William Saletan of Slate thinks that “speed kills,” and that the solution is to ban semi-automatic weapons:
I’ve gone through the 25 worst massacres on the chart, and nearly every shooter had a semi-automatic weapon. The one exception was a guy who had speedloaders and a bandolier so he could keep firing. High-capacity magazines are another common factor. All these patterns converge on a common lesson: Speed kills. Madness pulls the trigger, but the rate of fire drives the body count….
What we need is a frank, precise, constructive conversation about the problem of high-speed weapons. You don’t need rapid-fire weapons to hunt or defend your home. Cops don’t need them to shoot down bad guys.
First, the statement about the police is patently false. Police almost universally carry semi-automatic pistols, for extraordinarily obvious reasons. If you miss a suspect/attacker the first time, or if he doesn’t stop, you want to be able to fire again. And cops who don’t carry semi-autos still carry revolvers, which fire just as fast. (They are more difficult to re-load — but see below on that point.) Anyway, I’m not sure why Saletan doesn’t want cops to have semi-autos.
But for similar reasons, semi-automatic or “high-speed” weapons are useful in self-defense. If you fire once and miss, or one round doesn’t do the job, you want to be able to fire again. (Or if you are attacked/threatened by more than one person.)
The same thing is also true, I suspect, in hunting. First, although the ideal for hunters is probably to take down an animal with one shot, that doesn’t always happen. The faster a hunter can take a second shot, the faster he can put a wounded animal out of its misery. And for hunters who track dangerous prey (wild boars come to mind), the self-defense concerns come up again. If you’re cornered by a wild animal, you may need more than one shot to bring it down.
One could imagine a gun control regime that allowed revolvers, but not semi-automatic pistols, on the theory that five or six shots is enough for self-defense. (This article points out that revolvers usually don’t have a safety, and that a common practice is to load one fewer round than capacity, so the empty chamber is aligned with the firing pin. That, of course, means having one bullet less when you need it.) There might be some value in such a rule. Of course, as Saletan himself mentions above, you can get speedloaders for revolvers, so you’d have to outlaw those, too.
But there are still major problems with such a scheme. First, it would still allow people to carry semi-automatic rifles, since there’s no such thing (as far as I know) as a “revolver” rifle. The practical upshot, then, is that “high-speed” weapons are still available, and high-capacity weapons are still available for those who want to commit mass shootings. The Aurora shooter and the Newtown shooter both carried long guns, so unless you outlaw semi-auto long guns, too, you are unlikely to deter this kind of mass shooting.
Second, Saletan goes on to write that
[I]t’s true that passing a law against them won’t eliminate them, that’s not an argument against legislation. It’s an argument for going beyond legislation. The community of gun sellers and enthusiasts must act collectively to track and control the technology of mass murder.
But this seems to me to be (a) wildly optimistic about the level of cooperation you’d get from gun enthusiasts, and (b) ignores what I mentioned yesterday: the sheer mass of already-existing stock. (Think, for example, about all the AK’s in the world, still in operation, that were manufactured in the Soviet era. Guns last a long time.)
I don’t know what the answer is. I used to think, up to quite recently, that we ought to be able to come to some kind of understanding — that we ought to be able to eliminate most gun crime while also protecting the rights of lawful gun owners. Now, having taken a class on gun control and having read a lot of material questioning its efficacy, I’m pessimistic. You can’t have 270 million guns and expect to avoid these kinds of shootings. I think we either have to be a country that, like Japan, gives up its guns almost entirely, or we have to, as Eric said yesterday, admit that we’re okay with some kids dying so that we can have guns. I really think those are the two options, and I think liberals should stop framing this as a fight against the tiny fringe that wants no gun control of any kind. It’s bigger than that. What we want — if we really do want to stop these shootings — is bigger than that.