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Elliott Morss | October 24th, 2017

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The Las Vegas Massacre: What Should Be Done?

The Las Vegas Massacre: What Should Be Done?
© Elliott R. Morss, Ph.D.

Introduction

With 59 dead and over 500 injured in Las Vegas by a single gunman, the cries to make guns illegal have started again. But as in the past, the anti-gun groups will not succeed. The gun supporters will point out that automatic weapons are already illegal. If any progress is to be made, attention should first be given to how the US controls its major killers and decide what works and does not.

Major Killers

Table 1 provides data on leading US killers among preventable methods. Smoking remains at the top of most lists although many would claim obesity is the source of even more. Drinking remains serious and deaths from the opioid epidemic have grown rapidly in recent years. Motor vehicle deaths have recently jumped, in large part because of the “entertainment centers” that auto companies are placing on dashboards. About half of gun deaths are suicides.

Table 1. – Major Killers in the US

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI.

There are several points to be made about Table 1. Mass shootings get a lot of press relative to the other killers. Gun Tracker collects data on mass shootings. So far this year, it records 346 deaths and about 1,500 injuries in mass shootings. Not many, but look at the press Las Vegas is getting.

It is notable that only opioids are illegal. And why is that? In part, it is because in the US, making something illegal for which there is a demand is futile. It will be supplied by a criminal element. Look at how the demand for opioids turned doctors into criminals. The conclusion for guns: even if the gun supporters/NRA allowed guns to be made illegal (they won’t), gangs selling guns illegally would emerge overnight.

The US allows people to smoke even though 480,000 Americans die from smoking annually. There are age restrictions and cigarettes are taxed heavily. Should more be done? What? Make them illegal? Can you imagine how rapidly illegal suppliers would appear? Even obesity is the second leading killer, there are no government limits on food purchase. There are age restrictions on alcohol. As mentioned earlier, opioids are illegal and then there guns with minimal, ineffective restrictions.

In considering regulation for the six killers, a couple of distinctions are worth noting. In the US, individual freedoms are highly valued. That means if someone chooses to smoke, drink or eat to excess, it is tolerated so long as others are not injured. However, citizens are concerned about second-hand smoke and intoxicated drivers. And shortly, I believe citizens will become concerned as information on the jump in medical care costs resulting from the US obesity epidemic becomes widespread.

Both automobiles and guns are killers of innocent people.  Automobiles kill but are seen as a necessity for basic transport. But how we regulate them might be worth considering for guns. After all, US citizens have amply demonstrated that guns are far too dangerous for most of them to manage. Recent examples:

  • Monalisa Perez, was booked into county jail after fatally shooting Pedro Ruiz as he held a book to his chest, believing it would stop the bullet.
  • A 4-year-old girl in Florida died after she accidentally shot herself in the chest while reaching into her grandmother’s purse searching for candy.
  • A 3-year-old boy shot his father and pregnant mother inside a hotel room in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  • A 29-year-old mother was fatally in an Idaho Wal-Mart when her 2-year-old son in the shopping cart grabbed a gun that was in her purse and shot her in an apparent accident.
  • A gun instructor was accidentally shot to death as he instructed a 9-year-old girl on how to fire a 9mm submachine gun. I guess the parents, who taped the incident, felt it was important for their daughter to learn how to shoot an automatic weapon before the age of 10.
  • A security officer was cleaning his gun when it discharged and shot his one-year old daughter.

So what might be done?

US regulations for autos have proven workable. They should be tried for guns. However, they would require a concession the National Rifle Association (NRA) is unwilling to make: that like autos, owning/using a gun is a privilege and not a right. But leaving that aside for the moment, let us consider what are the regulations for auto owners/users?

  • They must be trained, tested and licensed to drive.
  • Their motor vehicles must be registered.
  • Driving records are kept in a database that police can access online at any time.

Such regulations seem eminently reasonable and applicable to gun owners/users. Now, you might say how would this system be better than the current background check regime? First, all states would be required to be in compliance and include all past gun incidents in their reports. And those reports would be available country-wide to police and other government officials running the program. Second, it would not be perfect from the outset, but requiring strict compliance in all states would improve it over time. Third, from the outset, it would be superior to what is now in place – a patchwork of laws without a national registry.

There is one more extremely important auto regulatory requirement: all cars must be insured. Again, it would seem quite reasonable to require guns to be insured, at least for liabilities. Would the insurance companies be willing to offer such insurance? Of course, they would love the new business. And they have plenty of data to make sound estimates of appropriate fees.

Of course, having to insure guns would add to their costs. Higher prices would mean that fewer people would want guns. That would mean fewer gun mishaps.

Problems

It would appear to be quite sensible to regulate guns as we regulate autos and their drivers. But let’s consider the arguments against doing it.

  • Regulating guns like autos won’t solve the problem that there are now 300 million guns in the US and criminals will always have access. Whenever any suggestion to curb guns is brought up, we hear this. My response: guns are a huge problem in the US and you have to start somewhere. The steps proposed above are a good starting point.
  • People, not guns are to blame. Lame. Guns make potential killers far more efficient at killing.
  • Self defense: whenever there is a mass shooting, the NRA is quick to point out that if the victims were armed, it would have been a different story. An NRA member recently made this point about the South Carolina shooting: “Eight of his church members…might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church….” And perhaps most remarkably, John Thune, a Republican Senator from said “I think people are going to have to take steps in their own lives to take precautions. As somebody said, get small.” Not surprisingly, Thune has been treated well by the NRA: he has received $852,000 in donations from them. Thune also voted “no” on a bill to ban high-capacity magazines of over 10 bullets, and voted “yes” on allowing firearms in checked baggage on Amtrak trains.

Claims that guns are used defensively millions times every year have been widely discredited.  Using a gun in self-defense is no more likely to reduce the chance of being injured during a crime than various other forms of protective action. At least one study has found that carrying a firearm significantly increases a person’s risk of being shot in an assault; research published in the American Journal of Public Health reported that, even after adjusting for confounding factors, individuals who were in possession of a gun were about 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession.

Finally, we get to hunters, a rapidly declining breed. They claim to be law abiding citizens who know how to use guns. In actual fact, “hunters” are increasingly “hunting” from the back of pickup trucks (illegal) with plenty of booze on hand. Guns are dangerous as demonstrated by the fact that a few years back, Vice President Cheney shot and seriously injured another hunter. However, if guns were regulated like autos, hunters would still be able to hunt.

Conclusions

In light of the ineffective regulation of guns, this piece reviewed how leading preventable killers are regulated. The conclusion was that regulating guns as motor vehicle use is now regulated would be a marked improvement. I close with the following story:

Recently, a Florida man was arrested and charged with aggravated assault on his girlfriend. That arrest was the third domestic violence incident the man has been involved in during just the last 18 months and the fourth time during that period police have been called because of violent or threatening behavior. He also allegedly threatened to kill another driver during a road rage incident late last summer. Years earlier, the man was arrested for assaulting a police officer and was the subject of a temporary restraining order for another domestic violence incident. This man did one other thing: he shot and killed an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin. He still has a legal concealed weapons permit.

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