Why Gun Control Is Basically Dead

   < < Go Back

By Paul M. Barrett,

from Bloomberg Businessweek,

Firearm Sales up + Crime Down = Gun Control Dead.

In a humbling political defeat for President Obama, congressional Republicans last spring blocked attempts to enact new federal gun restrictions. Lawmakers had some success in a handful of states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and New York toughened background-check rules and/or banned certain large-capacity weapons. In Colorado … the legislature instituted comprehensive background checks and limited ammunition capacity to 15 rounds per magazine.

A year after Newtown, its easier to buy a gun.

Then came the push-back: Colorado voters so far have forced three pro-gun control state legislators from office—two in a recall backed by the National Rifle Association and a third who resigned in the face of opposition. At least 16 states—Alabama, Kansas, Maine, Oklahoma, and Virginia among them—reacted to Newtown by loosening gun restrictions in the past year. Several of the pro-gun states, including Arizona, where a 2011 shooting at a shopping mall left six people dead and then-Representative Gabrielle Giffords grievously wounded, enacted laws that exempt gun permits from public records. Viewing the nation as a whole and factoring in the expiration of the 1994-2004 federal assault weapons ban, it has become easier to acquire firearms in the U.S. in recent years.

9M FBI background checks in 2005 – 19M FBI background checks in 2013.

Not every background check leads to a firearm sale, but the direction of the statistics is compellingly clear.

Apart from politics, dispassionate observers must question the simplistic liberal slogan that more guns equals more crime. The U.S. has seen a two-decade period during which private gun ownership has continued to soar (some 300 million firearms are now in civilian hands), while crime has diminished. Today, guns are used in 63 percent of violent crimes in the U.S. and 69 percent of murders. The number of U.S. murders and the subset of those killings involving firearms are dropping, however. Murder has diminished 17 percent since 2003, although 2012 saw a 0.4 percent uptick compared with 2011. In a country that broadly speaking is getting safer, it’s more difficult to get politicians in Washington to risk the wrath of the NRA and support anything described as “gun control.”

Gun crime and mass shootings are disconnected events.

Newtown, and Aurora before it, were not ordinary instances of violent crime. Mass shootings by deranged young men present a special case, one painfully disconnected from the gun control proposals these atrocities inspire. Mass murderers prepare meticulously and usually acquire their weapons legally. Comprehensive background checks make sense for whatever good they might do at the margin, but they wouldn’t have stopped Newtown gunman Adam Lanza, who armed himself from his mother’s legal, if negligently maintained, home arsenal. Aaron Alexis, who killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard in September, used a legally acquired 12-gauge shotgun, a firearm widely carried by bird hunters and not on any plausible ban list. The media don’t help by sensationalizing these crimes with 24/7 cable coverage that psychiatrists believe incites copycats. To stop future Lanzas, activists and policymakers need to focus on identifying dangerously mentally ill people and limiting their freedoms, including their access to guns.

Anti-gun activists mistakenly believe they can win “a war for the culture”.

Finally, the strategy adopted by well-meaning activists post-Newtown may undermine their cause. Consider Moms Demand Action, which is allied with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an organization started by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg Businessweek parent Bloomberg LP). Watts, the Moms leader, describes her campaign as “a war for the culture.” She talks about firearms as a symbol of an America she doesn’t “recognize.” “Moms won’t be silent anymore,” says Shannon Watts. “Something changed after Sandy Hook,” … “We can’t unring that bell, and we will be heard. This is not the America I want for my children.”

Two parallel truths.

Two parallel paths forward offer more hope for progress than indulging in a culture war: The nation needs to identify and replicate the policies that have contributed to the drop in ordinary violent crime. And it must confront the conundrum of dangerously unstable individuals who live in a society that celebrates firearm ownership as an emblem of individualism and self-reliance.

More From Bloomberg Businessweek: