What Can We Do About Gun Violence?

Like so many others right now, I’m numb with sadness and rage about the murder today of at least fifteen people (14 of whom were elementary school children) in Texas, following on the heels of the murder a week and a half ago of one in a California church, following the racist murder of ten in Buffalo. And that’s not to mention the mass shooting that killed two in Chicago (in fact, a block north of my office) last week, or countless other acts of gun violence and murder we and our neighbors endure on a far-too-regular basis.

So what can we, as Latter-day Saints and as U.S. citizens and residents[fn1] do?

We should advocate for better laws, laws that will make these deadly shooting less likely. And I use “should” deliberately; the church encourages us to “play a role as responsible citizens in their communities, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections” and to otherwise engage in the political process. And while the church has taken no formal stand on gun regulation, Pres. Nelson said, in the wake of the Parkland shooting, that “men have passed laws that allow guns to go to people who shouldn’t have them.” As Saints and as humans, we should recoil at the idea that someone can march in and murder elementary school children, or Black Buffalo residents doing their grocery shopping, or a physician worshiping at church.

Before I go too far, though, it’s important to acknowledge a real impediment to gun regulation in the United States. In 2008, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Heller. Prior to Heller, it was an open question whether the Second Amendment right to bear arms was an individual right or a collective right. Scalia came down on the side of an individual right. His analysis of 18th-century usage of the phrase “bear arms,” it turns out, was almost certainly wrong—the phrase was almost always understood in a military context.

But honestly, it doesn’t matter if he was wrong on the law: the Supreme Court is “not final because [it is] infallible, but [it is] infallible only because [it is] final.” For all sorts of reasons, Heller is not likely to be overturned in the foreseeable future.

But that doesn’t mean nothing can be done. Scalia concedes that the “Constitution leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns.” Straight-up banning guns is off the constitutional table, but some type of regulation meets the constitutional muster.

What type of regulation? Well, there’s the rub—we don’t know.

Or, at least, we mostly don’t know. But I want to propose a couple ideas, one of which clearly does not violate the Second Amendment and the second of which likely does not.

One significant problem with guns in the U.S. is economic. Guns are too cheap. And I don’t mean that they should cost a bajillion dollars: the economics-speak would be that they impose negative externalities. Basically, negative externalities are situations where a person gets to internalize the benefits of something, but imposes a portion of the cost on society. The quintessential example is pollution. If I own a factory that makes stuff, I get the benefit of selling that stuff. And I pay some of the costs. But if I dump pollution in the water, I don’t have to pay for safe disposal of the pollution. And I’ll bear a portion of the cost of polluted water, but so will everybody else who has to drink that water. So why do I do it? Because it’s cheaper—I’ve spread the cost around.

Similarly, guns impose costs on society, costs that include property damage (for instance, the shooting in Chicago that I referenced broke a McDonalds window), physical harm and death, and the costs of first responders. Those are all costs borne by people who did not own the gun in question. Because they don’t internalize the costs, gun owners have an incentive to overconsume (that is, buy more guns than they would if they faced the full costs of gun ownership) and underinvest in safety (because of something bad happens as a result of their gun, they don’t have to pay the full price).

So how do we solve this externality problem? There are at least a couple possibilities. In Paying for Gun Violence, an article I wrote a handful of years ago, I propose one idea: a property tax on guns. For various reasons, it’s more elegant at the state level, but it could also possibly be federal. The tax rate would be set by determining the average amount of externalities in the relevant jurisdiction over the prior three years,[fn2] and divide that by the number of firearms in the jurisdiction. That would be the tax. Tax dollars would be earmarked specifically to reimburse victims of gun violence for their costs. That way, gun owners would internalize the costs of gun ownership and society would be reimbursed for (some of) the costs they suffered.[fn3]

In the article I offer a lot more nuance and explanation. And it’s admittedly a blunt instrument: everybody in the jurisdiction pays the same amount, whether they’re a careful gun owner who keeps their guns in a locked safe and doesn’t share the combination with their teenage children or whether they leave their gun in their car, loaded and in plain sight. And that’s a fair criticism. But, for reasons I go into in the article, it is almost definitely constitutional (because taxes, even where they impinge slightly on other constitutional rights, are almost always constitutional), at least if it’s designed to compensate and not set so high as to effectively be a ban on gun ownership. And it would have at least some positive incentives: gun owners who wanted to lower their taxes would have every incentive to support other regulation that would reduce the likelihood of gun violence.

If you want a more elegant and targeted solution, we could also require gun owners to have liability insurance. The insurance route is better than the tax one in that it would be responsive to the likelihood that any given gun owner would commit violence. Insurance companies are, in most cases, really good at evaluating and pricing risk. So if you keep your gun unloaded in a gun safe, chances are that you’ll pay a lower premium. If you’re an 18-year-old boy, by contrast, you’ll likely pay much higher premiums. Again, an insurance requirement would force gun owners to bear something approaching the cost of their gun ownership while compensating society for the harms the guns impose on them. I’m not an insurance lawyer, though, and I don’t know what the constitutionality analysis would be.

Those aren’t, of course, the only possible solutions to the scourge of violence we’re facing. And they won’t entirely solve the problem of gun violence. But there are things we can do—even in the face of an individual right to bear arms—to reduce the likelihood and frequency of gun violence. Those things may not be intuitive. They may not be perfect. But throwing up our hands isn’t enough. Praying for the victims isn’t enough. We have a responsibility to actually be creative and find and support solutions within the context of our current constitutional protections for gun ownership.

[fn1] Our non-U.S. readers probably aren’t dealing with constant deadly shootings; even if you are, though, for constitutional reasons, you’re likely to have solutions unavailable to us.

[fn2] I chose a rolling three-year average to try to even out spikes. Any given year may have more or less gun violence, but the average over several years should arrive at a fair amount.

[fn3] I get that this is an imperfect solution: no amount will reimburse for the death of a child or a grandparent.

Photo by Veit Hammer on Unsplash


  1. I’m reluctant to engage because I’m just hurting right now. But I will add the other economic disincentive rules that are mentioned. (For an opinion—all of them, and more.)
    >a meaningful tax on ammunition
    >liability on manufacturers and owners and sellers on mis-use and mis-direction and mis-handling.

  2. I don’t understand why you hate freedom and America, Sam. Slaughtered schoolchildren are just the cost of liberty. Like the founders intended.

  3. Alma Frances Pellett says:

    My mind seems to be going how race will be pulled into these ideas, as they always are. Most any talk using statistics gets boiled down to “worse where -those- people are”, and taxes tend to disproportionately affect the poor. I’d like to say guns are a luxury item (and many of them are), but there are places where guns are necessary for protection from wildlife.
    Personally, I don’t think anyone needs automatic anything, but I sure would like to give some of the ideas people have a try.
    I just wish any talk didn’t get quickly drowned out and forgotten for the next tragedy.

  4. I have thought that the solution would be special sale taxes on bullets. The funds would be used to fight wildfires caused by guns. I can see the idea extending to property damage, etc, that you pointed out in the article.

  5. Kristine says:

    Are there really places where guns are necessary for protection from wildlife? How often do people really have to shoot bears or moose or coyotes? I’d be interested in numbers, because I think we invoke that need all out of proportion to its realistic existence.

  6. Sam,

    I think your ideas regarding property tax are compelling and should be pursued immediately.

    At the same time, we need to seriously dig into what is happening in our society that creates such despair, rage and hopelessness in a subset of young men that they continue to see murder of innocents as the only option.

    I am not in any way condoning their heinous actions, but we need to, as Thoreau said, attack the problem at both the leaves and the roots.

  7. Kristine, unfortunately, I don’t think “protection” (whether from wildlife or from people) has any significance in Scalia’s opinion (though it has been a couple years since I read it).

    Robert, thanks. My proposal absolutely isn’t the final word on this—it’s clearly just one of the leaves. But I put it out there as an easy start and one that will do something, at least on the margins.

  8. Sam, I’m curious whether a property tax on guns would be a direct tax subject to apportionment. I’m also curious what the constitutional problem would be with requiring insurance for gun ownership. The only problem I could see would be the Congressional authority question, but at least under current jurisprudence, I think that would clearly fall under interstate commerce. I like both approaches, but I actually view the constitutional problems as flipped, but I am neither a tax lawyer nor an insurance lawyer.

  9. Our society is suffering from the destruction and devaluation of the family. Predicted by both ancient and modern prophets. If you want to fix societies problems, then fix the family.

  10. Kristine – there are some. Most of Alaska, a fair portion of the rural Rockies, Sierra-Nevadas, and the Cascades still have bears and mountain lions. Certainly not in less rural areas.
    But even as far as hunting and animal control, I don’t think anyone needs more than a bolt-action.

  11. dcs, I spend a bunch of time on that in my actual article. The short of it is, the property tax is clearly doable at the state level. There’s a broad—though not universal—consensus that personal property taxes aren’t direct taxes and thus don’t have to be apportioned if they’re federal. But that’s not entirely certain, so putting enacting it at the state level is safer from a constitutional perspective.

    As for insurance, I just don’t know insurance law. Most insurance mandates are state-level mandates and I don’t know if that’s just tradition or if it’s constitutionally-required. I also don’t know whether the Supreme Court would find that a mandatory insurance regime would unduly burden Second Amendment rights. There’s clear precedent, though, that taxation is permissible (within boundaries, of course) even where the tax falls on constitutionally-protected behavior. So while I think the insurance mandate would be a better solution, I think a tax is a safer and easier one.

  12. Mark, whatever “fixing the family” means, it’s not a catch-all solution to all of our problems. The U.S.’s outsized problem with gun violence is significantly correlated with our outsized access to guns. So instead of trying to solve an actual problem with inchoate platitudes about the family, what if we dig into the problem itself and pursue actual solutions?

  13. Thanks, Sam. Unfortunately, the GOP will not accept anything except total unlimited access to guns. Death is simply a cost of staying in office.

  14. Old Man says:

    Gun owner here. I love to shoot (trap and pistol), They really are great competitive sports. Of Sam’s two proposals, I most like the insurance suggestion. Let the actuaries deal with the risk numbers, the type of firearms, etc. Proof of insurance should be required at every gun range and competition or to use the firearm on federal or state land. The right to “keep and bear arms” does not include the right to use that firearm anywhere one wants or to avoid insurance costs. If time, space and manner restrictions can be placed on assembly or speech, why not on firearm use?

    I honestly doubt my insurance would be that high. My firearms have trigger locks or are tucked into a gun safe. Has anyone ever heard of someone terrorizing a community with a competition shotgun? or a target pistol? How many bolt-action rifles are used to commit crimes?

    I would add that shooters have really got to step up to the plate on this one. They should have done this long, long ago. A huge transformative campaign is needed which emphasizes safety, sportsmanship and a complete rejection of violence and anti-government rhetoric.

  15. Thanks for your thoughts, Old Man. I like the insurance idea better, too, precisely because it incentivizes people to act responsibly and rewards people like you who do. The tax proposal is much less targeted but (I suspect) easier to get the judiciary to agree with.

  16. Loursat says:

    Sam, thanks for these concrete policy suggestions. I appreciate that you’re taking the time to explain these things in this forum for all of us who don’t follow your academic writing.

    As a political strategy, it seems right to me that we should work for a range of specific reforms, including taxation of weapons and mandatory insurance. We should also frankly endorse the repeal of the Second Amendment.

    We must meet head-on the ideology of gun fetishism. The Second Amendment long ago stopped being a practical policy choice, if it ever was that. From a rational view of policy, the Second Amendment is a constitutional provision that became obsolete with the modern, national development of military power. In our time, the Second Amendment stands for a violent idea of “freedom” that primarily serves to feed the paranoia of insurrectionists. A great many Second Amendment enthusiasts favor gun rights because of their fantasies about fighting off evil Federals. We could sort of live with these fantasies when they were limited to a few on the fringe, but we can’t live with them now that they are actually being expressed by violent attacks on the government.

    The fanatical protection of gun rights encourages mass shootings. Where I live, it is commonplace to see bumper stickers boasting that the owner has guns and is willing to use them for violent purposes. I think most of these people display these signs just because it makes them feel tough, but it’s inevitable that in a culture like this, some people will take this boasting literally and act on it. When you’re taught that it’s a sacred right to have guns, the guns will be used. The guns are being used.

    The way to counter this horrible mainstreaming of violent extremism is by extinguishing it. Delegitimize this vicious ideology by rooting out the Second Amendment.

    In response to Old Man’s comment, I would be very happy if gun owners would vigorously endorse “a complete rejection of violence and anti-government rhetoric.” That’s what I’m arguing for. I just don’t see a way to get there without being very frank in the way we deal with the root causes. The defenders of gun rights are not fanatical about it because they enjoy polite trap shooting on the weekend. There’s something deeper going on, and we have to be honest and aggressive in addressing that.

  17. Is there a commercially available insurance policy as described? I have been around guns my whole life and never heard of or seen an insurance policy as described. I personally carry us lawshield but that covers legal expenses in the event of a legal self defense shooting. I think that the insurance option in this post is being discussed out of thin air.

  18. According to Forbes there is no known liability insurance for firearms outside of home owners type policies.

  19. Bbell, I can guarantee you that if the liability insurance were mandated, either insurers would start offering it or they would discover that there is no cost-effective way to provide the insurance. But if you don’t like the idea, I proposed a tax. And you’re welcome to put forward your own proposals for laws and regulations that comply with Heller to reduce gun violence. But if your point is to try to shout down any possible proposal, you can kindly shut up and go away. Because I’m not interested—I’m making proposals to solve a real economic problem.

  20. There is already an excise tax on firearms that goes to wildlife conservation.

    I suppose you could expand it.

  21. Bbell, I spend some time on the excise tax in the article. That’s part of the reason that I think the tax would have no constitutional issue at all.

  22. Another gun owner here, with prior military experience, and expansive knowledge on gun laws and gun crimes. Unfortunately, in the media, blogposts, and BCC, there is too much emotional rhetoric, vilification, and mischaracterization. Out of respect, I will not be addressing all the emotionally charged issues at this point. But I will say, gun owners, 2A advocates, and even Republicans are not all the villains some make them out to be. I believe there are misguided arguments all around, and I would hope politicians, advocates, and the general population could eventually come together with honest and difficult conversations and listening to enact meaningful measures. But, given the strong emotions and ideologies across the board I am skeptical. I am not resolved to defeat, but sorrowfully skeptical.
    I will, however, briefly address the two proposals: taxes and insurance.
    I seriously doubt either would do anything to curb gun violence and crime. The reason being that neither of them address any of the root causes. Taxes and insurance will not in any meaningful way reduce the access to guns and ammunition for determined and violent individuals.
    Today you can purchase 9mm ammunition (the most common handgun ammunition) for between 25 cents and 40 cents a round. If a gunman had 4 magazines loaded with 15 rounds each (a pretty typical capacity) that would be 60 rounds, or about $15 – $25. Even if your tax was $5 per round, that would still cost less than $325. A gunman motivated to kill will not hesitate to spend the $325, especially when he expects to die himself. Remember, these individuals are determined.
    The most common semi-automatic rifle round, for the AR15 style rifle, is the 5.56 or the .223. Though pricier than the 9mm, the math doesn’t change the incentive much. These ammunition rounds can be purchased today for between 40 cents and 80 cents a round. If the gunman had 4 magazines at 30 rounds each, or 120 rounds, the cost today would be between $48 – $86. Again, if you were to tax each round at $5 a piece, that would raise the cost to $648 – $686.
    Those exorbitant taxes would almost definitely reduce the amount of recreational and competitive shooting, but I seriously doubt it would have any meaningful effect on an individual determined to commit mass murder. We have seen that these individuals do not value life, not even their own lives. Once they get to this point, money is not a consideration. Even if the ammunition were $10 per round I doubt it would stop these evil people.
    One of the most common 9mm handguns on the market today is the Glock 17, or 19, or 43. Each of those models retails for around $500, or less. The Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0, also very popular is below $500. Taurus and Canik models can be sold for $350. One of the most popular AR15 style rifles is the Smith & Wesson M&P Sport II for between $700 – $800 dollars. There are cheaper brands out there. Even if taxes were 300%, you could still get the rifle for under $3,000. Now, that price would deter lots of people from purchasing the rifle. But I doubt it would deter a motivated killer. Even if he had to save from his minimum wage job, it wouldn’t take too long. Plus, remember, these young men don’t expect to survive, or escape. Money does not matter to them.
    A disgruntled, disturbed, angry, violent, motivated 18 year-old male can purchase an AR15 style rifle, and load 4 magazines, with 120 rounds of deadly ammunition for $1,000. You could raise the taxes to make it cost $5,000. That would stop many recreational shooters, but not the motivated killer. To be fair, it could deter some people, but even though we think these types of crimes are prolific, the reality is that only a handful of shooters have committed these crimes relative to the overall population. We just don’t know if the shooters in Texas, New York, or Colorado, or Florida, or anywhere else would have been deterred or not.
    Sadly, I think it is the same with insurance. The killer wouldn’t care about paying the premium because the killer doesn’t expect to be around long enough for it to matter. And if the potential killer were prevented from acquiring a rifle because the insurance premiums would be prohibitive then the insurance law would be overturned. Prohibitive costs and taxes would nullify the right to bear arms, which would be a direct challenge back to the 2A and Heller.
    I’m sorry Sam, I’m not trying to be a naysayer here, I just think your recommendations skirt around the issue and would not prevent the few crazy terrorists and mass murders out there who are hell bent on destruction. I’m sorry that I don’t have an answer. I’m sorry that I don’t have any brilliant suggestions at this point. Most of all, I’m just sad.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    I have often thought that we should treat owning guns like owning cars. Pretty much every American has owned a car, so we’re acclimated to the restrictions. You need training, you need to pass written and practicing tests, you need to register your car/gun, you need to transfer title upon disposition, and yes, you need insurance.

  24. Tim, thanks for your comment. You are absolutely right that, for the most part, my proposals won’t stop a determined killer (though higher price may be enough to prevent an 18-year-old, who probably isn’t cash-rich, from acquiring guns). But mass shootings, while salient and galvanizing, aren’t the biggest problems with guns. Domestic abuse and suicide are. And increasing the price of guns is at least likely to make individuals purchase fewer guns, which will make the risk of suicide and domestic abuse with a firearm less likely.

    To stop determined shooters will take different policy enactments. And we should make them; my proposals are incremental ideas that will make things less bad and will compensate for some of the bad. But I don’t want to pretend that they will solve all of the gun violence issues in the country.

  25. Michael Maxwell says:

    Many of my LDS peers believe that the #1 reason for gun ownership, particularly military grade weapons, is as a deterrent to government tyranny. They usually fall back on the myth of the revolutionary war minutemen, believing that it was gun ownership in that era that fueled the American revolution (rather than accepting that it was the colonies support by the French that ultimately provided the resources for victory). Our Christian persecution complex, literal end of times belief, and our people being violently run out of Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and eventually the United States itself contribute to this paranoia.

    The mythologies around gun ownership are at the core of resistance to take better preventative action. But they all seem to come with an amnesia of Jesus teachings. ‘Turn the other cheek’ is also a myth but isn’t it one that the LDS faithful covenant to prioritize over others?

    So I don’t think a new insurance program to address this as a market problem has potential because its not an ownership problem. Rather, it’s a cultural problem that glorifies gun mythology with guns as the solution to many of life’s problems – tyrannical government, protection from criminals, relief from depression – being the most common.

    Really, all we need to do is to look to the dozens of other countries that don’t have this problem and learn from them. The solutions already exist and have been proven. This is, if we care about life more than our holding onto our favorite mythologies.

  26. The analogy to cars is good. But, how many people are driving around without an expired registration? How many drivers are on the road without liability insurance? Tax and insurance will have no impact on criminals. It will only burden legitimate gun owners. Although a bit dated, this study by the Department of Justice on what guns were used to commit crime was insightful. Only 7 pages. https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/GUIC.PDF I recommend the study to understand that mass shootings, as horrible as they are, are the smallest fraction of gun violence. The overwhelming amount of gun violence is one on one.

  27. 19 children and 2 teachers were killed in a school in Texas yesterday. Last year in Cook County, Illinois, 19.2 people on average were killed by guns each week. The media and the public have very different responses.

  28. IDIAT, there are ways to deal with the question of noncompliance. I go into it with respect to tax in my article, but not in the blog post. Like I said, my proposals don’t solve all of the problems. But the cliche that we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good is absolutely on point here.

  29. To those who would say Sam’s suggestions will only burden legitimate gun enthusiasts and not criminals, that’s basically an argument that we shouldn’t have any laws because criminals won’t follow them. That’s a non-starter for me. I agree that the issue is multilayered and complex, but Sam’s suggestions are a place to start. If nothing else, maybe it further delays or slows the rate at which otherwise mentally ill/murder-minded individuals acquire weapons and ammunition necessary to carry out their plans. Maybe the added delay creates more opportunities for other solutions (mental health treatment, medication, other resources) to reach these people in time to deter them from carrying out their mass murders. Slowing the rate of acquisition of firearms and ammunition means fewer guns potentially out in public at any one time. One would think, statistically speaking, that fewer guns in circulation would translate to fewer accidents and fewer opportunities to turn a firearm on oneself or others.

  30. Sam, thanks for the patience to respond to the “Laws won’t stop criminals”, “Not all Gin Owners”, Bad faith statistics throwing, etc. It’s frustrating that the “reactions to shooting” bingo card is getting filled so easily.

  31. Came across an old article today of when a state (Kansas) tried to allow teachers to be armed. It was nixed by the insurance company.
    I almost wonder if insurance companies have already done the actuarial work for insuring gun owners.

  32. Rockwell says:

    Re: protection from wildlife

    This is a bit of a side track. Bear spray (basically a pepper spray) is considered highly effective against bears and wolves, quick and easy to use, and safer than fire arms. I might see if I can find data to back that up, but the conversations I have had with rangers and wildlife managers is enough for me. The biggest problem with bear spray is convincing folks to carry it.

    I have been told if you are going to use a gun as a brown bear defense it needs to be fairly large and you need to have it ready for a quick draw. Your average hand gun might not be big enough and a larger rifle or shotgun carried on your shoulder probably won’t be fast enough. I’d be happy take correction from something more knowledgeable admit guns and bears if you want chime in.

    For numerical perspective, there have been 70 fatal brown bear attacks in the US in the last 50 years. There have been a lot more school shootings than that. After brown bears the most common animal attacks are sharks and snakes, so a gun would not be an effective defense.


    I’m not looking to take away guns from hunters and outdoorsman. And they might want to carry bear spray when they are out in the back country, in addition to their firearm.

    I might comment on the rest of the post later.

  33. Observer says:

    The biggest problem with any insurance proposal is that insurance doesn’t cover illegal acts, and so no insurance company would pay out for a criminal’s use of a gun. Consider auto insurance. Intentionally crashing your car is not covered. If your insurance company determines that an “accident” was intentional, they won’t pay (and your policy’s terms would back that up). Similarly, homeowners insurance won’t cover intentional damage, such as burning down your own home.

    Even the few existing firearm-related insurance programs have been accused of being illegal. NY sued the NRA over its Carry Guard insurance program, saying it was illegal and dangerous to provide insurance to cover legal bills for possible self-defense shootings.

    Your homeowner’s insurance may cover your guns in the event of an accident or if they are stolen (read the terms carefully), but they won’t cover the costs associated with a criminal who has your stolen gun using it in a crime. In the same way, your car is covered against theft, but your insurance won’t cover injuries to others that are a result of it being stolen.

    All an insurance mandate would do is transfer money from law-abiding gun owners (not criminals, who wouldn’t buy the insurance) to insurance companies for a product the insurance companies would consider pure profit, as they would almost never have to pay out any settlements.

  34. Observer says:

    A property tax is a political nonstarter, in addition to being unworkable. It would require registration of all 300-500 million privately-owned guns in the US so that such a tax could be assessed. That would include people who maybe have an old gun in a box in the attic that was inherited from a parent or grandparent and has mostly been forgotten about. And that’s not even considering non-compliance rate.

    When New York passed the SAFE Act requiring registration of “assault weapons”, less than 10% of the projected firearms were registered, even under the threat of felony charges. If even 1% of guns were to remain unregistered, it would be enough to arm a force larger than the US military (1.4 million people), National Guard (~400,000 people) and all law enforcement (~700,000 people) combined.

    The only way to really enforce such registration would be to have law enforcement (or military) go door-to-door searching for unregistered guns, which would trample all over the 4th Amendment in addition the the 2nd. And because some people would inevitably resist, you would see SWAT tactics used, which will get people killed, including those who have no guns but object to police intruding on their privacy. How many people dying in such raids do you think it would take before the police and military would be outnumbered by outraged armed citizens (and that’s assuming that the police and military all agree to go along with such orders).

    The end result would be civil war in the best case, if not wholesale slaughter of innocent people.

  35. Observer says:

    Finally, suicide is not an appropriate motivation for the government to restrict someone’s rights. I am personally opposed to suicide, and would never choose it for myself. I have watched the effects of my grandfather’s suicide on my family. A year ago, my wife and I spent months dealing with our 7-year-old son who had become suicidal (courtesy of a combination of therapy and medication, he is doing much better now). I strongly believe in helping those with mental illness, in all its forms.

    At the same time, it is wrong to assume that everyone who commits suicide does so out of mental illness. I listened to my grandfather’s suicide tape where he explained his reasons. I disagree with them. I think he was wrong and selfish to take his own life. He caused intense emotional scars to almost everyone who loved him. But at the same time, I believe that it was his choice to make, and no one, not me, not the government, has the right to take that choice away from him.

    Ultimately, he is accountable to God for the choices that he made and the harms that came from those choices. It’s not my place to judge him from making a bad decision through his own free will.

  36. Pontius Python says:

    “The only way to really enforce such registration would be to have law enforcement (or military) go door-to-door searching for unregistered guns, which would trample all over the 4th Amendment in addition the the 2nd. … The end result would be civil war in the best case, if not wholesale slaughter of innocent people.”

    Observer, I’m sure there are a lot of ways to reduce gun violence without armed searches of every residence and wholesale civil war. What a slippery slope you’re posing. Apocalyptic slippery slope arguments like that are part of the reason this country continues to have a problem with gun violence. Stop it. You’re not helping. You’re just sounding like a right-wing fanatic.

  37. Observer, it absolutely would require some sort of voluntary disclosure mixed with penalties for nondisclosure. But it’s eminently doable, even without an invading force, something I go into in my article.

    And there is abundant evidence that reducing access to guns reduces both suicide and domestic violence killings. And to be clear, in the proposal I’m making here, I’m not talking about taking away anybody’s rights. I’m talking about requiring gun owners to internalize the externalities of guns. That makes gun ownership more expensive than it currently is, which reduces the overconsumption of guns. But enacting a property tax on guns or requiring gun owners to have insurance doesn’t infringe on a person’s right to own a gun.

    I know there are circles that are desperate, for some reason, to keep the status quo, to avoid doing anything to protect children and churchgoers and grocery shoppers and people in movie theaters from being murdered. But I’m not one, and at this point, I have no patience for people who want to keep the world the way it is now.

  38. Geoff - Aus says:

    I understand the leadership of the Republican party is much more extreme on gun control than most city republicans.

    I read on The Exponent the suggestion that the church could use it’s money, influence, and protest organizing skills, to influence the gun debate.

    Might there come a point where the R leadership are isolated?

    In Australia we have just had an election where a good number of women stood against the conservative party because they said the party no longer represented their views on climate action, integrity, or equality for women. A number of government ministers lost their sears to these women.

    Could something similar be done in America on gun control and climate action, and integrity in politics?

  39. Geoff, the church could absolutely use its money, influence, and organizing to lobby for more-effective gun laws. If it wants to keep its tax exemption (and it does!), it would face some limits on the amount. It couldn’t devote more than an “insubstantial amount” of its activities to lobbying. There’s no bright line for “insubstantial” but, as a practical matter, as long as the church continues to function as a church, it’s not going to hit that ceiling. It spends enough on its religious and charitable mission that the substantiality threshold would be really high.

  40. Nice to see someone thinking about solutions instead of political pandering.

    Also deeply concerning at the utter failure of armed law enforcement officers at the recent shootings.

  41. Observer says:


    Voluntary disclosure that only has a 5% compliance rate is worthless. That’s not some hopeful guess, but based in recent historical data. When New York passed the SAFE Act in 2013, they required registration of ~1 million “assault weapons” (as defined by that law) with noncompliance punishable as a Class A misdemeanor (up to 1 year in prison or 3 years probation and a fine up to $1000). By 2016 only 45,000 “assault weapons” had been registered. The compliance hasn’t increased in any significant measure since then (though New York has stopped reporting how many registrations have been made).

    What many people don’t understand is that fighting registration is a hill that a large portion of gun owners are willing to literally and figuratively die upon. (A common joke is that they lost their entire collection in a boating accident.) The vast majority will not comply, and the only way to force compliance will be to use force. That will end in bloodshed, both from gun owners who choose to resist and from law enforcement overreactions because of perceived threats. So either the government passes a law that is not enforced, or it will have to use an extremely heavy handed response to force compliance. Neither option will accomplish your goals.

    To many gun owners, the attempts to “requir[e] gun owners to internalize the externalities of guns” are perceived as collective punishment. There are approximately 150 million gun owners in the US, comprising about 40-45% of all households. Per the Brady Campaign, approximately 120,000 people are injured or killed with a gun each year in the US (about a quarter of them being suicides). That means that at most 0.1% of gun owners injure or kill someone else with a gun each year (and the percentage is actually much lower than that when you account for multiple injuries from a single attacker). More than 99.9% of all gun owners do not injure or kill anyone with their guns, and yet you are insisting that they bear the costs of the 0.1%.

    The statistics show that the vast majority of gun owners are extremely responsible, and they care deeply about their Constitutional rights. We don’t penalize everyone who wishes to speak because a small number incite violence. We don’t tax all religions because some religious groups cause harm to themselves or others (think Jim Jones, etc). 2.27% of all drivers have at least one DUI on their record, but we don’t treat everyone who drinks alcohol as though they are potential drunkards.

    I’ve lost people I care about to both gun violence and drunk driving. I understand how emotions run high after such incidents, but that doesn’t justify collective punishment of a large portion of the population. The emotional desire to “do something” needs to be tempered by considering the full set of consequences (not just the perceived benefits) of whatever that “something” might be.

  42. Observer, it’s interesting (and troubling) to me that you view gun regulation as punishment. Do you also see seatbelt laws as punishment? Laws against insider trading? Smoking bans? Alcohol taxes? All of those raise the cost of engaging in behavior. All serve regulatory purposes. All affect people who follow the law and who don’t follow it. And I can’t see any substantive difference, except that it appears that you want people to have unfettered access to firearms.

    And of course some portion of gun owners would object to having to internalize their negative externalities. They’re used to underpriced guns. That’s a poor excuse, at best, to allow them to continue imposing costs on society while keep the full benefit for themselves. We’d all love to keep all of the benefit of our actions while externalizing expenses. That doesn’t make it good policy.

    And frankly, if you truly believe that a sizeable portion of gun owners would engage in violent resistance to regulation, I think you undercut your (implied, at least) assertion that gun owners are largely law-abiding. By contrast, I have more faith in their law-abiding nature.

    So I get that you want to do nothing and hope that the results change. That you see the frequent death of innocent people as an acceptable price for the continued unfettered access to virtually any firearm a person wants to have. You’ll forgive me if I vehemently disagree.

  43. I am in favor of special insurance covering guns, because many of the deaths and injuries are accidental. My brother could really have benefited from insurance coverage of gun accidents. Basically a gun went off in a moving vehicle, in spite of the safety being on. That particular gun model was involved in two accidental deaths when the gun fired with the safety on. My brother was hit point blank in the back of the head, causing severe brain injury. But of the several insurance policies that should have covered his medical expenses, they all said, “not my problem”. The coverage from BYU, nope, he was out on break. The medical, nope, happened in a moving vehicle. The car insurance, nope, not a car accident. My father’s medical for a college student, nope, and I don’t remember their excuse. Basically, he should have been covered by 5 different insurance policies and they all refused to cover it. So, gun accidents happen, and home owners insurance doesn’t cover you while out hunting.

    But the insurance companies don’t want to cover gun accidents because they are too common, too serious injuries, and too deadly. They know that gun owners will take the risk of an accident rather than pay what the insurance will cost, so there is no real market.

    So, the whole, “criminal acts are not covered by insurance,” is not a valid reason to dismiss gun insurance as a bad idea. Small children find guns and one of them gets killed. People have had guns go off while cleaning, or when dropped. People get shot accidentally while hunting, or during target practice. Many gun owners are not careful enough, and even when they are well trained and careful, guns malfunction as in my brothers case.

  44. Loursat says:

    In this comment thread we have seen people arguing that it is good to have guns available for suicide, that laws are useless because criminals break them, and that weapons designed to kill large numbers of people as quickly as possible are merely a “tool.” These people are defending a cult of violence, a culture of death.

    The question for us is how to replace this cult of violence with a culture of life and freedom. Economic methods like the ones Sam explores here are necessary. We must also be bold in consistently calling the culture of death what it is. We accomplish that by taking away the constitutional right to have guns. Will that result in confiscating all the guns? No, it will not. But we must make illegitimate the idea that our freedom requires us to excuse violence and death.

  45. Anna, thank you for sharing your experience, and I’m sorry both for your brother’s injury and the fact that overlapping insurance policies managed to all fail to overlap with respect to gun injury.

    And Loursat, thanks for your comments.

  46. Why do you think Ukraine has been able to defend itself against Russia without air support? An attack they thought would never happen. Why do you think giving an AK to every citizen that wanted one was a first and proven effective response? The guns are the insurance policy against governments and regimes that will always seek more power. Anyone who thinks “that can’t happen here” is being naïve. In the meantime, they are used for hunting, sporting, and for self-defense. Sadly they are also at times used to inflict terrible tragedy like this week. We need to limit this use while absolutely preserving the safety that they provide in true times of need. This is the great challenge.

  47. tre, interesting that you’d bring up Ukraine. It has about 10 civilian-owned guns per 100 residents. Meanwhile, the U.S. has about 120 per 100 residents. While Ukraine is in the top 25 countries for total number of guns, it’s not in the top 25 for per capital civilian gun ownership. So I’m pretty sure the Ukrainian example isn’t doing the work you think it is.

  48. The rate you cite was the rate before the war. I was in Poland last month and spoke with many refugees. They were so grateful for the arms their families had been given. Everyone that has stayed they say has taken up arms given to them by mostly the USA in the last 3 months. They were all offered AK’s and have learned to use them. They all wish they had them before the war. They thought, although maybe ill-founded, that it might have been more of a deterrent as they were not armed. Arming regular people has absolutely resisted the Russians. This doesn’t take anything away from the tragedy in Texas in any way which is terrible and we need to prevent it but a defenseless people will be overrun eventually by someone.

  49. Sigh. tre, no offense, but if it were necessary to resist an invasion (from whom? Canada? Mexico? we’re in a far different situation in the US than Ukraine), and if it were necessary to have civilians fight, we could lose 90% of our firearms and still be fine. However, the idea that we need an armed citizenry to resist the incursion of an invading foreign force is an absurd idea. In the meantime, the huge number of firearms in the US leads to more death and destruction here than other, less-heavily-armed countries face. I am willing to guarantee that requiring gun owners to internalize the externalities of gun ownership, rather than spreading those costs to society at large, will not make us more prone to foreign invasion.

  50. Pontius Python says:

    @tre, you admit that “The rate you cite was the rate before the war.” Handing out guns to everybody and anybody on the streets of Kyiv who wants one is understandable in wartime when your country is being invaded by a much larger neighbor with a much larger military, when the primary use of such weapons is to fight a foreign army. Such easy access to firearms is not understandable in peacetime, when the most visible use of such weapons is in mass shootings. Try again. The availability of weapons in Ukraine right now is NOT, repeat NOT, in any way, a useful analogy for the availability of weapons in Texas, or the rest of the United States, right now.

  51. The other thing missing for realistic consideration is exactly what the republicans are blaming the shootings on, but have consistently cut funding for, mental health. When schools run into too little funding, the things that get cut are school counselors and the arts programs. So, all these teen age kids who are bullied, then decide to take others out with them when they suicide by cop, the help they needed isn’t there. Where are the discussions among republicans about what to do about mental health. They are quick to blame the person’s poor mental health, as if nothing can be done. They say “mental health”, then they say you can’t legislate against evil. But you know each state can vote to increase funding for school counselors. Each state can fund mental health facilities for inexpensive counseling and reduced cost prescriptions. There are so many things that can be done besides throw our hands up in the air and say that we can’t stop criminals. Yeah, we can get help for troubled kids before they become criminals.

  52. Observer says:


    I didn’t say I see it as punishment. I said many gun owners would see it as punishment. 99.9% of them are responsible. Why should they bear the costs of the 0.1% that are not? It’s not the guns that cause the harm, but the people.

    And those gun owners I mentioned would not be responding violently to regulation. They would peacefully refuse to comply with the regulation (much like the noncompliance with the NY SAFE Act). It’s only if the government then tried to use force to enforce the regulation that they would potentially turn violent. And even then, from their perspective it would be the government acting unlawfully by infringing their rights (not just the Second, but also the Fourth Amendment, in such cases).

    But then, you betray a lack of good faith in your final comments: “So I get that you want to do nothing and hope that the results change. That you see the frequent death of innocent people as an acceptable price for the continued unfettered access to virtually any firearm a person wants to have.” You are projecting opinions onto me that I have not expressed. I have explained to you why your proposals are not feasible, both from a legal/financial perspective (the insurance idea) and from a political and practical perspective (the property tax idea).

    Again, I understand the emotional need to “do something”. I feel it, too. But doing something just to do something leads to unintentional consequences, and you need to consider all sides of proposals like this. You are dealing with a subject that a significant portion of the country has firm and passionate beliefs about, beliefs that are backed up by the Constitution. You cannot force a change on such a group against their will, so you need to consider the costs of noncompliance.

    And Loursat, I did not say that it is good for guns to be available for suicide. I said that not all suicide is caused by mental illness, and that if a person freely chooses to end their own life that is their right, no matter how wrong I think they are to do it. The right to life necessarily must include the right to end your life if you choose, just like the right to free speech necessarily includes speech that you might disagree with. Respecting such a right does not mean that you agree with how someone chooses to exercise it.

    Anna, I am sorry for your brother’s experience, but if the gun went off while the safety was engaged, then that is a true safety defect that you can sue the gun manufacturer over. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act specifically allows lawsuits over safety issues while prohibiting suing gun manufacturers for the intentional criminal acts of their customers. I fully believe in holding gun makers responsible for safety flaws in their products. I am simply opposed to holding any manufacturer responsible for criminal uses of legal products.

  53. Observer, you’re wrong, both from a legal and a practical perspective. Which is fine—people are allowed to be wrong.

  54. Observer’s comments highlight to me that a lot of pro-gun rhetoric depends on dividing the world into good guys (law-abiding/responsible gun owners) and bad guys (criminals). The good guys will never do anything bad with their guns, while the bad guys ignore all laws. If we applied this reasoning to car safety, we’d conclude that speed limits are unnecessary because good drivers don’t need them and bad drivers will always break them.

    The gospel (and simple experience) tells us we are all imperfect. “Good guy” gun owners may make inadvertent and even innocent mistakes, like accidental discharges, cases of mistaken identity, or mistakenly thinking they are in danger when they are not. Or they may react inappropriately to a dispute, whether that’s on the road or in their family. They may be briefly overwhelmed by despair and think they want to take their own life. Guns can turn these moments of weakness into permanent tragedies.

    I imagine many gun owners will read that and say “I’m well-trained, take proper precautions, and always have control over my emotions. I have never and will never make a dangerous mistake with my gun.” To which I can only respond: never ever? (Well, hardly ever.) What I like about Sam’s proposals, as unlikely to become reality as they are, is that they recognize there are risks and costs associated with every gun, even when it’s in the hands of a “good guy,” and that those risks and costs are, in large part, imposed on people other than the gun owner. I’m not looking to ban guns, but I do think it’s fair to ask gun owners to take responsibility for their choice to own guns.

  55. Loursat says:

    Observer, your argument about suicide makes a distinction without a difference. The bottom line is that you’re fine with policies that facilitate suicide if the alternative would infringe on gun rights.

    The culture of death hurts all of us, including those who defend it. There is a better way.

  56. Thanks, RLD. You’ve expressed my thoughts better than I have.

    Basically, I’m not interested in good guy vs. bad guy or law-abiding vs. criminal, in large part because those categorizations are pretty meaningless and in many cases aren’t amenable to ex ante analysis. They’re also fluid, at least on the margins.

    But the idea of externalities doesn’t care about good guy vs. bad guy. A good guy can accidentally discharge a weapon causing property or human damage. A bad guy can be such a terrible shot that he misses everything. Irrespective of motive, one causes physical harm and the other doesn’t. Similarly, whatever you think of suicide, it imposes costs on society. At the very least, it requires first responders to respond, and first responders aren’t free. Society picks up that tab for at least a portion of the harm done. And that (plus overconsumption, which increases the likelihood of these costs) is what I’m interested in dealing with here.

  57. Of all the arguments against more strigent gun control measures, the most nonsensical is that gun owners shouldn’t be inconvenienced because gun deaths, especially mass shootings, are rare. I would very much like mass shootings in this country to be nonexistent. I can only sarcastically offer apologies if this inconveniences gun owners.
    Likewise, I find specious the argument that any given 1 or 2 policy proposals wouldn’t be that effective so we shouldn’t bother with them. Even a slight reduction in gun deaths would be beneficial. And there’s no rule that we can only have 1 or 2 control measures in place at any given time. We can try LOTS of legal avenues; individually none may make big reductions in gun deaths but collectively they might. I’m willing to take that chance.

  58. Read this and thought it could be relevant here to those arguing that it is fruitless to try and do anything about gun control – “Even Israel, a country that American gun enthusiasts point to as another heavily armed democracy, has much stricter gun-control laws than the United States does. To buy a gun there, you need a government license. The requirements for obtaining this license include satisfying a minimum-age limit (twenty-seven years old for anyone who hasn’t served in the military or national service), passing a gun-safety test, and obtaining a letter from a doctor that you are sound of mind and body. Many applicants in Israel are turned down, and even those whose applications get approved are, in most cases, limited to purchasing a single handgun with a limit of fifty bullets. Salvador Ramos, the shooter in Uvalde, Texas, legally purchased two AR-15 rifles and three hundred and seventy-five rounds of ammunition just days after his eighteenth birthday.” https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/how-to-prevent-gun-massacres-look-around-the-world

    Whatever the feelings about the publisher, if the source data is even remotely true, it demonstrates that gun control does not result in individuals being defenseless to all those to-be-invaders (as a prior comment asks – from where? Canada? Mexico?). But could create enough lag that someone intent on committing tragedy changes their mind, or has a fortuitous intervention.

  59. Rockwell says:

    I have started reading the linked article and learned the term “ Pigouvian taxes”.

    The only comment on it I have so far is that some of the costs described in the OP, like the broken window, are probably not external costs; the instigator can probably be held legally responsible for them. That could include costs for ambulances and such. I have no idea how frequently those costs are recovered. I do like the idea using insurance or a tax structure to cover those costs that can’t be collected from the person responsible.

  60. I would like to have a taxation and insurance reduction for not owning a gun.
    In any of my personal conversations with gun owners, the majority men, I have only had 2 tell me “to feed my family”. The majority of the answers have been social constructs. Having fun, bonding, being the best shooter, owning the most powerful weapon, toughness, all appear to be bragging rights amongst their social circle. Automatic weapons put an extra gleam in their eyes.
    Assuming that the majority of violent gun crimes are perpetuated by men, I propose that only humans with high levels of estrogen and breasts be allowed to own guns. 👀

  61. Observer: yes, I see. All of those compromises made by gun owners. So unfair! As a result of all of those compromises a young man 18 years and three days old was able to buy two highly destructive guns and enough ammo to kill every child in the school. Poor, poor, poor gun owners. They have given ground over and over and now what is left to compromise? Apparently nothing. I feel so bad that they live in a country so hostile. I just might cry all night.

  62. Thank you for writing this Sam. I’ve come to the same conclusion that insurance requirement are the best avenue to reduce gun violence. I haven’t read all the comments so at the risk of repeating will offer two additional reasons insurance offers hope. Both are reasons that typically appeal to my friends on the right.
    First, insurance would help take guns out of the hands of bad guys while keeping them in the hands of good guys. A common argument against gun regulation is that “bad guys will still have them.” Well guess who isn’t likely to carry insurance? Your local gang member.
    Second, insurance regulations come through the states. We don’t need national consensus. Let’s have the laboratories of democracy test out whether insurance works to lower violence.

  63. Reasons to not permit gun ownership:
    1. Person looks creepy
    2. Person dropped out of school
    3. Person from broken home
    4. Person is male
    5. Person plays violent video games

    Any others? Pick 2. Which 2 do you pick?

    Does anyone think if this kid, who by all accounts made non specific random threats vocally to shoot up schools for months or years, would have been deterred if he had to get a license and wait 2 months? Let’s say, he has to wait until 21, unless a member of military etc. Does anyone think he couldn’t take a car and several cans of gasoline and drive it into the side of a classroom?

    The gun is indeed a problem in this scenario. But more of a problem is his mental and emotional problems.

    There is surely a high correlation with mass school shooters from “failed” homes than mere correlation with gun ownership.

    Maybe people whos parents are divorced can’t own a gun and neither can their parents? Any takers on that idea? What happens when they start acting out their murderous suicidal ideation via other means?

    Do we address the root problem or the tools?

    If you say both, keep in mind, divorce and therapy are not constity rights per se. All kinds of regulations pertaining to divorce or single parenthood enacted. Guns require constitutional amendment to bring real change, that still won’t affect the underlying issue.

  64. Sute, providing funding to support families and address mental health is a wonderful idea. (In fact, the increased and prepaid child tax credit halved the rate of child poverty. Unfortunately, Congress—or rather, predictable members of Congress—refused to renew it.) So please, support these things. Write to Congress and to local leaders. Support increased taxation to fund it. I’m with you.

    But I’m skeptical that it provides any type of solution for gun violence. Why? Well, there’s no evidence that the US is an outlier with respect to incidence of mental illness. There’s no reason to believe US families have a higher rate of dysfunction than other countries. And yet we’re a massive, massive outlier when it comes to gun violence.

    Again, that’s not to say that we shouldn’t address impediments to families. It’s not to say we shouldn’t provide more fulsome mental health services. But using that to shift the conversation away from sensible gun reform is at best a disingenuous attempt to maintain a status quo that burdens society in an inexplicably evil way.

  65. Oh, and Sute: if he had to wait two months, everything would have been different. The last day of school was supposed to be yesterday. In two months, there would have been nobody at the school.

  66. Zane Petersen says:

    Your full of crap. You think more laws and more taxes are going to stop anything?
    Mexico has gun laws, you think that stops the cartel?
    I don’t understand how LDS people are so divided, the “progressive” Mormons have infiltrated, the LDS church is a joke always changing with the times, always caving to social pressure. How about standing for something and sticking to it?
    This is a joke, it’s always tax and spend, spend your way to gum control, spend your way out of a recession.
    Today’s progressive Mormons, tomorrow’s domocrats.

  67. Roger Hansen says:

    Utah is loaded with guns. It’s also loaded with religious and political extremists. Racism is also a problem. I wonder if the State’s citizens are at some risk?

    The Church has it’s hand in all kinds of Utah political issues including alcohol distribution, medical marijuana, LGBTQ rights, transgender participation in sports, etc. Sam, for you to say that the Church can’t get involved in gun legislation because it is worried about it’s tax exemption rings shallow. The leadership are Republicans. Most of the members are Republican. The leadership is probably more concerned about further alienating it’s politically conservative base than it is its tax exemption.

  68. it's a series of tubes says:

    Full disclosure: I own two Benelli shotguns, a Browning .22 target pistol, a Ruger 10/22, and a Tikka bolt-action rifle in 6.5 Creed. I enjoy clay target shooting and medium-distance target shooting (there’s a great public steel target range from 100 to 500 yards in my western city). I received my first gun as a gift more than 30 years ago. I’m a married white male and former republican (I withdrew my registration a few weeks after Jan. 6th and am now an independent).

    Now that you can stereotype me, here are some things I support that I believe would make a material difference in reducing gun violence, including school shootings:

    – A reasonable waiting period to purchase a firearm (such as one week). Allows “heat of passion” incidents to cool, and it’s simply not reasonable to say that my 2nd amendment rights would be materially impaired if I have to plan a purchase a few days in advance. This also allows time for #2:

    – Expanded background checks for all firearm sales, including private sales. Right now, it’s almost trivially easy to pass a background check. The scope should be broader (for example, have police been called to your address for a domestic violence or similar incident? More investigation is required before approval for the purchase. Are you on antipsychotic medications? Maybe a doctor’s approval should be required.)

    AR-15 style rifles in .223 / 5.56 have been broadly available since the early 60’s, and inexpensive since the Stoner (ArmaLite) patent expired in 1977. Similar semi-auto weapons in traditional “ranch rifle” styles, like the Ruger Mini-14, have been available far longer. Yet mass school shootings have only increased significantly in number since Columbine.


    It appears there are many more factors at play than simply availability of weapons.

  69. Observer says:

    I see that my last response has been removed for some reason, even though I was simply and respectfully explaining why these proposals will not work. Sch responded to it, but it’s no longer visible.

    The responses in these comments illustrate exactly why gun control does not pass. As Charles Krauthammer wrote in 2002, there is a fundamental law that “Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.” In these comments, I have tried to promote understanding of other viewpoints, and I have been met with accusations that I am a horrible individual (including that I want people to commit suicide just so I can keep my guns).

    Your actions show you do not have the moral high ground. You seek to force your proposals on 40-45% of the nation not by persuasion or reasoned argument, but by shame, guilt, and accusation.

    In a country where 150 million people own 300-500 million guns, you cannot force such policies on them without their consent, and you aren’t going to get that consent by calling them evil, heartless, or otherwise trying to shame them. You need to persuade, not shame.

    Consider the counsel in D&D 121:41-43: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
    By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
    Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.”

    Even if you think I and other gun rights supporters are wrong, you are completely failing to follow the Lord’s counsel here. Instead of gentleness and meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, or pure knowledge, many of you have spewed forth disdain, mockery, accusation, and ridicule. This is the pattern of almost every discussion on gun control: those who support gun control try to bully gun rights supporters into agreeing with them, rather than trying to persuade them.

    Is it then any wonder that gun rights supporters aren’t willing to budge? Instead of trying to work together towards a real compromise, your actions do exactly what D&C says they would do: make them “esteem thee to be [their] enemy.” Once you turn someone into your enemy, it becomes even harder to make peace with them because you have destroyed the trust needed for that peace. You introduce a spirit of contention by the way you treat those who disagree with you, and in doing so drive the Spirit away from the discussion.

    It is impossible to compel an armed population to act against their will unless you are willing to use significant (and lethal) force, and even then it is not guaranteed. History has proven that time and time again, in Vietnam, in Afghanistan (both against the Russians and against the US), and today in Ukraine. Whether you believe those exerting the force are right (such as the North trying to force an end to slavery and preserve the Union in the Civil War) or wrong (such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine), it still leads to immense bloodshed.

    Until you change your tactics and work to build trust, instead of trying to bludgeon people into agreeing with you, you will continue to fail and nothing will change.

  70. To start, it would help if folks would stop trying to paint responsible gun owners as victims of mythology or fetish, or that they’re just a bunch of beer drinking braggarts who like to sit around the campfire, eyes aglazed, bragging about their AR’s. It’s just that kind of position that makes gun owners dig their heels in harder. If the goal is address mass shootings in schools, local school boards should dig in their pockets (via increased local taxes, if necessary) and hire guards at schools, install metal detectors, etc. Some schools have already done that. If the goal is to discourage gun ownership (which is how I interpret the tax/insurance approach), that’s fine. I don’t think it will have enough impact to make any noticable difference. Auto insurance and gas taxes don’t appear to impact automobile fatalities. If we really want to lower auto fatalities, we would lower US and interstate speed limits to 50, state highways to 40 and surface roads to 30, and mandate speed limiting controls on cars. But, I’m guessing the same people wanting gun control legislation would not support such a move because suddenly, it would be inconvenient for them and impact their daily lives. If the goal is to get rid of guns period, then repeal 2A. Offer up a viable path towards some semblance of gun ownership post repeal. You might be surprised what support you would get. Finally, simply outlaw the manufacture and sale of guns and ammunition. Impose a mandatory minimum 15 year sentence on juveniles and 20 year sentence on adults who commit a crime involving a gun. It might take 150 years, but eventually we would run out of guns and ammunition in the private sector.

  71. IDIAT, a couple responses. One is that schools already can’t afford librarians and extracurriculars and, in many cases, enough teachers. Are you proposing additional funding for schools? And where do you propose that funding comes from?

    And we could certainly install metal detectors. It would probably make some people feel better. But it would purely be theater. There is no evidence that metal detectors keeps children safe. Similarly, there is no evidence that armed guards keep children safe at school.

    As for cars, well, let’s go with your analogy. When I was a kid, few if any states had seatbelt laws. Now they all do. There have been massive improvements in safety features. My car now flashes a light at me and says “BRAKE” if it thinks I’m getting too close to something. We require licenses and insurance and a certain amount of training to drive. And we absolutely should lower speed limits. (If you look at my Twitter, I spend a lot of time tweeting about bike and pedestrian safety, and reducing speed limits would do wonderful things there.) So I fully support additional changes that will increase both driver and bystander safety.

    I understand that you, and many who like gun ownership, would rather talk about anything but guns. And there are a ton of evidence-free distractions that people like to bring up. But security theater doesn’t keep us safer on airplanes and it won’t keep children safer at school.

  72. Rockwell says:

    “ If the goal is address mass shootings in schools, local school boards should dig in their pockets (via increased local taxes, if necessary) and hire guards at schools, install metal detectors, etc. ”

    Well my goal wouldn’t be limited to schools. I don’t know why anyone would want to only reduce gun violence in schools and not anywhere else.

  73. Observer, you raise a really good point. On the other hand, I can’t say that I sense a lot of gentleness or meekness from you, let alone love. I say this not as an accusation, but to highlight how difficult it is to convey those things in text on the internet. No doubt we’d all do better if we were talking in person.

    It’s a lot of work to persuade someone who fundamentally disagrees with you. You have to deeply understand their thinking and point of view, and then find evidence and arguments that they will find credible and yet lead them to your conclusions. You also have to police your own tone, because people who are feeling defensive don’t really listen to your arguments except to figure out how to respond to them. It’s hard. I agree that there hasn’t been a lot of that work done in this thread–on either side. I appreciate the call to do better.

  74. Observer says:

    And I see that yet another of my comments has been removed rather than addressing the points I have been making. I have not attacked anyone, and there was no justification for removing my comment. But it’s your site, so do as you wish.

    I will leave you with two articles that might help you. The first was written in 2016 by a progressive who is also a gun rights supporter, and highlights the fundamental difference in mindset between gun control supporters and gun rights supporters. It’s not what you might think: https://medium.com/@jonst0kes/confessions-of-a-progressive-gun-nut-ae0e6a8f6146

    The second explains more of why gun rights supporters hold the sort of views that they have, while barely mentioning guns at all: https://internationalman.com/articles/nine-meals-from-anarchy/

    And I will close with words from the conclusion of the first of those links:

    To use a metaphor from finance, guns are increasingly a short position on civilization, and they come with all the limitations a short position entails — namely, a capped upside and an unlimited downside. As long as the future of a shorted asset looks grim, people will keep piling into the short side in ever greater numbers. A short position becomes untenable, though, when the outlook for the asset changes for the better and it begins to appreciate, forcing the shorts exit the trade and cover.

    Thus the anti-establishment rage and fear for the future that’s surfacing across the developed world is the pro-Second Amendment camp’s greatest ally, because it brings more and more investors into the “short civilization/long guns” trade. (This is true in Europe, as well.) People watch the collapse of revered cultural institutions and the apparent disintegration of the postwar world order, and they know deep in their gut that the worse things get the more they’ll be left to fend for themselves. So they reach for that one tangible bit of individual sovereignty and political power that’s still left to them: the gun.

    If the anti-gun camp wants to change the definition of American gun ownership from “costly but necessary backup plan” to “antiquated and ridiculous waste of lives,” then the best thing they can do is work tirelessly to prove gun owners’ fears wrong by showing us that the moral arc is real and is still at work in our present world.

    I honestly hope that progressives can break the hold of guns on the American imagination by helping to usher in a new era of common prosperity in which legions of formerly anxious gun buyers rediscover that they still have a meaningful stake in this shared project we call “America,” but if history is any guide, I’m not optimistic.

  75. Sam — you refer to solitary articles that say metal detectors and school guards don’t work. Then why do we have TSA and court security? Surely they help some. I would say they would deter gun violence way more than liability insurance and a tax on ammunition. As for money, raise taxes on everyone. I’m fine talking about the guns, but they are constitutionally protected. I’m actually not altogether against a repeal of 2A — but I haven’t seen anyone offer ideas on how to legalize and regulate guns post a repeal of 2A.

  76. Observer says:


    I have tried to stick to presenting facts and providing reasoned arguments pointing out the flaws in Sam’s proposals. I have received ridicule and scorn in response, or been outright dismissed without my points being addressed, and at least 2 lengthy (and fact-filled) responses have been removed with no explanation.

    I have tried to live up to BCC’s stated ideal of “charitable discussion”, but I am seeing very little of the same directed back at me.

  77. IDIAT, I linked to two articles because I have a day job and don’t have time to do an exhaustive search of the relevant literature and link it all for you. If you have access to compelling studies that show that they have positive impacts, I’m open to it. But the evidence I’ve seen says no.

    Airports aren’t the equivalent of schools for a bunch of reasons but also, most airport security is security theater, meant to make people comfortable and meant to make people think someone’s doing something. But taking your shoes off, for instance, is so pointless that kids and older people and people willing to pay for Pre-Check don’t have to do it.

    We do have the Second Amendment, which is why I’m not proposing a blanket ban on guns. I’m looking for regulatory things we can do within the context of our Constitution. I get the impression from your comments that you don’t believe any burden on the right to bear arms is permissible. If that’s your belief, it’s clearly wrong. Scalia acknowledged that some level of regulation is permissible, even within the broad scope of gun rights he found.

  78. Loursat says:

    I recognize that the thrust of my comments in this thread departs from the policy discussion that Sam started. I appreciate the thoughtful responses to Sam’s ideas. I think those ideas are immensely valuable. I write this comment to explain why I have interposed in the discussion.

    I write for people who want to work over the long haul to change our culture for the better. Ideas like Sam’s are vital. Why are they always dead on arrival, with little or no realistic chance of being implemented? Because a subgroup of people in our country has spent decades building up the conviction that they have a sacred right to own and use guns. You can’t productively talk about policy when people really just want to talk about their (political) religion. Crucial policy discussions will be fruitless unless we also strengthen the culture of life and freedom.

    We must develop the conviction that free societies do not require violence. It is so strange to have to write that sentence. Of course free societies do not require violence! Yet that is the argument that we have to make. We are not free if we submit to the kind of violence that guns make possible.

    Political change requires a vision of what is good, combined with concrete goals. Our goal should be to repeal the Second Amendment.

    Don’t fall for the rhetoric that says repealing the Second Amendment is the same as taking away everyone’s guns. Eliminating the constitutional right is a way to start talking about reasonable policy rather than religious commitments. It’s a way to start an actual political discussion, involving compromise, give-and-take, and a commitment to the welfare of our communities. We have no path to that discussion as things currently stand.

    Don’t be afraid of amending the Constitution. Our fear of amending the Constitution is the secret power of the gun lobby. Many of us think of the Constitution as written in stone, like tablets from Sinai. The Constitution only works if we take responsibility for it, and that means changing it when it’s not working. Don’t be afraid to talk about repealing the Second Amendment. It’s the right thing to do.

  79. Pontius Python says:

    “If the anti-gun camp wants to change the definition of American gun ownership from “costly but necessary backup plan” to “antiquated and ridiculous waste of lives,” then the best thing they can do is work tirelessly to prove gun owners’ fears wrong by showing us that the moral arc is real and is still at work in our present world.”

    Observer, from the anti-gun point of view, reducing access to firearms in order to reduce the incidence of these appalling crimes is a very important, nay, CRUCIAL, part of realizing that moral arc in our present world. You have posted at great length in this thread in civil language, which I appreciate. I appreciate your stories about how guns have been useful for self-defense in your own life. Nevertheless, your long posts all seem to boil down to “you can pry the gun out of my. cold, dead hands” when you talk about armed forces searching door to door, civil war, “short civilization/long guns” and “reaching for that one tangible bit of individual sovereignty and political power that’s still left to them: the gun.” From the anti-gun point of view, easy access to guns to committ appalling crimes is PART of why civilization seems short, so doubling down on gun ownership like you say only exacerbates the problem.

    There is a middle ground. Let’s stop talking past each other. You can stop assuming that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and everybody’s going to need a gun to survive. We can stop assuming that everybody with a gun is a mass murdering maniac.

    Something MUST be done. We can all agree that something MUST be done. Please.

  80. Thanks Loursat and Pontius Python and everybody else who commented.

    I’ve run out of time to monitor the comments, so I’m going to shut them down with one final thought: The US Constitution, under current Supreme Court jurisprudence, guarantees an individual right to bear arms. That’s not going away, at least not in the near future. But there will be, and there must be, some sort of regulation. That regulation is eminently constitutional—there are acceptable limits on all of our rights. I’ve sketched out a couple possibilities; there are many more. None will be perfect, but none represent the first step in a fantastical government attempt to take guns from gun owners’ hands. And that binary view is harmful, both to reasonable regulation but also to the right to bear arms. After all, if gun proponents insist that the only way to limit gun violence is by repealing the Second Amendment, that provides a lot of incentive to repeal the Second Amendment.

    I don’t think we need to go that far. That’s why I’ve sketched out some plausible steps we could take. But ultimately, I believe that rights to own something are lower on the hierarchy of rights than rights to own something. So if you were to force me into a binary choice—unrestricted gun ownership or no gun ownership—it wouldn’t be a hard question.

    Fortunately, those aren’t the only choices.


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