we ignore the extremes on both sides a good discussion can be had and, just maybe, we can come up with some effective and well thought out measures than we can all live with while actually accomplishing something.

  47. DaveL says

    The report I linked to shows about 60% the shots being fired in the 0-2 yard range, where a range was reported. Another 22% were fired between 3 and 7 yards. There’s not much leeway there for non-police self-defense engagements to be “more likely to be done at close range.”

  48. slc1 says

    Re DaveL

    Excuse me, is Mr. DaveL comparing a hand gun with a military rifle? If so, not a valid comparison.

  49. DaveL says

    Excuse me, is Mr. DaveL comparing a hand gun with a military rifle? If so, not a valid comparison.

    You were the one who made the comparison:

    However, a .357 magnum is a hell of a lot more powerful then a 5.56.

    Were you perhaps referring to some obscure 5.56mm round, rather than the 5.56x45mm NATO?

  50. says

    I read a lot of commentary from the anti gun control crowd asserting that this or that restriction wouldn’t be effective in reducing the number of guns or violence. But most of those arguments seem to come down to a “Closing the barn doors too late” basis, which I think is a poor way to think of the problem.

    Yes there are oh so many illegal guns already out on the streets, but there are avenues that can be explored to address those issues while we simultaneously address the problem of adding more firearms into the system from the other end. Gun buyback programs have had some degree of success, maybe there are ways to make them more effective and more widespread.

    On the supply side, I would really like to see a real dialog about removing the legal shackles that prevent holding manufacturers liable for their firearms ending up in the hands of criminals. The anti gun control lobby loves to assert that criminals don’t care about the laws and will get a gun if they want a gun. But those guns come from somewhere, they don’t spring into existence from the sheer force of malicious criminal will. How are all these guns entering the black market? They can’t all come from home burglaries, and we know that isn’t the case. The so called gun show loophole is a big factor that should be addressed. I think we can and should go further though, and hold the industry responsible. We hold the manufacturers or suppliers of highly toxic restricted chemicals liable when they allow them to be purchaced and used in an illegal manner. If there was a massive black market for barrels of cyannide, I have no doubt that we would all support an aggressive pursuit of the supply chain. But the gun industry gets a special standard that no other industry enjoys, one that protects them from their own negligence. They bought themselves a secondary justice system that applies only to them, and I don’t see how even second amendment absolutist can defend that.

    I was also thinking about the idea of offering tax incentives for people who turn in personally owned firearms for destruction. There are many people who own guns that they really don’t need, and they may be willing to turn them in for some sort of reasonable incentive. That would serve to remove unneeded guns that are potential targets for theft or abuse from the equation. As we know, many of the school and workplace shootings that have occurred involved legally purchased and owned firearms that got into the hands of someone who wasn’t intended to have access to them. Holding the owners liable in these cases might have some significant impact, but I think encouraging people to get rid of firearms if they don’t have an (percieved) immediate need for them.

  51. slc1 says

    Re DaveL

    Excuse me, I was referring to hand guns. Not being a gun aficionado, I did not realize that the 5.56 that Mr. Yutzy was referring to was a rifle. Of course, the muzzle velocity of a rifle is going to be much higher then in any hand gun (I don’t know, maybe the Buntline special is comparable).

  52. slc1 says

    I’m neither a hunter or a gun aficionado but, given the experience related about the ineffectiveness of a .357 on an African Lion, and remembering that the shooter got of all six shots into it, I don’t think I would rely on a .44 magnum or any other hand gun against a Grizzly bear, unless the object is to fire it in the air to scare the fucker off. Maybe a .50 Desert Eagle might do the trick.

  53. kyoseki says

    According to (this is in California, which has no gun show loophole, all private party transfers must be conducted through a firearms dealer which involves a background check)

    “About 40 percent of guns used by felons nationwide before their admission to state or federal prison were stolen or bought on the street, according to a survey released in 2002 by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    Another 40 percent were obtained from friends or family, leaving about 15 percent purchased in stores and 5 percent acquired in other ways.”

    So it looks like 80% of all guns out there were stolen or obtained through straw buyers, mandating proper storage of firearms when not in use (like in an approved safe bolted to a non removable part of the house) and prosecuting straw purchasers (and flagging them in the background check system) would go a long way toward cutting down the number of illegal firearms out there.

    The 15% of guns obtained in stores were likely sold to people with no felony record, so I’m not sure how that can be regulated, but mandatory training and waiting periods wouldn’t hurt there.

    As for prosecuting the firearms manufacturers themselves, not sure about that unless you can actually prove they’re selling directly to criminals, which I doubt – prosecute crooked gun store owners by all means, since those are the guys most likely doing the shady dealing, but I can’t see a valid reason for prosecuting the manufacturers unless they’re actually up to no good.

  54. kyoseki says

    44 Magnum and .50 AE (the Desert Eagle cartridge) both pack around 2kJ of energy, making them about twice as effective as a 357 Magnum.

    It’s also worth noting that 5.56mm (AR-15 caliber) isn’t a popular hunting caliber for anything other than “varmints” (basically anything up to about the size of a coyote).

    For comparison purposes, 30-06 Springfield and 308 Winchester (popular large game hunting calibers) have around 3.5-4kJ

  55. former Marine says

    If people want to own guns they should have to be trained / licensed. A semester course that covers cleaning and maintenance, storage and security, training without ammunition on proper use, then training with ammunition followed by qualification. Of course this would involve a stability / mental health check. Training would be required for each class of weapon: handgun revolver semi auto, shotgun breach, pump semi auto, rifle breach bolt/ lever, semi auto. The maximum allowable caliber should be fifty. If the potential owner does not have a license they could purchase their first gun, but it is delivered to a training facility for use in class, and complete ownership is contingent on successful class completion. Anyone caught with a gun and no license faces severe penalties, and forfeits the right to ever own a gun.
    I could go on with other suggestions, but I do not want to bore you.

  56. kyoseki says

    Totally agree with pretty much all of this, but I’m not sure how a stability/mental health check could be reliably implemented.

    If there was any kind of standardized psychological test, the NRA (for example) could easily produce a simple cheat sheet explaining what the “right” answers are, so it seems to me that it would be more effective as an interview with a psychologist, but that opens up a whole other can of worms.

  57. slc1 says

    Yes, but I wouldn’t depend on a hand gun to stop a charging grizzly, unless one got lucky enough to hit him between the eyes. And one would be fortunate to get off more then one shot at a charging grizzly. If I had my druthers, I would prefer a .458 magnum weatherby, which will stop a charging elephant.

  58. bubba707 says

    I have to say that for mental stability checks to work objective standards need to be created. The judgements of psychologists tend to be highly subjective and of questionable value as it stands. Suing the manufacturers for things beyond their control just strikes me as very unjust. OTOH, holding dealers responsible for doing things by the book is a good idea along with closing the gun show loopholes. Then we come to the issue of passing on guns. I inherited 2 from my Dad who inherited them from his Dad. I passed them on to two of my sons who still hunt with them and I know they store them safely. There is simply no way I’d turn them in on a buyback program or turn them over to anyone but my sons. These have been in the family for a very long time and will stay in the family because they have much more value to us than as mere rifles.

  59. kyoseki says

    Well, probably not, but you’re far more likely to encounter a brown or black bear than a grizzly.

    Carrying a firearm if you’re out hiking in the back country still isn’t a bad idea, but as with all firearms, there should be a significant training course associated with it (along with a course on how to avoid confrontation with local wildlife if at all possible).

  60. kyoseki says

    Well, even if they’re family heirlooms, you should still have to complete a training course in their use in order to take ownership.

    The other alternative would be to disable them (afaik, gun collectors in the UK have to disable the firearm in order to keep it).

    I think buyback programs are a decent idea for people who want to turn in unused guns, but too many people are making a huge deal of some of the things that get turned in – consider all of the news stories that recently reported that rocket launchers were turned in during the last LA gun buyback. I even saw the Chicago chief of police on CNN using this as an example of lax gun laws – despite the fact that these were the non operational shells left behind after the rocket had been fired and can be bought at any military surplus store for peanuts.

  61. says

    Let me go back to my “barrels of cyanide” analogy. Imagine you have a manufacturer who produces highly toxic chemicals, ones that are regulated in some manner due to the potential harm caused if they are not transported, stored, used, and disposed of properly. This manufacturer exercises insufficient diligence in selling these chemicals to other parties. If those parties acquired such materials and used them to cause harm, you can be sure that the EPA and other agencies would be involved in an investigation. If it could be demonstrated that the manufacturer’s negligence contributed to the harm, they would find themselves liable to some degree. Of course, this is not as simple as my brief tale here, and there is a tapestry of complex laws that apply to commerce of regulated hazardous materials, some of which would make the manufacturer civilly liable and some that might make them criminally liable depending on the specific offense. But I do think the analogy stands.

    Firearms are regulated (though in my opinion those regulations and their enforcement are inappropriately neutered by special protections enjoyed by the gun industry). It is my assertion that if the manufactures are complicit in any way in allowing their weapons to reach the black market, they are responsible ethically and morally. And I think that our laws should provide for that. That complicity would include failing to ensure that once those weapons leave their facilities that they arrive at another secured location, where the new owner adopts responsibility. It seems clear to me that we do hold manufactures to this level of responsibility in other industries. So why not the weapon manufacturers?

    The sheer number of guns available on the streets suggests to me that stolen guns and straw-buyer guns cannot account for their numbers alone. This is obviously suspicion on my part, and I can’t prove anything, but I think it is a reasonable possibility that should be investigated to the fullest of our ability. The problem is that there is a litany of laws that hamper efforts to investigate manufactures and the supply chain and to collect and share the data. What is most galling is that those laws are intended to hamper, and this is morally wrong in my estimation.

  62. bubba707 says

    Well, I completed my training in the service in combat. One of my sons is doing similar in Afghanistan. My other son I trained and, frankly, I held him to a higher standard than the average. I do believe anyone owning a gun of any kind needs a thorough grounding in safety as well as marksmanship. I’m 62 and was taught originally by my grandfather who had a habit of smacking me in the head when I did something wrong with a weapon. Not an acceptable method these days but that was then . I first hunted at age 10, accompanied by my Dad who watched me like a hawk. Truthfully I could probably teach alot of the instructors. My sons know what they’re doing in detail, right down to the use of a rifle safe.
    I do agree with you on buy back programs for those that don’t want their guns though, although they should clamp down on the silly stuff, like give 50 cents for a dewatt grenade or disarmed rocket.

  63. kyoseki says

    If they are, and believe me, it’s a big if, then yes, they should be prosecuted and the law should allow for that – and yes, the stupid concessions made to the gun lobby to prevent the data getting collected is just that, stupid.

    … but honestly, if there are 300 million guns in this country and only a fraction of those are stolen every year, it would easily account for the 10,000 or so firearms murders we see annually – given the number of firearms sold legally each year, it would seem incredibly foolish for a firearms manufacturer to risk that in order to sell a handful of illegal guns.

    I feel that the real problem is sketchy intermediaries, shady gun dealers or private citizens who purchase guns that are then sold on to unsavory individuals – this is, I’m sure, where a large number of the US guns showing up in Mexico, for example, come from, and better background checks and registries would help immensely with that.

  64. says

    I own firearms that my grandfather passed on to me. He used those rifles and shotguns for many years to go on his annual hunting trip, something that was a real luxury for him. They have a great deal of sentimental value to me as well. I would not suggest that someone should turn in guns that they want, that they value, that they have some reasonable purpose for keeping. But I also see no problem at all in encouraging people who came to own firearms that they don’t really want, need, or have a current use for to get rid of them, and offering an incentive to do so. Particularly in circumstances where there is a greater possibility of them falling into the wrong hands. People could currently sell those weapons to a dealer or private party, but that returns those guns into the pipeline. It is my position that reducing the number of guns “out there” is a worthwhile goal in and of itself.

  65. kyoseki says

    Well, I’m quite sure that a compromise on the safety & proficiency part of the testing could easily be achieved for ex service members, but the fact remains that people who own guns should be expected to know what they’re doing with them.

    It still staggers me that I was able to buy handguns without having to prove that I could hit a goddamned thing with them.

    I’m in California, so I’m limited in what I can buy and I have to complete the laughably simple handgun safety certificate (it’s a 30 question multiple choice test, but you only need to get 25 questions right to pass) and you basically have to cycle a round through the firearm to show that a gun can be loaded even if there’s no magazine, but at no point does anyone expect you to do any shooting.

    This whole system needs an overhaul, but it doesn’t start with arbitrary bans on whatever the media is currently obsessing over.

    (oh, apparently they didn’t actually pay anyone for the “rocket launchers”, but still, almost nobody in the media bothered to mention that they were largely ornamental, we even had Charlie Beck deploring them; “these have no place on our streets!”…. except as maybe chocks or something to stop cars rolling down a steep hill, they might work for that, but about the only way you’re going to hurt someone with one is if you physically hit them with it).

  66. says

    I don’t disagree with you. But I do think that the manufactures should bear some responsibility for allowing their weapons to end up in the hands of those unscrupulous intermediaries. It’s my position that the manufacturers share in the responsibility for what becomes of their firearms between the time they ship and the time they are legally purchased. That responsibility doesn’t end once the product passes through the warehouse doors, as it doesn’t in other industries for other dangerous products. Since I am not an advocate of unregulated markets, I have no objection to the government placing such a burden on the manufactures.

  67. Jared A says

    Absolutely, I agree with you on most of these things. I know we come from somewhat different standpoints, but it was clear from your other comments that we both want to find a pragmatic solution that results in fewer gun deaths, just like me. I hope it didn’t seem like I was criticizing you in my response.

    A bit of clarification of my perspective: I’m not entirely uninformed about guns myself. I grew up in a very “red state” and was exposed to guns a fair amount, though I only have shot them a few times (and I get why people like to. It is fun.) I understand In some communities hunting is vital for getting food on the table. But I feel that concerns with the 2nd amendment have been getting in the way of making common sense laws.

  68. bubba707 says

    kyoseki, here in the north woods when I was young you walked into the hardware store, paid the money and walked out with whatever gun you bought, no problem. Now you just need to fill out the form for the background check which the Govt may or may not even look at, wait at most 3 days and pick up your gun. Still pretty loose. Then again, where I live it seems the vast majority of armed crimes, which are still pretty rare, are committed by yahoos that come up this way from the big cities, not locals. There are advantages to living in a small town. Seems to me it’s the city folks that have the most trouble with firearms, probably because they don’t get the proper instruction or enough range time with em. It takes training and plenty of practice to be proficient and competent and I’m afraid too many gun owners are slack on the practice and skimpy on the training.

  69. kyoseki says

    Well, California has a 10 day waiting period, but by all accounts this is primarily because they do their own background checks here and they’re spectacularly backed up (they’re also hopeless, I was denied permission to buy my skeet shotgun because apparently I was an illegal alien).

    You’re absolutely right that city dwellers have the most trouble, most people buying handguns in cities do so with the idea of protecting themselves, but they don’t take the time to learn how to use them safely & proficiently, which is why I’m 100% behind the idea of mandatory training and periodic requalification for all firearms purchases.

  70. bubba707 says

    Generally, I’m not a fan of handguns for home defense at all. A 12 ga. pump shotgun loaded with number 6 or 7 shot is much better. Just the sound of the clack of the pump is distinctive enough to send an intruder runner for the next county. As for personal defense elsewhere carrying a pistol, successful incidents are so rare as to be a nonstarter. Mostly either the gun owner of a bystander take the hit. If someone wants a handgun for personal defense I’d demand they take a full combat training course. Without that they’re most likely to be completely ineffective at best under stress.

  71. kyoseki says

    No argument from me on those points.

    I have a couple of handguns, but I only use them for target shooting – I don’t keep any ammunition for them and only buy it at the range.

    I’m ok with the idea of concealed carry, but it should require positively obscene levels of training.

    I honestly don’t ever expect to have to use a firearm for self defense, so I’ve never really gotten around to buying one, but a decent pump gun with a flashlight would be my choice as well.

  72. Jared A says

    Ok, my apologies. For some reason I read that you were talking about muzzle-loading firearms and I thought you were being ridiculous. I see now that you wrote “manually cycled” right there at the end.

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