Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sensible gun control

Let's accept the following premises:

1. The AWB is a load of crap. It involves weapons not involved in most of the infamous shootings of this decade. While it was internally effective (it did reduce the number of the weapons it targetted circulating), it was ineffective at its intended ultimate goal (reducing gun violence or making it less lethal - there was no reduction in the amount of gun violence during its enforcement.)

2. It's certainly arguable that it's too easy for people who wish to misuse guns to obtain them. And there's quite a bit of concern about any guns that can fire a lot of bullets in a short space of time.

3. Under the current constitution, you can't ban the vast majority of guns.

4. In the current climate, legitimate gun owners would not cooperate with any program, voluntary or otherwise, that requires they give up existing weapons, and they'd lobby hard against restrictions on what they can own.

So what we're looking for is a gesture that would satisfy the concerns of those who strongly believe (2) above, while recognizing (3) and (4), and also doing something that's not already been tried, and not already been completely discredited.

So this is where my mind is at at the moment.

In most states, there's already a set of laws about under what circumstances you can bear arms. The system in most states is:

1. Anyone can bear arms inside their own homes.
2. Anyone with a Concealed Carry Weapons Permit can bear arms outside of their own homes, as long as they keep them out of sight until needed.

The CCW system is relatively popular amongst gun owners. It's not controversial for the vast majority. Most gun owners I've met encourage other gun owners to get the permit, but they see the requirements as actually a good thing.

Permits are issued under a number of circumstances, but even in "Shall Issue" states (Shall Issue means that it's up to government to prove you're irresponsible, rather than for you to prove you're responsible) there are specific actions from those applying for a permit that encourage responsible ownership. Here in Florida, for example, there's a mandatory gun safety class that needs to be passed before you can get your CCW.

States have massive lee-way in terms of how they implement the CCW program (well, it's their program.)

My thought is this. Rather than an all-out ban on "dangerous weapons" (or worse, "scary weapons"), perhaps a better solution would be to recognize the CCW programs in each State and divide weapons between those that can be owned by anyone (which would have restricted capacities, non-detachable magazines, etc) and those that can only be owned by someone with a valid CCW permit. As a starting point for what constitutes a permit-free weapon, a revolver would pass. A basic bolt-action hunting rifle with a built-in magazine should pass too. Given the popularity of .22LR semi-automatic rifles (.22LR is a relatively weak type of ammunition, so such rifles are extremely popular as user-friendly plinking and target practice guns), it might also make sense to relax the restrictions for guns carrying certain types of ammunition.

It would be up to each state to determine the rules for CCW permits and over time States can experiment with tests of responsible gun ownership, handling things like "Weapons being stolen" on a state by state basis. (I'm not in favor of laws that punish people for merely having their weapons stolen, or otherwise misused by a third party, although I can see a case for doing so where the theft was in part due to carelessness on the part of the owner.)

Recognizing permits in this way would also solve the argument over the "Gun Show Loophole". Whether the loophole really exists or not, it can be taken off the table if you simply require that any gun buyer, in any transaction private or commercial, either passes a background check or shows a valid permit. This eliminates any issues about the rights of private individuals to sell their own property, and prevents gun shows from becoming exclusively gun dealer based.

This shouldn't be controversial. You're using State laws that are aimed at identifying responsible gun owners, and restricting guns that may need more care to those people. Most existing gun owners would probably, in all honesty, be entirely unaffected by this law. You're also providing the States with a means to discourage irresponsible gun ownership without punishing responsible gun owners.

Of course, I expect it to be controversial anyway...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Rules of engagement

  1. It is not unreasonable or despicable to, in the wake of a horrific tragedy, demand changes to the law you think will prevent it from happening again.
  2. That said, it is unreasonable and despicable to demonize your opponents who have done little but disagree with you, and thus far won the arguments, as responsible for that tragedy.
  3. It also doesn't mean you're right.
  4. Also the world of politics is a little nuanced. You do not speak for all liberals, or all conservatives.

On the final note:

  1. The NRA has itself to blame if an overwhelmingly Democratic government, voted in in 2014, imposes draconian gun control laws. Gun control was a bipartisan issue until you waded in during the mid-nineties and demonized Democrats and liberals, alienating a group that usually sticks up for individual liberties. St Reagan was infamous as Governor of California for getting gun control legislation passed that was aimed at disarming groups he didn't like. The infamous AWB had overwhelming bi-partisan support, attracting the vote of almost every Senator.
  2. If you're a liberal (or for that matter a conservative) you need to see through the above. The fact that you can find your political opponents coming up with spectacularly bad arguments for a position you find initially uncomfortable does not make that position wrong. As an example, a liberal might want to actually study the effect of the AWB and its similarity to what's being proposed today. It heavily restricted semi-automatic weapons and crippled magazine sizes. And the studies done do not suggest it made a blind bit of difference when it came to gun crime.

My view?
  • There are so many guns of all descriptions in circulation any attempt to limit them will have no affect on availability.
  • The difference between an AWB-compliant AR-15 pattern rifle and a standard semi-automatic AR-15 is relatively minor: that is, some psycho who wants the rifle they see on  TV to kill people with (which seems to be the thinking behind banning them) is going to be able to find one, just by modifying a legal rifle.
  • I doubt, actually, that America's "gun culture" has much to do with the violence we see. Britain doesn't have a gun culture and there were two major massacres while I lived there. Proportionally to population, the number was much smaller than the US. Proportionally to British gun owners, I'd say the ratio of terrible events to gun owners was much, much, higher. And then there's Switzerland, where there's a semi-automatic version of their military's standard issue assault rifle in many homes, proportionally much larger than here, and there's very little gun crime.
  • There are actions that can be taken that would not affect civil liberties, and might help prevent problems, but are treated as beyond the pale by the gun community. Registration is probably the most obvious. Being able to say "We know this person is unsuitable at this moment due to {a relevant mental illness | an injunction after domestic violence | etc }" seems relatively reasonable. A better solution than limiting magazine sizes might be to increase taxes on ammunition not normally used in large quantities by ordinary shooters.
  • The other issue people raise is that it's generally felt we don't have an adequate system for identifying people with mental illnesses, with a view that somehow this would have prevented this tragedy. Honestly, I don't know. Lanza is speculated as to having had Asbergers.  Does that normally exhibit itself in a burning need to kill children? Would any treatments for Asbergers  have actually affected whatever it was that caused Lanza to break down?
To be quote honest though, I'm currently of a mind that there just may not be anything that can "be done" after this massacre that would have prevented it from happening, if only it had been done before.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Fiscal Cliff FAQ

There seems to be a little confusion as to what the effects of the Fiscal Cliff are, so here's some help.

1. What is the Fiscal Cliff?

It's a package of spending cuts and tax hikes that'll take effect on the 1st of January unless Congress acts to overturn it.

2. I've spent my entire career protesting about the deficit. Is the Fiscal Cliff bad?

Can you clarify your question?

2.1 OK, I'm against the deficit because I truly believe the government shouldn't have such a deficit.

Then the Fiscal Cliff is ideologically sound to you. Although many economic models, including those based upon Keynesianism, say that it'll end up increasing or doing nothing about the deficit because decreased revenues due to a stagnant economy and accompanying deflation will also be the result. But you don't believe in Keynesianism anyway, so that shouldn't be a problem. To you.

2.2 I'm against the deficit, but that's because as I understand it, it's a "bad thing", that's caused by "wasteful government spending", such as the government spending money on things I don't like, and not spending enough on things I do.

Then you should worry about the Fiscal Cliff because while it cuts money to things you don't like, it also cuts money to the programs you support. Also it too is a "bad thing", like the deficit. That is to say, it is something lots of people are worried about, and you sound like the kind of person who worries about things that other people are worrying about.

3. I'm concerned about my job. Is the Fiscal Cliff going to help?

No, your job will objectively become less safe if we go over, although some economists argue that long term, because most models point to a complete collapse of the economy, or that such an action will somehow cause all badly run businesses to fail while leaving all well run businesses alone (it's not clear what model they're using), you'll find it easier to get a job, probably in 2032 when the economy recovers.

4. I don't have a job because I have a lot of money, several million dollars actually, hidden under my mattress. Will the Fiscal Cliff help me?

Kinda. Make sure you don't let anyone know about the mattress though.