Pragmatism and the gun debate

I would like to comment on my observations about what I see on Facebook with regard to the reactions to the most recent school shooting in Florida. Although it appears that there are two factions (I’ll call them Pro-Gun and Anti-Gun so that we’re all clear on who is who) there is a third faction. I’ll call them the pragmatists. I believe that I am in the pragmatists group – to me guns are an inanimate object incapable of independent action, but if you’ll show me data that demonstrates taking some specific action with respect to guns will eliminate a specific problem, I’m keen to take that action. But you had better have the research.

I’ve noticed the Pro-Gun crowd using sentences similar to, “This is not the time to have a conversation…” while the Anti-Gun crowd seems to be saying something along the lines of, “Yes, it IS the time to have a conversation…” I’ve also noticed when the pragmatists try to initiate a conversation they are shouted down by the Anti-Gun crowd, who indicate insufficient empathy on the part of the pragmatists. These are the same crowd who moments ago said, “Yes, it IS the time to have a conversation…” I can only conclude that they want to steer the conversation to whatever their pet solution might be. For some reason this group tends to think everyone can see the solution and it is sitting right there in plain sight. It is not.

There seem to be a lot of references to facts and empathy, depending on which side is doing the talking at the moment. Unfortunately, there are quite a few distorted facts floating around. And empathy, while important, has not resolved the problem as yet. I think almost all Americans have enormous empathy with the families of those who were slain. But empathy is not a conversation, and certainly does not suggest any potential solution. If you think empathy suggests a solution, I want to see the research that demonstrates such. I can direct you to some research that indicates just where we are on this issue: Allie Nicodemo and Lia Petronio have published a report that shows the trends with respect to school shootings and mass murders over time. Please see

Oh, one more thing I’ve noticed. Repeated use of the term “Common Sense.” Can we agree that unless everyone agrees, the use of the word “common” is fantasy? It is anything but common. Common Sense means it should be intuitively obvious to the most casual observer, but if we all disagree, then the use of this phrase ends up being a slur against the side with which you disagree. Stop saying it. It is not helping your cause. It is insulting.

Please look over the following list of federal gun laws, making specific note of those laws passed in 1990, 1993 and 1994. I have more to say about these specific laws following the list.

Most federal gun laws are found in the following acts (Wikipedia):

  • National Firearms Act (“NFA”) (1934): Taxes the manufacture and transfer of, and mandates the registration of Title II weapons such as machine guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, heavy weapons, explosive ordnance, silencers, and disguised or improvised firearms.
  • Federal Firearms Act of 1938 (“FFA”): Requires that gun manufacturers, importers, and persons in the business of selling firearms have a Federal Firearms License (FFL). Prohibits the transfer of firearms to certain classes of persons, such as convicted felons.
  • Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (1968): Prohibited interstate trade in handguns, increased the minimum age to 21 for buying handguns.
  • Gun Control Act of 1968 (“GCA”): Focuses primarily on regulating interstate commerce in firearms by generally prohibiting interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers.
  • Firearm Owners Protection Act (“FOPA”) (1986): Revised and partially repealed the Gun Control Act of 1968. Prohibited the sale to civilians of automatic firearms manufactured after the date of the law’s passage. Required ATF approval of transfers of automatic firearms.
  • Undetectable Firearms Act (1988): Effectively criminalizes, with a few exceptions, the manufacture, importation, sale, shipment, delivery, possession, transfer, or receipt of firearms with less than 3.7 oz. of metal content.
  • Gun-Free School Zones Act (1990): Prohibits unauthorized individuals from knowingly possessing a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone.
  • Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993): Requires background checks on most firearm purchasers, depending on seller and venue.
  • Federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994–2004): Banned semiautomatics that looked like assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices. The law expired in 2004.
  • Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (2005): Prevent firearms manufacturers and licensed dealers from being held liable for negligence when crimes have been committed with their products.

All three of the laws enacted in 1990, 1993 and 1994 were called “Common Sense” gun laws and were enacted by a Congress sympathetic to the Anti-Gun rhetoric. Since two of these laws are still on the books (Gun Free School Zones, and Brady background checks), and we still have the same set of issues with which to deal, I can only conclude that these laws have failed to have any effect with respect to the problems they were meant to resolve. However, they did give the Anti-Gun crowd something to feel good about at the time.

The third law, the Assault Weapons ban was in effect for ten years. It has been studied by numerous researchers. In all but one case the research finds the ban had no effect. The only group whose study showed an effect is the Brady group whose bias is (or should be) apparent. It is safe to say the ban did nothing other than consume considerable taxpayer funds. Please see and check the section entitled, “Studies on effectiveness of the legislation” for more information.

What is the point of this rambling discourse here? As a pragmatist, I’m tired of seeing the same conflicts between the other two groups, which results in no progress on any solution. I believe solutions are at hand, but neither group wants to consider them. They are difficult compromises, but as seen above, simplistic solutions are not having the desired effect. Simplistic solutions do not save lives. Do you want to feel good that your side has won, or do you want to save the lives of the next group of the slain?

If you have any level of curiosity and a desire to learn, studies are out there that suggest real solutions are possible. Both sides have to be willing to accept some compromises, and both sides have to be willing to advocate for difficult choices. I would like to share two studies. These are by no means the only studies – this is not a simple problem, and it will take many courses of action to get to meaningful progress. Here are two.

The first study comes from Melinda Wenner Moyer via Scientific American. I can already hear the boos of the Anti-Gun crowd, but folks, you need to buckle up. Anti-Gun sentiment is strong at this time, and it appears Congress could potentially tip to Anti-Gun-friendly in 2018. You would do well to take what you can live with. Besides, it appears from this research that each of these ideas could actually help. Please see for the whole report.

The second study comes from Zach Mortensen, who uses statistical analysis to arrive at a surprising, yet not too surprising conclusion about violence of all types in our society. Developing a fix is going to be difficult and will take time. However, you cannot solve the problem of violence in our society without addressing the root cause. Please see

The longer we push congress to enact useless laws that have no effect, the more people get hurt. Stop it. Just. Stop. If you want congress to do something, have the intellectual integrity to know WHY you want them to enact that law, and have the data to show it will do what you want. Stop pointing to Australia or Japan or any other country – the Mortensen study should be enough to show why that is a fool’s errand.

To those of you who have un-friended me, kicked me off of your whine-fest, or otherwise despised me for having the temerity to not 100% agree with your particular feelings on this issue, a pox on you for that. I’ll ask again – do you want to save lives or feel good about your empathy? Do you want to continue to have the right to own and operate firearms? Then get over yourselves and get to work.