Navy Yard Shooting Raises Ironies in Gun Control Debate

September 17th, 2013

Another mass shooting in America is sparking calls from the left for gun control.  In some cases, the calls are extreme with a few arguing in favor of an outright ban on all guns.

Certainly, the murder of twelve innocent people at the Washington Navy Yard yesterday was tragic.  It was also ironic on so many levels given the role some people want it to play today in the gun control debate.

For instance, isn’t it illegal to possess a gun in Washington, D.C.?  Certainly, that explains why the victims didn’t have guns (although one of them did—his guns were taken by the gunman after he was shot).  How does it explain why the shooter had a gun?  Didn’t he know the law?

I realize that’s a very stupid question, and it’s intended to be.  Clearly, an infinite number of laws will never stop people intent on breaking them.  If that wasn’t the case, then our nationwide ban on murders and theft would be quite effective.

The immediate response to this question from gun control advocates is that at least one of the guns used in this tragedy was purchased outside of DC in Virginia.  The thinking goes that if we banned guns across the country, then we could avoid a situation like the one that occurred yesterday.

While that might work in theory if we’d all just sailed over here unarmed on the Mayflower, it can’t possibly work now.  There are an estimated 300 million guns in this country today.  Most likely, the only people you are going to keep guns away from with some serious ban on them are law abiding people who would never use them to commit a heinous crime in the first place but who might find a gun very useful if an armed person ever entered their home uninvited in the middle of the night.

The latter scenario raises another irony of yesterday’s event.  Initial reports indicated the shooter, Aaron Alexis, had an AR-15 assault weapon. The press jumped all over this “fact.” As it turns out, this report was wrong.  Alexis came in bearing a shotgun and stole two guns while committing the crime.

What was it our Vice-President Joe Biden told us all to buy for our protection?

Ah yes . . . a shotgun.

Few have proposed banning shotguns.  The fact that Biden even recommended them, as well as gave something of a demonstration on how to use one, should be clear evidence that this tragedy isn’t likely to provide much material for the gun control lobby.

Even if possessing a gun wasn’t constitutionally protected, the practicality of banning all guns is basically nonexistent.  Besides, we’ve been down this road before.

Remember Prohibition?  Back at the turn of the last century, we decided to enact a constitutional amendment banning something—alcohol.  Overnight, we turned otherwise law abiding citizens into criminals.  Our motives were pure.  Alcohol is associated with many societal ills and can even lead to death for the user or others. What we found when we banned it, however, was that we just created an entirely new set of problems.  A black market rose up overnight and criminal enterprises flourished.  Fourteen years later, we repealed the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting alcohol with the Twenty-First Amendment reinstating it.

This doesn’t mean that we just have to accept the risk of mass shootings in the workplace as a fact of our daily lives.  We can do something about this problem.

First, we need to explore ways to assure that people like Alexis who suffer from mental illness can’t get access to weapons that can hurt themselves or others.  We also need to find ways to assure they get the help they need absent the unfortunate stigma that our society places on mental illness.  Since violent video games seem to be a constant element in these crimes, we also need to encourage parents and other responsible adults to keep these games away from people vulnerable to crossing the line between a twisted imagination and outright murder.

Finally, rather than stripping Americans of their weapons, we can work hard to assure their protection so no one need fear that each morning when they leave for work it could be their last.