The Nonsense of “Common Sense” Gun Control


It’s easy to see how “common sense” gun control has become a common liberal buzzword. With annual deaths from firearms averaging over 11,000 in the US, and the recent mass shooting in Orlando’s LGBT nightclub, calls for increased gun control have resumed. Predictably, gun rights advocates (and Trump) have responded with the old trope that more armed citizens would’ve prevented the shooting. Of course, this is an awful argument – there was an armed guard and an off-duty police officer on the scene.

But you don’t need to be a gun shill to oppose the catch-all term “common sense” gun control. The three main forms of gun control proposed by liberals are discriminatory and ineffective.

1. No Guns for Suspected Terrorists

The most recent failed Senate bill on gun control used the no-fly list to screen out gun buyers. The same list that you can get on just by going to the Middle East, having a suspicious (read: Muslim) name, or tweeting suspiciously. The same list that wrapped up a 7 month-old baby this year. Yet somehow, the Orlando shooter wasn’t on it.

2. No Guns for the Mentally Ill

First, mental illness isn’t a binary yes-or-no matter – it exists on a spectrum. The definitions of mental illness are wide and vague – almost half of all Americans will suffer from it in their lifetime. Second, fewer than 5% of gun homicides in the last decade have been committed by those with mental illnesses. This proposal doesn’t address the bulk of the problem. Lastly, it worsens the stigma already surrounding mental health and discourages people from “outing” themselves by seeking treatment.

3. No Assault Weapons

This proposal seems natural since most recent mass shootings were committed by an assault rifle, but only 1-2% of gun homicides in the US occurred due to these weapons. Unlike the first two ideas, this one isn’t discriminatory, but that doesn’t mean it will be effective.

These criticisms aren’t meant to shut down all solutions to gun violence, which kills far too many people in America. Here are more promising routes to curbing this epidemic:

Better Mental Healthcare

Though mental illness has little to do with gun homicide, it does cause a number of gun deaths: Suicide with a firearm accounts for 60% of all deaths from guns. Rather than trying to blacklist everyone with mental illness by refusing them gun ownership, we could encourage and provide better treatment – most estimates say that half of those with severe mental illnesses get no help.

Take Domestic Violence Seriously

In the last 6 years of mass shootings, 57% of the shooters have had a history of domestic violence. Not only do guns in the hands of violent abusers (mostly men) hurt their partners, but they also put the public at risk. This shouldn’t be surprising, since the same ideas of control and terror underlie both types of violence.

If these problems sound much more difficult to tackle, that’s because they are. Gun violence should be seen as a symptom of intersecting issues – as long as we’re treating the symptom, real solutions will be elusive.

Author: Edwin Jain

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