A 64 year old retired accountant was legally able to purchase dozens of guns, including semi-automatic weapons. And he was also able to purchase legally, "bump stocks", which gives a semi-automatic firearm the capability to fire about as rapidly as a fully automatic machine gun. And in Las Vegas, he was able to shoot 600 people in ten minutes, of which 58 died.
How was this possible? Is this a good idea?
What is to be done?
Is this actually a problem?
The first question to ask, is whether this is indeed a problem. Intuitively it seems like it might be, but it's best to examine actual statistics to find out.
There are homicides, suicides and accidents.
It could be argued that suicides by firearm should not count, because if someone hasn't got a gun, they could use a knife, or a throw themselves off a bridge, or take an overdose. The counter-argument to that is that failed suicides often don't try again, which means that they tried to take their own life at a low point, and without the failure, they'd be dead from the experience of that low point. But it's arguable, so I'm going to leave suicide out of the statistics.
So excluding suicide, there were 13,286 people killed with firearms in the USA in 2015. US population was 322 million, so that's 41 per million per year. And 63 suicides, and 2 accidents.
The UK is a somewhat similar country; we speak the same language, like the same music, eat similar food. In the UK, the number is 0.6 homicides per million per year, 1.5 suicides and zero accidents. In France, 2.1 homicides, 21 suicides. In Germany, 0.7 homicides, 8.4 suicides. In Australia 1.6 homicides, 7.4 suicides.
So that's a big difference. And that means that yes, it's a problem in the USA.
What are the benefits?
So Americans are paying a big price; 13,000 homicides per year. What benefits are they getting for that price? I've asked pro-gun Americans about this, and I'll list the answers I've heard.
1. Self defence. This makes a lot of sense; if a burglar is likely to be armed, it makes sense that a homeowner should be armed.
2. Hunting. If you want to shoot moose, or squirrels, you'll need a rifle.
3. Protection against despotic government. This can also be expressed as "we need guns to ensure our freedom". This is fed by the founding narrative of the USA. The narrative goes like this (I've heard this so many times, and I won't argue it here, because what is important is what people believe, not what actually happened). England oppressed the colonists with taxation, which was an imposition on their liberty, but because the colonists were armed, they were able to fight back against the Greatest Power in the World, and defeat their oppressors, and so the Right to Bear Arms is important. The problem with this as follows.
The US military is the strongest in the world; there's no threat to invade the USA. If you think there's a threat from a possible despotic US governemt, and want to reserve the right to rebel against this dictatorship, then you'll have two problems. The first problem is that round one of this fight will be Rebels against Patriots, because not all Americans will be convinced that a rebellion is the right thing to do, so the Rebels, armed with pistols, rifles and semi-automatic rifles (some with bump stocks) will be up against a similarly armed bunch of Patriots. There's no saying how this might end, it depends on how many Rebels there are, and how many Patriots.
But round two, if the Rebels do overcome the Patriots, will be the Rebels armed with pistols, rifles and semi-automatic rifles (some with bump stocks) against the US Army, Navy Air Force and Marines, armed with fully automatic guns, mortars, tanks, APCs, artillery, attack helicopters, warplanes and napalm. The Rebels will be *slaughtered*. And they surely know that. So there won't be a rebellion.
4. The "good man with a gun" notion. This idea is that mass shootings wouldn't happen if everyone were armed, because the good people with guns would kill the murderer very quickly. The counter-argument to this, is to think about what would actually happen.
Imagine a rock concert at which one of the attendance requirements of the 20,000 attendees is that you carry a loaded gun. And imagine that a 64 year old retired accountant, makes himself a shooting nook 1200 feet away, and opens up on the people at the concert. After a few seconds, people realise they're being shot at, and pull out their guns, and look around to see who they need to shoot. And what they see is 20,000 people with guns at the ready, pointing in every which direction.
The venue would very rapidly become an abattoir. The firing would be intense, for several minutes, until everyone had run out of ammunition. And the few people who were left standing would stlll not really know what just happened and why.
5. If guns were illegal then only criminals will have guns. I won't argue this one (it could be argued) because I'm not proposing to make guns illegal.
Are the benefits 1 and 2 worth the price? I can't really say - that's for Americans to say. But here's an interesting fact - in the light of the Las Vegas shooting, the NRA (National Rifle Association, who are usually very much opposed to gun regulation) proposed that the sale of "bump stocks" be regulated. A Gallup Poll revealed that 55% of Americans think that gun laws should be made more strict. Another interesting fact - 58% of Americans don't have a gun in their home.
The Second Amendment
And then there's the Second Amendment. "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."
I don't know what that means. Americans argue interminably over what it means. Does that mean that there should be a well regulated militia bearing arms? Surely the US military fulfils that role. Or does it mean "Anyone in the USA can keep and carry guns"? Different Supreme Court judges have different opinions on this, so I'm not even going to try.
So here's my proposal. And it's dramatic. Repeal the second amendment, and replace it with a "Right to bear arms" that is what Americans today actually want, not what Americans wanted 250 years ago, when "arms" meant "muskets".
My specific suggestions for the 28th amendment
- People can keep handguns at home, for self defence. But not when walking around the street, because there's too much scope for things going badly wrong. People can keep rifles at home if they sometimes go hunting (most people don't).
- Guns have to be handled properly, just like cars. So people have to pass a "driving test" for the kind of weapon they want to use - handgun, rifle, shotgun, whichever. I've noticed that lots of people have accidents with their gun, the gun goes off and they shoot themselves. Either the safety catches aren't safe enough, or people should be trained to use them.
- Guns should be registered and licensed, like cars. This would be opposed by "the government is going to take your guns" people, but these guns wouldn't make a rebellion possible anyway.
- Hunting rifles should not be semi-automatic. It's *far* too easy to convert them to fully automatic and shoot 600 people in 10 minutes.
- Insurance. You can accidentslly do a lot of damage to a third party with a gun, just as you can with a car. So there must be third party liability insurance. Like with cars.
- Storage. Guns must be securely stored, in such a way that a child cannot get at it.
Why not just ban guns? We did in England, Australia, tons of other countries?
Because it won't be accepted. Americans are very keen to be able to have a gun. I don't think a proposition to ban all guns, would get many votes. And it's better to have some regulations, than nothing.
These are the broad outines of the proposal; I've never used a gun, I'm ignorant of gun culture, and I'm open to suggestions about how this can be improved. But I'm not American, so you'd be talking to the wrong person.
How to get there from here
Repeal and replace the second amendment.
To amend the constitution, isn't easy, and that's on purpose. But it is possible; there are 27 amendments. To make an amendment, you have to either get a 2/3 majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives, or ... well, it gets a bit more complicated. But once the amendment has been proposed, it then has a period of time in which to get 38 states to agree to it. The 27th amendment took 200 years to get in place; the 26th a couple of months.
It won't be easy. And it will only be possible it a very large chunk of Americans want it. So the first stage will be to discover if it's wanted.
I'd suggest that an American (I won't do it, you don't want foreigners interfering with your politics) set up an organisation, the National Repeal and Replace Associatoon (NRRA) to initially get people to sign up to the idea. Then, if a few million people do seem interested, enrol them in the NRRA. If 30 million Americans enrol, at $35 per year membership. then thats $1 billion to spend on newsletters, recuitment and whatever it is that you in America do to get politicians to vote the way you want but isn't bribery.