As the U.S. deals with yet another mass shooting, the response to this tragedy is predictably frustrating. Liberals are calling for the an increase in gun laws and gun advocates are trotting out the typical talking points, while pretending we are on the precipice of a full repeal of the second amendment.
It is human nature to seek ideas that will prevent catastrophes from reoccurring. For example, before 1970 the leading cause of death for children under 5 was poisoning from prescription drugs which resulted in some 500 deaths per year. To address this issue, President Nixon signed the Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970 requiring child proof caps for prescription drugs. This simple change reduced child deaths by 45%. That same year Nixon also signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act that saw workplace deaths fall from 40 a day in 1970 to 17 a day in the 80's and 12 a day by 2009 despite the fact that the workforce doubled over that time. In response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the U.S. passed legislation to overhaul the security procedures for all airports in hopes of preventing another similar attack. More recently, due to what was seen as a methamphetamine epidemic, congress passed a law that required an ID to purchase products containing methamphetamine, required sellers to record the name and address of all purchasers and limited the amount of the products people could purchase.
Imagine if the Republicans that support these laws had applied gun advocate logic to these other problem areas. Drugs, cars and workplace equipment don't walk around killing people - people using these items kill people. So while Conservatives support registration and limitations on Sudafed to prevent unnecessary deaths, similar registration and limitations on certain types of guns is seen as a clear infringement of one's constitutional rights.
Others argue that more regulations on guns won't stop bad people from getting guns. While this might be true, it should be noted that drug laws don't stop people from getting illegal drugs. Abortion restrictions don't stop people from getting illegal abortions. Transgender bathroom laws won't stop sexual deviants from entering a women's bathroom. Voter ID laws won't stop people from voting illegally. And immigration laws won't prevent people from coming to the U.S. illegally. The point of gun laws is that making certain guns illegal acts as a deterrent for people who can't purchase a gun legally, makes obtaining a gun more difficult, and provides law enforcement a tool to get some of these bad guys off the streets. The fact that gun advocates find this important for everything other than guns tells you all you need to know about how serious this talking point is.
Some conservatives have taken this tragedy as an opportunity to purport Islamophobic views, suggesting the shooter was an Islamic terrorist despite information from the FBI that shows he was not tied to any particular terrorist group and that there could be other motives or explanations for the attack beyond his religious association. But even if this were the case, stopping attacks by religious extremists and putting restrictions on certain types of weapons that allow shooters to kill more people per attack are not mutually exclusive ideas. While religious ideology could be the motive for some of the recent mass shootings in the U.S., it only makes up a small portion of the killers that used guns to murder U.S. citizens on American soil. We should be looking for solutions to both problems instead of using one as a justification for ignoring the other.
Of course Islamophobia is only one of the many methods gun advocates have to rationalize the protection of any and all guns. As Sean Davis recently wrote in thefederalist.com, the 248 murders of Americans killed by a rifle in 2014 were far fewer than the 1,567 people murdered by a knife. While it is troubling that some 1,500 people a year are killed by knives, that doesn't make the 248 lives of those shot and killed by a rifle any less worth saving. This is like arguing that more people are killed by cars while riding their bikes than are killed by being backed over by cars so, until being backed over by a car is the deadliest type of pedestrian accident we should do nothing to prevent it.
Having said that, Davis' statistic is ideal for pointing out why restrictions on guns could very well be a good idea since the reason more people are killed by knives every year than rifles is that nearly everyone in the U.S. has easy access to a knife but only a limited number of people have access to an assault rifle. Estimates put the number of assault rifles at around 1.5 million units while the number of knives is well in the hundreds of millions. Additionally there are no regulations determining who can own a knife. The fact that over 1,500 people a year are killed by knives in a country with over 300 million guns is a cautionary tale of what the U.S. might look like if access to rifles were equivalent to that of knives.
It's possible that some mass shootings might be stopped sooner if more rifles were on the streets, but given the fact that knives are apparently deadly enough to kill more people each year than rifles yet few if any knives have been used to bring down an attacker in a mass shooting suggests that weapons are better for attacking people than stopping an attack, which means an increase in rifles per person will likely lead to a net increase in rifle deaths.
No one is suggesting that by limiting the sale of certain types of guns or doing background checks we will eliminate the types of mass shootings that have become an all too common occurrence in the U.S. However as Presidents Reagan, Ford and Carter once wrote "While we recognize that assault-weapon legislation will not stop all assault-weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals,". The fact that we can't prevent all gun deaths with a single piece of legislation isn't a viable rationalization for doing nothing.
The reality is, we're not the only country with religious extremists, or mentally ill citizens, or criminals; so, unless gun advocates can present a feasible reason why the U.S. is the world leader in mass shooters that is more than embarrassing hypocritical rhetoric, they can expect the calls for gun control to continue.