Time to ban guns

The horrific shootings in the US may or may not produce some restrictions on the gun culture there, but they provide a renewed warning of the dangers here. Australia has experienced a substantial reduction in gun deaths since John Howard bravely introduced severe restrictions in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre. But the gun nuts, aided and abetted by people like Campbell Newman, have been chipping away at those restrictions ever since.

It’s time to take a clear stand on this. There’s no reason why anyone should be allowed to own a handgun. Their sole purpose is to kill people. Those who need handguns for their work (like police officers[1] and armored car guards) should have them checked out at the beginning of each shift, checked back in at the end, and kept securely locked away when not in use. Farmers and professional shooters need rifles and shotguns, but anyone else who wants to use deadly weapons like these should seek psychiatric treatment. Anyone outside these categories found with a weapon designed to kill people should be assumed to have that end in mind and locked away from the rest of us until they can show that it is safe to let them out. And, obviously, military weapons should be confined to the military.

Undoubtedly, criminals will ignore the law – that’s why they’re criminals. But in a situation where only outlaws (and police) have guns, the possession of a gun will permit an easy conviction in cases where crims might otherwise get off.

fn1. As UK experience shows, there’s no reason for the majority of police to carry guns. That should be limited to trained specialists.

145 thoughts on “Time to ban guns

  1. @TerjeP

    Terje sends us to look at an Oneline Opinion article written by fellow right-libertarian, David Leyonhjelm. Here’s a quote:

    “In October 2003 the US Centre for Disease Control released a major study on gun control laws in the US …. The main outcome was the finding of “insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness” of those laws on violent crimes, suicides and accidental injuries. This despite the huge data set.”

    If you look at the actual report summary it says: “The Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes. (Note that insufficient evidence to determine effectiveness should not be interpreted as evidence of ineffectiveness.)” http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5214a2.htm

  2. @Ikonoclast

    “Presently” is something of an affectation, but if you think about it, when someone says:

    I’ll do it now they mean within a very brief period in the indeterminate near future. If the speaker is a teenager, that brief indeterminate period describing the temporal approach of the near future may be longer than one might ordinarily suppose. 😉

    Context in language is important. Interestingly, the Americans use “momentarily” to mean “very soon” whereas British English speakers use it to mean “briefly”. I must say that I don’t much like the American usage.

  3. @Ronald Brak

    Interstingly all manner of less offensive weapons than firearms (eg brass knuckles, dirks, flick knives, nan chu kus etc) are commonly proscribed or restricted in the US — box cutters on planes for example. Apparently “the {…} don’t kill people” meme only applies to firearms.

    Personally, if someone says they carry a knife or brass knuckles purely for protection, I’m much more inclined to believe them than if they carry a gun. Also, I’m much less concerned about their potential for carnage.

    America is a funny place.

    Note In Utah, the first elementary school child has used the Sandy Hook defence when found in possession of a gun in a school.

  4. @Ronald Brak

    I’ll mention that using a gun or a knife to fend off a mugger is not self defence. It is self endangerment. If self defence is defined as keeping one’s self safe, then the safest thing to do during a mugging is to hand over your wallet, iPhone, etc.

    Hmm. I thinking you’re playing word games here. In common usage, “self defence” means the use of force to repel an attack, and does not include capitulating to the attacker. I don’t dispute that, for most people, trying to fight a mugger is very likely to lead to injury and capitulation is a safer option. A person would need to be reasonably skilled at fighting for resisting a robbery to be a sensible option.

    Of course, if your attacker is a mass murderer rather than a robber, capitulation will serve no purpose whatsoever.

  5. @Fran Barlow

    With a teenager “I’ll do it now,” means “I will never do it if you leave me alone. If you nag like hell, I might do it within three days. My preferred position is to wait you out so that you do it out of exasperation.”

  6. @TerjeP That’s a ludicrous argument, next the glibertarians will be arguing that reducing gun ownership will increase deaths by guns…oh, they have already?

    I used to think that libertarians had some interesting points worthy of consideration but am now convinced that they are labouring under some severe psychological impairment, outside of my grasp to identify but clearly evident by bizarre statements of belief.

  7. @Ronald Brak That’s an excellent point often lost in the telling. When confronted with an armed person that offers you a choice, your money or your life, it seems logical that the money has less value. Unless you are a libertarian who would like to discuss the implications of compliance and totalitarianism with the long term view of freedom you would be foolish to make a stand against an unpredictable aggressor.

  8. Fran, knives and knuckle dusters are far less dangerous to bystanders than guns. Very rarely will a thrown knife pass right through a wood framed house and in those rare cases it does it generally relies upon conveniently opened and angled windows. But I would think that someone who carries a knife or brass knuckles for self defence is either confused about the actual risks involved in attempting to use them, or more likely actually carries them not for self defence but for fighting. Self defence involves taking action that is most likely to avoid harm, while fighting may involve asserting dominance, claiming or defending territory, and access to physical or social resources. Usually the parties involved are known to each other. Under normal circumstances, humans, like other primates, will often fight. However, abnormal circumstances, such as civilization, can mitigate or reduce fighting, with notable exceptions. (See Taiping Rebellion, Word War I, World War II, Chechen wars, etc.)

  9. Tim Macknay, this is not a word game. This is not a charade. Those who instruct genuine self defence courses often find they have to teach attendants what self defence actually is. Self defence concerns taking action that is most likely to avoid harm but some people who attend self defence courses are actually there to learn to fight. Generally women attend these classes in order to learn self defence, while those who are there to learn how to fight are usually men.

    If you are confused about the difference between self defence and fighting, this might not help at all:

  10. It has been said that there are simply too many guns in America to implement any meaningful gun control laws. How about we employ economics, then, and reduce guns through a cap and trade scheme? A gun buy-back on steroids.

  11. @Ronald Brak

    I’m inclined to side with Tim on this one Ronald. While it will almost certainly prove safer for most people in practice to avoid a physical contest with an attacker, most of the time, avoidance isn’t really self-defence, except in a rather facetious sense. You have minimised harm to your interests, if it works but you may well have paid a high cost nevertheless. Self-defence entails an attempt to refute a challenge to one’s interests.

    But I would think that someone who carries a knife or brass knuckles for self defence is either confused about the actual risks involved in attempting to use them, or more likely actually carries them not for self defence but for fighting.

    I’d strongly suspect the same thing, but at least the possessor of such weapons has a plausible argument, as they are of very little value against armed persons, or persons who are vulnerable. Conceivably, producing a knife might deter an attack, and hitting someone attacking you while you are wearing brass knuckles might be disabling or painful enough to make them change their mind. Producing a gun might do the same, but of course if your attacker produces one too, then we have the basis for a shoot out. You can’t intimidate whole groups of people with a knife or brass knuckles either.

    Although there would be doubts about the sincerity of a person raising delf-defence as a rationale for such weapons, one could fancy that believing them had a lesser downside than in the case of a gun owner.

  12. It seems to me the key features of Australian gun laws, and the keys to their success, have been a nationally consistent registration scheme (backed by auditable storage requirements) and the requirement for licensed firearm owners to demonstrate a genuine reason for possession (also auditable). An stolen firearm is thus easily identifiable and possession of it is proof of a crime. Ditto for illicit firearms.

    To respond to Prof Q’s OP, I would caution against making Australian policy on the basis of a single atrocity in the US. It is difficult to hold a pistol licence. Other than security, police and the miltary forces, only competition shooters can hold a licence and keep their pistols at home, in certified secure containers. The incident at Monash Uni in 2002 showed the need to be vigilant about licensing procedures, and indeed resulted in a range of changes to legislation designed to catch individuals such as the Monash killer. There is no evidence that existing pistol licensing has failed.

    Last, reports I have seen indicate that the only person to die in the US atrocity from a handgun shot was the killer himself. All the other shooting victims were killed using an assault rifle. Such weapons have been banned in Australia for all users other than police and military for many years – since the Hoddle Street massacre in 1987, in fact.

    Rather than being evidence of failure requiring policy revision, the Connecticut massacre should be an occasion for relief that it could not have happened here.

  13. A clarification: the AR15 assault weapon used in the Port Arthur massacre was legal in Tasmania at the time, but not in any mainland jurisdiction. This lax attitude in Tasmania was for bizarre historical reasons, to do with a Tasmanian arms firm developing an assault rifle for the military that was rejected in favour of the Steyr tender.

  14. @Hal9000 the key to the success of Australian gun laws was low levels of gun crime and minimal use of guns for self-defence.

    there was no arms race where criminals and civilians are both armed such as in the USA.

    it is easy to control an arms race that has not started.

  15. @Jim Rose
    Criminals have been armed in Australia, just as in the US. Armed robberies happen here too – police officers get killed in the line of duty. We’ve just never succumbed to the idea that individual feelings of safety trump actual social safety, that we all need to carry guns just in case some armed person threatens us. Criminals have to expect armed victims etc etc. We could have gone that way, though.

    My point, however, relates to the proposition in Prof Q’s OP – that we should change policy here because of the Connecticut massacre in the US. I have little doubt that over the next couple of decades the US regulatory system will come to resemble the Australian one, complete with buybacks.

  16. Fran, are you saying that if I was threatened by a person with a knife and I ran away, that wouldn’t be self defence as I didn’t attempt to refute a challange to my interests? Personally, I think if someone threatened me with a knife my primary interest would be to avoid having one or more holes poked in me and provided I was fast enough, running away would be an adequate way to protect that interest.

  17. Certainly, as Hal9000 says, the administrative systems have helped to seal success of the Australian system of gun control. But none of that would have happened without the effective leadership of John Howard, who risked alienating a significant section of his own political constituency. It might be argued that Howard, a consummate psephological manipulator, argued that Australia’s gun huggers had no political home besides the Coalition. Nevertheless, Howard’s leadership was courageous. It wasn’t for nothing that Howard wore a flak jacket.

    Obama’s position is more difficult than Howard’s was. He excites far more suspicion from gun huggers than Howard ever did. His political enemies control the House. And the gun culture is much more strongly entrenched in the US than in Australia. I do not intend to denigrate Howard by making this comparison. Facts on the ground enabled Howard to demand banning of a range of weapons. And to his credit he did. My guess is that only assault weapons may be controlled in the US. Other guns will continue to proliferate.

    It is outrageous that Campbell Newman should seek to challenge a national consensus on gun control.

  18. Reasoning reductio ad absurdem we can show;

    (a) guns are designed to kill quickly and easily.
    (b) if there are no guns, people can’t be killed quickly and easily.

    The above irrefutably proves that any argument for guns in civil society is totally fallacious unless that argument comes from a value-base which thinks people should be killed quickly, easily and often for no good reason or no good reason other than financial gain.

    Thus axiomatically, a pro-gun stance can only come from ignorance, stupidity, greed for gain or complete disregard for human life.

    In the case of the NRA in the US, all four of the above factors are heavily involved.

  19. Headlines, “Gun Stores Are Selling Out Of The Rifle Used To Kill 27 People In Connecticut”

    If we needed any more proof that the USA is a pathologically sick society, we have it here.

  20. Personally I think Australia is a pathologically sick society with regards to our coal use. It kills people and we know it kills people. But at least we took a big step in the right direction this year.

  21. @Ronald Brak

    I can’t argue with that. Finger-pointing at others (which I indulge in) must at least be accompanied by an equal honesty about one’s own moral crimes.

  22. Well, there you have it Katz. The article you linked to clearly states she played a weekly dice game. I expect any second now to see people blaming her son’s actions on that.

  23. @Ronald Brak
    No offense was intended, Ronald Brak, so I apologise if you took it that way. I recognise that self defence does necessarily involve fighting (although it sometimes does), and it focuses on avoiding or escaping dangerous situations as much as fending off attackers. I also acknowledge that cooperating with a mugger would usually be the safest approach.

    However, I still don’t accept that cooperating with a mugger (i.e. allowing oneself to be robbed) would generally be regarded as an example of self defence, in the same way that (for example) cooperating with a rapist would not normally be regarded as self defence either. Successful self defence against a rapist would entail avoiding being raped, even where the self defence involves a technique other than fighting.

  24. I recognise that self defence does necessarily involve fighting

    I meant “does not necessarily involve fighting”, obviously. Aargh.

  25. Sorry if I gave the impression I was offended, Tim. I wasn’t offended at all. But I think you and perhaps another person have concluded that rather than me recommending that people act in a way that will minimize their chance of being killed or injured, I am recommending that people always submit to an agressor. And that’s just weird because it’s not what I wrote at all. Just because I pointed out that the most rational thing to do in a mugging is to give the mugger what he or she wants doesn’t mean that I think that if someone wants to break your legs it’s a good idea to give them what they want.

  26. @Ronald Brak

    Fran, are you saying that if I was threatened by a person with a knife and I ran away, that wouldn’t be self defence as I didn’t attempt to refute a challenge to my interests?

    Certainly, running away is a way of evading a harm, and in many cases, perhaps most, might well be the best option for capping the harm that one could suffer. I suppose though whether it amounts to self-defence depends on what harm one suffers as a result of fleeing the scene. Perhaps you won’t escape. Perhaps the knife wielder is also a good knife thrower, or has confederates blocking your escape. Or perhaps you will escape but someone will inflict a harm on you as great or greater than you would in practice have suffered by trying a more active defensive response.

    Don’t get me wrong. I reagrd it as quite likely in practice that in most circumstances where someone is bailed up by someone with a weapon, compliance or escape are probably going to be the wisest courses. The attacker has come armed and presumably has some expertise in deploying the weapon. He or she may well be willing to take large risks and has the element of surprise. However, there are uncertainties attached to this course and provided one is confident and competent and the stakes high — (a serious criminal offence rather than a mere shakedown for example), having a weapon may well be plausible.

    I never carry one, because I wouldn’t be confident or competent, and would hate to ever think it necessary. In days that are now long gone, I drove taxis at night. I had very few problems. I was confronted on one occasion by a knife-wielding passenger who got into my cab at Taylor Square and required me to drive around to Moore Park Rd so that he could rob me. I had long before that made up my mind that I would surrender any money I had without a struggle. I reached for the taxi-bag to hand the fellow the contents, but he must have decided I meant him harm and jabbed at me from the passenger seat.

    Luckily for me, the vehicle was one of those older-style holdens and had a console in the middle with a raised arm rest. I managed to trap his arm with the arm rest so that the point of the knife merely inflicted a minor injury just above my left hip. Reaching for the wheel brace at my driver’s door I then hit him in the face with it quite firmly, forcibly ejected him from the car and then drove up to casualty at St Vinnies to get a couple of stitches and ring the police. Sometimes there isn’t a lot of time to calculate how to defend yourself.

    I never did hear what happened to him. I hope he wasn’t too badly hurt.

  27. Pr Q said:

    fn1. As UK experience shows, there’s no reason for the majority of police to carry guns. That should be limited to trained specialists.

    I am a big fan of the use of non-lethal weapons, that stun, irritate or disable the suspect.

    Most police are not psychologically equipped to kill people, most people are not so equipped, so thats not surprising. When they do gun someone down in the course of duty, even if it was justified, they suffer adverse psychological consequences. Not to mention the suspect whose body gets riddled with bullets.

    I dont like the idea of killing people, if it is at all avoidable. It would be great if nations could fight wars without killing people. Sort of giant war games using paintballs, lasers or some such. The winning nation could then tax the loser to pay for the cost of the war plus goods equal to the value of whatever the fight was about.

    I am also against capital punishment. Although not corporal punishment. Singapore has public caning and things run pretty smoothly there.

    In general punishment is good since it is a cheap way of modifying behaviour. But death is bad since it extinguishes behaviour.

    Bring back the lash!

  28. @Fran Barlow

    I hope he was badly hurt. I have no sympathy for;

    (a) muggers in general;
    (b) people who initiate violence (exacerbated by weapon use); and
    (c) men who attack women.

    That doesn’t mean I support taxi drivers having guns but having a tyre lever handy by luck or design equates to self defence by proportionate force.

  29. @Jack Strocchi

    I remember a science fiction story where advanced nations had rationalised war to computerised war games. After a virtual “war”, the fighting nations would implement their own casualties by mutual agreement by sending the required count of their own citizens to the death chambers. The idea was to avoid damage to infrastructure and capital equipment. (Only people were expendable apparently.) Better not spread this idea too far. The neocon mentality would love it.

  30. A problem with gun control regulation, indeed with all social regulation, is that it runs into the knee-jerk post-modern liberal obsession with individual rights over institutional duties. This obsession afflicts both sides of politics and deforms all public debates, most notably the attempt to constrain greenhouse gas pollution. Ross Douhat, as usual, penetrates the underlying truth to see the big picture:

    A second factor driving declining support for gun control, meanwhile, is a trend in our politics, inherent to American life but particularly potent since the social revolutions of the 1960s, for rights-based arguments to carry the day over more communitarian appeals.

    This tendency cuts across the usual lines of left and right. We tend to associate gun control with social liberalism, but the same trends that have buoyed public support for gay marriage and marijuana legalization have also encouraged a more expansive reading of the Second Amendment.

    The common thread is our increasing individualism, and the triumph of rights-talk over other forms of moral and political argument. The gun-rights movement talks about the rights of “law-abiding citizens” the way the gay rights movement talks about the freedoms of “consenting adults,” and while the arguments play to different audiences they have a very American premise in common.

    In this sense, the gun control debate offers liberals a chance to experience something that social conservatives often feel: The mix of confusion and alienation that comes with sensing that your country has somehow slipped away from you, and that your convictions don’t have a place in the unfolding of the American idea.

    The global solution to climate pollution may involve some kind of benevolent authoritarianism, which has already been explored by the PRC, the worlds smartest and best managed polity. Although ever sensible Australians have managed to avoid the siren calls of rights-mongers without handing over too much power to Leviathan.

    In retrospect the irruption of modernist liberalism in the aftermath of World War II contained the seeds of self-destruction as it mutated into post-modernist liberalism. The dialectic of autonomy and authority is eternal.

  31. The global solution to climate pollution may involve some kind of benevolent authoritarianism, which has already been explored by the PRC, the worlds smartest and best managed polity.

    You heard it here first. According to Jack Strocchi, the Communist-ruled People’s Republic of China, ranked at 80 in Transparency International’s global corruption index, plagued by sporadic outbreaks of civil unrest caused by unlawful mass evictions, environmental pollution crises, endemic corruption and the suppression of ethnic minorities, is the world’s smartest and best managed polity. Wow. You must think the world’s in real trouble, Jack.

  32. @Ikonoclast The story is from star trek. Hardly a fountain of neocon ideas because they also abolished money on star trek and everyone worked for the greater good.

    The Ferengi and their rules of acquisition were a satire on capitalism. The Ferengi were originally to replace the Klingons as the Federation’s arch-rival but they were too comical.

    Steven Cheung’s criticisms of communism as a class-ridden apply to star trek. Everyone’s class and access to resources are defined by a party membership card and their party rank.

    In star trek, higher ranked officer had larger cabins and most of all they always beam back from the planet. Anyone who beamed down with captain kirk who was dressed in one of those red tops were expendables. Death and accommodation were class based in star trek.

  33. @Ikonoclast

    [I have no sympathy for;

    (a) muggers in general;
    (b) people who initiate violence (exacerbated by weapon use); and
    (c) men who attack women.]

    Nor I. It is reprehensible conduct. It was mere chance that I suffered nothing but a small scar. On the other hand, I would have taken no pleasure at all in his pain. He looked like a man desperate for some narcotic. His pain couldn’t have healed me, and all I really wanted when I hit him was to be sure that he couldn’t harm me further. I handed his knife over to the police with his fingerprints on it and gave them a description. As the cab was moving when I forced him out, I imagine he wouldn’t have been hurrying off anywhere.

    That doesn’t mean I support taxi drivers having guns but having a tyre lever handy by luck or design equates to self defence by proportionate force.

    Absolutely. Driving at night, I allowed myself that resource as a last resort for those unwilling to refrain from arbitrary violence. I feel glad that in 15 years of night driving, I only used it as a weapon once.

  34. @Ronald Brak

    Thanks. Oddly, at the time, I wasn’t that shaken — probably the adrenaline. I kept on driving and finished my shift. The casualty unit was overcrowded and so I ran into the chemist, got some physohex (now banned as carcinogenic I hear!) and some gauze, made a quick visit to the police station and then kept going.

    I felt pretty horrible the next day though.

  35. There’s an interesting collection of data and research relating to firearms asnd firearm laws in the latest post here.

  36. None of the serious gun control proposals to date go beyond assault rifles and even then with many exceptions.

    Dopey old Joe Biden is leading for administration. He is not known for building successful coalitions on complex issues even with fellow liberals.

    Serious issues are put in the hands of competent political leaders with gravitas, who have something to lose if they fail, and a long enough career ahead of them to reward and punish those who did and did not join with their coalition

  37. An earlier link mentioned the large number of deaths in the United States from accidental discharge. A relative of mine has some stories about these kind of accidents from his time in the army. He was on a bus with other soldiers when one of them manged to shoot himself through the chest with a pistol. The person who shot himself made a good recovery, but the person sitting behind him was sleeping with his head against the seat and he never woke up. In another incident a soldier was resting his arms on a table and as another solider put his weapon on the table it fired and shot the first solider through both elbows. These soldiers were all well trained in gun use but still couldn’t manage to not accidently shoot themselves and each other. If Australia was armed like the United States and had the same accident rate perhaps we could expect 30 or so extra accidental gun deaths a year. So about as many as were killed at Port Arthur, each year.

  38. I notice the Chief of Police of Baltimore wants all magazines bigger than 10 shot banned. That would be a start but they have to go much further.

    But overall, I think the US is a lost cause re gun control. Currently semi-automatic assault rifles and 30 shot magazines (and higher) are flying off the shelves so fast many gun shops are sold out.

    The Federal Govt will have a big problem once poverty, climate change and resource shortages kick in. The US could have the mother of all insurgency problems with its own populace. Then it will need all its predator drones to control its own population. The Pakis and Waziris will appreciate the irony.

  39. It occurs to me that it wouldn’t be too difficult to make devices for target shooting that simulate the feel and recoil of firing a gun without actually being a gun. They could even make a bang noise and give off a smell of smokeless powder. Millitaries have been mucking around with these sorts of things for a while for safety reasons and to save money on training and ammunition costs. These simulated guns could allow target shooters to continue their sport without the risk of using devices that propel pieces of metal at high speed.

  40. Target shooting with simulated weapons would also help weed out those who are only attracted to the sport because of the role guns play in dominance fantasies in our society.

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