A thing about guns.

I posted a throwaway remark the other day suggesting America ban all guns. A wholly simplistic and unrealistic proposal today, and probably, for the foreseeable future. I come from a society where this is the norm, and tragedies like those last week are consequently exceptionally rare, so it does not feel in the remotest bit controversial for me to feel that way. It's what I'd personally like to happen, but I do recognise the challenges involved in even getting close to the possibility of it happening in the US are very difficult, complex and fraught.

I recognise too, that most (if not all) mass shootings involve some form of mental illness, and that the healthcare system in the US is so utterly woefully deficient in helping individuals in this area. Combining both of these problems gives the results we see today.

Something has to give, and it starts with sensible controls on guns. Removing access to weapons reduces the surface area of a potential attack. It is, as is often argued by gun owners, very possible to perform fatal attacks with weapons which aren't guns, but none of them have the ruthless reliability and efficiency of an assault rifle and a handful of full clips. Killing people with knives, IEDs and chemicals is of course very possible, but folks with knifes and chemicals tend to be quickly overpowered after initial attacks, and IEDs are, by their very nature, extremely unreliable devices.

America: You don't have to ban all guns today. Start small. Let's talk about assault rifles1. They are the weapon of choice for most every mass shooting incident in the United States. Attackers may supplement their arsenal with shotguns and handguns, but legally modified rifles like the Colt AR-15 are their primary outlet and are, quite literally, the weapon of choice.

I can't think of a single legitimate reason for a private citizen to own an assault rifle. These are guns with a singular purpose, and that is to kill human beings. They are not sporting guns, they're not used for hunting, and they are not personal defence weapons. There is no reasonable reason for a person to need to own one. So take them away. Have an amnesty, round up the weapons, and criminalise ownership after a certain time. Hell, a responsible government might even pay you to hand your gun in.

Make background checks on purchasing legal guns more thorough, make waiting times longer, have maximums on how many rounds a person can buy. People who perpetuate these attacks often act in the spur of the moment; even just slowing down the rate at which you can obtain a gun would help. Do anything. Do anything more than the present - which is nothing.

Yes, school shootings will still continue to happen if assault weapons were banned. People will still die. But it's a whole different proposal to attack a large number of people with a handgun with a limited number of rounds, or a shotgun or hunting rifle which is slow to reload or has - crucially - much less efficiency in systematically mowing down humans. It becomes even less feasible with a knife, and you've more chance of blowing yourself up without hurting anyone else with an IED. Not, I suspect, the misguided statement an attacker wanted to make.

There is responsible gun ownership, and there are, I guess, reasonable reasons for certain types of firearm to remain legal, but the bar to ownership of or access to killing machines is so ridiculously low today. All people want is that bar raising. Raise it.

  1. Yes, I used the term 'assault rifle'. I am aware that fully automatic rifles have been illegal in the US since 1994. I am also aware that weapons like the AR-15's are not technically classified as an 'assault rifle', however they are, I understand, easily and legally modifiable to become one. Moreover, their classification as a 'long gun', along with more traditional hunting or sporting rifles, is merely a box-ticking exercise by the gun industry to comply with these regulations.