Op-Ed

Violence solutions should empower the weak

David Burnett
David Burnett

Without fail, every mass atrocity brings with it a horde of lobbyists and advocates sensing a renewed opportunity to pitch their prefabricated agendas. Thus, familiar ideas like banning AR-15s or immigration are reintroduced to mourners and sympathizers desperate for solutions.

The problem, of course, is that they wouldn’t have stopped a killer who neither used an AR-15 nor was an immigrant, nor on a terror watch list. In fact, no Jihadist-inspired shooter has been on a terror watch list, just as many other spree killers have clean records prior to their massacres. This leaves a unique problem: How do you arrest a criminal before they commit a crime?

No one wants guns in the hands of terrorists. But radicalism isn’t illegal in the U.S., and as the American Civil Liberties Union points out, a secret, arbitrary terror watch list violates Fifth and 14th Amendment due-process rights by depriving individuals (often citizens) of rights based only on predictive judgments.

The oft-vilified Armalite rifles are low-hanging fruit for gun-control advocates, but the firearm isn’t even popular among criminals, let alone mass shooters. Research from USA Today shows about 19 percent of mass shootings involved rifles, only half of which were semiautomatic. Meanwhile, FBI research shows rifles were only used in 3 percent of homicides in 2014.

Americans are at greater peril from clubs, knives or fists than rifles.

Some have accused the AR-15 of being a “weapon of war.” In reality, most modern firearms came about through wartime advances, including bolt and lever action rifles, revolvers and even muskets. (Indeed, the musket was the AR-15 of colonial America.) But the U.S. military has never used the AR-15; its rate of fire is no faster than any other semiautomatic firearm, and numerous other rifles use more powerful rounds.

Concerns over higher-capacity magazines are only valid for those unfamiliar with the commutative property of multiplication: 10 30-round magazines are just as deadly as 30 10-round magazines, and even a novice can change magazines in seconds.

To wit, no lobbyist, pundit or legislator has yet explained their plan to force terrorists into regulatory compliance.

Terrorists come in all shapes and sizes, but typically share a common disregard for the law, which is why countries with strict gun control (France, Germany and Belgium) have not escaped similar killing sprees. Wholesale civilian disarmament, we are told, is not the agenda. But even if feasible, this would prove no more effective than the drug prohibitions so easily circumvented by smugglers, black markets and back alley deals.

In an 18-year study entitled “Firearm Violence, 1993-2011” the Department of Justice reported 338,700 defensive uses of firearms among civilians, averaging 185 per day.

In contrast, the number of homicides by firearms averages only 24 a day — a rate which is at 50-year lows despite record gun sales. (Incidentally, cities with strict gun regulations often account for large percentages of homicide.)

The research also found that a mere 1.2 percent of criminals obtained guns at flea markets or gun shows.

In the end, our society is structured so that members who abide by its rules enjoy a host of freedoms codified by the Bill of Rights — not just guns, but freedom of speech and due process.

Panic often induces a temperament conducive to eroding these rights, but modifications should occur in a calm and rational manner, weighing evidence, not emotion.

Put in perspective, homicide accounts for 0.6 percent of deaths in the U.S., and of that fraction, mass murder makes up only 0.2 percent.

That isn’t to say we don’t need solutions, but they should be focused on empowering the weak and weakening the enemy — not the opposite. Policymakers will continue to hit roadblocks if they expect different results from expanding the status quo.

David Burnett of Lexington is former president of Students for Concealed Carry and an alumnus of the University of Kentucky College of Nursing, and Gatton College of Business & Economics.

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