Can Gun Control Solve the Problem of Gun Violence?

By Gus Veerman

It is too late for gun legislation to make a real difference

American gun statistics are as absurd as the debate surrounding them. The U.S. has enough guns to arm every man, woman and child within its borders. Shares in Sturm, Ruger & Co., one of America’s three largest firearms manufacturers, rose by 1,315 percent through Obama’s presidency. From the American Revolution in 1776 through the War in Iraq, 1.2 Million Americans died in warfare - 200,000 short of gun-related deaths between 1968 and 2011.

These statistics reaffirm the obvious: America has a gun problem that is nowhere near being solved. Thanks to years of congressional can-kicking and a uniquely powerful gun lobby, the United States is awash with so many firearms that it may be too late for gun control laws to significantly reduce gun violence. Instead, politicians must focus more on reducing the incentives to shoot than the availability of guns.

Gun control legislation is a common response to gun violence, yet let’s consider the fight-fire-with-fire approach, encapsulated in NRA chief Wayne LaPierre’s infamous dictum “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Republicans have invoked this line to suggest many of the victims of mass shootings, such as in Sandy Hook, Charleston and Paris could have been saved if there was an armed civilian to save the day.

This argument is much like the NRA itself - compelling, but hollow. As a matter of fact, a 2015 Boston Children’s University study concluded “Higher levels of firearm ownership were associated with higher levels of firearm assault and firearm robbery,” giving weight to the more plausible hypothesis - more guns, more gun violence.

These sorts of studies are rocket fuel for Democrats, who have campaigned hard on gun control in recent years. Hillary Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine as running-mate was supposed to signal she “was going all out on guns,” and on their 2016 platform, Democratic party leaders vowed to “revoke the dangerous legal immunity protections gun makers and sellers now enjoy.”

This all seems great. As we’ve learned, the NRA strategy only makes things worse, so the Democrats seem reasonable in taking the opposite approach. If more guns mean more violence, surely less guns must mean less violence, right?

Let’s entertain the ultimate anti-gun policy to find out.

Assume in 2020 Democrats win the House, Senate and Presidency, and abolish the second amendment with two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate. This would effectively destroy the U.S. gun industry and make criminals of the 37 percent of Americans who own guns. Now, there are nearly 400 million guns floating around in the country, and they must be seized.

The government can then either purchase all of the guns back at a discounted price of around $200 per gun, spending about $80 billion, or take them by force. If you’re a New Orleanian from a violent, gun-filled neighborhood, for example, you can either surrender your best protection in exchange for a paltry sum of cash, making yourself a target to your armed, impoverished neighbors, or quietly hand over your gun to a law-enforcement agency you probably aren’t on good terms with.

Clearly, this approach will not work, especially in urban, impoverished areas like New Orleans. So what is there to be done?

Real, large scale investments in education and job-training can incentivize members of poor minority communities to participate in the legitimate economy instead of the black market, where drugs and prostitution are more lucrative than minimum wage jobs, and are governed by violence rather than law.

Legislators can begin to treat mental health as a serious issue rather than a niche concern as well. Over 60 percent of gun-related deaths are suicides, and suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Increased legislative attention to mental health prevention, diagnosis and treatment can both reduce gun deaths and the fraction of adults with mental health conditions - currently 1 in 5.

We need to accept that guns will be a part of life for a long time. They’re everywhere, and at this point, there’s not much we can do about it directly; yet this need not be a sad realization. By addressing issues like poverty, access to education and mental health, we can both make real reductions in gun violence and improve the wellbeing of the country as a whole.