My heart goes out to everyone who was at the Clackamas Town Center yesterday, the site of the most recent mass shooting in the United States. Two people were killed, one was physically wounded, and thousands will have lifelong emotional scars. It was only a few months ago that we in Colorado went through something similar--I know how you feel.
Is it too soon after this latest tragedy to talk about gun control? Gun lobbyists would say it is, I am sure. But when can we get a break from gun violence long enough to actually have the discussion?
Here are a few anti-gun control arguments, and my take on them:
1. Guns don't kill people, people do. Technically, this is true. Except when a gun accidentally fires and kills someone, like it did last week: Seven Year-Old Accidentally Killed By Gun
2. Guns don't kill people, people do, Take II. I suppose there is some merit to this claim. Responsible gun owners don't kill people (except on accident, see #1 above). I would change this slogan to the following: Guns don't kill people, people with guns kill people. Are we really to believe the Aurora Theater Shooter and the Clackamas Shooter would have killed as many people as they did if they had only been armed with knives? A few weeks after the shooting in Colorado, a man threatened to kill a bunch of people in Times Square with a knife. He ran around like a lunatic and the police shot and killed him. The story is here. You may not remember hearing about it, because he did not kill anyone.
3. If someone wants to kill someone else, he/she will find a way to do it, regardless of whether or not there is a gun available. This theory has recently made its way into the news about Jovan Belcher. He could have stabbed his girlfriend. He could have strangled her. He could have tied lead weights to her feet, driven to New York City, and thrown her in the East River. It is true--he could have done something else to kill her. But, what numerous studies related to guns and domestic violence have shown is that a domestic abuser is four to five times more likely to kill his partner if a gun is around. Chances are good that Mr. Belcher would have just beaten the crap out of his girlfriend and would be sitting in jail right now if he hadn't had a gun available.
4. If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will own guns. Except for the police.
5. If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will own guns, Take II. An offshoot to this argument is that gun ownership is a deterrent to crime. But, researchers from the University of Texas (yes, the University of Texas) found in 2011 that this is absolutely false. They found no support for the idea that legal gun ownership deters gun violence.
6. Gun ownership is a Second Amendment Right. I'm no Constitutional scholar, but I believe the Federal Government has placed reasonable restrictions on certain types of arms--I can't just go out and buy an automatic weapon, or a tank, or a fighter jet. So, why can't there be reasonable restrictions on assault rifles that have no other purpose than to kill living things quickly, accurately, and from a distance?
7. If certain types of guns are banned, they don't just disappear. This is true. I am not sure how to get around this one.
8. There are already myriad gun laws that perpetrators of gun violence break. Why do we need more laws? That won't keep anyone safer. This is also true. Other than scrapping all previous gun laws and starting over, I am not sure how to get around this one, either.
9. Why are we trying to find blame in guns? Let's just blame the terrible people who committed these crimes. People who commit heinous crimes need to be held accountable for those crimes. If someone murders someone else, it is no one's fault but the murderer. Absolutely. It makes no sense to excuse dangerous, illegal behavior by saying, "It wasn't his fault. It was the gun's fault."
But, what I do know is that if the Aurora Theater Shooter had not had a gun, twelve people would be alive today. If Jovan Belcher had not had a gun, his girlfriend would be alive today. If the Clackamas Shooter had not had a gun, thousands of Portlanders and Oregonians would not be in mourning today.
I don't know what the solution is, but isn't it worth starting the discussion? Let's at least be honest with ourselves--guns have the potential to take a bad situation and turn it deadly.
Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.