On the morning after the worst mass shooting in a house of worship in U.S. history, when no one yet knew anything about shooter Devin Kelley’s possible motive or how he acquired his guns but did know that two men with legal guns helped end the carnage, the left was already banging the drum for increased gun control.
Do they have a point?
While I think the politicization of these tragedies always happens far too soon, if you honestly believe that more gun restrictions will stop mass shootings, isn’t it logical that you would want to make that point when the public was most aware? Wouldn’t you also be passionate or even angry about it?
This is precisely what gun control advocates argue: That if we’re not going to discuss more laws now, when? (This is similar to how some conservatives call for restricting Muslim immigration and travel, ramping up fear, in the wake of terrorist attacks like last week’s in New York City).
But what if gun control advocates’ basic premise is wrong? What if the laws and restrictions they seek would not prevent or reduce violence? What if more gun control would do little to nothing to prevent another Sutherland Springs massacre?
That was the case made by statistician Leah Libresco in the wake of the nightmarish Las Vegas shooting last month. Libresco said she long believed that gun violence could be reduced in the United States if only the National Rifle Association and the many Republicans in their pocket would stop obstructing “common sense” gun restrictions.
But when she actually examined the evidence, she came to the conclusion that she had been wrong. Libresco and her colleagues at FiveThirtyEight spent three months analyzing 33,000 lives lost to gun violence in the U.S. within the span of a year. Libresco wrote in an op-ed at the Washington Post, “We looked at what interventions might have saved those people, and the case for the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence.”
The researchers found that some of the most common proposals from gun control advocates — buyback programs similar to Australia’s, defining and banning assault weapons, targeting silencers and limiting magazine sizes — none of them were actual solutions. She discovered that the U.S. and Australia are incomparable on this issue; that any gun hobbyist could make turn a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic; that firearms with silencers were still incredibly loud; and that a “practiced shooter” could change magazines of any size so quickly that it would make the limiting their capacities “meaningless.”
Libresco noted that the overwhelming majority of gun deaths In the U.S. were not mass shooting related:
Two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States every year are suicides. Almost no proposed restriction would make it meaningfully harder for people with guns on hand to use them.
[T]he next-largest set of gun deaths — 1 in 5 — were young men aged 15 to 34, killed in homicides … And the last notable group of similar deaths was the 1,700 women murdered per year, usually as the result of domestic violence.
“Far more people were killed in these ways than in mass-shooting incidents, but few of the popularly floated policies were tailored to serve them,” Libresco concluded. While she still considers herself anti-gun, Libresco admitted, “I can’t endorse policies whose only selling point is that gun owners hate them.”
As the details continue to emerge on the Sutherland Springs massacre, we have learned that shooter Devin Kelley had been denied a gun license but may or may not have been able to purchase firearms through a loophole. If so, that oversight or mistake should be addressed and fixed.
But perhaps most importantly, Kelly had a history: the former Air Force member was convicted of domestic abuse in a court martial, raising the possibility he was mentally unstable enough to be unfit to own a gun. How many Texans in Sutherland Springs and throughout the state have weapons more deadly and in greater number than Kelley’s, yet do not commit mass murders? When President Trump responded to the shooting by saying that “mental health is your problem here,” he wasn’t necessarily wrong.
We know Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock had a bump stock that made his semi-automatic weapon functionally automatic. Perhaps we should ban those, as even the NRA has been open to, depending on what government agency does the banning. That debate will continue. But perhaps most importantly, we know Paddock had mental issues.
There is no one answer to preventing mass shootings. Yet now and in the future, gun control advocates continue to passionately claim that more restrictions will ultimately stop them. They’re wrong.