We need to talk about the whole gun thing

I'm continually surprised to read the number of posts on Facebook of people (almost always so-called "conservatives") urging others not to discuss gun control in the wake of the latest mass-shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

They say that to do so would be to "point fingers" and "make politics" out of this tragedy. In other words, they're saying:

"You're not to discuss the 'elephant that has crept into the room', namely gun control.
It would be 'unseemly' and 'political' for you to do so."


It's as if they want a special dispensation not to discuss the most relevant legal, political and social issue impacting on this tragedy "out of respect for the fallen and their families".

Well I'm sorry: you can't silence the debate in relation to its most relevant issue – all on the basis of some purported "moral high ground". If we shouldn't talk about gun control now, when should we talk about it?

Now when I say that gun control is the "most relevant issue", I do so because the other issues pertinent to the Sandy Hook tragedy (things like mental health services, media involvement, etc.) aren't issues about which the people, or government, can do anything particularly concrete or meaningful if they are to prevent future, similar tragedies. Yes, they should form part of a wider study and program to understand human violence. But after more than 22 years advising on, drafting, implementing and enforcing legislation, I can tell you that we are really no closer to understanding these fundamental questions than we were a generation ago. Human nature and its interaction with society is, it seems, more complex than cracking the AIDs virus.

I suppose we might follow "Morgan Freeman's advice" as reported on Facebook (as if anything reported on social networking media concerning that actor is ever reliable!) and not watch the news when such tragedies occur. But despite it seeming to make perfect sense, on closer inspection it should become apparent to you that this is hopelessly naive and unworkable.

We won't stop watching the news. We shouldn't. We can't ignore reports about things like Sandy Hook. In fact, it would be callous and irresponsible to do so – as it would be callous and irresponsible of the news networks not to report it.

We need to know this sort of thing – to stand in solidarity with the survivors and families, to honour the victims and heros, and to find ways of making sure this never happens again.

Look closely at this purported "Morgan Freeman" quote: all you'll see is another red herring; a proposition that means almost nothing. At best, it serves as a seemingly intuitive, though false, premise. At worst, it is a deliberate tactic to distract attention away from a legitimate discussion about gun control – all under the false pretense of attacking a "deeper problem".

We can also follow, sympathetically, the many anecdotes and reports people post in relation to how people in the community are struggling to cope with violent mental illness as it manifests in their children. All of these accounts are no doubt true – and tragic in their own right. But they still don't really have any useful bearing on the Sandy Hook tragedy – in particular what the people, or their government, can meaningfully do about such tragedies.

By all accounts, Adam Lanza wasn't identifiable as a potential mass killer by anyone. So arguably such thought-provoking and heart-wrenching stories about kids with mental illness have no more bearing than, say, 9/11, Ted Bundy or the Unabomber. Yes, they might all broadly describe how mental derangement can lead to acts of violence – but, at least at this stage, such stories give us no insight into preventing the next murderous rampage from occurring. Discussing them might comprise at least some "deeper analysis" but it is hardly productive of concrete preventative measures.

So I say we should talk about gun control instead - or at least, as well.

Before I do, let me get something straight: I'm a martial artist of 30 years, so I like weapons generally. Specifically, I like guns. When it comes to firearms, I grew up with them – starting with air pistols and air rifles.

I remember feeling mortified when, as a fairly young child, I was told that I would not be able to own a machine gun or other automatic (or possibly even semi-automatic) rifle (ie. I could never emulate my action heros in war movies). This seemed so incredibly unfair – so meddlesome of the nanny-State. Why couldn't they let people alone to do what they pleased?

"Well, I suppose some things are too dangerous for ordinary folks to have," my older brother reasoned (even though he is and was always more gun-keen than I).

So I'm no "nanny-State" liberal socialist who hates guns. As an adult I've not been much into shooting, but I'm still a fairly good marksman (for someone who doesn't practise a lot). I don't own any guns, but I'll gladly go along to the shooting range with immediate family members and friends who do.

And I totally "get" that "guns don't kill people – people kill people". That is obvious. Toast doesn't get made by a toaster – someone has to push the button. Yes, I get that too.

But I'm in favour of gun control.

What?! How can that be?

It's simple really: it relates to what we mean by "gun control". And it is here that we get to first, and biggest, red herring clogging up the US "debate" – the "slippery slope of nonsense". What is this? Well essentially it is this (manifestly flawed) assumption:

Gun control = gun banning.

Er... no. That would be incorrect. That is so far from correct that it isn't even amusing.

Let me put it this way: In Australia (where I live) we have very, very strict gun control laws (by comparison to the US, in particular).

Yet one of my direct family members owns 3 guns. Another friend up the road owns 3 guns. A good friend a few suburbs up from him is a collector and has dozens of firearms. And I'm talking handguns as well as rifles. Before the changes to our laws made in 1996 (more on that in a minute) the collector friend of mine even had a semi-automatic (albeit low calibre) rifle.

So we Aussies have "gun control". But many of us still have guns. How can that be?

Well it's because "gun control" and "gun banning" don't mean the same thing. In fact, that whole line of reasoning is exactly what I foreshadowed:

A false assumption.

It is part of that "slippery slope of nonsense" – the kind that says: "If we get gun control laws, we'll lose all our guns! Oh no! Then the government will march in with jackboots and take my knives and pencil sharpener and make me work in a Stalinist gulag!" Yeah right. If it hasn't happened in far more "left-leaning" Western countries than the US (including the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada); why, oh why, would you even imagine this as a possibility in the good old "US of A"? This scenario wouldn't even make an acceptable plot for a B grade movie.

So talk of a "ban on all guns" is basically a total red herring. It won't ever happen (unless our entire society/democracy collapses).

Why do I say this? For a start, it would be totally unaffordable. What do I mean? Do you have any idea how much it would cost to buy-back every firearm - even in Australia (where we have far fewer privately owned firearms per capita)? Where is that money going to come from? The government budget is already stretched to the limit.

Even the limited buy-back of a very specific class of semi-automatic rifles in Australia in 1996 was incredibly costly (approximately $500 million for a category of gun that had a very low rate of private ownership).

Buying back every firearm would be on a totally different scale. Even if government decided to seize all guns without a buy-back, the enforcement cost would be enormous and the logistics totally unworkable. It would take far, far too many officers, resources and associated costs (collection, destruction etc.). "Banning all guns" in a modern Western democracy is a logistical and economic fantasy - period.

Then you have the fact that governments (for which I've worked in policy, legislation and enforcement my entire career) know only too well that firearms are necessary for certain occupations, trades and situations (vermin control being just one).

Governments also aren't ignorant or dismissive of the fact that many people enjoy legitimate sport shooting, lawful, responsible hunting and simple collecting. Never in my 22 years of working with firearms law have I ever even heard the suggestion that these things should be "outlawed" or even "progressively restricted". It just isn't remotely on the political landscape for any of our governments.

But, lastly, in the US it is also a constitutional impossibility. Whatever your second amendment actually says, or was originally intended to mean, it is clear from District of Columbia v Heller that it has been read to confer the right to keep arms for self-defence. In other words, if the government tried to "ban" guns, that law would, in the US, be manifestly unconstitutional.

Okay, so what is "gun control" then? Let's put it this way: if you oppose giving gun licences to convicted criminals or people who are mentally ill or otherwise have a history of violence etc. then you are already in favour of gun "control". You are in favour of controlling who owns what gun and in what circumstances. All that is left for us to discuss is the degree of that control.

So what is a likely "worst-case gun control scenario" for the US? Well I suspect that if you get any greater "gun control" than you already have (and you do have it – albeit in a form that is largely ineffectual, if not laughable, particularly in some States) you might experience it at a level which is still far, far less restrictive than in a place like Australia. In other words:

You will probably still be able to own almost any gun you like (except, I would guess, certain semi-automatic rifles – more on that in a minute).

You will probably have to meet certain (reasonable) criteria about age, criminal record, mental health, reasons for owning the firearm and secure storage, etc.

You will probably have to wait a while so that background checks can be conducted.

[You might (or might not) face restrictions on carrying firearms, but I'm not going to address this subject here: it is another issue, for another time. In this article I'm not making any recommendations on this issue. Instead I want to focus on the "gun control = gun ownership will be banned" assumption because it is a first, and central, fallacy that needs to be corrected. Moreover, a ban on the "carrying of firearms" has nothing to do with the discreet suggestions for gun control I'm proposing here.]

So this is what "gun control" means. As far as I'm aware, no one in the US (aside from a loony fringe) is suggesting the outright "banning" of all gun ownership. As I've explained, that would be impracticable and totally unachievable. Disregarding the policy and constitutional realities, it would never even get through Congress. Ever.

If you still don't believe me, consider that guns certainly aren't "banned" in places like Australia and UK (where even police don't carry firearms). This should give you some idea that "banning outright" is not, and has never been and never will be an option for any Western democratic government.

Now it is important to note that even if certain weapons are referred to as "banned" this is just a colloquial expression for "restricted"; because (speaking as a legislative drafter) there is always going to be scope for exceptions (police, military etc.) as well as special permits (either for individuals with particular needs or for specific events – eg. movie making). I have personally drafted such exceptions and permit provisions into Australian law over the last 16 or so years.

Yes, you might well have to jump through a few more hoops to get the licence (or special permit, as the case may be). And you might have to wait a while. But if you're a law-abiding member of the community with an interest in collecting or sport shooting, you won't be "prevented" from owning a firearm (or more than one firearm). Judging by the Australian example, you almost certainly won't be prevented from owning multiple firearms.

Now if my description of "gun control" already sounds familiar to you because of the laws of your particular State, hopefully any new "gun control" won't do much more than make some small changes to conform to uniform national requirements. The present hodge-podge of different (sometimes inconsistent) State laws needs to be "harmonised". The police should also have the benefit of shared background checking via a national database.

This uniform licensing scheme is the first thing the US needs to do. And it isn't a bad thing at all. In fact, it is highly necessary – and long overdue.

Okay, so far I've painted a picture of "gun control" that I believe is far from "objectionable": a "control" (ie. regulation) of guns that is no more remarkable than the regulation of driving.

Let me leave aside Sandy Hook for just a second to point out that whether or not it would have prevented this particular tragedy is no reason to postpone a long-overdue, workable, responsible, national gun licensing system for the world's largest industrialised economy. You simply can't have the sort of hodge-podge system you presently have for implements as potentially dangerous as firearms. For crying out loud, the purchase of Sudafed is more highly regulated!

While we're on the topic of "objections" to "gun control", I reminded of that dreadfully simplistic "meme" that reads:

"Gun laws prevent shootings? Tell me more about how criminals follow laws."

If this argument impresses you, then you haven't understood the issues. I'll let this "meme response" try to explain what I mean:

"Gun laws wouldn't prevent shooting sprees? Tell me more about how we shouldn't have any laws."

If you really want me to spell it out, how about this: Just because criminals don't follow laws, this doesn't mean we shouldn't have them. We might as well repeal all laws relating to drivers' licences because some people drive without a licence. We might as well scrap theft laws because some people steal.

But that still leaves the question: "How could gun regulation have avoided the Sandy Hook tragedy in particular?" Now that is a good question. In fact, it is the pivotal one. Clearly, a gun regulation system on its own is not enough. To address such tragedies we need to look at more specific restrictions that could be implemented under such a system.

You'll recall that I mentioned above that the regulatory system might inevitably require applicants for firearm licences to "jump through extra hoops". What would this achieve? Basically it would function to reduce general access to firearms - access by the likes of Adam Lanza. This would happen not because guns were being "banned" - but because it just wouldn't be as "easy" to get one. Certainly people wouldn't have one "by default".

Under such a system, you would have to have a good reason to have a gun. Or otherwise be a genuine gun enthusiast. Or at least be someone who really wants one badly enough to jump through all the required hoops.

I know this will get some folks "up in arms". But having greater wait times and more forms to fill out etc. is hardly a major sacrifice if it means that people can't simply go into Walmart and buy whatever guns they like, whenever they like.

This might seem an odd and circuitous way to control guns, but it serves a valuable purpose: humans are inherently apathetic and they don't like "a whole lot of bother". Lawmakers in places like Australia have used this human tendency to limit the general circulation of guns in the community so that the country isn't "awash" with them. The Adam Lanzas of Australia aren't typically able to reach for Mom's gun cabinet and take out an entire arsenal, as well as copious rounds of ammunition.

It is by this means that you can slowly start to "diffuse the civilian arms race" you have going in the US (more on that in a minute). In a well-regulated system, the people who end up with firearms are generally those who are more industrious and responsible about them generally.

Why is it important to reduce overall circulation of firearms in the community?

Let me give you another recent news report by way of illustration:

On the day before the Sandy Hook tragedy (possibly the very same day, if you consider time zones) in Henan, China a man went into a primary school and slashed 22 children with a knife. Yes, that's right – he slashed them with a knife. Horrific right? Now on Facebook you have any number of other "muddled" anti gun-control activists attempting to make a rather pathetic argument out of this that goes something like this:

"People will always find a way to kill. You see – this fellow didn't have a gun, so he used a knife!"

Again, if this argument impresses you, haven't grasped the issues properly. Because the man in China slashed 22 children. He didn't kill them. In fact, every single child is, at the time of writing this essay, still alive. Okay, it's not a "good" result. But it scarcely compares with the lethal wounds from Adam Lanza's semi-automatic rifle.

I remember while studying criminology back at university that, statistically, knives were approximately 6 times less deadly in their effect than guns. And knives were the next most deadly implement to guns. So you see, the argument that "people will find something" doesn't wash. Yes, people will "find something". But they will usually find something far less dangerous.

Okay, it is possible that someone will make explosives (Timothy McVeigh) or fly airplanes into buildings after overpowering the cabin crew with boxcutters (9/11). But let's not get completely off-topic; these are terrorist actions – not domestic criminal acts. This essay is not about ways of controlling terrorism. It is about people who have a mental "snap", grab a weapon and start trying to hurt others around them. And it is about the common pattern of those instances – as seen in Columbine, Virginia Tech, Colorado, Sandy Hook and many, many others. It is not about the very small number of rare terrorist events like the Oklahoma bombing or 9/11.

And as for one of my friend's comments that someone "might realise they can drive their car into a crowd of people" - well that's true. But at least cars have a legitimate purpose that has nothing to do with mass killing of humans. We need cars. Find me a legitimate purpose for a semi-automatic rifle with a high magazine capacity - a purpose that isn't fulfilled by other (less dangerous) firearms (as I shall soon detail). Furthermore, the example everyone seems to be giving me is of the Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar SUV attack, in which 9 people were injured and none seriously: compare this with the "average" AR-15 mass shooting. Last, we need to look again at the number of such instances and compare them with the disturbing pattern of semi-automatic rifle mass shootings...

So the argument concerning Sandy Hook is this: What use would gun control in the form of background checks etc. have been in Adam Lanza's case? The guns he took (including the Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle which he used for all but the shot with which he killed himself) were licensed in his mother's name – not his!

Indeed, of the 62 mass shootings in the US from 1982 to 2002, 49 were effected by legally obtained firearms and only 12 were illegal!

I think the appropriate answer to this is to pose another question:

What in the world was someone like Adam Lanza's mother doing with so much firepower in the first place? Two handguns and a semi-automatic, "military-style" carbine (the AR-15) - for what? "Protection at home"? Was she a member of a "target shooting club"?

But let us disregard the handguns for the time being. What possible reason did she have to own an AR-15? Did she need that for inside the home - where a a handgun would be far more potentially useful (especially given the close ranges involved in a typical house)? Did she need or even want it for hunting? Or was she preparing to ward off LA-style rioters as per Suzanna Gratia Hupp's suggestion to the Texas Legislature? Really?

You understand, I'm not "blaming" the poor deceased woman. I'm asking how a system could allow the private possession of such a potent weapon (in terms of calibre, accuracy, rate of fire and magazine capacity). Why should citizens have access to such firearms? Here we get back to my childhood desire to have a machine gun or something similar. Yes, I get it – it would be a "nice" thing to have that right. But at what cost?

I submit that we're talking a "Sandy Hook sort of cost".

Okay, why do I say this? Simply put, automatic and semi-automatic rifles (which I shall call "rapid-fire" rifles) are supremely suited to the task of mass shooting. They aren't really all that useful or necessary to civilians who want to carry or store them at home for protection. They aren't really necessary or particularly useful for responsible hunting. They are, first and foremost, instruments for killing humans – en masse.

If you don't already know, handguns aren't terribly good mass shooting weapons. There's a reason why soldiers don't go into battle relying on handguns (at least, primarily). I am a fairly good shot, but I find it darn hard to hit a can at 10 paces, never mind 20. There's the recoil factor alone that draws you way off line. Rifles can, however, be braced on your shoulder. Rapid-fire rifles not only offer better aim, but of course they have two more, potent, elements for mass shooting: their rapid rate of fire and their large magazine capacity. So, combine:

* greater accuracy; and
* a higher rate of fire; and
* a much larger magazine capacity,

and you have a weapon tailor made for mass killing of humans. Which is exactly what the military might want. But it has precious little to do with what ordinary householders, hunters, vermin controllers etc. want or need.

I'll wager that most people who "want" one have the same reason I did way back when I wanted a machine gun: it would be "cool".

I'm sorry, that's just not a good enough reason to allow ordinary civilians to have such firepower. After all, I might well think it is cool to have my own nuclear missile. That doesn't mean I should be allowed to have one.

While this example might seem extreme, I raise it to illustrate that there is always going to be a cut-off point. Where should that be? Well you don't need to go to nuclear weapons; hand grenades and rocket launchers, for example, would seem totally inappropriate for civilian licensing. So why not semi-automatic military-style rifles?

[By the way, I'm fully aware that the Bushmaster AR-15 is not a true military weapon.  It lacks a fully automatic function for starters (however, it can be ordered by military or law enforcement organizations with three-round burst or fully automatic capability).  The point is however that this is precisely the sort of weapon "banned" - to great effect - in Australia following the Port Arthur Massacre - as you'll read below.]

Stage magician Penn Jillette is quoted as saying "Every time something really bad happens, people cry out for safety and the government answers by taking rights away from good people."

Okay, so what's the "right" being taken away here? To buy a gun without any kind of licence, check, waiting period, or other control (ie. gun control)? Hm, I don't think this is what he means. Frankly I don't think he's given it any thought at all. He's done the old leap from "gun control" to "all guns banned" – a preposterous position that doesn't exist in any Western democracy – including heavily gun-regulated Australia.

But back to the issue: what "right" might government take away from "good people"? The right to own a rapid-fire rifle "just because it would be a cool thing to have?" I'm sorry, this isn't really much of a "right". And if you can't sacrifice such a right for the benefit of society, then there's something manifestly wrong with you. Extreme selfishness and childishness is a partial diagnosis.

I hear the immediate retort: "But what good would a "ban" (read "heavier restriction") on rapid-fire rifles be? What's your data to support this? After all, massacres like the one at Luby's tells us that handguns can and have been used to similar effect.

Well we have good data – thank you very much. Data from Australia is directly apposite. Because we've done just that – banned rapid-fire rifles. We did it after our own infamous Port Arthur Massacre in 1996. For those of you who don't know, a fellow named Martin Bryant went on his own rampage with an AR-15, killing many. What did the Australian government do? Well the then Prime Minister – the conservative John Howard – announced a bold plan to "ban" (again, read "more heavily restrict") such rapid-fire rifles – the ones that are most easily used in mass shootings. He instituted a nation-wide buy-back and all of these weapons were crushed and recycled. My good mate Craig lost his beloved .22 semi-automatic in that buy-back and wasn't impressed. But he made the sacrifice. And it really wasn't much of one, in the grand scheme of things.

What is the net result of that "ban" and "buy-back"? Well in Australia it has been this: in the 18 years before Port Arthur, Australia had had 13 mass shootings. Since 1996 we've had – count them – exactly nil. Nada. Zip. Some of the other statistical results of that buy-back can be found in this report and also (in greater detail) here.

Yes, Australia's rate of mass shootings (as well as gun homicides) was already reducing - but surprisingly, this has also been the trend in the US since the '80s (albeit that America's gun-related homicides are still appalling for any developed nation - especially the world's largest, most industrialised, technologically most advanced and richest Western nation).

Furthermore, as I recall from studying criminology, there is good reason to expect that effecting a restriction of the semi-auto rifle kind we did in Australia at a time when firearm homicides are already falling will acclerate the decline even further - if for no other reason than simply by changing perceptions at a crucial point.

Now it's true that tomorrow someone might get a handgun or a hunting bolt-action rifle and start shooting people. But should this happen, the ease and speed with which people can be despatched will at least be reduced relative to a semi-automatic carbine. I submit that at least some lives are likely to be saved. As it happens we've had a few nutters lose it with knives and even pistols, waving them about. They get tazered by the cops and that is that. Had they had rapid-fire rifles things might have been very, very different.

So going back to Adam Lanza: What if the best he could do was secure his mother's glock? What if he couldn't even grab a bullet-proof vest (which he did – and which ordinary citizens can't have in Australia without a special permit)? Would he have gone to the school and tried to kill 20 kids and 6 teachers? Probably. But there's a chance he might not have been able to kill quite as many people as he did. Because you just don't have the accuracy or number of rounds in a magazine to do the "job" quite as "well". Some more people might have been able to escape or hide. Even with frequent reloading, fewer rounds might have been fired up to the point the police arrived. As unlikely as it is, he might even have been overpowered (as the principal and another attempted to do). Regardless, I believe that at least some lives would have been saved. This might not seem like much of a "solution" - but I never said "gun control" was some sort of panacea - merely the only practical thing anyone can do.

I think that people who know the bare essentials about guns also know that mass shooting with a hand gun isn't "ideal". Even if you're unlikely to be disarmed (especially if you've picked children and elementary school teachers as your targets) you have at least a slightly a greater propensity to miss and the slightly slower rate of fire given that you have reload more often.

I think this is at least partly why we've had no more attempts at mass shootings since Port Arthur; it just isn't an idea that comes to mind quite as readily to disturbed people (who usually have enough smarts to make a "plan" to carry out their horrific acts). And in a society where (as in the US) the overall gun homicide rate is reducing steadily, this is a significant factor.

Now it's true that a greater percentage of mass shootings have occurred using handguns than with rapid-fire rifles. While recent ones have involved weapons such as the AR-15, many more (particularly in the past) have not. But the trend for using rapid-fire rifles seems to have been set (Sandy Hook and the Colorado shootings are just two of a recent spate). Why ignore this trend - especially given the "suitability" of such guns to mass shootings?

Okay, so here's the last chestnut: if we take away the good people's guns, we're still left with the bad guys. What about that?

Well for starters, this wouldn't include Adam Lanza; he got his semi-automatic rifle from his (now slain) mother. I've already noted above the most mass shootings are perpetrated by legally obtained guns.

As to the "need for protection", this is a sentiment I understand. We all want security. But the statistics on this aren't really all that good. They certainly don't support the need for semi-automatic carbines. By those statistics, guns in homes account for a disproportionate number of accidental and domestic/neighbour dispute deaths - and not nearly the use in self defence you might expect. Look them up (see the preceding link from Harvard, for example) – I won't bore you with them in this article. They are actually depressing. And none of them support deregulated gun use.

Understandably, we all respond strongly and emotively to the argument that goes: "Just once I'd like to see one of these mass shooters walk into a place where everyone is armed to the teeth." But it is important to accept that this is not a realistic notion. Increasing the armament of civilians across the board (what I call a "civilian arms race") is very far from a "good" idea (despite whatever the NRA would tell us). Rather, criminologists will tell you that it is a very bad idea.

Imagine, for example, the Colorado cinema; what do you think would have happened if a firefight had ensued? And remember that such firefights really only occur in movies. If they were a statistical probability, they would be in the papers every day – instead, they mostly occur only in Hollywood scripts.

I'm not saying that guns can't or shouldn't be used in defence - I'm just saying that they are (surprisingly) unlikely to be. And if this is your rationale for keeping a sem-automatic, military-style firearm at home, then you're especially kidding yourself.

But, lastly, we need again to look at the Australian example. People had to hand in their semi-automatic rifles. Did this mean that the criminals got to keep them? Maybe. But illegal firearms don't have an especially long "life". In fact, they end up in police custody sooner or later. Let's just say that it is very unusual indeed for anyone to use a firearm of any description in a hold-up in Australia. It is the exception rather than the norm. Why? There are fewer firearms in the community.

This means there are fewer gun dealers, fewer on the black market, fewer in "circulation". And if criminals don't expect you to be armed with a firearm, they feel less pressure to hunt down an illegal one (ie. the opposite of an "arms race" which you have so patently experienced in the US). So what do criminals do? They hold up gas stations and convenience stores using knives and baseball bats etc. That's bad right, of course.

But not nearly as bad as facing a firearm!

In short, a "ban" (again, read "heavy restriction") on automatic and semi-automatic weapons tends (especially over a longer period) to reduce the number of such weapons in circulation. Deranged kids like Adam Lanza can't just grab one out of their parent's gun cabinet. They have to grab something that is much, much less suitable for the "job" of mass shooting/killing. And at least some lives are saved.

"But what about Switzerland!" I often hear people say. "They have military firearms in almost every home!"

And? Why is this relevant? Yes, I know I said the US needs to look outside it own borders. But is it really appropriate to take the data of a country with an old-world, conformist European culture that (aside from its captitalist foundations) has little in common with the "frontier" culture in the US?

Leaving aside the practicability/possiblity of "cultural change" (which I will discuss in a minute), is it not more appropriate to compare the US to another frontier Anglo-based society like Australia? One with a history of mass shootings (albeit only up until 1996?).

And is it fair to compare data from a country that has a population less than New York city. A population which is overwhelmingly affluent and largely homogenous? For what it's worth, you might as well note that there have been no mass shootings in Ivy League schools and their associated towns in the US! Both examples are next to useless because they provide:

* an inaccurate cultural comparison to the US as a whole; and
* an insufficient population base for meaningful statistics.

Similarly, someone recently argued to me that New Zealand has far laxer gun laws than Australia - yet they haven't had a spate of mass shootings. But again, the entire population of New Zealand wouldn't fit into Sydney. Even if they had the same annual, per capita mass shooting statistics as the US, at that rate you might have to wait a few more decades for even one to occur in that country.

And, by the way, New Zealand's gun culture is far more like the UK than the US or even Australia. For example, like British "Bobbies", New Zealand police don't generally carry guns. The rate of private gun ownership is also relatively low. Perhaps these cultural factors arise because that country wasn't settled by convicts or pilgrims with a "frontier" mentality. Whatever the reason, New Zealand and the US are not even close to a cultural match. Instead, that country is really more like its "parent" nation than any other. The same could never be said for Australia. Maybe that is partly why New Zealand declined to join our union in 1901.

Besides, gun laws in places like Switzerland have already been progressively tightened in recent years. Furthermore, other NRA favourites like Israel have never had the lax gun laws and rate of private gun ownership people assume. And if someone goes on a shooting spree those countries or New Zealand tomorrow, I think it is a fair bet that the governments of those countries will be restricting access to guns even more - just as we did in Australia. After all, Tasmania (where the Port Arthur Massacre occurred) had lax gun laws similar to New Zealand (Tasmania had the laxest gun laws in Australia at that time). The fact that they hadn't had a mass shooting of that kind up to 1996 was a function of low population, culture and... luck!

At Port Arthur, their luck ran out. The US ran out of the latter years ago.

In any event, maybe countries like Switzerland, Israel and New Zealand have cultures where they can get away with laxer gun laws. Very likely, you don't have such a culture. And neither do we in Australia.

Anyway, what are comparisons with Switzerland, Israel, New Zealand etc. intended to conclude? That we should "stop mass shootings by making gun laws more lax"? That we "don't really need to do anything"? Both notions are absurd.

Often people who draw these comparisons are saying that we need to "change our culture" or some equally nebulous concept. After 22 years of work in government policy, including advice, legislation and implementation/enforcement, I have never seen any government at any time succeed in "changing" a culture. It is one thing that just can't seem to do (despite our best efforts). The closest we have come in Australia is the anti-smoking campaign. But in every other respect, cultures seem to change at their own rate - regardless of what governments want/try to do and how much money they pour into programs (ranging from anti-discrimination, anti-bullying, women's rights, hate crime etc.).

Still others suggest that the answer lies in arming civilians "to the teeth". But, as previously noted, I hold it to be nothing more than a revenge/justice fantasy. For one thing, most elementary school teachers and other non-police/military folk are not suited to taking on a "defence" role. They have other, important, roles to fulfil in society. I doubt my own (elementary) school teacher wife would make a good "front line defender" - although she makes an amazing teacher. For another thing, the data does not support the notion that armed civilians tend to stop armed crimiinals. As I say, this is just fantasy: an appealing one, but fantasy nonetheless.

I suppose we could hire armed guards at increasing levels and at every likely "target" location (suggested by the very same people who likely talk of "small government"). But, ignoring the astronomical expense of armed guards at all schools and universities (not to mention other public places like hospitals or even Starbucks and Little League games), this is a short-term measure at best, undertaking in extreme emergencies. Patently, it isn't, and could never be, any sort of "solution". All it really constitutes is a civiian arms race.

This is precisely what has happened (and is still happening) in South Africa: Two decades into its "civil arms race", the citizens of that country are living in a more violent society than ever, with no abatement in sight. It just gets worse and worse, with violent criminals upping the ante and civilians responding with greater security - till they end up living in fortress compounds with safe rooms, razor wire, motion detectors, night vision surveillance and round the clock private militia protection. No one even stops at red lights any more in some parts of South Africa, since you just risk being shot and dragged out.

I'm afraid "civilian arms races" just don't work - as much as we'd love to give killers "a taste of their own medicine". I "get" this response - I truly do. And I share it emotively. But logically, I know it isn't the answer.

What is the answer? As is so often the case with managing violence, it is the opposite of what most people would want to do. Instead of bolstering potential or existing arms races, governments must negate/diffuse them. The most potent thing they can do in this respect is remove (as much as possible) from civilian circulation rapid-fire weapons especially suited to shooting of humans en masse. This is the only concrete thing a government can, or ever has, done. And it is what any responsible government should do.

So the next time someone tells you they are opposed to "gun control" because "guns don't kill people" and "criminals don't obey laws" and "the government just wants to take away our rights", think about this:

Common sense and hard statistics tell you that if you want to reduce the chances of a future mass shooting, removing from circulation a great deal of the weapons that are best put to that use (and that are not really necessary or particularly useful for anything else in civilian life) is going to save lives. This has happened here in Australia and there is no reason it shouldn't happen in the US which shares a very similar culture and background (the gun issue notwithstanding).

This has nothing to do with denying that "guns don't kill people, people kill people". This whole line of reasoning is irrelevant. It is about controlling/regulating some of the most dangerous implements in our society - the way we regulate explosives, the way we regulate pharmaceuticals, the way we regulate vehicles and traffic, aircraft, medical procedures, work safety... Blaming the implement has never been part of this calculus - any more than doctors/pharmacists "blame" drugs, factory managers "blame" heavy machinery or drivers "blame" cars. Governments regulate the use of dangerous implements because they are inherently dangerous. And this regulation saves lives. Period.

Remember also that gun control is not "gun banning"; it is the regulation of gun ownership. The "slippery slope" doesn't apply. You don't need to start frothing at the mouth and crying "from my cold, dead hands". Judging by the Australian experience no one is going to be taking all your guns from you. To leap to this conclusion is either misguided or dishonest. Yes, the government might require you to hand in a few military-style ones that are best suited to mass shooting. But (especially in the US) you'll be left with most - if not all - your firearms. I would be very surprised with any other result. In fact, it would be a remarkable result to expect the US to have gun laws as strict as, say, Australia - never mind stricter. As I've said, Congress would never pass such a law - even if it were constitutional and the government could afford the cost of implementing it. So don't worry about this "possibility". It is fanciful.

Like my mate Craig, you might become upset when your favourite exotic .22 has to be bought-back due to it being semi-automatic. And (fingers crossed) you might lose any military-style semi-automatic weapons like the Bushmaster AR-15. But you'll survive, trust me. And maybe, just maybe, some kids at a school, tech or cinema will also survive where they mightn't have otherwise. That would be nice, wouldn't it? Far nicer than me having that machine gun I always wanted. It's a trade I've been willing to make. How about you?

So, with respect, we (and you in the US) really do need to talk about gun control. This doesn't mean you'll forfeit your 2nd Amendment rights. It doesn't matter that people, and not guns, kill people. These are irrelevant statements; unfounded and irresponsible appeals to an absolutism that is not (and never has been) part of mainstream political debate.

In other words, you need to stop relying on the "slippery slope of nonsense" to block what is a long-overdue regulation of something that is at least as (if not more) deserving of appropriate regulation as driving a car, flying a plane or making pharmaceuticals. Dangerous things mightn't kill people. But we shouldn't be allowing everyone equal, unfettered access to them either. We need to control that access.

It's really not that complicated. I really don't need you to explain it to me. It isn't an uniquely "American issue". Appreciate that it doesn't have to be the way it is. Because nowhere in the developed world is the rate and severity of mass shootings so prevalent as it is in your country. No other Western nation comes close. It should be obvious that you're doing something terribly, terribly wrong. Generalised mental health and other social initiatives, while laudable, won't fix things. Nor will more "discussion". And nor will an ever increasing "arms race".

Hard data from a the Western culture most similar to yours (ie. Australia) tells us your situation will only improve with better, goal-directed gun control (ie. specifically, restricting the circulation, and general accessiblitity in the community, of rapid-fire weapons). Your own newspapers are starting to notice that this is the "road map" to reducing the occurrence of these tragedies in your country.

There has never been a more appropriate time to talk about this regulation. If you are really serious about honouring the victims of Sandy Hook and their families, you'll be part of that discussion – not try to suppress it. Because I can tell you now – from an entire career spent in government policy and legislation – this is the only thing that has any chance of making a difference.

[For 5 false assumptions in the gun control debate, see my next article.]

Copyright © 2012 Dejan Djurdjevic

Comments

  1. Under the regulations in Australia are people able to carry guns for self defense?

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  2. You need a special permit (eg. due to occupation or some other special need) to carry a weapon in Australia.

    Basically I've never met anyone here (aside from police, certain industry workers such as agriculture etc.) who carry firearms on their person in side or concealed holster. People take their guns to and from firing ranges or their farms or abattoirs etc. But as with many US states, you generally can't walk around with a gun. And basically no one does. Even criminals are very rarely "packing a piece". If a gun store is robbed of firearms or a police officer has his/her firearm taken from them, all hell breaks loose until they are recovered.

    The net effect is that we hardly ever get firearm victims coming into our public hospitals. No one I know or have ever met feels the need to carry one "for protection". It just isn't an issue. In relation to guns, we live in a very different world from the US - despite having an almost identical culture in every other respect.

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  3. Dan,

    I like your articles and while I don't really want to have a knee-jerk reaction to this one I'm afraid I'm going to have one anyway.

    If you haven't lived in a country where the right to keep and bear arms is a constitutional right, indeed a God-given right, then it is easy to talk about gun controls and restrictions. If you never had a right, then it is rather hard to imagine how the exercise of that right feels and even harder to imagine how it feels when that right is under assault.

    I have more to say, but I think I'll think on it a bit more first.

    Chris

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  4. I hasten to add that I am not advocating any particular measures relating to carrying guns in the US. That is up to Americans. I'm only discussing the need for uniform regulation and the need for restriction of semi-automatic, high magazine capacity, military-style weapons.

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  5. Chris, if you're in favour of gun licensing of any kind, then you're in favour of gun control (ie. "restriction" or "regulation"). All we have left to discuss is the specifics.

    You appear to adhere to the view that I'm suggesting some sort of "unreasonable restriction/regulation". I don't believe I am. In this article I propose uniform gun laws and a specific restriction on certain semi-automatics. That's all. I leave the rest up to you.

    I've lived in South Africa where everyone "packs a piece" and everyone feels and entitlement (many say it is "God given") to do so - and where everyone probably has to do so. In fact, I grew up there. So I have some idea of a world with much more firearm violence than you have in the US.

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  6. You make some good points and I can honestly say I am on the fence.

    My roots from child hood scream NO! but my logic as an adult Whispers Yes.

    An underlying theme that is often missed in this debate (U.S.) is that the people don't trust their government.

    We as children are taught this fear within our own public schools.

    This mistrust is one of the major issues that must be address before any meaningful debate will ever take place.

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    1. Listen to your logic Oldmankarate. I am speaking without a "government agenda". It is a matter of logic, not politics. Only government can regulate dangerous things like firearms, traffic, waste and chemical disposal, etc. - fairly, effectively and uniformly. There is no other body. In my work I have seen any number of legislative attempts to "privatise", deregulate or "self regulate" and all that happens is "no regulation" or one corporation suiting itself at our expense. Don't let a traditional distrust of authority make you forget that as imperfect as our democracies are, they are the best we have - and that, ultimately, at least our governments are answerable to us at the polls.

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  7. I think that implementing some form of licensing is reasonable. However, if I dont have my gun when I need to defend myself then I dont see that as different than not having a gun at all. Therefore, I see not being able to carry as the same as a gun ban. For that reason, I dont think that Australia demonstrates that a gun ban cannot happen in America.

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    1. I repeat Haimaru - I am not making any recommendations regarding carrying. Only uniform, logical regulation and restriction of rapid fire rifles. That is what I believe (and evidence suggests) will reduce mass shootings. As to Australian gun restrictions generally - your concerns that US policy will ever adopt our full suit of restrictions ignores history, culture and all reasonable likelihood. What Australia does in this more general regard will never "demonstrate" anything likely for the US. This is a totally unsubstantiated fear. Will you import our national background checks and restriction of semis? Maybe and for your sakes I hope so - but really, even that is unlikely due to the sort of panic I am seeing among average Americans at the very mention of some form responsible gun laws (which they seem to interpret as a violation of the 2nd Amendment without even pausing to consider the proposal - because of some "slippery slope" leap in logic).

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  8. Dan,

    You are correct in how your logic is presented and my comments were presented as insight to our national community.

    Yes, governing bodies create the laws and play the roll of institutionalized public safety. But it is the people as a group that must ultimately vote to approve or disprove the national agenda.


    This mistrust has continually feed the rise of pseudo military style firearms and until the majority of the people set aside their prejudices and fears about the government no sweeping change will come about.

    Personally I can agree with the need but our society is so broken in what we consider important that our root issues must be understood before and as change takes place.

    A prime example would be the consideration of a presidential executive order. If such was made that a specific group(s) deemed draconian then revolt and rioting would ensure.

    But if nothing is done that does not provide a meaningful bite to the violence and how it is executed nothing will change.

    As you said, government has limited ability to bring about social change. It must instead focus on policy but if the policy is mistimed or ill received then the damage can be far more devastating.

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  9. I was taught how to load, shoot, and clean guns at around age 10. I shot my first deer at age 12. As I type this I am sitting about five feet away from a gun case with 10 guns in it and a few feet farther away there is a closet with a few -more- guns. So neither my family nor myself are anti-gun. But this is just getting STUPID. Military style assault weapons and 30 round clips are designed for one thing and one thing only: to kill a large number of people very quickly. Such weapons have no business in civilian hands. Gun show loopholes only exist to circumvent the legal requirement of checking whether the purchaser is a felon. As Dan points out, this is all very clear to outsiders who haven't been subjected to years of mindless propaganda. As far as the Second Amendment, it says "well regulated" which obviously anticipates the need for *regulations*. Regulated = regulations. The careful regulation of firearms is clearly constitutional and is LONG overdue

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    1. Bravo Ryan. And I understand Oldmankarate - I was really making a rhetorical statement.

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  10. http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/american-gun-control-isnt-international-gun-control/

    Updating as I see the need to edit/clarify/elaborate.

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    1. Ymar, I wrote this piece because I care about people and I care about logic and I care about disinformation - not because I think US gun policy affects people outside the US and not because I would "like to vote in US elections". Your piece reminds me so much of what I heard in Belgrade in 1989: "You don't know anything, it's not your concern, we're not interested in your outside opinion with outside vested interests ignorant of our best interests." This is just the same "confusion of lethargy" and "slippery slope of nonsense": talk and more talk, red herrings (eg. when did I mention not allowing guns in self defence - or importing anything from Australia other than our restriction on semis) and other vague, even incoherent, philosophical meanderings. All while mass shootings continue in your country using rapid fire, military style weapons no civilian needs.

      Read my article a bit more closely. And realise that I might have a helpful point to make that isn't "political" or particularly "Australian" or otherwise "interfering" in US problems. I cried over the Sandy Hook kids. And then applied my reason and logic to compose this essay as a foil to the sort of imprecise, defensive obfuscation you just wrote.

      Disagree with specific points I am making. But don't be suggesting I haven't made any worth considering, don't be suggesting I am hoping to impose some broader agenda that fits your own simplistic political categories or national characteristics - and don't be suggesting I don't have a right to an opinion because I don't live in the US. I've lived in 6 different countries with different gun laws. I have worked with gun laws for 22 years. I think I have something useful to say.

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  11. Very controversial Dan. Also, very labourious, not surprising given your legal background :)

    The absurdities of these arguments was brought home to me when it was reported that there was a significant increase in the sale of bullet proof backpacks for kids. Seriously? This is the society you want to live in, in order to defend a consitutional (God? given right?) bestowed in a completly different era?

    If you are concerned about a tyranical government, your arsenel of weapons are going to be useless against the might of the US military. 'Tyranny' - are we still considering this in modern Western society? If we are, the democratic process is a farce. Let's scrap the democratic process.

    A prepubescent teen has been arrested for going to school armed wiht a hand gun. This fits with the arguments associated with 'protection.' The 2nd amendement is designed to resist 'tyrannical' governments. Fair enough. So protect thyself. An American politician wants teachers to arm themselves. Fair enough. But shouldn't the kids arm themselves to protect themselves from their teachers?

    In line with your comments, why restrict guns to minors? That is a form of gun control.

    If you want to comprehend the absurdity and the out of date nature of the 2nd amendement, read the 3rd amendment. Dear God in heaven, the constiution is not a bible and should not be considered written in stone. It was written in a time and place that was very different to now. Study evolution an understand the concept of adaptation, a fit between environment and person. The constitution does not fit; the environment has changed but and the constitution no longer is maladaptive.

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  12. "and don't be suggesting I don't have a right to an opinion because I don't live in the US. I've lived in 6 different countries with different gun laws. I have worked with gun laws for 22 years. I think I have something useful to say."
    But if you don't participate/live in the process you can't complain or be critical of that process.
    It is one thing to offer alternative opinions or methods but you are explicitly telling an entire nation what they "need" to do.
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/12/17/there-s-little-we-can-do-to-prevent-another-massacre.html A nation that by it's very existence and codified history has this so permeated within it that people do find it hard to understand.
    I agree with a few of your issues but you revolve it around the carbine. These were untrained and completely unprepared school teachers, children, & the institution itself he went up against. http://www.policeone.com/active-shooter/articles/2058168-Active-shooters-in-schools-The-enemy-is-denial/
    A handgun with plenty of magazines would be enough to do that much damage to that many people of that type. A ban and restriction of magazine size would be a good start but as the first article says it wouldn't stop anything. The two dynamics are completely different.
    Your Australian criminals are "very rarely packing a piece" in America that is completely inverted. Individuals often need there own self-protection as the police can not actually defend anyone, only pick up the pieces afterward. If someone wants to defend themselves against criminals that are packing and may not stop at just a simple mugging, they have to do it themselves. Why truly study any form of actual combative physical and hands-on martial art if people don't feel the need to be able to defend themselves when something happens. If there wasn't that need there would be no more practical application and it would all be meditative movement and theoretical discussion without application.
    If there was someway of ensuring the criminal weapon application was stopped there would be an easier time of people relaxing on this issue. Until that happens people have to be able to defend themselves during the moment of offense because of how it could happen anywhere anytime. This is the massive disconnect between societies that you express without understanding the gulf "The net effect is that we hardly ever get firearm victims coming into our public hospitals. No one I know or have ever met feels the need to carry one "for protection". It just isn't an issue. In relation to guns, we live in a very different world from the US - despite having an almost identical culture in every other respect." that logic will never bridge, America has a fundamentally different culture in every respect because of it's history and self-expression as a nation that split from the dominant UK/British/European influences much much earlier then Australia did or ever has. Apples and oranges or the old debates over which martial art is better. At the end it always comes back to people and the situations that exist to shape them, both seen by everyone and unseen even by natives or those looking inside.

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  13. Joshua, I'm offering only 2 discreet pieces of advice based on my experience with prosecution, legislation and law generally:

    1. some form of uniform regulation; and
    2. restriction of rapid fire rifles.

    Just because I said our cultures were sufficiently similar to respond to certain basic propositions (a uniform licensing scheme and some form of restriction on rapid fire weapons) does not mean I believe everything from Australia can be "imported" into the US. I have never suggested that nor have I even thought that to be the case.

    I mentioned that here in Australia criminals rarely pack a piece because I was asked in a question. It is not part of my article. Ditto with the other answers to questions in the comments section. They are responses - not 'advice'.

    I agree that a handgun can do plenty of damage. I'm offering one proposal to save at least some lives - not some sort of panacea.

    In the end, you can choose to ignore my advice. That's fair enough. But to imply that my advice can't be relevant because it is Australian (never mind that I grew up in 2 other countries with different gun laws), or to imply that I'm ignoring cultural differences (just because I noted similarities of greater relevance than Switzerland etc.), or to imply that I'm suggesting any more "change" than I have, is either to misread or fail to read my article.

    Thanks for reading and your comment.

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  14. John, we are in complete agreement.

    Well said. Thank you for your input.

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  15. Hi Dan
    A couple of things. I think centralising outlying incidents like this (or Port Arthur)in any debate is a mistake; it locks people into a "something must be done" mindset that leads to terrible, terrible legislation (See: the Patriot Act). Public policy should not ever be driven by public panic.
    So, for example, for the last set of stats I saw for the US (1997) for the 5-9 age group, drowning deaths were ten times more likely that firearms death (of which there were 25 or so nationally) but because the drownings happen at a fairly constant rate that we are used to.
    People focus on the dramatic rather than the much higher risks that we are inured to (as you discuss here http://dandjurdjevic.blogspot.com/2012/11/a-world-of-illusion-coping-with-reality.html)but after dramatic, but statistically negligible things happen, "They have gone from not being concerned with fears to being consumed by them."

    The other rather distressing thing is the use (not just from you, but around the 'net and in some of these comments) is the use of emotive, but false or empty phrases such as "military style", "assault weapon" etc etc. Assault weapon in the US context is an entirely empty phrase that focusses on the aesthetics of a weapon rather than its function. And given that (this is a guess, but I suspect a very good one) there are probably vastly more semi-automatic rifles in civilian hands than military hands (who I believe only use them in very basic training and in specialist marksman roles) in the US, calling them "civlian style" would be more accurate (though equally pointless).

    There are some things that might have an effect on risk factors (magazine capacity limits, primarily) but most would, in terms of real benefit, be a waste of legislative effort.
    This is a pretty well written article by a firearms enthusiast and ex-soldier that pretty closely tracks my perspective on what useful action might be taken in the US political context.

    @John Coles. Re: Bulletproof backpacks. The sale of such items is not a reflection of violence in American society. It's a reflection of people being really really bad at calculating risk factors in emotive or dramatic situations with relentless media coverage and it being (while vastly less needed than a seatbelt) a pretty low behavioural investment action (though I would argue that it is likely to put kids into a paranoid state that is pretty damaging over a long period)

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    1. Well this is where we differ, Anonymous. I think that something must be done. You might feel the status quo is fine. I think it's a case of the boiling frog: you've gotten used to a "normal" that is anything but. Because it isn't just Sandy Hook. It wasn't just Port Arthur. It is a pattern - a totally, completely and utterly unacceptable, reprehensible and intolerable pattern.

      As to "emotive" use of "military style", again I disagree. I and others use it is a short-hand label to describe its obvious physical appearance and utility. Or have you failed to notice that guns like the Bushmaster M4 have been clearly styled in military terms, both in form and, as far as the current law permits, function? There is nothing especially "emotive" about noting this rather obvious fact, and noting that true military weapons have important differences, while correct, is irrelevant to what I and others are saying.

      Thanks for reading and your contribution.

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  16. True, they are styled to look like military firearms. This makes zero difference to the danger they pose and speaking as if it does puts one in the position of trying to control speeding by banning air scoops in the bonnet. Yes, it makes it look like a high performance car, but it does not speed it up.
    Now where you say it's military style in function and utility, you're just wrong. The military barely uses weapons that function like that, civilians use them very heavily.
    The only feature in which there is a more military function is the 30 round box magazine, which I'd be happy to see restricted.
    And here's the link I neglected to put in last time.
    http://bradtaylorbooks.com/2012/12/a-simple-primer-on-assault-weapons/

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  17. No, their performance is what counts: semi auto + rifle (better accuracy) + high capacity mag = good mass shooter. I don't care if they aren't full auto military weapons and their appearance as one is just an identifier, not the point of distinction in function .

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  18. "Now where you say it's military style in function and utility, you're just wrong."

    You're misquoting me. What I said that in referring to a weapon like an M4, I used "military style" just as a "short-hand label to describe its obvious physical appearance and utility". Furthermore, I said such "clearly styled in military terms, both in form and, as far as the current law permits, function."

    First "obvious physical appearance"/"form" and "utility": an M4, for example, is designed with the same frame, grip, sights and general "handling" as a military carbine. These aren't just "window dressing" like some fake (or inconsequential) air scoop on a car. They are military styled precisely because they are design features that specifically support shooting humans in combat. If you doubt me, go to a gun store and ask for a specifically designed hunting rifle and see if they give you an M4.

    Now to "function - as far as the law permits" (which is what I said - not just "function" as you misquoted me): the semi-auto aspect is the first factor. Yes, it isn't a full automatic. But that is because (thankfully - due to at least some common sense existing in US gun control laws) these are not generally allowed to be licensed to civilians. So what is the next best thing? Semi-auto.

    Rifles for hunting deer etc. don't need to be - and in my experience traditionally don't have - a semi auto function.

    Now you might say: "Big deal - handguns are almost always semi-auto") - but I cover that in my article and my previous comment. It is the collection of factors (semi auto, rifle and magazine size) that matters - not just one of those factors alone. Handguns might be semi auto, but they aren't rifles (with greater accuracy) and they don't have as large capacity magazine. They have limitations that make them less amenable to mass shooting.

    Which brings me to the third factor: magazine size. On its own, it also might have no real bearing as people can easily reload. But put this together with greater accuracy and with semi auto capacity and you have a mass shooting weapon that is only exceeded by true military automatics.

    What other utility do guns like the M4 have? How about the often higher velocity of the bullets (which matches military objectives) and the type of damage they do (which is exactly why the military prefer higher velocity - to pass through the body and wound)? For hunting or self defence, you don't want to have a deer or your attacker still staggering around, mortally wounded but able to function. For self defence or hunting you want a bullet that hits the body and disperses its force inside.

    There is a reason I call these sorts of guns "military style" and not "military". I know they aren't truly military. But also know that key features have been modelled on military weapons. And that they aren't just "cosmetic" like some largely functionless air scoop on a normal sedan.

    You can keep going on about the differences all you like. But to me, these are semantics. I can rewrite the article to avoid any mention of military and my message remains the same.

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  19. Dan,

    Good article. Unfortunately my comments on this issue are a bit too lengthy to post as a comment so I've made a blog article of my own to continue the discussion. http://webster-family-ar.us/randy/2012/12/19/gun-control-states-rights-and-the-rights-of-the-people/

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  20. I am and always have been happily living in peaceful enough countries (traveled to around 45. with many longtime stays), so that I never needed to arm myself outside my training and living qúarters.
    Owing around 20 cold weapons, good jian and dao, some other Chinese stuff, I never had or wanted a gun.
    True, we non-Americans don't get that obsession with firearms, but when my martial arts brothers tell me that they never leave the house in Washington unarmed, then I start thinking.... Where does that lead to?

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  21. Are they to heavily regulate everything that generates the same or greater number of deaths/year as school shootings? So far we're clocking in, so to speak, at less than a hundred deaths a year in a population in excess of some three hundred million. It seems to me that, if consistently applied, the principles behind the restriction of firearms based on school shootings would generate a culture so risk-averse that it can hardly do anything.

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    1. It all depends. Motor vehicles cause many deaths but we can't live without them. Can you live without an AR-15? I think so.

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  22. Put another way, it's not about percentages and probabilities, but reasonably avoidable percentages and probabilities. We spend billions on road safety each year, regulating vehicular traffic as heavily as we practicably can. People still die despite this. But we do what we can. We don't say: "Sorry families of victims - but shit happens and I prefer my freedom from regulation to a greater safety that might have saved your beloved."

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  23. Private swimming pools, bathtubs, stairs. None of those are critical to life as we know it, all of them kill more people than school shootings.

    There has to be a point at which you write something off as representing an acceptable risk/reward ratio. And it's not clear to me that people with AR-15s get less joy out of them than people get out of their private swimming pools.

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    1. You seem to be unaware of how heavily regulated all these things are. I should know - my day job is writing things like pool and building regulations. They are regulated to the the maximum practicable and useful level. If they weren't, there would be many more deaths from people falling down stairs that were too steep/slippery/unguarded; by pools not properly fenced etc, etc. I can tell you now: Sudafed is more regulated than AR-15s. In terms of our Western societal standards this is a scandal - and a simplistic calculus of death rates won't change that.

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  24. Thank you for this well written blog. It's interesting that many of your commenters who take issue don't seem to have read (or understood) thoroughly what you have actually said.

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    1. Thanks Paul. I suspect cognitive dissonance is a major factor. If you have been wedded to an ideological position for a long time, inconsistent data, reasoning and conclusions, however cogent, will be denied or ignored, heavier and heavier reliance will be placed on lesser variables and leaps in logic will be made so that the desired previously heldconclusion is maintained. It is disappointing, but it is human nature.

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  25. "Motor vehicles cause many deaths but we can't live without them."

    Modern humans have been around for at least 200,000 years. Automobiles have existed for less than 100 years. We can obviously live without them. We did so for the vast majority of our existence and most likely will soon need to do so again.

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  26. "not because I think US gun policy affects people outside the US and not because I would "like to vote in US elections"

    That may be true from your perspective, but the same doesn't hold true for the international body politic. Also, Belgrade has something personal to do with you Dan, but it doesn't have much to do with the US or our internal issues. It informs your perspective, yes, but at the same time, the fact that many Europeans and other foreigners would like to vote in US elections, specifically for a certain Presidential candidate, informs many of our domestic perspectives as well.

    If you wish to inform yourself of the US local domestic disputes to be derived from your experience with or relating to Belgrade, is a little bit far fetched though if you think the European voting tendencies doesn't affect American reception of such views.

    " But don't be suggesting I haven't made any worth considering"

    The fact that you're getting emotional over an issue that clouds people's judgment, isn't in anyone's best interests.

    Why you seem to take such points I've made personally, is something only you can tell, because I won't bother. If I didn't feel your points deserved consideration as factual arguments, I would have ignored them. Perhaps, for once, your objective and formal lawyer based writing and response system would be better suited to such a topic than a personal, emotional based subjective decision making process.

    As I said at the end, the problems in America are at such a serious level, Americans are often times more inclined to trust people overseas, like you Dan, than the people here at home. Whether "you" want to ban things is as I described before, not relevant. It's as if someone said they wanted to vote in our elections. Not relevant. We here in the US already know "who wants to ban things", and we know them far better than those living overseas, and even perhaps better than some living here in the States too.

    Before you take exception to things, you should take care to figure out what the actual intent behind the words is before you belittle them. Otherwise, it's the same as over reacting to bar room comments.

    Most of what I said/wrote was an exposition and an explanation of American views. Not a lawyerly based "argument" or "debate" or Legal Brief designed to "debate" gun control with you, Dan. If you want someone to "debate with", you had better find someone who cares about such things more than finding solutions.

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  27. I'm not all that interested in addressing the points Dan listed concerning regulating carbines. For one thing, it'd be destroying the federal structure a little bit too much, especially at this time where the fed government is essentially looting one state to supply the funding for the bankrupt states that spent too much on their own private government luxuries. That goes on in Canada too of course, the difference is that people are more inclined to shoot people in the US if these differences aren't settled "politically". Such political differences cannot be settled when more and more people start thinking elections are rigged in a one party system, where both parties essentially operate as "one" under some high ideological command. These problems are thus deeper than just "let's make a federal law about gun registrations".

    If you think this is all just political non sense or philosophical diatribes, it is perhaps the fundamental reason why don't and won't comprehend the exact problem in the US, and thus will use a screwdrive to attempt to fix a live detonating bomb. You may care to find a solution to the problems of humans, Dan, but without truly attempting to comprehend things here, where the problem actually exists, you will neither see the problem nor the solution. If that doesn't matter to you, then it's fine by me, but then I would have to consider why else you would be writing something like this from Australia saying you got a "solution" to foreign problems in America.

    There's a reason a lot of people don't like the US when we come in and invade countries and tell them how to set up their politics. But the thing is, just because other nations think they will never go to such extents, do you really think domestic American opinion will take certain "ideas" coming from overseas with any true belief or trust? Especially if they seem to mirror certain other "philosophical" viewpoints from domestic factions inside the US.

    If you want to "fix" things, I presume it doesn't matter who you convince here, as you seem to be trying to convince voters or policy deciders in the US itself. The fact that I'm telling you that they'll be thinking about Europeans wanting to vote in US elections is taken by you as a personal insult, when you should really be considering how Americans really feel about foreigners telling them what to do about their dead kids....

    Cultural Imperialism just doesn't come from US military and economic expansion. Arrogance and being blind is a rather quaint human nature issue. Whether your ideas are something I like, support, or think will work, is totally besides the point of how it will be received in the US. Personally, I think they won't, but there are a lot of reasons for that. Reasons you called something akin to spurious or unserious. They were quite serious. I know that people in different cultures tend to underestimate how other cultures take things so serious, and Americans have done that a lot in Iraq and Afghanistan, but really now, do people actually think Americans value and do things the same way as they do in South Africa, Uk, Switzerland, Australia, etc?

    Before you start coming up with policies, people, of whatever origin, should take a bit of care to consider how their views will be taken. And how that will affect the credibility of their proposals in the end.

    If emotional reactions are the first response you have Dan, and that's just for me, a regular civilian American, you're not going to take it so well when an actual policy maker tells you foreigners to shove it and get off their property, escorted by several Marines. Our President, for example, kept the Prime Minister of Israel waiting out back at the servant's door for awhile, without dinner or water, for some time.

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  28. Honestly, we don't care about Belgrade or what you think it relates to the US. Neither will our American politicians, propagandists, bloggers, etc. If it matters to you, great. But telling us we're behaving like the Milosovic supporters we bombed under Clinton, is not what one might call diplomatic, especially if you want something from the US. Still, the only superpower on the planet.

    If you want something concrete to argue about Dan, you can check out the links on my blog or discuss how gun registrations allowed police to disarm the population of New Orleans before Katrina. Somehow not getting rid of the looters and murderers who preyed upon a defenseless population during that disaster.

    And I personally don't really care about which countries you have visited, Dan or not. The normal reaction you will get from inside the US is that if you are a foreigner, you may be recruited as an expert witness for one faction or another. But your policies will never be adopted outright, it'll just be used as justification for American Faction 1's proposal or Faction 2's proposal or Faction 25's proposal about Newton and mass murders.

    Debating you is a waste of time, not because your points lack substance, but because there are a whole slew of "other people here around me in the US I need to talk with more" since their views actually directly impact "who will get killed or not in the future", so to speak. And if you aren't even going to spend some time figuring out what it looks like in the US from US perspectives (all 500 of our different factional ones even), then what is the point of a foreigner speaking to a domestic US critter about stuff happening in the US if you don't want to learn but just impose your views?

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  29. I've gone over some of your previous posts Dan, and the single egregious error you've made in what you would call the "debate" (which I don't find particularly important one way or another, at least if the "debate" is of this level), is your focus on the technique. You focus on the tool, the gun, and deem it necessary or useful to get rid of that. Now domestically, Americans have been arguing the same thing, and talking about root causes and so forth and so on. Most of it is bad, some good, some even worse than bad.

    The only difference between the kids and school teachers at Newton and AL the shooter, is that the shooter knew how to use the tool of violence, and everyone else there didn't. If you gave Miyamoto Musashi a pencil, he would have killed more people at that school than the shooter. The belief that there are "dangerous" weapons, rather than "dangerous people", is a philosophical difference you can ignore if you want ,Dan, but it really is at the root of many American, and international, differences concerning guns and crime.

    If anyone had been armed with a gun at that school, besides the shooter, they would have easily shot the shooter, as has happened many many times in the US that nobody overseas seems to be aware of. If someone like me, who knew how to use lethal force H2H methods at melee ranges, somehow ended up around the corner of the shooter, AL would have been easily terminated and those lives lost, might not have been lost in such grand numbers.

    But nobody else was armed, to protect the kiddies. I nor anyone else with my training/intent was around there. People tried their best, supposedly, to protect the kids, but with the inadequate tools at their disposal, relying on the police or government didn't seem to do much good. So many people want to solve it by relying on the government more, without putting police on grounds. It gets complicated, and sometimes ridiculous too, to be honest.

    The solution many in the US like is, to be frank, kill people who need killing. Many in DC and the US gov disagree, that's fine. We're a nation of different opinions. They're just sort of wrong opinions. If other nations and politics want to get rid of people who need killing by only allowing them the use of knives so they can expend their rage without "really killing" someone.... well, that's really up to them. Many Americans, won't actually go out of our way to tell you what the real solution is, just because one works for us.

    The fact that the international scene may find child killings stunning, may perhaps be an indictment of how few school shootings they have seen happen in Europe and Germany, also with better weapons bans than the US. The sensational nature of bad things happening in the US people seem to get, while they ignore bad things happening in other nations. Whether "you" do this or not, is again, besides the point.

    Martial artists somehow get the idea that government won't know which school is good or bad for regulating quality arts. Yet they think US government is "competent" enough to know which citizen needs "what guns" for common defense. Doesn't work that way. The standard of reason is based upon one's peers. In the US, for many non urban zones, that means "kill those that need killing, that's self defense". Maybe in your local area, it's different. It's okay to be different, but never try to assume other people are like you, especially strangers. Iraq and Afghanistan may have taught more Americans certain things than what people outside the US may know.

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  30. "Fair enough. But shouldn't the kids arm themselves to protect themselves from their teachers?

    In line with your comments, why restrict guns to minors? That is a form of gun control."

    We don't actually. Some people I know teach their kids as early as six years of age, to shoot .22 caliber rifle bullets. Although small for a "rifle", it's still a real gun, with a real bullet, that can kill real people. The fact that minors aren't allowed to learn "lethal force H2H techniques" or learn and carry lethal force firearms is a government and social barrier. Many "individuals" would normally prefer to have the freedom to decide. Whether the kids need guns or not to protect them from their own school teachers is something up to the kids. Many Americans aren't for this whole "top down" spurious extreme political logic thing about slippery slopes. If a person has the judgment to know who needs killing and who doesn't, and can act upon that desire/judgment like a responsible adult, then give him the choice to carry without the state owning him, so he can decide who needs shooting.

    If you want to propose arming minors, talk to the "gun regulation" crowd, because they're the ones that need to be knocked down first. The rest of us in the US, may just implement it if we are allowed to.

    That doesn't particularly frighten some of us in America, as other people may think...

    Many of our frontiers towns in the past have had kids armed with guns for a long time. Animals, predators, humans and otherwise, to defend themselves against. To defend their teachers against as well. Their families too.

    It's a bit strange to hear people telling Americans that if they ban guns for minors, they need to start considering more gun regulation than we already have. That gun AL used was very registered. It was just not registered to him. And even if it was, he would have been cleared probably because we also have issues telling criminals and people who are medically insane, that they don't have "human rights".

    I wouldn't even ban the training of lethal force H2H techniques to minors, although I prefer to train them until they are 11-13, before they can adequately use them. Anything earlier and their chances of success, mentally speaking, go way down.

    "If you want to comprehend the absurdity and the out of date nature of the 2nd amendement, read the 3rd amendment. Dear God in heaven, the constiution is not a bible and should not be considered written in stone. It was written in a time and place that was very different to now. Study evolution an understand the concept of adaptation, a fit between environment and person. The constitution does not fit; the environment has changed but and the constitution no longer is maladaptive."

    That's like telling a Japanese martial artist he needs to tear down that picture of the founder and piss on it, because the modern age requires it of him. The thing is, Americans have shed blood and treasure for this so called Constitution. You'll probably get a much stronger reaction than if you told that particular Japanese inheritor that.

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  31. To address the point, the 1st Amendment has adapted to the modern age because freedom of speech just doesn't cover broad sheets and printed newspapers. There's something called the internet.

    The 2nd Amendment adjusts because the wording is pretty exact but not restrictive in the modern sense.

    "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

    States, as in the 50 United States. Not 57 as one of our Presidents claimed, just to be clear. Whether the arms is a musket or something else... presumably that can be carried by two healthy arms, has been adapted to the modern world.

    I think it's a little bit logically slippery slope that people are worried about Americans owning tanks, as if that is even an issue at hand, if the government actually respects the COnstitution its politicians swore to.

    Well, Americans shouldn't expect foreigners or even other Americans to value the same things some of us value. Inevitably, that caused the US Revolutionary War and the US Civil War, and it will definitely cause another one in the future. But until then, people aren't going to agree, no matter who here "thinks" they should.

    Us domestic issues are more complex than somebody creating strawmen about Americans ignoring "regulations" at the expense of the lives of children. To be exact, some of the people here don't have any skin in the game, and until they do, debating is a waste of time. It's basically a nationalistic argument of whose country is better. I don't care whether you think your country is better. If I did, I'd move there right now.

    It's basically like some guy coming into a karate dojo and telling them they're doing the kata all wrong and need to do it like this and like that. People who think they are "masters" at A, also have the arrogance to presume they are "masters" at X, Y, C, D, B, F, and U too.

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  32. To be honest, if the government was considering "regulating the militia", many Americans would stop talking about revolting against the government. However, what is being spoken is the illegal forced confiscation of guns from civilian ownership, essentially destroying any kind of "civilian militia" and prioritizing power in SEIU, Black Panthers, TSA, National Guard, police, and the Army/Marines. There will be no armed teachers or students or police at schools, so to speak. There aren't any now... is there. All the massacres, including Ft. Hood, were at government deemed gun free zones. If you had a gun, they would imprison you and take it away. Unless you were a mass murderer, of course.

    REgulation of firearms, the US already has with criminal background checks and supposedly medical sanity ones as well (although those are harder to apply). What most people are thinking in terms of regulating guns will just turn out de facto as gun confiscation. Until and unless the US government convinces the people that gun violence is their primary issue, the people won't vote or allow such changes. The US government never really talked about gun control, for itself, after WACO and Ruby Ridge. Incidents where I doubt many foreigners, or even Americans, give much thought to. But there's gun control for you. It's more like keeping the people under control. Because if it was guns, you wouldn't see so many DEA agents shoot themselves in the leg while demonstrating "gun safety" to the public.

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  33. Ymar, if you are offended by me comparing the American people to my much-beloved family in Serbia, then so be it.

    I wasn't offended by what you wrote. I was annoyed.

    Imprecision - especially of the rambling ideological diatribe sort - annoys me. It especially annoys me given the great lengths to which I go to write with reason, dispassion, relevance and precision. It annoys me when reading (and responding to) such imprecision costs me valuable time as I try to make sense of it for page after page.

    I have very little time after work, family, training, teaching and my own writing. Despite this, I undertake to respond to everyone who writes to me (by comment here, email or other message). This might be a foolish undertaking given the increasing volume, but it is one I have committed to honouring for the time being anyway.

    In this context, it is incorrect to say that I want a "debate" with you. Rather, you are clearly attempting to discuss something (as I invite people to do here). And what you are attempting to discuss is invariably a complex issue, requiring particular precision.

    If you wish to have a discussion with anyone, you need to have sufficient precision, as well as clarity and coherence, in your own writings to admit dialogue. However your lengthy and confused posts actually admit almost none. For starters, a dialogue doesn't involve one person rambling, uninterrupted, for ten minutes or even half an hour. Yet that is the oral equivalent of your written comments.

    Accordingly I won't be responding to your posts in the future. It is not productive of my time - or, I suspect, yours. We both have (or should have) much better things to do.

    Have a merry and safe Christmas.

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  34. Ryan, it true at a species level that we can survive without motor vehicles - but not necessarily at a 21st century individual or societal level (which is clearly what I mean).

    We can "live" without electricity too, but if we lost it tomorrow many, if not most, of us would perish. Ditto if motor vehicles all ceased to be operable (due to absence of gasoline). Food and essential supplies could not be transported to and around cities, people could not commute to work...

    Our society would collapse very quickly if modern transportation, power, or any of a number of other services upon which we rely, suddenly ceased to be available.

    Of course, if we gradually changed our societal structure and way of life, we could learn to do without motor vehicles, electricity etc. And you're right that we might have to do so one day. But it is manifest that many individuals, and a civilisation resembling our current Western one, would not persist in their sudden absence.

    The same does not apply to AR-15s and similar rapid fire rifles. They are in no way indispensable to modern civilian living.

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  35. More than 40 comments, and I believe all of the inputs were answered by Dan. For me it was hard just to reach the end of the article! My friend, I hope that didn't cost you Christmas celebrations! By the way, I hope they were good for you and your family! :-D

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  36. Well I've just shortened the article a tad - taking out that to which "Ymar Sakar" took offence, namely my opening analogy (which I can omit without making a shred of difference!).

    Yes, I am having a great Christmas. But answering all the comments here, the discussions on FB and reading (and occasionally answering) more than 70+ emails (many of them hate-based nonsense) has meant that when my family goes to sleep I haven't! Still, it is a cause worth advancing - it is all I can do from here for those children at Sandy Hook. I might not have money, nor political influence. But I have reason and I intend to use it.

    A very merry Christmas to you Samir - or "happy holidays" if you prefer (I'm not religious, but I'm totally happy celebrating the occasion)!

    Be well my friend.

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  37. Although I am not so interested in this area as in the martial arts, I find your logical and well-structured writing to be inspiring. Furthermore, I agree with most everything you've said. I always found it absurd that anyone could believe increasing the number of guns available would decrease the amount of gun-related deaths. Although the issue is far more complex than I would like to believe, you have done a remarkable and incredible job of laying out all your arguments and suggestions for the future.
    Also worth noting is the consistently respectful way you respond to Ymar. I hope he is happy, however he chooses to spend his time from now on.

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  38. Thanks Xin. I did get testy with him earlier on. But then again, enough is enough!

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  39. Hey, Dan!
    I very appreciate your effort and your reasons to work on this subject. I loved your article just the way it was at first, but I believe it's still ok, so the changes are possibly for the better -- we know many people today just don't read lengthy texts. Honestly, I've even been impressed with your patience not only for writing, but also for answering the comments. It's a definitely remarkable feature and I believe the one who's open to listen to others (although sometimes can be a tortuous task) is giving oneself a chance to grow (and he/she usually does grow this way).
    Initially I intended to join the discussion in the "parallel facebook thread" (you know there was a nice "opposing" gentleman there), but a glitch in my mobile, at a point, made me give up for that time (after writing a few lines, damn).
    But what I wanted to say is that I can't just help but to find it curious the way some americans believe their country is dangerous. I know there is crime there and sometimes it's terrible, but it's hard to believe it compares, for example, to the rates of a country in the developing world. In a recent report from a Mexican civil organization, the city where I live (in Brazil) was found to be among the 10 most violent cities in the world (counting only cities with more than 300,000 inhabitants); many other cities from Brazil were in the top 50 list (as well as others from Latin America in general). But what's my point? I just don't feel like living in a civil war. Here things are basically the way you described about South Africa. In certain districts of my city it is not impossible to be killed by accident (by firegun, always, off course), and someone is killed almost . I've been robbed a reasonable amount of times and most people I know has been as well, not to mention some (I mean more than 2) of my acquaintances have been kidnaped. Going out at night on foot is dangerous in any place in my city, but most people just don't feel such an urge to buy a gun. In all times I was robbed, a gun would probably put me in even more trouble, why would I need one? I have to concede, anyway, that I live in appartment (much more expensive than living in a house) exactly because the much bigger danger of having a house invaded in my city. I can think of cases where a gun could make me be safer, but in most cases it would probably motivate a more aggressive response from robbers.
    For short, I believe such a need of having guns is mostly based on cultural aspects (historical and also circumstantial -- for example, the fear industry promoted by media). We defeinitely have to respect a people's culture -- but I hardly believe reason is on their side.
    Well... posting this and hoping a new post doesn't mean new headache on this post!
    P.S.: I've had great holidays, and I usually have good reasons to celebrate. As for you, be careful with that "going to bad later" stuff, you surely don't want your wife to make you sleep on the couch (I've had to stop reading about martial arts until late night just to avoid being punished like that!)!

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  40. Honestly Samir, I know the US isn't as dangerous as some make out. However, in terms of comparisons with other first world countries, the rate of violent gun related-crime is still unacceptably high.

    In the '80s when I was studying criminology it was so high we needed a break in the graphs to have a meaningful comparison. Now it is true that since that time the rates have come down dramatically. So has your per household rate of gun ownership, btw. But it is also true that you still have a long way to go to reach the low rates of gun crime in, say, Australia or even Canada.

    I'm not trying to paint a "worse picture of the US" but rather highlight the absurdity of trying to take the country in the wrong direction - towards some sort of dystopia where everyone is armed to the teeth, hypervigiliant and paranoid. That would be a disaster. You want to feel even safer walking around your streets - not as if you're in the middle of a war zone - which is what you can expect if everyone is armed to the teeth (as the NRA recommends).

    People routinely lose their tempers - in road rage, in shop/theatre queues, in fencing disputes and in domestic arguments... When people are armed, loss of temper and impulsivity start to mean very, very different things.

    You don't want to go down the wrong road. As it happens, I think you're clearly already on the right one. You just need to keep going down it - even if the NRA are tugging at the wheel trying to pull you off course into the gutter, or off onto a rutted track to nowhere.

    Thanks as always.

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  41. I agree with you, my friend. The crime rates in USA are not comparable to most other developed countries, and that's a relevant fact.
    Anyway, I'd like to point out one more thing: we know there are some things we should be careful when speaking openly in the internet. Maybe there's a hidden subject in this issue, that was not discussed accordingly with its importance (for understandable reasons). I believe this subject is the action of arms industry in order to mantain the culture of guns and the lack of regulations in law. Maybe if there was not such a power in play this whole discussion would be even unecessary. But I know this is a marshy terrain I'm stepping in now, so the lack of mentioning is probably justified. :)

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  42. "You seem to be unaware of how heavily regulated all these things are. I should know - my day job is writing things like pool and building regulations. They are regulated to the the maximum practicable and useful level. If they weren't, there would be many more deaths from people falling down stairs that were too steep/slippery/unguarded; by pools not properly fenced etc, etc. I can tell you now: Sudafed is more regulated than AR-15s. In terms of our Western societal standards this is a scandal - and a simplistic calculus of death rates won't change that."

    I appreciate your time is somewhat limited, so I've re-written this a couple of times trying to keep it reasonably concise. But this is a fairly chunky bit of text for a comment, so -- don't feel like you have to respond quickly :)

    #

    Practicable and useful seems to me a value judgement you're inserting there rather than something descriptive. It's useful to the people with the pools to have them, sure. That's the reward part of a risk/reward equation. But if you said that people couldn't have private pools, then they'd still be able to enjoy swimming, just as people who couldn't have AR-15s could still enjoy shooting. Yet we don't restrict things in that way. At some level someone's sat down and said something to the effect of: "This number of deaths for this level of ..." Well, 'convenience,' I suppose best describes private pools. In any case, someone sat down and said this thing is worth more than that thing.

    And I don't see how your response gets around that. The ultimate restriction of private pools as a subset of pools is not the same as the ultimate restriction of assault rifles as a subset of guns under your proposed changes: You can't have them (or at least not without incredibly restrictive checks.) It seems to me what you mean by useful is relating to how your constructing the reference class into which you're fitting the proposed regulation. That unless you're privileging a set or class of things - say pools - and saying that your restrictions leave that class of things as a whole useful... if you're doing that I can see how you might not see it as weighing one gain against another. If you construct the set properly, then you can say that you've forced regulation all the way to the hilt and to force it further would destroy the thing. So, under that way of framing things that would be the meaning of practicable and useful, I suppose. But, if you're doing that, then the only challenge to get any restriction through would be to construct a large enough class that anything you restricted as a subset of that class wouldn't affect the superset. Restrict private pools as a subset of pools, restrict pools as a subset of leisure venues, and so on.

    Practicable I suppose could also relate to political expediency - restricted as far as it was practical to do with what we could get people to go along with at the time. But that seems recursive, or at the very least regressive, in that if you fail to get reform through on an issue you couldn't advocate for reform on that issue on that reasoning. Since the other side could that reform had been carried to the extent of what was practicable at that point in time.

    #

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  43. The Sudafed thing I don't know what I'm expected to do with, I don't have the stats and in any case it seems to me a lot of that's going to be sitting on counterfactuals.
    - (How am I expected to reason on something I know nothing about? If I'm not expected to reason, why am I expected to agree? How do the stats indicate what would happen if Sudafed were not regulated?) -
    It seems probable to me that unrestricted pharma in general would create many more deaths a year than school shootings do, so you couldn't establish a useful lower bounds for your acceptable risk/reward ratio in that sense anyway.

    But even assuming that Sudafed would be less harmful than guns if Sudafed wasn't constructed according to regulations:

    There are lots of issues, like guns, like pools, where we don't carry restrictions as far as we could - or don't construct them as rationally as perhaps we should. Driving springs readily to mind as an area with many nonsensical laws coupled with very lax penalties when something actually goes wrong. A little tuning of the regulations there could save a lot of lives with no functional impact on the activity.

    All that Sudafed being more heavily regulated than guns would tell you, under the above assumption, is that your bounds on acceptable risk/reward are inconsistent. That you could save more lives and have a more fun society (by de-regulating things that are less dangerous) by moving your weight of regulation from one thing to another if you could work out what your risk/reward ratio was. If you'll accept yes and no on different subjects, which people seem to, it doesn't actually leave you any wiser about what's acceptable.

    It's like weed and alcohol: You could work the argument in both directions. Some people argue that weed's less harmful than alcohol and alcohol is legal so weed should be too. That uses the exact some underlying logic but because people are fonder of alcohol they can leverage it in the other direction.

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  44. You're totally missing the point flamingsquid. It has nothing to do with comparing Sudafed to guns. It has to do with regulating both of them appropriately - which means as much as pragmatically possible. Note the word "pragmatically".

    Why should we do this? Because both are dangerous. Note that the word "dangerous" does not imply "blameworthy". Sudafed is regulated because people realised that criminals were using it in illegal laboratories to make crystal meth - which is dangerous. Guns are (and should be) regulated because they are prima facie dangerous (as indeed are motor vehicles, factory machines, etc.).

    We regulate dangerous things without "comparing" them or "blaming them". We regulate them because this helps create a safer society. We regulate them as far as we practicably can to save as many lives as we can and without recourse to statistics telling us that x kills more people than y. I cover this in my next article at point 5.

    Guns are one of the few things in the US that are not regulated properly (unlike, say Sudafed). That is why I raise this comparison. Something that is only obliquely dangerous (Sudafed) is regulated properly (as it should) where guns are not. I'm not sure how I can make this any plainer.

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  45. "Practicable" is a relative term, but it is not a "value judgment" in your sense. It is a term regularly used in laws and industry guidelines to set an objectively verifiable standard. And courts regularly decide in particular cases whether that standard has been met.

    In other words "practicable" is a term that doesn't just mean "practical" or "reasonable" or "possible". It means something that is logistically and economically feasible as well as appropriate. This isn't a "subjective" or "value-laden" term but an objective, albeit relative, one requiring some adjudication from courts in cases of dispute.

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  46. Dan you are not a US citizen and your are still a subject of the Queen. Please keep your thought to yourself as you have no right to tell us in the USA on how to live. I have lived in Perth and was stationed on exchange program at SASR in Campbell Barracks. The Lads inside the compound still wish they had their own guns. Some do, you will never find them. When I was there you guys still voted to stay under the Queen and you still have a Governor General, who can disband your government. With your history of genocide against the native Australians is a prime example of why a citizen needs to be armed. I have seen the original Aboriginal Hunting Permits. Now that we have established that you and all of Australia are still subjects of the Crown (tell me the truth you are still part of the Common Wealth, right we know what that means), why do you think I care about what you think? Let us citizens debate about our liberties. As for what the reason the 2nd Amendment is there for it citizens to be the final check and balance to the powers of the government. You see we have Unalienable Rights form our creator not a High Court run by Humans. Thank god that even the atheists in our Founding Fathers took the ultimate power out of the hand of Humans. That is why we have a Bill Of Rights. Tell me what is the genetic difference between you and me nothing, you , me, and Mother Teresa nothing. You, me Mother Teresa, and any US President, nothing. You, me, MotherTeresa, any US President, and Mao, Stalin, Hitler? Nothing, they are all human and therefore capable of great evil. Hence the Bill Of Rights. As to your argument on the 3rd Amendment, we have in this country detained people and interned them in camps, Germans in WWI and Japanese in WWII, and you did the same in WWI. What happened to their houses the government took them over and used the ones they wanted. Didn't you guys do the same to the Aboriginals. As to your argument on the government being all powerful ask a Lad from Campbell Barracks how well it is going in Afghanistan, just a couple of uneducated, gun toting, no air support or artillery owning guerillas standing hard against the most powerful nation in the world. I have friends in the WA police and a SAS reservist, so I can check on gun crimes in Australia. How are the Sunsets from the OBH?

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  47. I am just a blogger commenting on a civilian defence issue that happens to be in your headlines at the moment - as I am entitled to do. That doesn't mean I wield any influence on your politics and public policy or that I have any reason to "self-censor". Writers routinely comment on events in countries other than their own, especially when a similar debates have occurred, and will continue to occur, locally.

    What you seem to be saying in the rest of your comment is that people in our Western democracies need to be armed to the teeth "just in case we end up under a dictatorship under Mao, Hitler or Stalin" or "just in case we get invaded by a superpower and we have to run to the hills and wage a guerrilla war like the Afghans". Really? You think that this fanciful possibility justifies having a civilian arms race of the kind you have in the US? I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree.

    My next article deals with your country's Second Amendment. And yes, as a student of history and legal history (including that of the US) and as legal practitioner who studied our shared common law, I believe I do have something useful to say on this, even if I am not a US citizen. The facts are the facts. If I'm wrong on them, then that is what should be in issue - not where I currently live.

    As to our statistics, I've seen many a right-wing site try to mine them (eg. "the murder rate in Australia has increased since the 1996 restrictions"). This is patent nonsense, and constitutes "statistical cherry picking" of the worst kind.

    The sunsets at OBH are still spectacular!

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  48. "The Lads inside the compound still wish they had their own guns."

    I just love the way you try to sneak the discussion back to some idea of "gun banning". We in Australia have much better gun control than you do, but people still own guns. I can't make it any plainer than that. Do some soldiers wish they still had their military guns? I'm sure. But even in your country, soldiers can't keep them.

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  49. For your education

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2013/01/04/reality_check_the_politically_incorrect_truth_about_the_second_amendment.html

    You might learn something, remember we have Unalienable Rights from our Creator not a High Court or a Queen

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  50. Unalienable rights in a Constitutional Republic not a democracy.

    http://www.fox19.com/story/20378064/reality-check-are-calls-for-stricter-gun-laws-really-about-guns

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  51. For your education, I suggest you read my next article. I cover the points raised in both videos very clearly.

    In particular, I cover the historically and logically absurd notion that the founding fathers were suggesting that people should be armed against the founding fathers (who were the "government" at that time). Apart from the fact that there is no mention or even hint of "arming against your own government" (who dreams this stuff up anyway?) I discuss in my next article how this philosophical idea did not even exist as a cultural concept in 1791.

    The second video is even worse. It assumes the primary fallacy that gun control is about "gun banning". Then it suggests the fallacy that gun control is about being "angry at guns" (which it has never been and never will be - this is nothing but a tired NRA strawman).

    The misuse of statistics about motor vehicles commits many fallacies, the most egregious being those to which I refer in points 2 and 5 in my next article.

    To summarise, we do regulate motor vehicles and drink driving. Heavily. Just as we regulate Sudafed. And we don't do this because we "blame cars/Sudafed". Gun regulation is no different.

    So I certainly won't be looking to Fox News to supplement my (admittedly dated) university studies of political science and history, law and criminology. Nor will one "journalist's" (I use that term loosely) 2 minute interview with an "attorney" detract from my own 23 years experience with legislation (including firearms legislation).

    If those "reality check" videos impress you, I'm not surprised that we fail to find agreement. Let's just say that because something is said on Fox News doesn't give it credibility. Rather, I suggest the reverse. Obviously one lone blogger who speaks from experience and reason can't expect to counter decades of simplistic, fallacious and obfuscating "home truths" dished out by bodies like Fox News. However I would at least appreciate if you didn't assume I was the sort of caricature "liberal" painted by them, making the sorts of absurd arguments you think they make (eg. "we blame guns!"). And please don't assume that I don't understand government or the hair-splitting semantics of "republic" vs. "democracy" (I have merely use the latter to describe a system where a government is chosen democratically rather than autocratically - can you think of a better term?).

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  52. I forgot: I didn't address your comments about "rights from a creator rather than a High Court or Queen".

    First, it is manifest that you get your rights from your constitution and Bill of Rights - not from any "creator". The idea that you can have any other "rights" is, to quote Jeremy Bentham, "nonsense on stilts". A "creator" didn't give you your rights - you fought for them. And the government established by your republic was designed protect those rights (not to be seen as some sort of "threat" to them).

    You seem to think that Australia/UK etc. get their rights differently than you do, but you'd be wrong. The form of our constitution might be different (it relies more on convention than written documents, although there are plenty of the latter anyway) but the concept is pretty much the same. As is our shared common law which underpins our legal system.

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  53. That guy has nothing to do with our Founding Fathers. he did not believe in Natural Rights they did and removed them from the hands of man. Our Founding Fathers not Australians, British or any other country's but the USA Founding Fathers put our Constitution into place for US citizens. I really do not care what you do in your country. You have a Constitutional Monarchy that is very different, we got rid of ours awhile ago. You still have a Queen.

    Yes our Founding Fathers defeated the most powerful nation in the world at that time, which they Where part of, thats why we refer to it as the Revolutionary War. They set up a system to make sure that our government in the future would not do the same. Read the Founding Fathers works and letters.

    Dan learn about you own history, why do you care about ours. You are not getting the whole history, our public education system does not teach it correctly.

    You are a traditionalist martial artist, do me a favor, place a broad sword on the floor and walk away from it. Order it to kill someone in the room. If it does I am going to come to your school as my Kung Fu is No Good.

    Dan you can regulate anything you want to in your Constitutional Monarchy (God how I love that, its like Military Intelligence)

    What can the Governor General do, he has a lot of Reserve Powers. Did the Governor do something in 1975. So a delegate of the Queen dismissed a Democratically elected government of the people of Australia. I will stick with my Republic and my Constitution and full Bill of Rights

    God Save The Queen the Monarch of your Constitutional Monarchy (I really get a laugh out of that set up

    I still like Aussies and Australia, The 10 Light Horse was from WA wasn't it? Didn't the Aussies have great success with Z Force (Zed, love the way you guys say Z). An Aussie Coast Watcher save JFK, the LRDG had Aussies in it, Phantom of The Jungles, you guys have alway Cowboyed Up with us. I just never understood why some of you are so interested in our internal affairs.

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  54. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1022097

    http://davekopel.org/Briefs/07-290bsacreprintIntlLawEnforcementEduc&Trainers.pdf

    Arguments presented in my Supreme Court of My Constitutional Republic, they might not work in a Constitutional Monarchy, someone can dismiss the elected government.

    And your comment moderation statement shows how much you believe in Free Speech, I take mine for granted, you can not, and do not.

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  55. My Constitution was designed to limit the power of a government you have it wrong when it comes to our Constitution. I understand you have a Constitutional Monarchy, quite different.

    Free Speech, Free Speech, Attica, Attica

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  56. Dan I am not telling you to walk away from your sword i was using that example of the gun is a lifeless object that can do nothing until someone picks it up and decides to do something with it.

    Dan the discussion has been fun used to get into it at the SGT Mess. As I was one of 2 Yanks I had to hold my own while swimming with the sharks.

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  57. I see gun control as a civilian defence issue that is a global one. My discussion is raised in the context of the US now but had I been blogging in 1996 when our Port Arthur Massacre occurred, I would have written about it then. It has as little to do with me taking "too much interest in your internal affairs" as a US or Aussie reaction to the recent bus rape and murder in India. We live in a global environment now.

    I disagree that our constitutional monarchy has any relevance to gun control (other than we don't have an equivalent to your second amendment) or that it shapes my own attitude to the subject in any significant way.

    I take umbrage at your suggestion that I stifle "free speech".

    Also, you clearly think I mean something I do not by "gun control". You continue to talk about gun control in "binary" (all or nothing) terms (do you really disagree with all gun control measures?) where I am talking about something very different (I know that swords and guns are "lifeless objects" - this has nothing to do with my views on gun control because I don't "blame" or "get angry" with weapons).

    Accordingly it seems to me that furthering the discussion is not going to be productive for either of us.

    Thank you for your reading and input.

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