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Opinion: Gun Laws Won't Prevent Another Aurora

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Police surround the apartment of James Holmes, the suspect in the Colorado theater shooting, on July 21, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado.

In unexplainable tragedies, like the one in Aurora last week, there is a rush by some people to attach their favorite pet issue to the horror. Some I have heard about with the Colorado shooting include:

  • that the shooter was probably medicated on Adderall
  • that the shooting was a government plot
  • that the shooter was Jewish
  • that we need to ban all guns

The last one seems most reasonable to people. Before much information about a mass shooting is released, before we know the names of the victims or the motives of the attacker, the knee-jerk, emotional reaction begins: guns are bad, people who don't think so are evil, and we must ban guns.

The problem is that people like me, who believe guns serve a necessary purpose of self-defense, don't want to spend the days following a national tragedy showing the hysterical gun-grabbers the factual information about guns. We want to be able to mourn our fellow countrymen too, but because of the rush to blame and finger-point it becomes an immediate debate. We want to spend the days in solemn thought, not pointing out that according to a Justice Department study in 1994, there are approximately 1.5 million defensive gun uses in America each year. We don't want to keep stating the obvious: that places like NYC, Chicago, or DC, which essentially ban all guns, have an extraordinarily high level of shootings. It turns out that people who would use guns for ill don't actually care about laws and those of us who do are sitting ducks because we are prohibited from owning guns. It's tiring to keep pointing out that, no, banning some guns won't make any difference at all. As Robert VerBruggen points out in National Review:

Further, while it’s true that one of Holmes’s guns was a so-called “assault weapon” similar to an AR-15, this gun does not differ from standard hunting rifles in most of the important ways. Holmes’s rifle fires at a semiautomatic rate—one bullet for each pull of the trigger, unlike a machine gun, which fires continuously when the trigger is held down—and uses .223-caliber ammo. This ammo is frequently found in “varmint rifles”; it is on the small side even for shooting deer.

More gun laws won't do anything at all; we already have tens of thousands of federal, state, and local gun laws on the books, yet the reaction "we need to have a serious debate about gun control" persists. We've had the serious debate about gun control. The Second Amendment won. It is no coincidence that our founders included our right to bear arms as #2 in our Bill or Rights. An unarmed populace is a docile populace, and that has never been what America is about.

What happened in Aurora is an awful tragedy perpetrated by one terrible person. Giving up our freedom to own guns is no solution. I don't know what would have happened if someone in the Aurora movie theater was armed; the chaos in the darkness is part of what the killer was counting on, but I do know that an armed citizenry would give pause to other wannabee mass killers. As Glenn Reynolds noted after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 (on a "gun-free" campus, a rule that the shooter ignored):

Police can't be everywhere, and as incidents from Columbine to Virginia Tech demonstrate, by the time they show up at a mass shooting, it's usually too late. On the other hand, one group of people is, by definition, always on the scene: the victims. Only if they're armed, they may wind up not being victims at all.

And isn't that, ultimately, the goal?