Practical gun reform

The Connecticut shooting this week has really affected me. Far more than similar incidents in the past. Not really sure why but probably because of the young age of the kids that were killed and my own impending fatherhood. Just the thought of 9 months of caring for this little thing and then all the love and care you put in afterwords to all be taken away in a random event like this. It is sickeningly frighting. My thoughts and emotions like many others spring to why does these type of events always seem to happen in America? Bowling for Columbine comes to mind and the gut reaction is that guns have a large part to play and something must be able to be done to reduce the chances that this type of event could ever happen again. Is there any chance for practical gun reform not just in the US but improvements in all countries?



I have been debating with a few colleagues, one of which has a high degree of opposition to any form of gun reform even though he has never owned a gun nor would ever own one. I have also read a quite a few articles on this topic since the weekend including a lot of good debate on Hacker News. The statistics also start to come out (lies, dammed lies and...). This from the NY times (researched by quite a few studies) stuck with me (particularly because growing up in Australia I remember this incident):
"In Australia in 1996, a mass killing of 35 people galvanized the nation’s conservative prime minister to ban certain rapid-fire long guns. The “national firearms agreement,” as it was known, led to the buyback of 650,000 guns and to tighter rules for licensing and safe storage of those remaining in public hands. The law did not end gun ownership in Australia. It reduced the number of firearms in private hands by one-fifth, and they were the kinds most likely to be used in mass shootings.
In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings — but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect. The murder rate with firearms has dropped by more than 40 percent"

However many of the comments and articles urge people to look past the initial emotional reaction and to approach the problem rationally. Articles like this one in particular ask some questions that really hit home: is public policy really the best way to the reduce the risks of shootings such as this? Would policy do more good than harm (unintended consequences especially)? As most government programs cost money and considering the US especially has more debt than it can ever pay back and Europe is in a hole, what is the opportunity cost of such programs?

One person suggested the 5 why's be applied to this shooting. So here is an attempt at that:

The problem: kids were gunned down
1. Why? A 20 year old apparently wanted to get revenge on his mum 
2. Why? He was potentially mentally ill and was able to obtain three guns from his mums house

I'm not going to explore why he was mentally ill here because there is no way I can answer that.

3. Why? She had the guns easily accessible to him in the house
4. Why? Could be a range of reasons, the most common I have seen people provide:
4a. Self defence / safety
4b. Provide food by hunting
4c. Target practice / sport (hunting)
4d. As a defense mechanism against the state holding a monopoly on violence / she was part of a minority group that required three guns to fight oppression

5. Why?
5a. The area she lived in had a high rate of violence which the authorities were not effective enough at combating. She had gone through a violent incident in the past.
5b. It was a way of getting cheaper food / earn money
5c. It was a hobby
5d. Belief that an armed populace is the best defense against state tyranny. That arms are required to fight oppression when the authorities can/won't assist

Working up from what could be some underlying causes. 5a and 5b: reducing crime and improving living standards are things governments should be working on anyway. Is the best we can do to reduce the risk of horrific events such as these, simply to keep working on these areas?

5c and 5d and 3 seems like areas where some practical gun reforms could help. Some of the ideas I was thinking of:
  • Background checks including psychological evaluation before purchase of any gun
  • Any guns that are stored at home must be stored in a locked container. If random spot checks could be performed and some on a risk based manner in a cost effective manner, similar to tax audits that would be ideal. Perhaps a levy on gun owners to fund this (rights and responsibilities and all)
  • Annual safety training at the cost of the gun owner
These type of measures all seem sensible and even intuitive. But there are hundreds of studies on gun control or gun reform, the most worrying for suggestions like the above are studies like this: Mass Shootings in Schools The Worst Possible Case for Gun Control. It even specifically mentioned regulations that require locks were not effective.

Even if any of these changes were proven the be the right thing to do, could they even be implemented? Could the laws be passed in every state in the US for example, what would the unintended consequences be, and what would the opportunity costs be?

At least the only thing that seems guaranteed is that there will be a lot of debate on this topic in the next few months. A lot of people will be reading the research, pouring through the statistics, working out how they can use this incident to further their own motives. All I hope is that at the end some practical actions get taken that at least reduce the risk of this type of horrific incident occurring again.

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