Banning Toy Guns

One of the sillier responses to the recent school shooting in Connecticut is a re-launch of a movement against toy guns. I read about it here on Fox News.

 A crusade against toy guns that began in 1987 is being re-launched following the elementary school shooting in Connecticut that left dozens dead.

Santa Monica activist Jerry Rubin says a personalized merit award will be sent to children who write to him about why they don’t like playing with toy guns.

Rubin says his anti-toy gun project used to reward children who sent in their toy guns with teddy bears in exchange, but stopped after he ran out of the 5,000 donated stuffed animals.

Less than two weeks ago, 20 children and six adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

Over the years, Rubin’s grassroots campaigns against violence and in favor of environmental causes have made him a familiar figure in Southern California news.

I begin to get the impression that much of the impetus behind support for stricter gun control legislation stems not from any rational consideration of the cost and benefits of the effects of such legislation, but from a vague feeling that guns are icky. Ickiness is hardly an important consideration  in a debate on how to balance personal freedom against the safety of the community, but in this, as in so much else emotions trump reason. Consider the recent confrontation between David Gregory and the NRA‘s Wayne LaPierre.

Banning high capacity magazines won’t make any difference, as LaPierre pointed out, but they look scary and are icky. There is not a consistent definition of “assault rifles”; they are the ones that look scary and icky so should be banned, and on and on.



The Conversation

The liberals have been demanding we have a conversation on the issue of gun control since the Newtown Connecticut shootings. I imagine that this conversation will be much like the conversation that Attorney General Eric Holder wanted to have about race, or the conversations about gay marriage, healthcare, or any of the other conversations liberals want to have. The liberal idea about what a conversation entails seems to be for the liberals, secure in their moral and intellectual superiority to the rest of us, telling us what to think and do, and the rest of us sitting still and listening. Anyone who disagrees is  a racist, sexist, homophobic bigoted hater. In the conversation about gun control, those who are against stricter gun control laws must like to see children mowed down by psychopaths.

But, if we are going to have a conversation about gun control, then let’s have a real conversation. We can use Glenn Reynold’s remarks yesterday as a starting point.


Why do people who favor gun-control call people who disagree with them murderers or accomplices to murder? Is that constructive?

Would any of the various proposals have actually prevented the tragedy that is the supposed reason for them?

When you say you hope that this event will finally change the debate, do you really mean that you hope you can use emotionalism and blood-libel-bullying to get your way on political issues that were losers in the past?

If you’re a media member or politician, do you have armed security? Do you have a permit for a gun yourself? (I’m asking you Dianne Feinstein!) If so, what makes your life more valuable than other people’s?

Do you know the difference between an automatic weapon and a semi-automatic weapon? Do your public statements reflect that difference?

If guns cause murder, why have murder rates fallen as gun sales have skyrocketed?

Have you talked about “Fast and Furious?” Do you even know what it is? Do you care less when brown people die?

When you say that “we” need to change, how are you planning to change? Does your change involve any actual sacrifice on your part?

Let me know when you’re ready to talk about these things. We’ll have a conversation.

We can move on by discussing John Fund’s recent column at National Review Online, in which he mentions some facts about recent mass shootings that somehow are not being discussed in the mainstream media.

Mass shootings are no more common than they have been in past decades, despite the impression given by the media.

In fact, the high point for mass killings in the U.S. was 1929, according to criminologist Grant Duwe of the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Incidents of mass murder in the U.S. declined from 42 in the 1990s to 26 in the first decade of this century.

The chances of being killed in a mass shooting are about what they are for being struck by lightning.

Until the Newtown horror, the three worst K–12 school shootings ever had taken place in either Britain or Germany.

Almost all of the public-policy discussion about Newtown has focused on a debate over the need for more gun control. In reality, gun control in a country that already has 200 million privately owned firearms is likely to do little to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals. We would be better off debating two taboo subjects — the laws that make it difficult to control people with mental illness and the growing body of evidence that “gun-free” zones, which ban the carrying of firearms by law-abiding individuals, don’t work.

First, the mental-health issue. A lengthy study by Mother Jones magazine found that at least 38 of the 61 mass shooters in the past three decades “displayed signs of mental health problems prior to the killings.” New York Times columnist David Brooks and Cornell Law School professor William Jacobson have both suggested that the ACLU-inspired laws that make it so difficult to intervene and identify potentially dangerous people should be loosened. “Will we address mental-health and educational-privacy laws, which instill fear of legal liability for reporting potentially violent mentally ill people to law enforcement?” asks Professor Jacobson. “I doubt it.”

Gun-free zones have been the most popular response to previous mass killings. But many law-enforcement officials say they are actually counterproductive. “Guns are already banned in schools. That is why the shootings happen in schools. A school is a ‘helpless-victim zone,’” says Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff. “Preventing any adult at a school from having access to a firearm eliminates any chance the killer can be stopped in time to prevent a rampage,” Jim Kouri, the public-information officer of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, told me earlier this year at the time of the Aurora, Colo., Batman-movie shooting. Indeed, there have been many instances — from the high-school shooting by Luke Woodham in Mississippi, to the New Life Church shooting in Colorado Springs, Colo. — where a killer has been stopped after someone got a gun from a parked car or elsewhere and confronted the shooter.

Economists John Lott and William Landes conducted a groundbreaking study in 1999, and found that a common theme of mass shootings is that they occur in places where guns are banned and killers know everyone will be unarmed, such as shopping malls and schools.

I spoke with Lott after the Newtown shooting, and he confirmed that nothing has changed to alter his findings. He noted that the Aurora shooter, who killed twelve people earlier this year, had a choice of seven movie theaters that were showing the Batman movie he was obsessed with. All were within a 20-minute drive of his home. The Cinemark Theater the killer ultimately chose wasn’t the closest, but it was the only one that posted signs saying it banned concealed handguns carried by law-abiding individuals. All of the other theaters allowed the approximately 4 percent of Colorado adults who have a concealed-handgun permit to enter with their weapons.

Now that we have dismissed the policies that will not work, like disarming the potential victims of crime and putting up signs that criminals will simply ignore, we can begin to have a conversation about what will work. I am looking forward to that conversation

Hex Signs

Here are some hex signs used by the Pennsylvania Dutch.

The Pennsylvania Dutch used to put these hex signs on the sides of their barns, supposedly to ward off bad luck or evil spirits. Many folklore experts now believe that they were just used for decoration although the symbols might have some magical meaning. Whatever the case, putting up a sign with a geometric design to keep away evil seems to be a silly superstition.

Here are some more signs that people put up to ward off evil.

These work about as well as the hex signs, which is to say, not at all. The idea seems to be that a criminal or madman intent on mayhem will see such a sign and turn away in frustration because the sign prohibits him from carrying his guns any further. I can’t imagine anyone is simple minded enough to believe this. Either such signs are a triumph of magical thinking over reality or they are meant to ward off a particularly vicious species of goblin known as the lawyer.

I hadn’t intended to write anything about the recent school shooting in Connecticut, but the sight of politicians such as Mayor Bloomberg taking advantage of the atrocity to demand stricter gun control laws prompted me to say something regarding gun control. The simple fact is that most proposed gun control laws are based on the same type of magical thinking as those signs above. The idea seems to be that if we pass strict enough legislation, all the guns will magically disappear, and everyone will live happily and peacefully ever after. That is not going to happen

Put aside all the debates about the Second Amendment and whether citizens have the right to own guns. Put aside the observation that criminals tend not to obey the law and will find ways to obtain guns no matter what the law is. Put aside also the question whether disarming law-abiding citizens and leaving them at the mercy of the criminals will really make anyone safer. The simple fact of the matter is that there are between 200 and 300 million privately owned guns in the United States. These guns are not just going to go away. Criminals will certainly not turn their guns is, and neither will many law-biding citizens. This will have the effect of turning many of these law-abiding citizens into criminals if they continue to possess firearms that are made illegal. Look up Prohibition sometime to see how a policy that turns honest people into criminals works out.

Of course, no one is talking about making possession of guns illegal, at least not yet, but any policy short of mass confiscation is not likely to take the guns out of the hands of the bad guys. Registering guns, stricter laws against felons or the mentally ill possessing guns and the like are good ideas for a start, but they will not prevent the felons, etc from simply stealing or illegally obtaining guns.

So what can we do to prevent another tragedy like the one that occurred yesterday? The truth is, not much. That is not what people want to hear, but it is the truth. No matter what precautions we take, things like this are going to happen. Maybe we could do a better job spotting the crazy people before they commit such acts. Maybe we should rethink the idea of committing mentally ill people who are a danger to themselves or others to hospitals where they can get the treatment they need. Maybe gun owners and dealers should be more responsible about keeping their guns secure. I just don’t know.


%d bloggers like this: