The Difficulty of Ending Gun Violence in the United States

March 12, 2018 Updated: March 12, 2018

Although not the most costly mass shooting in terms of lives lost, the killing of 17 students in Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 13 has unleashed an unprecedented “I’m mad as hell and not going to take this anymore” reaction.

Poignant scenes and finger pointing have dominated the national media, coupled with commitments on various political and social levels to “do something.”

Consequently, the cynical, ritualized reaction of “been there, done that,” so far as public manifestations of grief and concern are pronounced, may not suffice to mitigate the outrage.

A fresh examination of realities might be useful. There are examples of societies that essentially eliminated gun violence of the kind the United States experiences. Would these examples fit the sociopolitical circumstances of the United States?

  • Communist States. It is all but impossible to legally own a private firearm in communist states, notably North Korea, China, or post-communist Russia. Such weapons are monopolized by official security forces. Terrorist violence in Russia and China has been primarily perpetrated by individuals armed with knives or explosive devices.
  • Nazi Germany. The German population was essentially unarmed under the Nazis—certainly the Jewish population had no significant weaponry with which to resist their incarceration in concentration camps. The question lingers: “Could an armed German Jewish population have prevented the Holocaust?”
  • Switzerland and Israel. These are states that have gone in the opposite direction, arming almost everybody. Both countries are known for having military-grade weapons in individual homes. Israel combines this approach with draconian efforts to prevent Palestinians living under its control from obtaining firearms. Consequently, terrorism in Israel has been carried out with bombs, or knives for individual attacks.
  • Norway. Living in peaceful and gun-controlled Norway in 2011, a terrorist combined a truck bomb and a gun attack with a standard rifle to kill 77 and injure more than 300.

Nevertheless, it may be useful to examine some options on ending U.S. gun violence.

  • Repeal the Second Amendment. Such a proposal may appear naive. However, as the existential objective of many protesters is to remove all weapons of individual destruction from private hands, one should consider it. These protesters are relentlessly ideological; personal weapons are the 21st-century equivalent of mortal sins for previous-era Christians. Thus, it is both hypocritical and disingenuous for today’s protesters not to strike at the problem’s core.

The constitutional route is straightforward; it would need a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress and agreement from three-quarters of the states. Whether it is politically conceivable is a different story—and the thought of removing all privately owned weapons from citizens would be a generationlong and (probably) intermittently violent activity. Is it a “forlorn” hope for proponents? Other highly unpopular actions on issues such as African American civil rights, abortion on demand, and driving under the influence have ultimately won legal endorsement.

  • Intense Security for Public Institutions. This approach calls for substantially expanded police or security presence at schools, sports arenas, religious facilities, entertainment centers, shopping malls, and so on. However, a “good guy with a gun” may well not suffice, as illustrated by the pitiful (non)reaction of the armed deputy assigned to Stoneman Douglas—essentially a scarecrow rather than an effective deterrent.

Such actions, combined with revised “privacy” regulations regarding mentally aberrant individuals, might stop the most obvious potential killers. It would be a very, very expensive commitment, costing tens to hundreds of billions of dollars.

Terror Without Guns

Unfortunately, terror is fungible. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh killed 168, injured 680, and caused $650 million in damage with his Oklahoma City truck bomb. He didn’t use an AR-15.

The 9/11 terrorists killed almost 3,000 people, using four airplanes (but no firearms). Subsequently, there has been a long string of bombings, such as the 2013 Boston Marathon attack, the 2017 NYC bombings, and multiple attacks in Europe, in which firearms were tertiary.

Another unfortunate reality is that bombs are easily made at home. The ingredients and cookbook recipes are readily available on the internet, as are formulations for nerve gas (sarin). None of these terror agents require sophisticated engineering or chemistry skills. Nor do AR15s.

And vehicles that can be used to plow into crowds at high speeds are readily available.

Bluntly, none of the plethora of palliative gun control measures being bruited about—such as banning “bump stocks,” requiring longer wait times for purchases, raising the legal age to 21, or carrying out more intense security checks—will have a scintilla of practical consequence. They are reflexive feel-goodisms to mollify the anguished sufferers whose pain can never be alleviated.

So, as a bottom line, would we be happier if the Parkland shooter had attended a school pep rally and attacked using a backpack bomb?

David T. Jones. (Courtesy of David T. Jones)
David T. Jones.

David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign service career officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn from Each Other.”

An earlier version of this article was published in The Métropolitain (Montreal) on Feb. 28.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.