There’s an episode of King of the Hill where the main character, Hank Hill, and his father get into an argument and both say that they hate each other. Former President Jimmy Carter shows up and negotiates with both of them to convince them that they don’t hate each other. He does so by asking them both the same question.
“If there was a magical button that would erase the other from existence, but everything else would stay exactly the same, would you press the button?”
Both Hank and his dad agree that they wouldn’t obliterate the other one thereby agreeing that the world is a better place where they exist.
I’ve often thought of this as a good example of how to start thinking about public policy. If you could press a button and accomplish what you wanted politically or policy-wise in the most extreme manner possible, would you do it?
Guns have been back in the media again due to the Uvalde, Texas shooting where 19 children and a few adults died. People are calling for gun control to try to prevent mass shootings such as these and to be blunt, little is likely to happen. President Biden and Congress passed a small bipartisan gun control bill that isn’t likely to do much, but may help around the edges. Once the bill is implemented, there will be more access to telehealth mental health services, expanded background checks for young people, and a variety of other measures. Despite lacking anything particularly substantial (assault weapons bans, stricter licensing requirements), let’s still talk about gun control.
If you could press a button and all of the guns in the world would disappear, along with all gun manufacturers, blueprints, and even the concept, would you press it? I think at the end of the day, I probably would. It would be weird seeing a world with more fist fighting as we’re not ending all violence in this scenario, but around 45,000 fewer Americans would die each year in a violent manner and I’d call that a win.
First, let’s dive into that number, 45,000. Caution: I discuss a lot of dark elements of society in this article. You’ve been warned.
For starters, a majority of all gun deaths are not mass shootings or even homicides. Suicides are the most common form of gun-related death due to well… guns are effective if one wants to commit suicide. If someone owns a gun and it is in their home then it’s an easy and effective way to commit such a horrible act. Whereas pills and hanging oneself can fail, guns are quick, easy, and rarely fail.
(Note: If you are even considering suicide, please call this number: 800–273–8255. Help is available. Speak with someone today.)
This is a frustrating point for me when it comes to the gun violence discussion. People rarely mention suicide when it comes to gun deaths. Almost all of the focus is on mass shootings. I bring this point up first because if we as a society really want to reduce gun violence, then mental health is a good area to focus on. Republicans often use mental health as a deflection from mass shootings as an alternative to gun control. They don’t bring up suicides either, but if better quality and access to mental health care prevents suicides then we should do it. As the largest portion of gun-related deaths, it’s the lowest hanging fruit in reducing gun violence.
I’ve heard a common complaint from conservatives that gun violence is caused by evil and you can’t stop evil. That is a well-constructed argument frame because it’s true. We’ll never stop all gun-related deaths. Unfortunately, liberals buy into this argument and say “well, we want to move the needle and reduce the number of gun-related deaths”.
Moving the needle is totally possible because conservative arguments that gun control doesn’t work are incorrect. Conservative states with looser gun regulations (Wyoming, Alaska, and Montana) have higher firearm deaths than those with stricter laws. The problem with taking a state-by-state approach is that there is no force field that prevents Californian gang members from going to Wyoming and bringing guns back to their state.
The most extreme example of how gun control does work was in Australia. Australia confiscated 650,000 guns from citizens and both suicides and murders plummeted. The hard part about gun control in America, beyond the political restraints, is that we have A LOT of guns. There is no estimate of how many guns are currently in the possession of American citizens and even if guns were banned, it would take a long time for all of the guns currently in circulation to rust and cease their functionality. We have no record of all of them. A gun confiscation program would also likely be considered unconstitutional according to the Supreme Court, which recently expanded gun rights.
I’m going to shoot myself in the foot with many of my gun control supporting friends. I see gun control as a losing argument for progressive politics. While mass shootings elicit a response from voters, the emotions eventually die down, so it’s not a particularly salient political issue for motivating voters. On the other side of the aisle, gun rights activists are very motivated to prevent any and all gun control measures. To gun rights activists, any gun legislation that does not expand gun rights is akin to gun confiscation. Banning bump stocks, background checks, gun registries, and stricter licensing requirements are all gun confiscation to them. Gun control measures motivate gun activists more than their opposition.
The Supreme Court recently decided that states cannot regulate guns. The new gun ruling that the 2nd Amendment is absolute means virtually no gun regulation is safe. It’s sad, but this new Supreme Court’s power grab is making the idea of gun control impossible. This is hard to say, but eliminating mass shootings are a futile goal in a post-legal Supreme Court era. However, it’s not that we can’t try to reduce the number of unnecessary deaths in this country which is ultimately the goal of gun control.
- Motor vehicle accidentals kill over 40,000 people per year.
- Opioid epidemic: 68,630 in 2020.
- All unintentional injury deaths (including opioids and cars): All unintentional injury deaths: 200,955
A lot of the most common causes of death in America are unavoidable or even necessary (old age, abortion, etc). However, locking up medicines, alcohol, and guns, supervising children at pools, and even increasing access to mental health care could all prevent accidental deaths and suicides. Stricter alcohol policies in general prevent violence and accidents. Mass shootings are indeed bad, but there isn’t much hope on making process. However, there are other options to consider if you care about reducing the suffering from loss in your community.