Mass Shootings

By Bob Gerecke
 
Given the amount of guns and ammunition already in the country, it will be impossible for future gun control regulation to lessen the number of mass shootings to a level anywhere near a liveable level.
 

Some people say that we shouldn't publicize a shooter's name or face, in order to remove the incentive  for notoriety.  That's one step among many, but it probably won't happen, because the news media won't restrain themselves and because the First Amendment prohibits restraining them by law.  If it bleeds, it leads.  In addition, for some shooters, notoriety may not be a significant motivator.  There are people who commit "suicide by cop".  Either they have a shoot-out with the police only, or they kill a bunch of other people so that the police will kill them.
 
Ideally, we would like to identify shooters in advance.  However, experts say that many mentally ill or emotionally disturbed people exhibit behaviors which are similar to those who later kill, but they never kill anyone.  We can't really predict who will kill.  Widespread provision of mental health services would reduce the number who kill, and it's desirable for humane reasons on its own merits, but it will cost money, so it won't be done.
 
Improving background checks, extending them to purchasers at gun shows and requiring a waiting period to take possession of a gun would help us to deny guns to some dangerous people, but there are so many guns on the loose that the black market would be substantial and probably already is, so those denied a gun will remain able get one if they want.  The black market works like the drug trade and would have to be policed similarly, with all of the attendant costs and inefficiencies.  With fewer gun buys than drug buys, detection may be even harder.  A “war against guns” is not politically feasible anyway.
 
One writer suggested that the state require gun insurance, so that the insurers would investigate the applicant's background and suitability before taking the risk.  I thought of another possibility which might also withstand Supreme Court scrutiny: require every gun owner to register as a National Guard reservist and to list the guns to which he/she has access.  After all, the Constitution says that the purpose of gun ownership is to have a well-disciplined militia, so the Court would look pretty silly striking down that requirement.  The unstable and criminals who have an uninsured or unregistered gun could be prosecuted if they were caught, and suspicion that someone was breaking the law would be grounds to get a search warrant.  However, most of them wouldn't be caught until they used the gun, which would be too late, and neither of these requirements is probably politically feasible anyway.
 
Because of the huge number of existing guns in our society, it's probably hopeless to limit or regulate possession of them or even to identify their possessors. 
 
It may seem more feasible to cut off the supply of ammunition: eventually it will run out.  However, mass shooters don't need hundreds of rounds, just a dozen or so.  Only the gangs may use so much ammunition that they'll eventually run out.  However, do-it-yourselfers can load their own ammunition, so a black market in ammunition will spring up, and ammunition is easier to transport secretly than guns.
 
The bottom line seems to be that, even if we can eventually find the political will to reduce the prevalence of guns and thereby save lives -- even if public opinion will eventually change enough on this topic, as it apparently has on gay marriage -- the genie is out of the bottle and can't be stuffed back in.  We're trapped, not only by the Second Amendment but also by Americans' widespread ownership of guns and by the vast number of guns in our society.  According to PBS, 1 in 3 US families has one or more guns.
 
The NRA solution to have armed "good guys" everywhere doesn't fly, either.  The shooter will start shooting and kill a bunch of people before the good guy returns fire.  It may reduce the death toll somewhat, but it won't prevent the shooting.  In a classroom for example, we'd have to have at least two trained adults at opposite ends of the room with guns on their hips for a fast draw, to prevent the shooter from hitting them both before they could return fire.  This is an unlikely solution, firstly because it would cost money, and secondly because a shooter who knows the score would barge in and spray the students with bullets before the adults could react anyway.  It would also lead to some instinctive shootings of harmless people who walk suddenly into a room and even to an occasional shoot-out between "good guys" if one of them loses his temper over something.  It's not inevitable that the number of deaths would actually decrease; they might occur fewer at a time but more frequently.
 
For some problems, there may really be no feasible solution.