U.S. Gun Control is Not On Target

    Let’s be clear: This is not a problem caused by poor mental healthcare, as Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association Wayne LaPierre claimed. As a percentage of total health costs, we spend more on treating mental disorders than Australia or Canada. Not to mention, the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence than to be perpetrators, according to a study in The Lancet. Nor are these shootings caused by playing video games. Citizens of nations like South Korea and Japan play violent video games just like we do, yet they do not suffer from a national plague of gun violence.

    Yes, the problem is guns — 270 million of them, to be exact. With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. is home to roughly 35 to 50 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns. Therein lies the rub. For there is no feasible policy that could restrict future gun sales without having to deal with the millions of firearms already stockpiled.  An “assault weapons” ban passed in 1994 was effectively made null by exempting weapons made before that date or by slightly modifying new weapons. But even if we could get rid of amorphous “assault weapons,” it would not be enough, since 75 percent of homicides are handgun-related (knives and hands even kill more people than rifles or shotguns).

    Nonetheless, lives can be saved at the margin by restricting the sale of semiautomatic rifles and large-capacity magazines. We can close the gun show loophole that allows people to evade background checks. We can even require training before acquiring a gun.

    Ammunition sales should also always be done through a federally licensed dealer. Finally, penalties should be increased at the federal level for illegal gun trafficking. Taken together these measures, some of which are trumpeted by Vice President Joe Biden, can prevent unnecessary deaths.

    The unfortunate pessimistic take, though, is the best gun control is no guns. There are no mass shootings and very few gun homicides in Japan, where guns are almost completely banned. I am not advocating banning guns because it would be constitutionally and politically impossible. We must learn to accept that with the right to self-defense granted by the Second Amendment, there will always be needless bloodshed.

    Gun violence since 1968 has already killed more Americans than all the wars in U.S. history combined. But maybe in the future we will begin to question whether this is a pound of flesh worth taking in pursuit of our “self-defense.”

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