Disclaimer #1: Stop reading this now if you believe that all guns are evil, all gun owners are crazy and/or that the voices of reason and authority on gun control are Senator Feinstein nationally and State Senator Meyer and Representative Dargan locally.
Disclaimer #2: Stop reading this now if you are a single issue “gun rights” voter and you believe that rote recitation of the Second Amendment should terminate all discussions about gun violence and gun legislation.
For everyone else, I hope the following proves both informative and thought provoking.
The real Thomas Paine opened his first “The American Crisis” pamphlet with “These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
These are indeed times that are trying our collective souls. As a nation and a state, we are have been horrified by the events in Newtown and have collectively vowed to do what we can to prevent such slaughter in the future and/or reduce its carnage should we fail to stop the next homicidal maniac. However, in this heightened emotional state, we must seek solutions that are practical, enforceable and effective while not trampling our many freedoms and rights as citizens. Sadly, I do not see us on this path at the moment and I believe many citizens, even non-gun owners, sense that as well.
As way of background, I have lived in Fairfield County for 20+ years and have four kids between 2nd grade and high school. Thus, the horror of Sandy Hook struck a nerve as it exposed the vulnerability of all our children. I am also a long-time, law-abiding gun owner who holds a valid Connecticut Pistol Permit and I shoot on a regular basis. It is these two perspectives that have spurred me to officially contribute to The Patch (I have been a commenting on several Patch articles as “Concerned Parent & Gun Owner”).
Over the past several weeks, I have attended over a half dozen “gun violence education” sessions and we well as engaged dozens of folks directly and online. At this point, I can make several observations:
- Everyone involved wants to prevent future rampage shootings or, failing to stop them before they start, mitigate the resultant carnage. Where we diverge are disparate views on how we can effectively and realistically protect our children.
- It seems that gun owners are from Mars and gun control advocates are from Venus, not necessarily in the context of gender but perspective.
- The professional, full-time gun control lobby has sensed a once-in-a-generation opportunity and is recruiting heretofore concerned but not necessarily anti-gun parents and others to push for its long-held political agenda in Hartford.
- Few politicians, even those nominally strong on firearms and Second Amendment issues, want to get steam-rolled by the “gun control now” juggernaut they see coming.
- The current proposals being rushed through in the name of preventing “gun violence” and protect our children have been proven ineffective in the past and, while expedient, will provide little more than a false sense of security.
Regarding Mars and Venus, it is quite dispiriting to see two demographically similar groups, each believing they have the moral high ground, treating any opposing views are irrelevant and unworthy of consideration. The following summarizes conversations that I have personally heard:
Martian: “Both the US and Connecticut Constitutions give me a sacred right to bear arms that can not be infringed. From my cold, dead hands….”
Venetian: “Your right to bear arms is a colonial relic and does not take priority over my right to protect my children. We must ban and confiscate all firearms…..”
Does either of these very heartfelt points-of-view sound rational? To the ears of this concerned parent and gun owner, NO!
Why are we so divided in Connecticut? According to Connecticut Against Gun Violence, census data from 2000 showed about one in five Connecticut households have a firearm (I can not find 2010 Census data). This means the average person in Connecticut is not a “gun person”. Based on my recent experience, the average person’s knowledge of firearms seems to be mostly based on Hollywood depictions, media reporting and the anti-gun lobby.
But at the same time, the average person is not reflexively anti-gun either and has held an appreciation for our Constitutional rights. But in the wake of Newtown, the average person is desperately seeking an answer to the question “How do we stop rampage shootings?” And in case you doubt it, we gun owners want to answer that same question as well.
So here we are with the horror of Newtown giving rise to an understandable primal scream of “enough” and emotion-filled demands that we “do something”. Enter the full-time gun control lobby offering their long-time prescriptions as “solutions” to a problem that is decades in the making, whose causes are multivariate and intractably complex and are nearly impossible to prevent in our current society and conditions.
What bothers me most about the “education” sessions that I have attended is that they are universally one-sided presentations using carefully chosen statistics, too much misinformation, innuendo, guilt-by-association and ad hominem attacks against anyone who verbalizes an opposing position (I know, I was the target of one).
So instead of discussion and a balanced debate, we have indoctrination of the innocently uninformed as well as ideologically constipated screaming contests. Worse, at the rate we are going, we just might bring about legislation that does little to protect our children and just might have the opposite effect if we take false security from such actions. Sadly, in our “take a pill for your ills” society, expediency is what we crave.
Put less delicately, THESE FLAWED POLICIES WILL DO ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO PREVENT THE NEXT RAMPAGE KILLER FROM MAIMING OR KILLING AS MANY INNOCENT VICTIMS AS HIS TORTURED MENTAL STATE DEMANDS.
Everyone with me thus far?
For the sake of this installment, I will focus on one of the more popular suggestions toward “protecting our children”. Nationally, across Connecticut and in Hartford, it is suggested that we can reduce “gun violence” by mandating a limit on a firearm’s magazine capacity. Note1 To many people with little familiarity of firearms, this sounds reasonable and, since it has been tried before, they ask” why shouldn’t we institute such a limit in Connecticut?” We will address that in a moment but let’s get something basic axiomatic out of the way.
When discussing “gun violence”, what do we mean? At the most basic level, “gun violence” should mean situations where a firearm has caused bodily injury or death. Statistically, the majority of gun-related injuries or death can be traced to accidents, suicide, domestic situations or criminal activity. We all know this intuitively as well.
So, as thoughtful and open-minded neighbors, I ask that you consider the role of firearm magazine capacity on these major contributors to overall gun violence:
- Accidents: Single shot events - magazine capacity has no impact
- Suicide: Single shot events – magazine capacity has no impact
- Domestic/known shooter: Single/several shots given proximity and close range – magazine capacity has no impact
- Criminal activity: Usually a few shots fired but that is secondary to the lawless nature of criminals – magazine capacity has no impact.
I have spoken to several local police detectives and in their vast experience, they concur that magazine capacity limits would have no meaningful impact on the above, especially street crime involving drugs, larceny or gangs.
Unless someone can convince me otherwise (I am open to being persuaded), this means that magazine capacity limits are only going to impact one, albeit important, factor in overall gun violence, rampage shooting by the criminally insane using a firearm illegally.
Rampage shootings are a minor contributor to gun violence statistics but also the most visible and horrific events. To be fair, given the high number of discharged rounds in such a massacre, it would seem intuitive that reducing the rate of continuous fire through magazine limits could reduce the horror of any such events. Thus, the potential to slow fire and force reloading is the central argument justifying calls for a magazine capacity limit.
However, as logical as that sounds to the average person, there are a range of reason why future rampage shootings will not be effectively mitigated by the suggested 10-round magazine limit:
- A 10-round limit was included as part of the federal Assault Weapon Ban (AWB) of 1994-2004 and there has not been one trustworthy study that showed the magazine capacity limit (10 rounds) had any effect whatsoever on reducing the rate of suicide, accidents, domestic violence nor crimes of any type. All credible research following the expiration of the 1994 AWB has failed to show a direct and significant impact of the AWB on gun violence. 2
- Magazine changes take a few seconds even in the hands of inexperienced shooters (about one second with practice) making the “magical” between-magazine period impossibly small. 3 (video)
- If the victims are not shooting back, the number of reloads is irrelevant as at Columbine High School4 and Sandy Hook. 5
- Rampage killings will remain both possible and devastating even if we were to successfully ensure that all firearms that are fully compliant with a 10-round magazine capacity; examples:
- Columbine High School where three of the four guns used did not use 10+ round magazines; in fact, Eric Harris reloaded his AWB-compliant, 10-round limited Hi-Point Carbine ten times and a double-barreled shotgun 20 times.4
- Oikos University (April 2012) with 8 dead by a killer using California ban-compliant 10-round magazines. 6
- Virginia Tech where the Walther P22 used was limited to 10 rounds by design.7
- University of Texas Clock Tower sniper who killed 16 and wounded 32 using a traditional bolt-action deer rifle incapable of using detachable magazines. 8
- Short of banning possession and implementing forced confiscation, such magazines will always be available for the right price on the black market. Currently, the number of 10+ round magazines in Connecticut is estimated at over 3.5 MILLION are owned by over 700,000 law-abiding Connecticut gun owners.9
- How will a limit law prevent bootleg manufacturing? Magazines can be made in any shop with basic tools to work sheet metal. Further, advances in 3-D printing now allow anyone with the right equipment to create advanced polymer magazines anywhere they want, at low cost and without any records.10
- How will such a ban be enforced? Mandatory surrender? Warrantless searches? Will we pass legislation that retroactively creates felons of more than a half million law-abiding gun owners?
- Lastly, what is the cost of enforcement of such a ban? Using the estimate of the number of such magazines from above and the methodology discussed in the previously referenced OLR report, puts the cost at $120-150million in surrender and replacement costs as well as foregone economic activity.11
Let me be clear, I am not saying we should just accept the status quo and do nothing to further enhance both the security of our children and our society. I believe we should get illegal firearms out of the hands of illegal holders. I believe we should interrupt the flow of firearms from legal possession to illegal possession. I believe that we should further prevent firearms from getting into the hands of the mentally unstable as well as remove them from access by the mentally unstable. I would consider “secure storage” laws if intelligently drafted. I could even consider limiting the sale of handgun ammunition to those holding a valid Connecticut Pistol Permit.
Most controversially (among my more strident gun rights advocates), while I do not believe magazine capacity limits are effective, if one were inevitably going to be passed, I could support a limit that makes a legal distinction between capacity for pistols and rifles. That is, possibly limiting pistol capacities to their design limit (i.e. what can be stored in the pistol grip) or 19 rounds, whichever is lower. This would allow the owner of a self-defense pistol to have full access to its intended round count while preventing the use of extended 30+ round magazines as used in the attack on Gabby Giffords. Such a distinction could garner interest among handgun owners.
The next installment will discuss how 10 rounds came to be the magic threshold as well as elaborating on my proposal for a sane, sensible 21st century magazine ban if a capacity limit is inevitably going to be passed and implemented.
To any elected official who has gotten this far, are you what Thomas Paine described as “the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot” who will “in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country”? Will you, in your need to be re-elected, allow emotional needs to “do something” push through laws and restrictions that will provide no real protection? Will you be able to look in the mirror after some future rampage shooting where the magazines were limited to 10 rounds and people still died? Inquiring minds want to know.
Note 1: For those that are unfamiliar with firearms, a magazine is like a Pez dispenser but constructed from bent metal, plastic and a spring, into which bullets are loaded in order to supply a rifle or pistol with ammunition. While those less familiar with firearms use “magazine” and “clip” interchangeably, they are different things and “clip” should be dropped from discussions.
Note 3: Video of real-world magazine changes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJXNPo5krvw
Note 9: This estimate of the number of 10+ round magazines in Connecticut is based on the initial work performed by the Connecticut Office of Legislative Research (OLR) in April 2011 using year-end 2010 statistics. The estimate above has been enhanced to reflect the currently reality based on NICS background check data for the State of Connecticut. Worth noting is the same report suggest that the National Shooting Sports Federation believes the number could be more than 10 million in CT. Full report: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2011/rpt/2011-R-0158.htm