A Response to Larry Correia on Gun Control

Amongst the furious debates on gun control in the USA following the Newtown massacre there is one blog post by the novelist Larry Correia that is particularly popular with those who oppose gun control. At the time of writing it has had 1700 responses- many of them links from other blogs. What I can’t find in all those responses (although it may be there) is a systematic critique of what he has written. Which is a pity, because, while I learned a lot, and even sympathised with some of what he had to say, it is full of logical and factual errors.

The heart of the problem is that  Correia sees the world as a fight between the good guys and the bad guys.  As he explains, his career has been in guns, law enforcement, self-defence training and eventually writing adventure novels (I haven’t read them but the covers and titles suggest strongly that they are full of good guys killing bad guys). In his world we (the good guys) are under threat from bad guys with weapons and the way to deal with this is for  the good guys kill the bad guys before they do too much harm. So for him the solution to Newtown is to arm teachers; gun free zones are invitations to bad guys to attack defenceless victims; limitations on magazine size make it harder for the good guys to kill the bad guys and so on.

He appears to be unable to conceive of an alternative, but they do exist. Indeed most affluent democracies are that alternative. It is the United States that is the outlier having by some distance the highest rate of gun ownership in the world and a homicide rate that is four to five times that of comparable countries. The difference is even greater for “rampage” murders such as Newtown.  For example, there has been one such event in the UK since 2000.  There have been four events that clearly count as rampage murders in the USA in the last two years alone (Newtown, Aurora, Tucson and Oak Creek) and several others that might count.  He wants to arm teachers. Wouldn’t it be better if it was not necessary to arm teachers because the chances of a mad gun man attacking a school are so small they can be ignored? Guess what – for most comparable countries that is the case.

Correia does write about other countries but this section of his post is the most erroneous and misleading. For example, he writes of Australia:

Australia had a mass shooting and instituted a massive gun ban and confiscation …. As was pointed out to me on Facebook, they haven’t had any mass shootings since. However, they fail to realize that they didn’t really have any mass shootings before either.

Australia had many mass shootings in the 18 years prior to the gun ban (estimates vary from 13 to 16 depending on definitions) and just one possible event since (the event at Monash University where two students were killed).

Like many pro-gun US writers he seizes on the fact that both Australia and England introduced very stringent gun control legislation in the late 1990s following massacres and since then violent crime has risen in both countries. But this is reading far too much into that specific legislation and those statistics.  In both countries there was extensive gun control for decades before the 1990s. In England  virtually no civilians have carried guns for self-defence since the war, and no sane criminal would have been concerned about the possibility their victim was armed. Yes violent crime increased in both countries in the late 90s early 2000s, but this was part of a worldwide trend that had already started and has reversed in the latter part of the 2000s. This violent crime did not extend to homicide which remained low – far, far lower than the USA (In England the big increase was in assault –  a very broad category which covers everything from a minor scuffle in a bar to a major mugging). The explanation of this pattern is debateable and complicated – but one thing it certainly was not caused by was criminals suddenly finding their victims could not defend themselves.  The 1990s legislation was  a reaction to specific rampage murders – important and horrific but responsible for a negligible proportion of homicides. In the case of Australia it appears to have succeeded dramatically. In the case of the UK it is hard to tell because such incidents were so rare in the first place.

What Correia appears not to understand is that the USA has a unique gun culture. By a gun culture I mean more than lax gun control laws or even the high availability of guns. I mean that the use of guns as defensive weapons is accepted and actively promoted. Other countries do not have advertising campaigns suggesting you need a gun to defend yourself. In England  most people would be shocked if a friend declared they had a gun for self-defence even if that gun were legal. Outside the USA people do own guns (even in England!) but they are for professional or sporting reasons. I believe this cultural difference is far more important than the difficulty of obtaining a gun legally.  Even in England it is not that difficult to own a gun. The one rampage killing in England since the late 1990s legislation was done using legally obtained guns. Likewise, Norway’s only rampage murder – the horrific Breivik massacre – was committed using legally obtained weapons (he even got formal training – much as Correia would like teachers to get). The reason there are far less rampage murders in England is because such murders are extremely hard to do without guns and people in England just don’t think about guns as a realistic option for killing fellow citizens.  Even in countries such as Switzerland, where famously guns ownership is high, guns are treated as instruments of sport not as weapons. Although gun ownership is  required for men of military age there are strong restrictions on carrying guns. To quote a website that advises foreigners on living in Switzerland:

Strict legislation in Switzerland has made it extremely difficult to obtain a license to bear arms, and the trend is moving towards even stricter laws. For information purposes only, 400 people had a license to bear arms in the canton of Geneva in 1998. Only eight "survivors" still have authorization today. Understandable when you realize how little violent crime there is in Switzerland.

Crime is very, very low in Switzerland – but it is not because criminals are frightened of their victims defending themselves with a gun.  Switzerland has extensive gun control – it is just that it applies to bearing arms not owning them.

So, the USA is stuck in a unique culture where guns are closely linked to violence and self-defence. Other countries have far lower homicide rates and far lower rates of rampage killings (and very little debate about the need for gun control).  But does that mean increased gun control would change that culture in the USA? Given the vast number of guns already in circulation, the almost religious belief in the second amendment, and the deep political divide it represents – maybe the best way forward is to accept that the culture cannot change and concentrate on making sure the good guys have the weapons they need?

The problem with this argument is that it turns crime prevention into an arms race. If the teachers/guards are armed then maybe they will kill the bad guys first, but the bad guys are the ones who take the initiative and can research their their targets. What is to say he (it is almost always a male) will not simply increase his body armour and weapons to whatever level is necessary (remember the extensive kit used by the Aurora killer) and make sure he kills the armed guard/teacher first? In an arms race the side that is waiting for the possibility of attack on one or two out of thousands of possible targets is always going lose  out to the side that can choose and survey its target and pick its time and weapons.

Laws are both the result of culture change but also contribute to it. They not only prevent people doing what society considers to be wrong. They also help to define what is wrong. Speed limits define what is an acceptable speed even on roads where there is no possibility of being caught. People report income for taxation purposes even though there is no way they will be found out. Drink driving and smoking legislation have changed our ideas about what is acceptable behaviour. Gun control laws can do something similar for guns. They can contribute to breaking that cultural link between guns and violence. If selling certain types of weapon is illegal then they will not be advertised and they will not be seen in gun shops. If carrying them is illegal then they will not be shown off at gun shows or other occasions. If someone has doubts about owning a powerful gun but feels peer pressure to have one – the law gives them a great excuse for not having one. Of course, laws by themselves are not sufficient, if they are not promoted and at least to some extent enforced, they will be meaningless.  But if the USA really wants do something about its high homicide rate and particularly its rampage murders then surely this has to be worth a try.

30 Responses to “A Response to Larry Correia on Gun Control”


  1. 1 petrushka December 28, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Most murders in the U.S. are associated with the drug trade. Most mass murders in the world are done with explosives. That includes the worst mass murder of school children in the U.S. The worst mass murder of children involving guns was not done in the U.S.

    • 2 Mark Frank December 28, 2012 at 3:45 pm

      Other countries have drug trades – it doesn’t account for a homicide rate which is four to five times higher.

      I was quite careful to talk about mass murders in comparable countries. Things are quite different in say the Middle East or Africa. I cannot think of any examples of a “rampage” murder in an affluent democracy using explosives. There have been terrorist incidents – but they are quite different in character and motivation and are best addressed by security services. Maybe you are referring to Timothy McVeigh – which sort of straddles terrorism and rampage murder.

      But anyway the key point is that guns account for the overwhelming majority of rampage murders in the USA and such events are far more frequent then in comparable countries (when they do happen in other countries they can be very destructive because the country is not used to dealing with them).

      • 3 Franklin January 23, 2013 at 5:06 am

        The Bath School disaster is the historical name of a violent attack using explosives which was perpetrated by Andrew Kehoe on May 18, 1927. It occurred in Bath Township, Michigan. 38 elementary school children and six adults were killed. At least 58 other people were injured. Now you are updated.

        There are 300 million people in the US. Unfortunately, some of them are deranged and responsible for the deplorable acts of rampage we all decry.

        Furthermore, while there are many laws on the books regarding for example drug use, drug seaking behavior has not changed. In fact there is an impetus toward decriminalizing drug use. So your argument that
        simply making a law would pressure societal attitudes and hence behaviors to change is not necessarily true.

        Chicago has stringent guns laws yet violence and mayhem are the orders of the day there.

        When the government acts it should do so in a considered, wise manner so that so that the work product does not end up leaving us, as is often the case, with laws, rules and regulations that are useless and worse, a step backward.

        While I don’t own any firearms I do believe in the second amendment. It was not put in the constitution to safeguard the rights of hunters but to guarantee the rights of individual citizens to protect themselves. Criminals will not abide by the law. Why put the rest of us at a disadvantage?

    • 4 Petrushka December 28, 2012 at 4:48 pm

      I’m not trying to actively oppose gun control. I’m just dubious. The odds of being killed in a rampage murder are comparable or less than winning Lotto. Far less than being killed by a medical mistake, I just think that certain categories of tragedy produce disproportionate emotional responses and ineffectual and counterproductive political responses.

      My political hobby horse is the war on drugs, which I think is responsible of more than half the human misery in this country.

      Full disclosure requires me to reveal that I had an uncle murdered and a first cousin (female) killed by a self-inflicted gunshot — presumed to be an accident. Neither incident would have been prevented by any proposed version of gun control.

      I should also mention that I have a nephew who is schizophrenic, owns two Glocks, and scares the bejeezus out of me. He has been hospitalized numerous times but still qualifies for a concealed carry permit. Schizophrenia is officially a handicap, not a crime or pre-crime.

      Politics is not very good at dealing with complex human problems. Hence my deferring to statistics. Is this really a bigger program than automobile fatalities? On the day of the school shooting, more innocent people died in automobile crashes. Probably half involved alcohol.

    • 5 petrushka December 28, 2012 at 6:26 pm

      Despite headlines and a few major incidents, there’s been a significant downturn in violent crime in the United States.

      http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/glance/tables/hmrttab.cfm
      http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/table-1

      Most violent crime is associated with poverty and drugs. Remove the underlalss from American murder statistics and we are comparable to the “safest” European countries. I hesitate to speculate, but it’s possible that a decade long downturn in crime is associated with things like food stamps and welfare.

    • 6 petrushka December 28, 2012 at 9:23 pm

      When I say I think much of what government does is counterproductive, I should say that for seven years I was a social worker in children’s protective services. Much of my political despair stems from this period.

      I don’t object to government spending so much as I object to what I think are counterproductive policies. My MA degree is in special education. I had it drilled into my head that productive employment is an essential requirement for human health and happiness. As a social worker I saw deeply ingrained policies that punish poor people who find jobs. After a while, the brighter ones stop trying.

      This is a profound political problem, and the people who get caught up in the welfare system are by and large the most likely to be victims of gun violence and a general culture of violence. This is what I would like to see bright people thinking about/

  2. 7 Allan Miller December 28, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    The bigger picture is revealed here: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2012/12/gun_death_tally_every_american_gun_death_since_newtown_sandy_hook_shooting.html

    This is probably far fewer than the automobile deaths over the same period. But still, not a problem? Not my problem surely, as I am not a US citizen. But it is astonishing that this is not sufficient cause to do something. The FDA take massive steps to protect against medicines, or cheese, or whatever, that have a fractional risk. And ‘recreational’ drugs, which would kill fewer if regulated and whose market is a huge source of criminal activity, will never be legalised. Yet such is the grip of that constitutional article that a foreigner daring to diss the Second is petitioned for deportation, despite the protection for free speech offered by the First! (Piers Morgan).

    A bunch of guys sit around in a room looking to come up with some basic Rights. “Bear Arms”, says one. “Yeah, good one”. Two hundred or so years later, people go simultaneously misty-eyed and rabid over this act of freedom, and all that ‘cold, dead hands’ crap surfaces. A written Constitution seems to be as much of a millstone as a Bible – a document from a bygone age that attains the status of unchangeable Holy Writ.

    • 8 petrushka December 28, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      ” Not my problem surely, as I am not a US citizen. But it is astonishing that this is not sufficient cause to do something. ”

      OK, do what? While some of our legislators are crying for gun control, the ATF is selling guns to Mexican drug cartels to use against each other. I try to avoid conspiracy theories, but the only rational explanation I’ve heard for this is that we were favoring one cartel in return for information to use against others. The bottom line motive is to produce arrest statistics to justify police budgets.

      I should be smart enough to avoid these discussions. I’m pretty much hated on every site where I get sucked into political discussions. I hate liberals and conservatives and have no use for the libertarian party or Ayn Randians.

      I learned my cynicism at my father’s knee. He was, for 29 years, a state health officer. His idea was that you justified government policies and spending by declaring your objectives and publishing your results. Every year he devoted the labor of thousands of employees for several weeks producing the outcomes of immunization and public sanitation programs.

      Some time around 1970 the state legislature decided this report was a waste of time and passed a law specifically forbidding compiling or publishing the statistics. About this same time the department was merged with the welfare department and prison system. The war against contagious disease was declared over and won..

      Since then I have been in despair of seeing rational policies. I think about 75 percent of everything government does is counterproductive. At best it’s just palliative.

      I am not a gun nut. I would just like to see intelligent people spend their time on issues that affect more people. Most people killed by guns live in a subculture that is not going to be affected by gun prohibitions.

      • 9 Allan Miller December 28, 2012 at 10:43 pm

        “OK, do what?”

        I’m not a politician either! But “tighten gun controls” seems an obvious, if naive, answer. However, it seems that the Right controls the debate either way. When in power, obviously; when out, by the fear of how these policies will play in that constituency.

        For sure, there are other things that would save more lives. Do them too. But the simple act of licensing gun ownership – making it a provisional right, not an automatic one in exactly the same way as driving an automobile – or of restricting the kinds of weapons that are legit under 2nd Amendment rights, would surely go some way.

        But one gets a flavour of how this plays, certainly among the Christian Right, over at UD. Hands wring over the deaths of the innocents, but the finger is pointed instead at the supposed devaluation of human life that abortion or ‘evolutionism’ engender. “Perhaps we shouldn’t be condoning the routine entrenchment in society of weapons whose sole purpose is to kill” might be the better message. But no: there’s all these guns of mysterious provenance and Bad People so we need to arm ourselves!

        At the moment, it seems (to an outsider) that politicians in the US cannot get anything done. But refusing to accept guns as routine or an insignificant risk or an unchangeable fact of US life might be a start.

      • 10 Petrushka December 29, 2012 at 12:49 am

        Gun ownership is a;ready a provisional right, especially in cities. But somehow that’s like saying you can’t smoke marijuana, or that underage kids can’t drink or have sex..

        I notice that the guy who set a fire to lure firemen so he could shoot them had been in prison for 17 years. The person who supplied him with firearms may be charged with murder. That’s one form of gun control that will meet with little political opposition.

  3. 11 Petrushka December 29, 2012 at 2:31 am

    I’m going to stop. I’m sorry if I have spammed up the blog with incoherent ramblings. I do not really have a political ideology. I have some personal experiences, particularly as a social worker, that have made me excessively cynical. I doubt if they scale well.

    • 12 Allan Miller December 29, 2012 at 10:00 am

      Petrushka – everyone’s entitled to an opinion! Much of the puzzlement over the situation comes from people who have not grown up or resided in the US. I am interested in other perspectives. It is, I suspect, an issue that goes much deeper than the simple dispassionate facts and emotionless opinions on what would and wouldn’t work.

      • 13 Neil Rickert December 29, 2012 at 3:56 pm

        I reside in USA, but I did not grow up here.

        The gun culture is deeply entrenched. I notice people who can have rational discussions on many topics (global warming, creationism, budget deficits, etc), but who seem to become quite irrational in discussions of guns. It is almost as if sensible restrictions are seen as the equivalent of castration.

        My advice – don’t expect much in the way of sensible firearms legislation.

  4. 14 Mark Frank December 29, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Thanks for all the comments. If only all discussion on this emotive subject were so balanced and thoughtful.

    I have lived in the USA and have close relatives living there – so I feel I have a vested interest. Also, if I am right and this is more about culture than law then what happens in the USA may eventually affect much of the rest of the world. Culture crosses international boundaries so easily these days and the US culture is so dominant. E.g. I fear rampage murders becoming more common in Europe because they are copycats of US murders.

    Rampage murders kill a negligibly small amount of people. But I believe some deaths matter more to the world at large than others. The nature of the violence encourages a general mistrust in our fellow men and reveals what human nature is capable of and how unpredictable it is. The fear that anyone might be a lunatic with a gun who might strike anywhere at any time for no good reason – irrational but powerful.

    In addition the big prize is the reduction of homicide in general. If a change in culture can reduce USA homicide rates to something like the rest of the world that would save many thousands of lives a year. Yes the causes are many and complicated – but other countries have drugs, gangs, volatile communities with troubled histories, inner cities etc – their crime rates are generally higher than the USA – but for some reason that US homicide rate remains dramatically higher and surely gun culture has to be part of it?

  5. 15 Ian H Spedding FCD December 30, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    I’ve taken the liberty of cobbling together this comment in part from others posted on Larry Moran’s blog Sandwalk and John Pieret’s blog Thoughts in a Haystack

    I was born and raised as a British citizen and spent much of my working life there. I moved to the US and subsequently became a naturalized American citizen. I have always had what I call a hobby interest in firearms ever since I was a small boy but UK legislation even then made it too difficult and expensive to pursue. One of my reasons for moving to the US, albeit a minor one, was I would be able to take up my hobby with much greater ease.

    My view is that the national differences in the rates of murders and firearms offenses are mostly cultural. The US, with it’s emphasis on individual freedoms and rights, has allowed private ownership of firearms to a far greater extent than the UK, where people are more apathetic about defending or even demanding said individual rights and freedoms. On the other hand, here in the US there is, amongst some people, a dangerously casual attitude towards guns which has led to some tragic accidents. They have been due to gun owners ignoring basic rules for the safe handling of firearms and, in my view, amount to criminal negligence.

    On the more specific question of gun culture, here in the US it’s a broad church. Yes, there are people like the very alarming survivalist groups who arm themselves to the teeth and huddle in fortified encampments. But there is also the cowboy action shooting movement which has become very popular, where people dress up in authentic 19th century clothing and hold shooting competitions using period guns firing specially-made, low-powered rounds and where safe-handling is strictly enforced. There are also the more regular rifle and pistol target-shooting sports as well as hunting. To me, that sort of firearms usage should be allowed. The situation in the UK, for example, where there had to be a special dispensation to allow the Olympic shooting competitions to be held at all and where the British pistol-shooting team had to go abroad to practice because it was illegal for them to do so at home, has become absurd.

    So what would be a better approach starting from basic principles?

    Following John Stuart Mill, my position is that, in a free society, people should be able to do whatever they like up to the point at which it becomes a threat to others.

    In the specific case of guns, this means that if people want to collect them and/or shoot them for sport or recreation then they should be allowed to do so, provided it can be done without undue risk to others. I would even allow concealed carry for self-defense, provided the applicant demonstrated a responsible attitude towards gun ownership and underwent extensive training.

    The problem as always is to balance the rights of the individual with the interests of society. The danger is that the outrage following a tragedy like Newtown will swamp any consideration of the gun-owners rights and they will be swept away by the “tyranny of the majority” as happened in the UK following the Dunblane shooting.

    Over on John Pieret’s blog Thoughts in a Haystack I posted short list of measures that I think would improve the current situation and which I think any responsible gun-owner should have no difficulty supporting:

    I would suggest that ownership and use of a firearm would require a license, just as for driving a car.

    In order to obtain a license, an applicant would have to undergo a rigorous training course and pass an examination.

    Purchase of a firearm would require a valid current license and be subject to a thorough background check. Part of the background check would be to confirm that the applicant had a secure container in which to store guns and ammunition.

    A history of mental illness or substance abuse or a criminal record would disqualify anyone from obtaining a license and owning a firearm.

    Semi-automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns would be permitted but conversion of a gun from semi- to full automatic mode would be an offense for which the penalty would be a permanent revocation of the license and the confiscation of all arms and ammunition.

    The magazines of semi-automatic firearms would be limited to a maximum capacity of ten rounds and only two magazines would be allowed per gun.

    On the ownership of weapons like assault rifles for the purposes of self-defense, I can see no justification. There are other, less-powerful guns that will do the job just as well if the owner is properly trained and if there is a real need, and pose less risk to others.

    For people who might just want to shoot them for fun one solution, which would be acceptable to me, would be shooting ranges where such weapons could be hired on an hourly basis for people who would like to try their hand at shooting them, the guns and ammunition being kept secured on site.

    Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre there has been a lot of pious rhetoric about what should be done, including vague talk about bans on assault rifles, but very little in the way of concrete recommendations that might actually stop the next Adam Lanza from shooting up a school or movie theater or mall.

    While I don’t go along with much of what the NRA is saying and think its first public statement was a disastrous misstep, Wayne LaPierre was almost certainly right on at least one issue. Somewhere out there are other marginalized, disaffected, embittered, vengeful young men. Most of them won’t do much of anything about it, but a few might. And we have no way of identifying most of them, let alone predicting which one is most liable to act out.

    That is what they call a clear and present danger. It exists here and now, so what are you going to do about it? Assault weapon bans a year or so down the road don’t cut it. One of these unhinged characters might already have his AR-15 and be stockpiling ammunition while he plans his suicide attack on a carefully-chosen ‘soft’ target like a school or mall. It’s significant that they don’t launch attacks on police-stations or miltary bases which can defend themselves.

    And make no mistake, we are going to find that Adam Lanza had planned his attack carefully. He shot his mother in her sleep and took the guns and ammunition he needed for the massacre, leaving behind the less useful rifles. He drove past several other schools to get to Sandy Hook which suggests this was pre-selected not a target of opportunity. He probably knew about the school’s new security measure of locking its doors after 9:30. He waited until all his ‘targets’ were shut inside, in effect turning the security measures against the school by making sure everyone was confined in the building and wouldn’t be able to scatter and run. He then shot his way in through the front door. I’m guessing the doors were not strengthened or fitted with bullet-proof glass. Probably the only thing he misjudged was the police response time. Judging by the amount of ammunition he was carrying, he expected to have more time to kill a lot more people.

    Maybe hiring ex-cops or soldiers might be enough to deter a would-be shooter and make him look for an easier target. Or maybe the shooter will just plan to neutralize the threat by taking out the security guard in a surprise attack and then be free to do whatever he wants.

    Arming teachers is deeply problematical. Quite apart from the fact that most teachers would probably not want anything to do with guns, there is good evidence to show that being able to use a firearm safely and effectively in the event of a very sudden surprise attack takes a great deal of training and practice. There is also the conflict between storing firearms securely in a school full of children yet aloowing rapid access to them in an emergency.

    I think gun-free zones are a good idea in principle but they have to be more than pious hopes, they have to be enforced. To enter one you should have to pass through a security checkpoint that would ensure no one enters with a gun. Otherwise, they are just the sort of soft targets that these rampage killers prefer which makes them no more than dangerously wishfull thinking.

    The interesting thing about the British situation is that the mass shootings that triggered the most draconian legislation happened when there were fairly strong controls already in place.

    If the argument is that current legislation has suppressed firearms crime, then the corollary is that, if we look back in time to where controls were much more lax or virtually non-existent, we should see many more shootings. Except we don’t. Once again, the two worst shootings took place after legal controls were in place.

    What happened in the UK was that the waves of outrage following the Hungerford and Dunblane shootings led to ordinary gun-owners being demonized and vilified by journalists, lawyers, politicians and the police as if they were all potential Thomas Hamiltons. They were deprived of any right to shoot for sport or recreation by what Mill warned about – “the tyranny of the majority”.

    It’s salutary to note that the right to own arms had been recognized in British common law hundreds of years before but it was not a statutory protected right enshrined in a written constitution as in the United States. Since, under Britain’s so-called unwritten constitution, Parliament reigns supreme and is able to make or unmake laws at will, rights could be granted or withdrawn according to the shifting winds of political expediency. Where US citizens enjoy the benefits of a written constitution, which incorporates a list of protected rights, Her Majesty’s subjects have been deprived of anything equivalent, by politicians of all stripes, to this day. The nearest (reluctant) approach has been the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into British law.

    The lesson is that, as a basic principle, it is vital for the health of a free society that individual rights and liberties be guarded jealously because there are many interests who would snatch them away if they could and, once gone, it becomes immensely difficult to win them back.

    You may not like guns or the people who use them but that is not the point. In a free society, they should be able to shoot for sport or recreation provided they can do so without undue risk to others. It’s the same principle as with free speech. I despise the Westboro Baptist Church and everything they believe and stand for but, much as there are times when I’d like to ban them, I have to respect their right to express their beliefs.

  6. 16 Mark Frank December 31, 2012 at 8:21 am

    Ian there is a lot of sense in what you say.

    With respect to the US

    Those measures you suggest would make an enormous difference practically and culturally. What are the chances of any of it happening? Refusing licenses to people with mental illness history sounds sensible but is not so easy. About a one in ten adults in the UK are diagnosed with a mental health problem every year (I imagine it is similar in the USA) – the vast majority completely harmless. So the proportion that have had a diagnosis at some time in their life must be much higher. But it is difficult (and expensive) to predict which ones might be violent.

    It is hard to know what you do about the next Adam Lanza given the stock of weapons out there – who is to say it will be a school next time? I don’t think a massive recall of assault weapons (as in Australia) is practical. It may be necessary just to encourage everyone to be wary as is the case for terrorism until there is a wider cultural change.

    With respect to the UK

    Don’t overstate the level of restriction. It is legal to own a shot gun for sport and recreation and not hard to get a certificate. I live in the country and regularly meet shot gun owners who shoot for sport and see and hear and shooting.I believe other types of gun sport can be practised in a club or similar.Nevertheless I think you are right that following Dunblane there should have been more emphasis on enforcing the restrictions in place rather than introducing new ones. Thomas Hamilton should never have been given a license under the existing law.

    I won’t get into the relative merits of unwritten and written constitutions!

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