Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gun control in the wake of Sandy

Gun control debates frustrate me for the same reason 'size-of-government' debates frustrate me: binary perspectives. One side chalks gun violence up to guns, the other side chalks it up to 'cultural differences' (or at least 'not guns'), and neither position really leads to problem-solving action.

On the one hand, I'm quite reluctant to draw an explicit relationship between gun ownership and violence, since the US is relatively more violent in some metrics (intentional homicide), less violent in others (assault), and differs significantly from other countries with both low and high gun ownership. I'm far from convinced that fighting gun ownership is a good way to fight the use of guns in violent crimes, and doing so in any meaningful way would require the abrogation of the 4th Amendment, among others, as well as major additional bureaucracy.

On the other hand, the explanations offered by conservatives sound suspiciously like excuses for inaction, rather than concrete explanations that suggest policy or community solutions. Dig a little bit, and it always comes back to 'I have a right to bear arms, and that means you don't get to try to take my gun away from me.' And fine, maybe your average gun owner is a peace-loving American citizen, but acknowledging that does little to deal with the people who all too frequently misuse guns in horrific ways.

So, our country has:
-Moderate gun ownership, but high quantities of gun frenzy
-High gun violence, especially with handguns, and especially urban and inner-city violence
-Regulations that vary widely by state, and state law enforcement not obliged to police federal regulations
-High quantity of unregistered guns and ammo
-Relatively high prevalence of poverty and mental disorders

Given these initial conditions, what are some things our country can do to improve the state of affairs? Some tentative suggestions--not policies per se, but guidelines that can be engineered into policies:
-Better access to mental healthcare, marital counseling, and birth control
-More paths to success for minority urban youth besides sports, the army, or the gang
-Less indiscriminate use of prison sentencing, to cut the youth-to-prison pipelines

No, none of those solutions involve guns in any way. That's primarily because I'm not sure what kind of policies would impact gun ownership in any meaningful way. Register newly bought firearms? You create a bureau of registers, and you still have to deal with the massive existing pool of unlicensed arms. Voluntary registration? Who exactly would you catch volunteering to register with a gun and then using it in a crime? Proscription of certain types of guns? The ones that initially seem the most dangerous are responsible for the least violence, and besides, a War on Assault Weapons seems no more likely to be effective than the War on Drugs. Make like Switzerland and issue people military arms after a mandatory draft? Somehow I don't think the citizenry would take kindly to that, and we don't have the facilities to handle 150 million or more draftees anyway.

So, naturally, I leave it as an exercise for the alert reader.

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