America is Doomed to Another Century of Gun Violence

President Obama, with a tear in his eye, announced earlier this week some modest changes to the way firearms are sold in America. Since Congress is bought and paid for by weapons manufacturers, he was limited to a few narrow things that could be done by executive order. At the margins, they may save a couple of lives. However, all efforts to affect the pandemic of gun violence in America will fail to halt the violation of the human right to life until the country admits to one simple fact. There are too many guns in the country. Changing that is a political impossibility, and so, Americans will continue to die by firearm in the tens of thousands every year for another century or more.

An accurate count of the number of guns in the US is not easy to come by because Congress has forbidden the use of federal funds to collect data about guns. That is the gun lobby in action. If there are no data, there can be no debate about solutions because the nation isn’t even sure what the problems are. However, based on figures from states and from private entities, there is a consensus that there is roughly one gun per capita in the US in private hands. That is, there are approximately 320 million guns out there.

Now suppose that the gun-control supporters are correct that the more guns that are out there, the more gun violence there will be. That implies that a reduction in the number of guns will make the nation safer. Yet, the advocates of what passes for gun control in the US are proposing things that have to do with gun sales and a ban on possessing some of the more lethal varieties. None of that addresses the 320 million out there.

Further suppose that in an extreme use of the commerce clause, Congress banned the sales of all firearms both by weapons makers, dealers and private citizens. Even if such a ban passed judicial review (unlikely beyond words), there would still be 320 million guns out there. Given that there are people who can still fire their rifles that were made in the 1880s thanks to proper care and storage, waiting for the guns to wear out is not going to be a plausible approach.

So, the only real approach that can work quickly will be for Americans to give up their firearms either voluntarily or involuntarily. Neither is workable. A great many gun-owners may be persuaded to give up a small pistol or an antique that isn’t really worth collecting, but it is safe to say that most gun-owners possess firearms because they choose to do so and will not give them up voluntarily. “From my cold, dead hands” is an extreme way to put it, but it does capture how many law-abiding gun-owners think.

That leaves involuntarily disarmament, confiscation of firearms by the tens or hundreds of millions. It is difficult to envision a Congress that would pass such legislation, a president that would sign it, or courts that would uphold it as constitutional. Enforcement would be just this side of impossible even if politically it happened.

Alternatively, one can accept that the gun-lobby is correct that more guns make the nation safer. However, that begs the question of just how many are needed to reduce the gun violence rate to zero or thereabouts. Such logic suggests that every nation on earth should possess atomic and hydrogen bombs as well to deter aggression.

The gun lobby notes that Americans die in auto accidents in huge numbers, but there is no call to ban cars. While true, it misses the point that before there were cars, death by auto was impossible. If there are no cars, there can be no car-related deaths. If there are no guns, there can be no gun-related deaths. Yet, the genie cannot go back in the bottle.

Clearly the nation is making a trade-off. Cars are convenient but dangerous. Efforts to make them safer will not prevent all auto fatalities, but many safety improvements have saved lives. The gun lobby appears uninterested in making guns less dangerous to innocents such as promoting smart guns, but retrofitting 320 million firearms to make them safer is not possible either.

That is where America is on guns in 2016. There are either too many to make the nation safe, or too few if one wants to torture logic enough. The current discussion about sales is merely a sideshow. Since guns take decades to wear out, and since new firearms are made every day, it is safe to say that in 2116, America will still have this problem.