Much like the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the recent tragedy in Newtown brought out the worst in liberals. CNN, ostensibly a news network, became a 24-hour infomercial for gun control. Democrats demanded we pass new gun control as soon as possible, our president insisted that we have to do something and we can’t sit on our hands just because the problem is complicated. Of course the president and Democrats have one thing in mind: gun control, specifically a new and improved assault weapons ban. Before we rush to change the law in order to please the drama queens in the media, we ought to look at the facts.
The first question we should ask ourselves is: do assault rifles and high capacity magazines represent a public safety problem? Do they increase the number of people killed each year? In 2004, the assault weapons ban expired, since then the number of people killed each year in homicides decreased by 1,536 (from 2004 to 2011). In that same time period the population increased by roughly twenty million, and the AR-15 became America’s best-selling firearm. The increased availability of high capacity magazines and firearms has not increased the rate of murder, according to the data. Furthermore, assault rifles are not commonly used in the commission of crimes. In 2005 only three percent of all homicides were committed with rifles, including assault rifles. Prior to the 1994 assault weapons ban studies repeatedly demonstrated that assault weapons, a much broader category including many handguns, were comparatively uncommon in crime.
When considering what to do about mass shootings, we first need to consider the scope of the problem. Mass shootings, while tragic, make up a tiny portion of our overall homicide rate. According to Mother Jones, there have been 62 mass shootings since 1981. By my rough calculations in that same time period about 600,000 people were murdered. To make a direct comparison: in the last year for which we have complete data, 14,612 people died of homicide, of those 21 died in mass shootings. More relevant than how a new assault weapons ban will impact mass shootings is how it will impact everyday crime and the overall murder rate, and the statistics clearly demonstrate that it will not lower it.
Finally, some commentators have embarrassed themselves by engaging in fact free speculation about mental illness, while presenting no evidence that tighter civil commitment laws would have stopped these tragedies. Just as it makes no sense to make mass shootings the driving concern behind gun laws, it makes no sense to make them the major consideration behind civil commitment laws. Mentally ill mass shooters represent a tiny portion of people with mental illness. It would be insane to change the way we treat millions of people based on the actions of probably less than a hundred.
Rational debate about civil commitment and gun laws is one thing; media-driven hysteria is another. The politicians, and the media, pushing for a new assault weapons ban prefer hysteria to reason. That’s why they talk about passing something now, while the tragedy is fresh in the public’s mind. Even if you agree with gun control in principal (as some conservatives do), you should want a discussion driven by reason and laws shaped by facts.
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