This article was originally written in 2017, for the Las Vegas massacre. It is a tragic reality of the situation in the US that I can change two or three words in an entire piece about gun control and it makes no difference whatsoever. The reality is the same: guns kill. Gun control saves lives. This is not a contentious point.
There’s been another mass shooting in the US, this time, tragically, in a school in Kentucky. It is, as ever, horrifying. The names change, but the story stays the same: disaffected child comes to school with a gun, opens fire. Children die.
There are no words to describe the tragedy.
And terribly, sadly, awfully, there have been no words to describe the tragedies that preceded it. The US experiences up to one mass shooting per day depending on which definition of mass shooting that you use. That’s an immense figure, no matter which way you slice it.
Tens of tragedies a month.
Hundreds of tragedies a year.
Most, if not all of them are preventable.
Getting Rid Of Mass Shootings The Australian Way
In 1996, Australia was facing a similar dilemma. A gunman had just opened fire at the Tasmanian town of Port Arthur, killing dozens and injuring many more. Leaving gun laws open and soft was no longer an option, and so, faced with an enormous backlash against firearm ownership, the conservative government instituted a series of firearm laws across the country — with the agreement of the states — that are considered to be some of the most restrictive in the developed world.
And guess what happened?
The mass shootings stopped. Not decreased. Not slowly petered off.
No more tragedies.
This was not the only benefit. Gun suicides decreased dramatically, with no associated increase in non-firearm suicide. Thousands of lives saved each year because people no longer had such open, easy access to guns. The overall homicide and firearm homicide rates dropped precipitously, although the evidence is mixed as to whether this is due to the gun control legislation or because of other factors.
But none of that is quite equal to the success of mass shootings.
The strange thing is that mass shootings don’t actually claim that many lives, proportionally. More Americans shoot themselves each day than die in a month of mass shootings. More people are accidentally shot in the US than die mowed down in a tragedy like this one.
But mass shootings touch more than the people they kill. They affect the day-to-day lives of everyone who hears about them. When friends and family can be murdered by someone who has never even met them, for no reason other than that they were frustrated? That changes everything.
When your children can’t even feel safe at school, because one day Danny might snap and bring an AR-15 into class?
That makes the entire country a battleground.
Which makes it all the worse that mass shootings can be stopped.
Getting Rid Of Gun Deaths
You’re never going to get rid of all gun deaths. They are literally machines of death, designed to inflict as much damage on the human body as possible.
But basic, commonsense legislation could save untold lives.
There is already excellent research demonstrating that simple gun regulation could reduce the number of deaths by firearms in America by up to 90%*.
And when I say simple, I mean enforceable background checks for the purchase of guns and ammunition, and national identification for guns, which would make American guns less legislated than cars.
Seriously. Less than cars. And that’s with the commonsense regulations. The US regulates machines of death less than machines of motorized transportation.
Good Guys With Guns
There are inevitable cries from gun lobbyists that the only real solution is to put more guns in the hands of ‘good’ people to combat all of the ‘bad’ people with guns. The idea being that ‘bad’ people — criminals — are always going to have guns and ‘good’ people need them to protect themselves.
Leaving aside the question of how we define ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people — I mean, surely a background check would pick that up so that only ‘good’ people could get guns? Isn’t that the whole point of background checks? — this is an argument that flies completely counter to the evidence. Guns are rarely used defensively, even in parts of the US where gun ownership is common. And even when ‘good’ people do pull their guns on ‘bad’ people, there’s no evidence that they are less likely to get shot. In fact, some studies have found that pulling a gun makes you more likely to be the victim of a shooting.
Gun Control Laws
What’s that, you say? America has a conservative government that would never regulate against the freedom to be mowed down at a country music festival?
It’s actually not a bad point. Since the Las Vegas shooting last year, despite the massive death toll and the truly horrifying number of injuries, the US has failed to implement any meaningful gun legislation. Even the incredibly modest ban on bump stocks — the item used to allow a semi-automatic to fire at the rate of an automatic weapon — has failed to move forward.
The bright side is that that’s the best part of the Australian example. Australia’s government at the time was heavily conservative, but recognized that bringing down the toll from firearms was more important than party politics. It took only a few weeks from the Port Arthur massacre for Australia to institute sweeping reforms.
America has a choice. An endless tide of tragedies, or some basic public health regulation that has been adopted the world over.
I know what I’d pick.
*There’s some argument over the numbers here. 90% is a very ambitious goal, after all. But even a reduction of 10% in gun deaths — easily achievable as demonstrated by international evidence — would save thousands of lives and billions of dollars a year.