Sometimes the Atlantic is on the news for upbeat reasons -- for instance, our two current stories, by Charles Fishman and me, on positive manufacturing trends in the US. These fortunately appeared just before announcements from Foxconn and Apple of manufacturing-expansion plans in America.
- Being in a shopping mall, on a train, in a theater, or at a school where someone starts shooting is statistically more frequent in America than anywhere else, but is vanishingly unlikely for any individual. Yet if we were to rely on the "more guns make us safer" principle, logically we'd have to carry guns all the time, everywhere, because ... you never know. Jeff Goldberg and I have both railed against TSA policies based on the premise that every single passenger is a potential terrorist. A more-guns policy would involve a similar distortion in everyone's behavior based on outlier threats.
- There is very little real-world evidence of "good guys," or ordinary citizens who happen to be armed, taking out shooters in the way the more-guns hypothesis suggests. After all, and gruesomely, the mother of the murderer in Newtown was heavily armed and well experienced with weapons, and that did not help her or anyone else.
- It is all too easy to imagine the real-world mistakes, chaos, fog-of-war, prejudices, panic, and confusion that would lead a more widely armed citizenry to compound rather than the limit the damage of a shooting episode.
I have been getting in trouble with many of my friends for asking them to think about what is politically possible, actually effective and might find agreement among reasonable gun owners. Full disclosure - I am a gun owner myself but very much in favor of stricter controls.It frustrates me to no end that no one on the gun control side of the debate knows anything about firearms, the differences between them, or precise ways to differentiate between them in law (or for that matter, in conversation). So all we hear are knee jerk cries to 'ban assault weapons'. And to hear that again after a horrible event in which an 'assault weapon' wasn't even used is just inane. It's like calling for a ban on convertibles after a truck accident.Here's my problem with the focus on 'assault weapons': what people are really talking about are not weapons that are designed to look like military weapons- that's merely cosmetic and it always diverts the conversation. What they are really talking about are three features - the fact that these rifles are semi automatic, that they are designed to accept high capacity magazines and that they are often - not always but often - chambered for small, high velocity rounds, rounds designed to break up in the body and cause maximum damage.Whether they have flash suppressors or a handle on top or look like an AK47 is absolutely irrelevant. There are other rifles that have some or all of the above features and not all weapons styled after 'assault weapons' do. It is critically important in this argument to be very precise.Furthermore, many people still talk as though these weapons are fully automatic, which none of them are, at least legally.If we concentrate our gun safety efforts on those specific features I listed, I truly believe that we would not only gain traction among the public who do not own guns, but also some respect from those who do. Most gun owners can see the sense in restricting those features - especially in rifles like the Bushmaster .223 that Lanza carried (but apparently did not use). [JF note: later information indicates that the Bushmaster was in fact used.]With handguns it would be trickier. Nearly all handguns currently sold are semi auto and there is a good reason - they are lighter and easier to control. The force absorbed by ejecting the spent shell and re-cocking the gun reduces the recoil considerably, making it possible for example, for a woman or a smaller man to shoot in a controlled way. While there is a great deal of support for eliminating semi-auto rifles it might be harder to find the same support for handguns. Magazines, however, might be a place to start.Importantly, there is a consensus on some points and those are the points where new legislation should concentrate. Also even the NRA has agreed in principle to stricter background checks, more diligent checking on mental health and above all better enforcement of current laws before the creation of new ones.I apologize for the rant, but I am a pro gun control/safety gun owner and I am crazy frustrated with the current debate, the language in which it is framed, and above all the idiotic assumption that people can legislate or petition to change something which they can't be bothered to understand or know anything about.