Friday, June 17, 2016


I don't really know what the answer is. We have a lot of guns in this country of all different types. AR-15s get a lot of press but handguns are used in far more crimes and have more restrictions on them than long guns because they're concealable. But here are some articles I found interesting recently.

There are lots of statistics you'll hear. Be sure to notice the difference between gun deaths and gun homicides, because suicide by gun is very common in America and for some reason doesn't get people all worked up. I think we need right to die laws. There was an older visualization that said More Americans killed by guns since 1968 than in all U.S. wars. That includes suicides, but they recently updated it and now point out, More Americans have died from guns since 2001 than in Korean and Vietnam wars and break out homicide, suicides, accidents, etc.


The New York Times points out, Compare These Gun Death Rates: The U.S. Is in a Different World.

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I liked this article by Jon Stokes, Why I Need an AR-15. He wrote a long Wired piece on the AR-15 after Newtown. He explains things for non-gun owners and points out that the AR-15 is used so frequently because it's the most popular gun in America, because it is easily customized to a lot of different purposes and is light and easy to use.

The AR-15 is less a model of rifle than it is an open-source, modular weapons platform that can be customized for a whole range of applications, from small pest control to taking out 500-pound feral hogs to urban combat. Everything about an individual AR-15 can be changed with aftermarket parts — the caliber of ammunition, recoil, range, weight, length, hold and grip, and on and on.

In a the pre-AR-15 era, if you wanted a gun for shooting little groundhogs, a gun for shooting giant feral hogs, and a gun for home defense, you’d buy three different guns in three different calibers and configurations. With the AR platform, a person with absolutely no gunsmithing expertise can buy one gun and a bunch of accessories, and optimize that gun for the application at hand.

Indeed, anyone who tells you that the AR-15 is bad for hunting and home defense has absolutely no idea what they’re talking about, because by definition an AR is a gun that can be exquisitely adapted for those niches and many others.

If you’re serious about banning guns, you can talk about banning all semi-automatic guns, or about restricting guns to a list of approved models or actions. This is may not be politically realistic at the moment, but at least it’s consistent and rational. But talk of banning just the “AR-15” — as if that’s a specific model of gun that you can just up and ban — is technologically infeasible and ultimately counter-productive.

Nevertheless, oddly, the New York Times reports In Newtown Families’ Suit Against Maker of the AR-15 Rifle, Surprising Progress.

The 10 Newtown plaintiffs argue that the AR-15 is a weapon of war – its cousin, the M-16, was the rifle of choice in Vietnam — and therefore should never have been marketed to civilians. They say, in effect, that the availability of a high-velocity weapon capable of inflicting such rapid carnage constitutes such negligence.

“The novelty of the approach is that it doesn’t depend upon an argument that the manufacturer knows that a particular shooter is a high-risk buyer,” said Heidi Li Feldman, a professor at Georgetown University Law School, who has followed the Newtown litigation. “The novelty is that it substitutes the general public for a particular individual.”

Eighteen months after it was first filed, the lawsuit — naming the gun manufacturer, Remington; the wholesaler; and a local retailer — is still in the early stages. But the case has not yet been tossed out of court. Even some plaintiffs were startled when Judge Barbara N. Bellis of State Superior Court, who has yet to rule on a final effort to quash the case, set a trial date — two years from now — and ordered the defendants to disclose marketing materials and other internal documents.

I have my doubts that that suit will result in anything. Daniel Hayes has a more practical solution, I Am An AR-15 Owner And I’ve Had Enough.

See, this is the dirty secret that gun owners know. We know that, for the most part, non-gun owners don’t understand guns. We know that you don’t know how to deter these shootings. We know that non-gun owners will call for psych evals (the government can’t force people to go to the doctor to exercise a constitutional right), insurance (you can’t pass a law that alienates the poor from their constitutional rights), confiscation (who wants to be the first in line to confiscate 350 million weapons even if Congress did repeal the 2nd Amendment). We know that it is the things that cannot happen that will be the things gun control advocates will call for.

But there’s one thing that would put a dent in the number of mass shootings today and that’s restricting magazine sizes for the AR-15 and other semiautomatic rifles to 10 rounds. No more. Ten.

That requirement would have meant that the Orlando shooter would have had to carry 20 magazines on him and reload twenty times during his rampage to fire the 200+ rounds he fired. Instead he had several thirty round magazines and was able to afford himself both the time and space to carry out his murders. He was able to push people away from him with long bursts of gunfire and barely give his victims a chance to take that split second, when he was reloading, to leap on him and tear him apart.

I own an AR-15 and I am not ashamed of that. I am a Christian and I’m not ashamed of that. I have worked for the U.S. government overseas in Iraq and I’m not ashamed of that. I hunt and edited an entire book on the gun control debate and I’m not ashamed of that. But what I am ashamed of is the unwillingness on the part of so many gun owners to make this tiny concession that they know would have a dramatic impact on the outcomes of mass killings. What I am ashamed of is the press’s unwillingness to report that this is the change we need to make. What I am ashamed of is that gun rights advocates know that this change would cost lawful owners little and would deter the insane or fanatical.

Of course there are already plenty of large magazines out there and people have been making them on 3D printers for a few years now. I've seen a few of articles on how easy it is to buy a gun, of course it's legal so you'd expect it to be, but here are a couple saying perhaps it's too easy...

It’s easier to buy an assault weapon than open a bank account. Really..

Buying an assault rifle is easy. You need not show formal identification, submit to a record check, experience any delay, provide a valid address or permit a record to be kept of your purchase. If you buy in the “shadow gun system” at a gun show, there are no requirements at all.

Opening even the most basic bank account is far more arduous. The process begins with a rigorous ID check. You must provide an address that will be checked out, as will the source of the funds deposited in your account. Depending on how risky you appear, there may be long delays, and the bank may insist on visiting your domicile. If you are not opening an account for an individual but for a small business, the process is far more involved. An elaborate regulatory system watches “the shadows” so you can’t store your money in a nonbank financial institution without being monitored.

Vox found this old Real Sports story from 2014, This 13-year-old tried to buy porn, lottery tickets, and a gun. Guess which one he got.

I get that at a gun show it's people selling from individual to another and perhaps it's harder for them to know all the rules compared to a licensed dealer, but this shouldn't be hard to fix. A friend pointed out to me a couple of years ago that the argument about how would they do a check is invalid because they all quickly adopted to taking payments via Square. Isn't technology wonderful? And really I think it should be a service the gun show itself offers. If you want to buy, go to a centralized place where you're checked and given a wrist band and then individual dealers can just look for the band, just like bartenders at some clubs. Now I've never been to a gun show, for all I know this is what they do, but it didn't appear so in the above video.

But even if we add background checks or ban "assault rifles" (however you define them) or semi-automatics or extended clips, we have the problem that too many of these weapons are already out there. You need some kind of Gun buyback program and those have shown mixed success, but perhaps if it were national it would work better. Pro-gun people love to cite that Chicago has strict gun laws and high gun homicides, but they never mention the reason is that most of the guns used in homicides were bought just over the border in Indiana. There are probably about 5 million AR-15 type weapons owned by Americans now, a buy back would be expensive but doable.

Regardless if we're going to evaluate any of these ideas we need better research. As we learned a few mass shootings ago, the government doesn't keep nation-wide records on gun deaths (homicides or suicides). The media has started doing so, but the FBI or someone should be doing this. After we have some numbers we could starting doing some research. But the CDC is essentially based from researching gun deaths.

The story about how the CDC ban on gun research came about is really chilling. Pro-gun people often say that there should be research but the Center for Disease Control shouldn't do it is just an excuse. As pro-gun people point out, there's a big difference between gun homicides and gun violence, that a lot of our gun problem is due to suicides. The original study that led to the ban looked into some of that (though it found a 3x increase in both homicides and suicides in houses with guns). That scared the NRA and here we are. The CDC is a good place to do research, they do research on the health affects of cars and toys and other things, why not guns?

I don't really get why another agency (ATF or DHS) doesn't fund the research (though it seems that the ATF does gather trace data, they are not allowed to share it with anyone). The article suggests the CDC example has put off any other agency from funding the research in such a politically charged area. But the way you know it's just an excuse, is the people who say the CDC shouldn't do it, never suggest (or fund) someone else to do it.

There have been some studies. A Harvard study found For every gun used in self-defense, six more are used to commit a crime.

Hemenway found that not only are self-defense gun uses rare -- people defended themselves with a gun in roughly 0.9 percent of crimes committed over this period -- but in many cases they don't lead to better outcomes for crime victims. "The likelihood of injury when there was a self-defense gun use (10.9%) was basically identical to the likelihood of injury when the victim took no action at all (11.0%)," Hemenway and co-author Sara J. Solnik found.

Looking at what happened after people took action to prevent a crime, Hemenway and Solnik found that people were far better off either running away, or calling the cops if possible, rather than attempting to stop a crime with a gun. "Running away and calling the police were associated with a reduced likelihood of injury after taking action; self-defense gun use was not," they write.

The use of guns were, however, were linked to better outcomes in certain circumstances. In cases of robbery and burglary, victims who didn't try to stop the crime lost property nearly 85 percent of the time. Victims who attacked the intruders or threatened them with a gun had a better outcome, losing property 39 percent of the time. But those are slightly worse odds than for victims who fought back with other weapons -- this latter group lost property 35 percent of the time.

Vox describes The biggest questions about gun violence that researchers would still like to see answered.

There are a few big things we know about gun violence in America: The US has way more guns per capita than any other country. It has far more gun homicides per capita than other wealthy countries. States with more guns have more gun deaths. And people with guns in their homes are more likely to be killed or to kill themselves with guns.

But just as importantly, there’s a lot that researchers still don't know. There’s frustratingly little evidence on what policies work best to reduce gun violence. (Australia saw a drop in homicides and suicides after confiscating everyone’s guns in the 1990s, but that would likely never happen here.) Experts still don’t have a great sense of what impact stricter background checks have, or how the "informal" gun trade operates, or even how people use guns in crimes.

So after a 15-hour Senate filibuster forced Republicans to agree to a gun control vote (during which 48 people were shot) I'm not expecting much. I'm actually expecting worse, since After mass shootings, Republicans make it easier for people to get guns. Since that's been happening maybe someone will correlate it with the fact that FBI: Active shooter incidents have soared since 2000.

Vox explains This is the gun bill Senate Democrats spent 15 hours filibustering to bring to a vote. The Dems was a federal veto over purchases by anyone on the terrorist watch list (now or in the past 5 years). That seems a bit broad, I'd only like that if the watch list itself was more transparent (which it should be anyway). Republicans came up with a completely unworkable proposal, "To stop someone from buying a gun, the government has to prove in court that there’s "probable cause" the gun buyer will commit an act of terrorism, according to Sarah Trumble of Third Way. Under Cornyn’s proposal, the government would also only have 72 hours to file the paperwork to do so." As if that could ever happen. Sen Toomey (R-PA) has a third proposal, the FISA court has to approve a list of names from the government to block gun sales too. That does add judicial oversight, but is the FISA court going to investigate a list of hundreds of thousands of names to check each one?

I've seen a few friends post on Facebook about this and then the comments begin. Pro-gun people point out all the flaws in the arguments and never suggest any better solutions. Or they say a particular proposal won't solve the problem and a holistic approach is needed but don't offer ideas or even find fault with the party that blocks any research to gather data or evaluate possible ideas. So here's mine. We should roll out some sensible restrictions, nation wide and see where it gets us.

  • Allow the CDC or some government agency to gather statistics on gun sales, use, and crime and to fund research about that data.
  • Ban magazines larger than 10 rounds in long guns and hand guns, it's something
  • Close the gun show loophole; require background checks for all non-family purchases
  • Fund better investigations into so called Bad Apple Gun Dealers. Based on 1998 data about 90% of guns used in crimes can be traced to about 5% of dealers. Because the ATF can't share gun trace info it's impossible to get more recent data.
  • Repeal the Tiahrt Amendment to allow ATF gun trace data to be shared for research
  • Crack down on dealers that allow obvious straw purchases
  • Make the various terrorist watch lists more consistent and add some due process so non-terrorists can get themselves off it.
  • Figure out something to do to people on terrorist watch lists who try to buy a gun. That might be delay them, watch them, ban them, I'm not sure but something should happen in this circumstance and law enforcement should be able to figure out what.
  • Require proof of gun safety training before buying a gun. This varies by state today, enforce some federal standards and probably licensing. I haven't looked into details but some states require license to purchase and others to own and others to carry with various renewals required. I'm not sure of the details but I think it should regulated like drivers licenses are.
  • Research ways to prevent toddlers using guns since in 2015 more Americans were shot and killed by toddlers than were killed by terrorists

FYI, current gun laws are a bit confusing but wikipedia describes Gun law in the United States and Title II weapons. As near as I can tell fully-automatic weapons and parts to make a weapon be fully automatic (as well as other things like silencers, short-barreled shotguns and explosives) must be registered with the government, are taxed and can't be sold across state lines except by licensed dealers. Some states (NY and CA) have banned ownership of Title II weapons outright. Apparently the ATF has been known to abuse their power and harass otherwise law abiding gun owners on technicalities. The Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA) addressed the abuses and also banned the sale of machine guns made after 1986 to civilians. Seems to me angle to explore is adding some definition of "assault rifle" whether that's semi-automatic rifles, or AR-15 style weapons or some other definition to Title II coverage with a similar style of grandfathering.

Update: Legality of the AR-15 in other nations based on Wikipedia and here which has a nice table at the end. In general in the EU you must be over 18, pass a background check, have a valid reason and register all guns with state.

Australiabasically illegal
Austrialicense with reason, psych test, gun safety class
Belgiumlegal with license
Canadalegal, classified as restricted, but only in home and during travel to/from range, background check, magazine limits, I think still registrations but might have been eliminated in 2012
Czech Republiclegal w/ clean criminal record, no history of mental illness, no DUI in past three years, passing exam
Finlandlegal with license for hunting or sports
Finlandlegal with reason, magazine limited to 2
Francelegal with hunting or sports shooting license
Germanylegal but tough since 2009, need reason, clean criminal background, psych exam, gun basics course, some magazine limitations, year waiting period, registration, police inspections
Hungarylegal with police permission, psych test, and club membership
Irelandlegal with license which police can deny
Italylegal with license
Japanbasically illegal
Netherlandslegal with license for hunting or sport except felons, addicts, mentally ill, limit of 5, police inspect annually
New ZealandLegal, magazine limit to 7 w/o military license
NorwayLegal, with license, course, exam, police can inspect storage, only one gun per calibur allowed
Polandlegal with license, criminal/medical/psych checks, exam
Russialegal with license, magazine limit to 10, other limitations
South Africalegal with license
South Koreaillegal, hunting and sport licenses but firearms stored at police station
Spainlegal, magazine limit to 4, calibur limits might mean AR15 is illegal?
Swedenlegal for competitive use, registration, transport limits, no carry
Switzerlandlegal since everyone is in militia, ammunition limited, registration, transportation and carry restrictions
United Kingdombasically illegal
United Stateslegal with background check, regulated in 6 states


larry said...

Great information and ideas on how to end the massacres.

Richard said...

Excellent compilation of the many articles on this topic.