The Impotence Of Gun Control

Following the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the national debate regarding gun control has flared up once more. After James Eagan Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58 others using a semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and two pistols, many commentators and some policymakers are arguing that gun control laws need to be tougher. Unfortunately, even the toughest regulations currently found in the United States could not have prevented the Aurora shooting.

Of all the states in the nation, California has the most restrictive gun laws, as ranked by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The state requires gun sales to be processed through a licensed dealer with a background check, forces handgun purchasers to obtain a license and bans all assault weapons. Even if Colorado had all of California’s gun laws, the Aurora shooting would not have simply been averted.

Licensed Dealers

All four guns used by Holmes in the Aurora shooting were legally purchased from Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain. Although firearms dealers in Colorado do not need to obtain a license from the state, Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain are both national chains with locations in California or other states that similarly require dealers to be licensed. Thus, had Colorado required Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain to be licensed, chances are they both would have done so and Holmes would still have legally purchased his weapons.

Background Checks

Like California, Colorado requires weapons purchasers to submit to a background check, with both states denying sales to those with a criminal record; Holmes had none. California also restricts those with a history of mental illness from purchasing firearms; although Holmes had seen a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado, where he was a Ph.D. student in neuroscience, it is unlikely that this would have barred him from purchasing a firearm as he was neither committed nor deemed mentally unfit by a court. The standard criteria by which background checks prevent people from buying weapons would not have applied to Holmes.

Handgun Licenses

California requires those purchasing a handgun to first obtain a safety certificate and perform a “safe handling demonstration”; the former stipulates that applicants be at least 18 and pass a written test, while the latter obliges them to demonstrate basic handgun operation. Considering that Holmes was 24 at the time of purchase, was a former Ph.D. student and emptied at least three clips — demonstrating some proficiency with a handgun — in that Aurora movie theatre, there’s a good chance he would have qualified for a handgun license had Colorado required one.

Ban on Assault Weapons

Although California prohibits anyone from possessing an assault weapon, that category does not include any of the guns used by Holmes during the Aurora shooting, including the Smith & Wesson M&P15, a semi-automatic rifle. At the most, California’s restriction on large magazines would’ve have reduced the M&P15’s capacity from 25 rounds to 10, but the gun itself would have been identical in every other way — so much so that Smith & Wesson actually manufactures a California-compliant version of the same rifle. Although Holmes outfitted the weapon with a drum magazine capable of holding 100 rounds, it reportedly jammed very quickly, rendering it useless early on. Thus, a California-style ban on large magazines would have, at best, decreased the capacity of the one weapon which malfunctioned anyway.

The Impossibility of Prohibition

More extreme gun control advocates might not argue for greater regulation along the lines described above, but for the outright prohibition of firearms. The shortcomings of this policy can be seen in every other prohibition campaign, including temperance and the War on Drugs: overtaxing the penal system with “criminals” who have harmed no one; selective enforcement usually targeting the poor; increased interest in the thing being banned, a la the Streisand effect; creation of a black market empowering criminals and encouraging organized crime; and, ultimately, the failure to eliminate access to the thing being controlled.

Events like the Aurora shooting seem to demand action. The feeling is that we must do something to prevent such a tragedy from occurring ever again. But in examining the details of the event and of the proposed solutions, the inherent issues are revealed to be more complex than the longstanding debate between gun control advocates and opponents could possibly allow for. It’s unsurprising when considering their pre-packaged answers against the question ultimately posed by all shootings: What drives a man to wantonly murder another? TC Mark

image – Pulp Fiction


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  • raymondthimmes

    Finally some actual analysis. Thank you.

  • H

    Here in England, if I (also 24 like James Holmes) wanted to buy a gun, it would be seriously suspicious. (Although I could do it legally if I really wanted to, it’d be a LOT more difficult than it is in the USA). The point is, because it’s so easy to buy a gun in most American states, the culture is different. No one finds it odd or strange that a young man would want to buy a gun. So actually, if gun regulations were tighter, it’d probably change a lot.

  • Corpuscle Ken Schism
  • Oliver Miller

    What bullshit. The death rate from guns in the US is 22 times higher than the rate in England. (And our population is only 5 times larger.) Just adapt English-style gun control laws…. and people… will be… less likely… to die. If you don’t want to do anything, then just say that. But I don’t need to read reheated bland bullshit about why doing anything won’t work.

    • Oliver Miller

      In fact, I made a mistake by just quoting death rates within a population. Here are the actual stats.

      Death from guns in the US, last year: 17,352.

      Death from guns in the UK, last year: 68.

      That’s… 255 times higher in the US. And the US is 5 times larger than the UK. So you’re 51 times more likely to be killed by a gun in the US. And fun fact — buying a gun increases the risk that you’ll use it to commit suicide or that the gun will be used against you by a member of your immediate family. And the % risk of that happening is much higher than the % chance that you’ll ever use the gun to protect yourself. So every time you buy a gun, you’re increasing the odds that… you’ll die. So there’s really no reason not to ban them.


      “Those persons with guns in the home were at greater risk than those without guns in the home of dying from a homicide in the home…They were also at greater risk of dying from a firearm homicide, but risk varied by age and whether the person was living with others at the time of death… The risk of dying from a suicide in the home was greater for males in homes with guns than for males without guns in the home…” –The American Journal of Epidemiology

      • Bethanie the Wookie

        Oliver, that shit is depressing, but thank you for posting that. Another reason I choose not to have a gun in my home while I’m surrounded by a state full of gun toting rednecks who need to feel protected in their suburban white neighborhoods.

      • Allie

        Thank you!! I don’t understand how anyone can argue with this data!

      • Adam Pack

        There’s also a big cultural difference between England and the US: here in England we are perhaps less apt to kill people. Gun control would help, but you may need a cultural shift as well. I’m not telling you how to run your country, of course.

      • thesugarray

        The majority of Gun deaths are caused by law enforcement. That isn’t counted domestic animals being targeted, either.

    • Gabby

      While I respect your opinion – the US and the UK have two very different cultures regarding this. Yes, it is difficult for people in the UK to buy guns BUT this is an accepted by society at large. However, if you were to do the same thing in the US, there would be an uproar because this is perceived as a personal freedom that we have had since we became a country. It is truly a cultural difference and that does not change overnight. I am NOT saying I disagree with you. In fact, I wish guns were not as easy to come by in the US – I am just making an observation that this policy would not work or be accepted in the US.

      • Em

        I am an Australian who used to live in the UK and now resides in Northern California, so I’ve had exposure to all three cultures and agree that there are some huge differences. Before moving to the States I had never met anybody who owned a gun. Since living here I’ve heard 2 shootings, one of which was outside my house and woke me up.

        I think the biggest issue is a deeply engrained belief that Americans have in the immediate rights of the individual, often at the expense of the overall, long-term well being of the community (look at health care, welfare reform etc.). Americans seem only to be able to see as far ahead as day one of a gun ban, when they perceive that everyone will be armed except them. It’s a matter of leaving bans in place for 10 or 20 years and seeing how the culture begins to change and one can make a proper assessment of their success or failure.

        Of course, there are other factors that have lead to America’s sky-high rates of violence. The U.S has the highest rate of poverty in the developed world. The Aurora shooting was an anomally: most shooting victims are young, black males. In a country where rights like health-care and education are the domain of the wealthy, it’s not hard to see why so many people become desperate or agitated and turn to crime.

        For the record, I really like Americans. But I think your government is pandering to the public sense of ‘right to freedom’ simply to avoid having to fix this issue.

  • aninquiringmind

    I think this once more brings forth the adage “people kill people.” If Holmes had the intent of taking lives, he would have found some way to do so, whether firearms were readily available or not. People like this will always find a way. So, along with this reasoning, tighter gun controls are not the answer. But what is? How do we mitigate or otherwise eliminate this sense of violence that appears to be inherent in our society? Surely limiting violence in news sources and other outlets such as television and videogames would be vetoed as censorship. Especially when the violence in this scenario erupted from an individual who showed relatively no previous signs of corruption, what preventative measures can be taken to stop such events from occurring?

    • Jk

      Sure, he wanted to hurt people and nothing was going to stop him. But if he hadn’t had free and ready access to several firearms he would’ve used what? A knife? He probably wouldn’t have been able to kill 12 and wound 58 in such a short amount of time. To stab someone is difficult, forensic exams have shown that the body sucks the knife in like a vacuum and it take serious force to remove it. People would’ve been able to escape easier and quicker than under rapid gunfire. That’s a fact. It’s also a much more personal way of hurting someone, he would’ve had to get very close rather than stand at a distance and kill many from one position.

      • archana

        Well, he could’ve used a bomb instead of a knife. Considering that the police had to remove a bunch of bombs from his apartment once the whole shooting was over, i would say he couldve had the knowledge (this would be much harder than running in and shooting though)

      • Jk

        Well, like you asserted yourself…that’d be a lot harder wouldn’t it. Often, people who commit these kinds of massacres want to see first hand (as in, be right at the centre without any harm to themselves) the havoc and pain that they’re inflicting. I expect explosives would make this difficult.

    • Maddy

      “People kill people” is the worst response OF ALL TIME to this. Yes, they do, but people kill less people with less guns. Guns make killing people SO EASY, so yes, firearms not being readily available makes a ginormous difference.

  • Bethanie the Wookie

    Very good points made here by the author and the commentators. I feel gun control is very important, and should not be taken lightly. But I don’t think that tougher laws will alleviate the murder rate. So what is it about other countries, such as Canada, that have similar principles about guns and ownership, but have a fraction of the shooting deaths? And England, how do we have less deaths while still maintaining our right to “bare arms?”

    • Shirley

      Canadian here. The ease with which many Americans accept gun ownership and prevalence astounds me. In Canada, there isn’t and has never been the mindset that guns are required for “protection,” the idea that individuals have the “right to bear arms.” Americans have that in their Constitution; they’re brought up and taught that gun ownership is as rightful as voting. (Of course, many aren’t; I’m generalizing. And many change their minds.) As a result, you see that in Canada, there are far fewer gun deaths per capita.

      Like Oliver, I think that the author made a false assumption: that because gun control (arguably) would have failed in this instance, it would and will always fail when pitted against human nature. We see in other first-world, non-American nations that this is simply not true.

      Finally, I’d like to add that any changes that result from future, more stringent gun control laws will likely not make immediate changes. Yes, there would still be illegal gun trafficking for those who really wanted weapons in the years to follow. But gun control laws, like other prohibitive laws, don’t simply aim to control the populace. They also send rather specific messages. In this case, the laws would show that the society was growing more intolerant to gun possession. Gradual change, but tighter gun control laws lead to less tolerance of guns, which subsequently leads to fewer gun deaths.

  • nightshaye

    The political lawmaking system has become so inflexible that both “sides” are trapped in deadlock with useless approaches for both.
    People are killers by nature, depending on their circumstances, ’nuff said for now, the rest is beyond the scope of this.

    The question to me is; how can other approaches be formulated, and how can they even be heard? Can gun ownership be treated like car ownership? With a competent registration process; any crime committed by someone other than the registrant, holds the registrant to the same degree of responsibility, etc.

    I’m just putting ideas out, knowing there may be reasons I haven’t considered why something like this may not work. But the point is I’m convinced there are other workable approaches. But obviously cultivating them and getting people to listen in a rigidly polarized political climate is what seems to be impossible.

  • Oliver Miller

    …And I’m sorry, but this is really dumb. The author is cherry-picking data or doesn’t understand how to use data. The Aurora shooting is a ridiculous outlier, first of all, because shooting deaths almost never occur when an insane guy in body-armor starts shooting wildly in a theater. That’s why we’re hearing about it; it’s an outlier. So using it as an example of why gun laws don’t work is crazy.

    Secondly, California laws are just more stringent than other laws in America. But all American gun laws are ridiculously lax. So the point of the article is that adopting the ridiculously lax California laws won’t do anything? Yeah, duh. But that’s a straw-man argument. It has nothing to do with gun control not working. It has to do with all U.S. gun laws being so weak as to be useless. Which is why we need to strengthen them in general. California has the highest murder rate in the U.S. No one is using California as an argument for anything, except this author.

    • Ahmad

      FYI, California does not currently have the highest murder rate in the country, that designation belongs to New York City.

      • Alex

        Surely they warrant different sets of statistics Ahmad?? With one being a city and the other being a State?

      • Oliver Miller

        Right, but New York City is not a state. I was referring to states. I was wrong though, California doesn’t have the highest rate, it has the most murders, and it is a big state, so that sort of figures. Still, it’s no one’s poster child for being a state that is really really peaceful.

      • Ahmad

        The stat was in reference to the Murder Capital comment. The state with the most murders is Louisiana, the city with the most murders is New York.

      • Oliver Miller

        Argh. I was saying that California has the most murders, which it does: …Your numbers are murder rates, which are important, but which are measuring percentages, not the total number of homicides.

  • pete consigli

    seems like gun control starts with a national identification plan. If you can’t identify me, how could you regulate my guns?

  • Em

    It worked in Australia. Last time we had a shooting of this magnitude was in 1996. After that we introduced strict gun laws. The ease with which people can buy weapons in the U.S borders on lunacy, especially when you consider the number of people with debilitating mental health problems.

  • fuckyou12

    Did no one else notice that the title is ‘impotence’ not ‘importance’? Or is it supposed to be like that?

    • Josh

      Impotence…as in ineffective, powerless. As in…gun control is pointless. (Not my views, just explaining the title.)

    • fuckyou12


  • Katie

    First of all, this is an American issue. We won our freedom from England so we didn’t have to listen to their laws. It is my constitutional RIGHT to bear arms.

    Do you really think outlawing guns will stop crime? If someone plans to murder, they won’t think twice about obtaining an illegal weapon. Just like pot smokers find pot and underage kids get booze. If you want something, you can get it. There is always a way. I live in Illinois, a state with fairly strict gun laws, and I could obtain all of the guns Holmes had in less than an hour. No problem.

    Violence and crime won’t stop. The only real way to level the playing field is to make guns equally obtainable. Think about this: what if someone in that theater was legally carrying a gun? What if they stood up and shot back? Isn’t it our American right to defend ourselves? Someone breaks the law and starts shooting at me, so what, I have to crawl away in fear hoping I don’t get shot? Hell no.

    Until every person in this country, every person ON THIS EARTH eats sunshine and shits rainbows, there will be crime. As long as there is crime, I believe in the right to bear arms.

    bam bam bam.

    • watts

      to the person with a gun in the theater: lol good luck seeing through the tear gas and most likely bodies trying to flee the theater and shooting the attacker in full body armor in a place where he is vulnerable!

      seriously, another person with a gun in the theater would have been more likely to hurt more innocent people than holmes. no state in America has especially strict gun laws. look at the article. even in california, the strictest gun law state, it is still ludicrously easy to get guns.

      supply and demand. if something is in high demand it is in high supply and easy to get. weed and alcohol are in high demand, thus easy to get. if guns laws are stricted and become lower in demand, they will be harder to get. will it stop criminals from getting them alltogether? of course not, but i bet it would stop some.

      i think all this shouting about how it is your ” constitutional RIGHT to bear arms” is a big part of the problem. that was a document written over 230 years ago. the circumstances under which it was written are completely different from now, and the reason it was added to the consitution, for citizens to protect themselves from the GOVERNMENT, no longer applies. i think its safe to say that, after 230 years of effective democracy, we aren’t going to have tyranny anytime soon. if people didn’t have it so engrained in their minds that anyone and everyone deserves a gun because the constitution says so, the gun loving american culture would probably become less gun-loving.

      look at Oliver Miller’s post. britain and other european countries with stricter gun laws in america have shockingly lower gun crime rates than we do. so, unless you believe there is something fundamentally wrong with americans and that we are just more blood thirsty and intent on murder than any other country on earth, there is no reason to think stricter gun laws wouldnt lower gun crime rates.

      • Shirley

        woooo an eye for an eye to avoid having to “crawl away in fear hoping I don’t get shot”!

  • Josh

    Oh good. I was worried for a second.

    • Josh

      That was for @fuckyou12

  • Ahmad

    A couple of other California laws not mentioned here are the inability to purchase more than one firearm per month (which discourages straw purchases) and the 10 day waiting period to obtain a firearm. That would not have changed much here as the shooter bought 4 guns across 3 months. California also has magazine capacity limits on handguns as well as rifles, so his .40 Cal Glock would have had a 10 round magazine instead of a 15 round one. **Would this have prevented this or any shooting, of course not.** I do believe that magazine capacity limits have the potential to create small gaps of time that could allow for a person to get out of harms way as well as potentially limiting the amount of casualties and the ability to keep law enforcement at bay with suppressive fire, which was in issue in California’s North Hollywood shoot out in 1997. FYI – I own 2 registered pre-ban assault weapons and would have no problem limiting my recreational shooting to 10 rounds at a time, however I legally own 16, 20 and 40 round magazines, but I don’t need 16, 20 and 40 round magazines. FYI 2 – The newer California compliant assault weapons require a special tool (or bullet) to remove the magazine, which slows down the reloading process as well.

  • Mike

    Oliver…real easy to post data that justifies your stance on the subject. How about this: violent crime actually decreased by 43% since 1991 (a 35 year low) when violent crimes were at their highest mark in this country. When the assault weapon ban expired in 1998 violent crime actually decreased. The advocates for more gun control like Dianne Fienstien, who made it her number 1 priority to ban citizens from owning handguns, had a CCW permit and exercised it by carrying a weapon. States with more relaxed CCW laws have less crime than those in more restrictive states. Banning guns is not the answer, regulating guns is not the answer…there is no answer. Guns don’t jump off the rack or out of a holster and begin discharging their contents. It takes someone to activate that discharge. Yes you could say…”well it’s a means by which someone could kill a lot of people”…while true, but so is a massive explosive…he could have pulled a Timothy McVey and killed even more by driving into the theater. So there are numerous ways to kill massive numbers of people and to jump on guns is a cop out. You didn’t see a ban on fertilizer after the OK City bombing. We’re you pushing for that ban also?

    Look at recent events…Chicago…how many shootings have to occur before the lawabiding citizens rebel against the city administration and take matters into their own hands in an effort to defend themselves. These killings weren’t done by law abiding citizens. The guns probably weren’t acquired legally. Ban guns and more will show up…then what. I guess you think Prohibition worked also…do think Prohibition against guns is going work…really? Very naive. The black market would thrive…then the economic fallout would follow. Do you realize there are 240million guns in households in the US?
    Granted Guns should not be allowed in certain areas…schools (not to include institutions of higher learning) and court houses…otherwise there should be no restrictions. Gun free zones are targets for criminals.
    While much of this is my opinion…the statistical data came from the FBI as well as the NRA…I checked both sites and the information matched so before you go slamming the data being skewed because it’s from the NRA…look at it yourself.

    Personally, I will exercise my Constitutional Right to own guns and defend what’s mine.

    • Oliver Miller

      “There is no answer.” Hilarious. Yes, the U.S. just intrinsically has to have 50 times more gun deaths than other countries, nothing to be done about that, folks; let’s not try and change any laws; it’s just fated to be this way forever.

      • Taeil

        Have you looked up the MURDER rates between the two countries? Because let me tell you… I’d rather be shot to death than stabbed to death…

    • Oliver Miller

      There’s a strong case to be made that we’re misinterpreting the 2nd Amendment; that we’re misunderstanding the 18th century use of commas — which I believe is true, as someone who’s studied linguistics and writing — and that we’re supposed to have only a “well-regulated militia” with guns, which we don’t have. Instead we’ve got a bunch of non-regulated idiots running around with guns, that’s what we have now. And all because of a comma… because people don’t understand how the framers used language:

      And even if that’s not the cause, the Constitution can be amended, y’know. And should be amended in this case, because people are fucking dying. The Constitution is not automatically always right: the Constitution said that slavery was legal, for chrissakes.

      • Nishant

        Two words: Constitutional amendment.

        Those guys weren’t right about everything. They were 18th century folk, 18th freaking century! Maybe people should examine what kind of rights they gave women, and then start implementing that too. Or as you said, slavery.

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