On Monday, terrorists set off two bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three people have died — one of whom was eight years old — and more than 170 people were injured as a result of the blasts.
Our nation is in mourning. Flags are flying at half-mast. While the events of Boston are tragic and deserve to be remembered, every day a greater tragedy befalls our country. Every day in this country, an average of 90 people are killed by firearms and an additional 214 are injured by firearms. Every three hours and 15 minutes, someone under the age of 20 is killed by a firearm in the United States.
But we do not consider every day to be a national tragedy. We do not fly our flags at half-mast every day. Our president doesn’t get on TV and console the victims and their families.
But two days ago, after the bipartisan bill to expand background checks on gun buyers effectively died in the Senate, he did.
That same day, measures to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines also failed, faring worse than the background check bill. For what I would say is the first time during his presidency, Obama was visibly angry about the state of gun violence in this country.
All in all, though, I’m glad that the National Rifle Association blocked the legislation.
Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the slogan of the president — the bills proposed were “common-sense” and should have been passed.
But there is a caveat.
First, it’s not clear that the proposed legislation would have had any impact on gun violence in the United States. A comprehensive study by Christopher Koper of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at Penn found mixed evidence on whether the past Federal Assault Weapons Ban and magazine restrictions actually reduced crime.
Further, if the legislation had passed the debate on gun control and gun violence would have been over. The momentum that had built up since Newtown would have diminished. Everyone in Washington would have been patting themselves on the back for “doing something” to address gun violence. But in reality they would have done nothing, and that would have been the real tragedy.
What exactly the best course of action that we should take is unclear. Part of the reason for that is that we don’t have a lot of research on gun related death and violence, because by federal law, we prevent the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health from studying the effects of gun control.
Given that, the most common sense change that we could make is to first overturn that ban so that we can understand better how different types of interventions can reduce gun violence.
Personally, having fired handguns, shotguns, rifles and automatic assault rifles, I don’t see any reason not to outlaw the possession of handguns and assault rifles — it’s much easier to commit a crime with them, but not so easy to aim or defend yourself with. In fact, if you really think that you need a gun in your house to protect yourself, your weapon of choice should be a shotgun, since it requires much less aim and packs a lot more punch than a handgun.
That’s essentially the law of the land in the United Kingdom, where there’s far less gun violence. I’m not purporting that the correlation is causal, but having lived in the UK, I certainly felt much safer with the gun ban than I do here.
Yes, the Supreme Court has held that handgun bans are unconstitutional, but only by a narrow 5-4 majority. I support individual liberty and our right to bear arms, but I think all reasonable people can agree that we can impose limits on which arms we should be allowed to possess.
For once, the NRA did something useful: they incited Obama. Now the real question is, did they incite us, the American people, enough to demand real action on gun violence in our country? I hope so.
Kurt Mitman is a Sixth-year doctoral student from McLean, Va. His email address is email@example.com. Follow him @SorryToBeKurt. “Sorry To Be Kurt” appears every Friday.Comments powered by Disqus
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