Violent crime rates per capita in the US have been dropping steadily for many years, and continue to drop annually. This includes homicides using firearms, despite the fact that numbers of firearms in private hands and numbers of firearms owners has increased dramatically in the same period. Despite the AR15 being the most common rifle in the US only a tiny percentage of crimes involving firearms use this or similar weapons.
I am not suggesting that there is a causative relationship between firearms ownership and reductions in crime, and I honestly don’t believe that there is. But the statistics do tend to prove that there is no correlation between increasing firearms ownership or sheer numbers of firearms in private hands and increases in violent crime.
The problem is that while high-capacity semi-auto rifles are used in only a tiny percentage of violent crimes these crimes tend to be unusually horrific, even though they barely constitute a blip on the radar of numbers of violent deaths. The ones that most often come to the public’s attention are spree shooters- people who set out to create the maximum number of casualties in the minimum amount of time in a single area.
Note that I call these people ‘Spree-Killers’ and not ‘Mass Shooters.’ The way people count ‘mass shootings’ badly distorts the actual numbers. For example if a criminal shoots a police officer and in response two criminals are shot this is counted as a ‘mass shooting.’ Typically any incident where bullets hit three or more people, whether lethally or not, is counted as a ‘Mass Shooting.’ This does not address Spree Shooters like the Las Vegas concert shooter or the Texas church shooting, which are the major problem we are facing.
It’s easy to blame the availability of military-style rifles, but let’s get real here- if they were really the problem we would have vastly more spree shooters. No one knows the actual numbers of these weapons out there, but it’s somewhere between 3.5-10 million. They are very, very common. Yes, this makes them easier for killers to get their hands on. In fact it makes them the weapon-of-choice for spree-shooters. But horrific as they are spree-shootings are a tiny, microscopic percentage of the use of these firearms. We need to stop spree-shooters and spree-killers in general, but is it morally supportable to penalize millions of law-abiding gun owners to do so when it isn’t likely to be effective in stopping the killers? I’m not making an argument here, I am asking a question.
OK, let’s address this right now- if military-style semi-automatic rifles are the weapon-of-choice for spree-killers why wouldn’t banning them be effective? Because they are the weapon-of-choice, not the only option. Recently a fellow drove a truck into a crowd and killed 83 people. The Oklahoma City bombing killed hundreds. Terrorist bombings in the Middle-east kill countless numbers of people each year. Might Joe Psycho skip the whole spree-killing thing if it was hard to get a military-style semi-auto? Maybe, but the evidence seems to suggest not.
Suppose for a minute that banning, confiscating and outlawing these weapons would not deter spree-killers. This is a real problem and real people are dying. The fact that they represent a very small number of deaths per capita is not a comfort to the wives, husbands and parents of the victims. So what can we do about it?
People are fond of pointing out that when high-capacity military-style rifles were banned in Scotland and Australia there were no more spree-shootings, and they are correct. If the United States were either of these nations it might work here, too. Despite our (theoretically) shared language we are very, very different cultures from these two countries. Hell, we Americans are very different cultures from each other. There likely is no single solution that will work nationwide- and there is absolutely no simple solution.
We need to address the fact that we have become a society and a culture that produces spree-killers. We need to identify the reasons that this is so, and take active steps to fix these conditions. We can glibly blame this on the poor availability of mental-health care, but while that may contribute to the problem there is a lot more to it. Poverty, lack of economic opportunity, lack of education, hopelessness and despair, extremism- not coincidentally the same factors that cause people to join terrorist groups.
You will never stop all the bad apples- but we can stop a lot of them if we address the reasons why they are happening. Until or unless we do the weapon-of-choice may change- but the end result won’t.