George Boardman: Why gun control laws Congress has passed are largely useless
Observations from the center stripe: Pony up edition
CALIFORNIA TAXPAYERS will have to put up more money to cover CalPERS’ obligations if the retirement fund goes through with plans to reduce its target rate of return on investments … SOME PRESS photographers trying to get pictures of the new Tesla battery factory in Sparks got roughed up by security guards. The guards probably thought they were spies for Apple … ACCORDING TO a lawyer I know, it’s 90 percent of lawyers that make the other 10 percent look bad … REPUBLICANS SHOULD be rooting for the Democrats to nominate Bernie Sanders, and the Dems should encourage the GOP to nominate Donald Trump or Ben Carson … IF THE Democrats are dumb enough to nominate Sanders, the campaign will be George McGovern 2.0 … TRUTH MAY be stranger than fiction, but there are a lot of times when fiction is more interesting than the truth …
You can be sure that as soon as we have the next mass shooting in this country (we’ve had 133 since 2000), the pro-gun crowd will trot out the following arguments:
— If more people were armed, there would be fewer mass shootings;
— We don’t need any more gun control laws; we just need to enforce the ones we have.
Dr. Ben Carson, currently considered a serious contender for the most important job in the free world, gave a new twist to the first argument after the recent Oregon shootings when he said — and apparently with a straight face — that if more Jews were armed during the Holocaust, there wouldn’t have been mass genocide. Another serious contender, Donald Trump, sounded like a front man for the National Rifle Association when he parroted NRA leader Wayne LaPierre’s well-known observation: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
But if what they say is true, why does the United States lead the world in the number of mass shootings?
The U.S. ranks first in the world in gun ownership per capita, with roughly 270 million firearms, or 89 per 100 residents, according to the Small Arms Survey 2011, a Geneva-bases research project. (Some people think gun ownership in the U.S. is as high as 310 million weapons.) The U.S. represents less than 5 percent of the 7.3 billion people in the world, but accounted for 31 percent of global mass shootings from 1966 to 2012. (A mass shooter is defined as a person who kills at least four people.)
If the pro-gun argument were valid, all those guns would mean fewer mass shootings. Recent studies show the opposite is true. A Harvard University study released earlier this year found that firearms assaults are 6.8 times more common in the states with the most guns versus states with the least, and firearm homicides are 2.8 times more common in states with the most guns.
“We found no support for the hypothesis that owning more guns leads to a drop or reduction in violent crime,” said researcher Michael Monuteaux. “Instead, we found the opposite.”
The gun lobby’s vision of a well-armed citizenry was on display recently in the Detroit area, where security personnel were chasing a shoplifter through a Home Deport parking lot. We’re talking about at worst a low-level felony, not attempted murder or sexual assault. A 46-year-old woman, who had taken a training course in the use of her pistol and had a concealed weapon permit, opened fire on the scofflaw as other customers ducked for cover. She didn’t hit him or anybody else, and the thief escaped with a few hundred dollars worth of tools. So much for law-and-order.
When mass shootings bring out the inevitable call for more gun control legislation, gun advocates say that we should just enforce the laws that are already on the books. Except when they’re behind closed doors, the NRA and its hand maidens don’t talk about how they’ve managed to de-fang those laws. Take the Firearms Protection Act of 1986, initially proposed to give the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms the power to more closely monitor the retail sale of guns. (Republicans controlled the Senate and Democrats controlled the House then.) After the NRA and its allies got through with the bill, ATF could only inspect firearms dealers once a year, couldn’t computerize records, and had to prove a dealer “willfully” sold firearms to a prohibited person. In addition, records keeping penalties were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. Amendments passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2003 required destruction of FBI background check records within 24 hours, making it nearly impossible to catch rogue gun dealers who falsify their records, or straw purchasers who buy guns on behalf of criminals.
ATF estimated in 2000 that 57 percent of guns used in crimes come from 1.2 percent of licensed gun dealers, but local and state law enforcement is restricted by federal law from using gun trace data to pull the licenses of those who break the law.
But some supervision is better than nothing, which is what we have when it comes to the sale of weapons at guns shows, over the Internet, and privately. As police will tell you, guns purchased at Reno gun shows are transported through Nevada County to the killing fields of Oakland.
In an effort to cover all the bases, the NRA and its allies set out in 1996 to make sure the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t fund any more studies on the effect of firearms on public health. First, House Republicans tried to shutdown the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention. When that gambit failed, they passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Arkansas, that stripped $2.6 million from the budget spent on gun studies, and added this provision:
“None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control…may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”
Practically no studies on the subject have been conducted since then. Dickey called this a victory over the CDC’s attempts “to raise emotional empathy” around gun violence. But given our culture of violence, efforts to impose more gun control may be a waste of time, according to crime researcher Jaclyn Schildkraut of State University of New York in Oswego. She said public officials should emphasize preparation, such as shooter plans and more locks on schoolroom doors. “It’s much like hurricanes,” she said. “Better to be prepared and not need it than to not be prepared and need it.”
I don’t feel reassured.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union.
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