By data venia
New York Governor Cuomo Jan 2013: “Forget the extremists. It’s very simple. No one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer!”
Hardly a sympathetic figure to gun owners, and even the sheriffs of NY had/have issue with the legislation, but that sentiment took off. I heard it on news programs. I heard it in face to face conversations with my mother in law. I read it in virtual discussions with friends from different countries. “Why do you NEED it?” . . .
There were attempts to show why we did need large magazines, but to the honestly unconvinced they rang hollow. It simply seems excessive or paranoid to most people. Our neighbors and friends. Good people whose only crime is ignorance. Not stupidity. Not anything but honest ignorance that we once shared. If your information on guns comes from the media it’s completely reasonable to think that a 30 round magazine translates to 30 seconds of sustained automatic fire, usually wielded by a steroid enhanced and borderline sociopathic ‘hero’. All things considered it’s a compliment that we aren’t lumped alongside him.
However reasonable this question seems on its face, it is ultimately a question based on dangerous reasoning. Not necessarily wrong reasoning, but dangerous reasoning with far reaching implications.
Consider how widely that reasoning can be spread. How widely it MUST be spread if it is as compelling as is argued. Why do we NEED profanity? Why do we NEED to be able to hurt others with our words? Why do we NEED to criticize people and institutions? Why, ultimately, do we NEED freedom of speech? Have not other venerable civilizations existed without freedom of speech?
Further, there’s no reason why it should not be applied to the other amendments in the bill of rights. If you are a law abiding citizen, why would you NEED protection from unreasonable searches? If you are innocent, the search will not incriminate you. Why would you NEED privacy? Particularly when that is not even an explicit right, but is instead a recognized ‘penumbra’ (a half shadow) cast by the bill of rights. Come right down to it, why do you need a vote? Democracy, historically speaking, is a new idea. Millions have lived, and millions continue to live, without a vote.
If the ‘pen is mightier than the sword’ and ‘voting can change the world’, then we must apply this reasoning. These rights are too powerful to be so laxly regulated. The safety of all of us , of our nation as a whole, is at risk. Nor should we stop there. Why do we NEED public libraries? Ideas are dangerous things that can and have caused the deaths of thousands. Do we really NEED to make them so easy to access?
As I said, I’m not a fan of how things play out if that is the reasoning underlying policy decisions.
Now we do have limits on freedom of speech. It’s a crime to falsely yell ‘FIRE’ in a crowded theater. Because, in that case, it poses a direct, clear, and significant threat to others. Thus it is reasonable to warrant limiting the right. It’s my belief that restrictions on firearms have to coincide with that line of reasoning.
So the question then is not “do you need more than 10 rounds?” the question is “Will limiting people to 10 rounds or less get rid of a clear, direct, and significant threat?”
And the answer is “no”. Gary Kleck did an excellent peer review paper called “mass shootings in schools the worst possible case for gun control” in which he argues that if you look at mass shootings-the average length of the shooting and shots fired- the shooters have ample time to reload even if they were not using semi-automatic firearms. The recent Navy Yard shooting tragically proved this point in reality. The navy yard shooter’s pump action shotgun has a standard magazine with a 4 shell capacity + 1 in the chamber. This didn’t hamper him because he was an offensive shooter. He easily reloaded as he went. Banning high capacity magazines then does not remove or even reduce the threat of mass shootings.
The answer is still “no” if you wish to examine individual deaths with firearms. This tack is bit disingenuous as the rhetoric on large capacity magazines has been centered around mass shootings. However, entertaining the question in this context does not change the answer. Jack Levin Ph.D. noted in an interview with BBC that the vast majority of shootings in the US are using handguns and result with “One bullet, one body.” Banning high capacity magazines then won’t affect the vast majority of these shootings either.
We could at this point get into a discussion of Risk and ‘Public Health’. We could ask how much of a risk it is reasonable for individuals to prepare for and the possible risk that their preparedness introduces into the wider population. We could entertain the hypotheticals. We could face the uncomfortable question of “who decides when the risk is high enough?” We could discuss the paradox of the individual and the group.
We could delve and debate these questions. They are important and relevant. Ultimately though, that is not the question we face when thinking about gun policy. We have a rights based society-not unlimited rights- but rights that can only be limited to address direct, clear, and significant threats to others. The question is whether a given limitation on a right meets that burden.
We don’t live in a society where before individuals can act they must justify the need to act in that manner. I don’t think we want to live in that society. But when we use the reasoning “what do you need it for?” we are asking to switch to that society.
I’d rather we didn’t make that change. And I believe you would rather not follow that line of reasoning to where it leads either.