Liddick: Cries for gun control assault common sense (column)
February 20, 2018
Here it comes again. In the wake of a mass shooting, that was probably preventable, we have the usual suspects howling about gun control to "stop the carnage." This is a disservice to Nikolas Cruz's victims and a distraction from other more effective measures that could be taken to stop similar future events.
One proposal sure to be made — again — is outlawing semi-automatic, "military-style" weapons. It will be referred to as a "common sense" measure which, it will be intimated, is certain to substantially reduce the murder rate by eliminating all those mean-looking firearms. But it will do no such thing.
A bit of data is in order. From 1991 to 2016, the U.S. homicide rate dropped over 45 percent, from just under 10 to 5.3 per 100,000. In the same time the number of firearms in private hands rose by about 50 percent — an unfortunate correlation for those who argue that guns, not people, kill people. Another problem is what the New York Times has called "The Assault Weapons Myth," pointing out the inconvenient truth that, as the general level of homicides decline, the number of Americans killed by any sort of rifle is vanishingly small. Most firearm deaths are by pistol shot. The left points to "assault rifles" because they are favored in the rare truly mass shooting, and because Americans have been trained to look upon them as the embodiment of violence. It's a case of sloppy journalism and sloppy thinking bringing forth sloppy proposals.
The Australian experiment in banning firearms is illustrative; in 1996, panicked by a mass shooting event, the Australian national government set out to confiscate most self-loading firearms in the country, and actually got between 20 and 35 percent of them. In the years since, the rate of gun suicides declined, but only in a way that reflected the overall decline in suicide rates. The number of accidental shootings declined slightly. But the rate of homicides involving firearms was virtually unchanged, fluctuating between 1 and 1.8 per 100,000. Before the ban, the rate had been about 0.2 per 100,000 higher, with similar fluctuations.
What has also happened in Australia is the predictable rise in black-market firearms, with the concomitant emergence of violent criminal gangs to control this illicit traffic. This is now a major preoccupation for the police of several Australian states. So, no. Banning firearms is not a solution.
What may be an alternative is an approach that encourages much closer cooperation among mental health providers, schools, local law enforcement and federal authorities. Anyone with an interest in preventing further carnage by Nikolas Cruz wannabes should note that he had been in and out of trouble with his school; had been the subject of at least 30 complaints to the police; was well-known to his fellow students as a violent person with a hair-trigger temper, a penchant for torturing animals and bullying; and had been the subject of two reports to the FBI about online statements announcing his intention to kill. And yet no one actually did anything.
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This is the situation that needs remedy: Mr. Cruz should have been the target of scrutiny, including interviews. Because of his history and his behavioral issues, there should be a method to enter him — and others like him — on the national registry of those who should not be able to purchase firearms. More crucially, Mr. Cruz or anyone like him must also be given to know the above, and that in future, he will be watched.
This is a major departure from Obama-era "gun control" measures, during the life of which gun violence actually increased. It would instead be a return to far earlier methods of policing which stressed prevention of crimes, not detection.
Crime detection involves searching the body and the vicinity of its chalk outline for clues to aid apprehension of the murderer. In contrast, crime prevention concentrated on ensuring the murderer hadn't the opportunity or the wherewithal to pull the trigger or sink the knife.
This was done through police presence; intimate knowledge of a community and most importantly, its miscreants; making certain said miscreants understood that misbehavior would not be tolerated; and most importantly, a political will to insist that crime be punished, swiftly and certainly.
It would undoubtedly be difficult to return to that earlier state but it would be more effective than declaring an inert piece of machinery illegal. And concentration on the potential user, rather than the object used, might save many more lives. Remember, despite all the wailing about "military-style weapons," the worst mass casualty events in U.S. history were still perpetrated with fertilizer and diesel oil, and box cutters.
Shall we ban them next? Or shall we search out those who embrace evil, and thwart their intentions? The first makes us feel virtuous. The second saves lives.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News.
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