Two Approaches To Gun Control: Facts and Gay

It was remarkable, both for its substance and the fact that it came from a source that was, by any stretch of the imagination, inclined to be against guns and in favor of regulation. But FiveThirtyEight’s Leah Libresco did something that is rarely done.

Before I started researching gun deaths, gun-control policy used to frustrate me. I wished the National Rifle Association would stop blocking common-sense gun-control reforms such as banning assault weapons, restricting silencers, shrinking magazine sizes and all the other measures that could make guns less deadly.

Then, my colleagues and I at FiveThirtyEight spent three months analyzing all 33,000 lives ended by guns each year in the United States, and I wound up frustrated in a whole new way. We looked at what interventions might have saved those people, and the case for the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence.

We all know the solutions to critical problems that must be solved. They’re just common sense. And since we believe what we believe, how could they not be right?

researched the strictly tightened gun laws in Britain and Australia and concluded that they didn’t prove much about what America’s policy should be. Neither nation experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun related-crime that could be attributed to their buybacks and bans. Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress. And in both Australia and Britain, the gun restrictions had an ambiguous effect on other gun-related crimes or deaths.

So much for the obvious, and oft-referred-to comparison. Next?

When I looked at the other oft-praised policies, I found out that no gun owner walks into the store to buy an “assault weapon.” It’s an invented classification that includes any semi-automatic that has two or more features, such as a bayonet mount, a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher mount, a folding stock or a pistol grip. But guns are modular, and any hobbyist can easily add these features at home, just as if they were snapping together Legos.

As for silencers — they deserve that name only in movies, where they reduce gunfire to a soft puick puick. In real life, silencers limit hearing damage for shooters but don’t make gunfire dangerously quiet. An AR-15 with a silencer is about as loud as a jackhammer. Magazine limits were a little more promising, but a practiced shooter could still change magazines so fast as to make the limit meaningless.

There is, of course, a point to all this. Actual knowledge of a subject seriously complicates simplistic solutions. When we know nothing beyond the existence of a terrible problem that must be fixed, our grasping at the most obvious answers is likely to be misdirected and fail. If we don’t understand the problem, we can’t fix the problem. We can only address our fantasy understanding of the problem, and come up with fantasy fixes.

Similarly, when we construct problems out of the self-serving lies we tell ourselves, because we refuse to admit to facts that conflict with deeply-held beliefs, we similarly end up with failed solutions. This applies across the board, from “fixing” police abuse to “fixing” racism. When it comes to guns, the steadfast belief of antagonists is that the problem is that the people who possess guns are deplorable, toxic, ignorant, toothless, bearded, toxically-masculine, Trump-voting, racist, misogynistic, evil, violent, nutjobs. Because if they weren’t, they would be more like this New York Times gun-control expert.

We live in a country where so long as you follow the rules, you have relatively unfettered access to weapons capable of mass devastation. This week, we can see once again the carnage the rules have made possible.


He bought other weapons from a place called New Frontier Armory in North Las Vegas, and someone with that store said, “All state and federal laws were followed, and an F.B.I. background check took place and was passed by the buyer.”

This is a formal way of saying, “My hands are clean.”

If you’re scratching your head over this, since the point of gun control is to impose rules, the very solutions that passionate advocates insist will save us from devastation, then you haven’t come to terms with how the ignorant, yet narcissistic, mind functions.

It’s time to talk about gun control. It has long been time to talk about gun control. Many politicians say it is too soon, but it was time to talk about gun control on Monday, and it was also time to talk about gun control after Sandy Hook, Columbine, Orlando and on and on.

The “time to talk” is the rallying cry. So talk?

Regulation does not guarantee safety. But with regulation, we are far better off than if we did not govern ourselves with a modicum of common sense and responsibility. We need to better regulate guns and who has access to them. We need to decide, once and for all, that the Second Amendment matters but it does not mean that ordinary people should potentially have access to automatic weapons or devices that allow semiautomatic weapons to fire more rapidly. We need to take the stand that the police and the military are the only people who need that kind of firepower.

Does a “modicum of common sense and responsibility” inform us of how guns should be regulated? If the “Second Amendment matters,” some obvious Gertruding, and “regulation does not guarantee safety,” have we not achieved peak gun regulation since ordinary people do not have access to automatic weapons? Is the only remaining issue outlawing the “bump stock”?

It is hard to understand, in this moment, how some Americans are more outraged by N.F.L. players exercising their First Amendment right to free expression by kneeling to protest police brutality and the fragility of black life than they are by mass shootings and the consistently shocking loss of life each time an angry man with a gun pulls the trigger. These are Americans who treat the Constitution as a malleable document they can shape to suit their political interests. These are Americans who are very selective about the rules they want to follow.

On the contrary, it’s remarkably easy to understand how “some Americans” view the Constitution as a “malleable document they can shape to suit their political interests.” No one hates the Constitution more than the author of this pointless polemic, Roxane Gay, who is the poster girl for constitutional ignorance, hypocrisy and “malleability.”

It’s time to talk?

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is exhausting, demoralizing, and utterly heartbreaking to have to write such words yet again, while knowing that these words will not do anything to change this country’s stance on gun control. It is exhausting, demoralizing and heartbreaking to think of all the families and friends who are now mourning loved ones who were murdered in such a brutal, senseless way.

People were slaughtered in Vegas and it’s “exhausting” for you? You could always spend some time learning about guns, like reading Leah Libresco’s WaPo op-ed. You could spend some time thinking instead of emoting. But that would just make you more exhausted, plus give you a headache. If the problem is you’re exhausted, take a nap. Just stay out of things you don’t understand. Good talk.

41 thoughts on “Two Approaches To Gun Control: Facts and Gay

  1. KP

    “We need to take the stand that the police and the military are the only people who need that kind of firepower.”
    Yup! There’s the road to tyranny clearly signposted. When a Govt owns guns it has banned its voters from owning, there is something unequal in the power balance. It will never end well.

    I’m glad Leah Libresco caught up with what gun owners already knew. Maybe we could ban guns in movies to start with, just to see if the completely ridiculous portrayal of firearms has an effect in real life.

    1. SHG Post author

      Much as the arguments against the right to keep and bear arms seem crazy to some, the argument that guns are needed just in case a violent overthrow of government is on the day’s to-do list is similarly unavailing. There is a subtle argument to be made that weapons in the hands of the people serve as a counterweight to government force, but pounding the tyranny beat too hard is just the other side of the crazy sledgehammer to people like Gay. If she ever gets to NZ, maybe the two of your should share your feelings.

      1. LocoYokel

        Maybe not an overthrow but more of a MAD scenario. Keep those who would think of a nice repressive regime (and they exist on both sides of the aisle for different reasons) remembering that they just might be biting off more than they care to chew.

        Or even not those in the government. Think what a nice little community people like the bicycle lock guy or the sweet prof Glick would create if they thought no one would or could stand up to them.

  2. Robert Davidson

    With Federal funding for gun violence studies blocked the level of discourse is going to be lower. If “common sense” prevails this is going to seem like a self inflicted wound.

  3. Jake

    I read both of Leah Libresco’s pubs. She does a fantastic job of cherry picking stats to support the narrative: There’s nothing we can do so don’t try.

    1. SHG Post author

      Well, you know how those progressives roll. Then again, if you have a stat to counter hers, you could mention it. Or, you can just go with the feelz and no stats. After all, you know how those progressives roll.

      1. Hal

        This isn’t so much a statistic to counter Ms. Gay’s as something to think about that might help a bit w/ perspective.

        If one looks at all the mass shootings involving “assault weapons” (as broadly defined by journalists who generally don’t appreciate the nuances of what they’re discussing) to include Las Vegas, the night club shooting in Miami, the school shooting in Newtown, the theater shooting in Aurora, etc., one can find a couple of dozen incidents, perhaps as many as 40-50 if we stretch the definitions of what constitutes an assault weapon or what constitutes a mass shooting.

        For the sake of argument, let’s assume there are some number of other crimes )assaults, robberies, and simple murders) that are also committed w/ such weapons. Because it makes the math easy, let’s say these number 500.

        Clarence Thomas suggested that there are five million (5,000,000) AR-15s in private hands in the US. This is the lowest such estimate that I’ve seen, it looks like the actual number is nearly twice this, but again for the sake of keeping the math simple let’s go w/ Justice Thomas’ figure.

        This suggests that fewer than one in ten thousand “assault weapons” (remember they’re are a great many other varieties of “assault weapon” to include AK-47 type rifles, FN FAL type, H&K G3 type, Tavors and other “bull pup” designs, etc.) has been, or likely will be used to commit a violent crime. Or greater than ninety nine point nine nine percent (> 99.99%) have not, nor likely will be used to commit violent acts.

        As appalling as these mass murders are, the notion that reinstating some sort of assault weapon ban is a good idea should give any thinking person pause for thought.

        Something else to consider. I’ve looked at several FBI annual uniform crime reports and in each and every one that I’ve seen (I don’t know, but I believe this holds true year in year out) the number of people killed “by hands and feet” (I believe that’s the phrase they used, basically beaten to death without a weapon) invariably exceeded the number of people killed by all flavors of rifles (of which “assault weapons” would be a small subset).

        So, if assault weapons were to magically disappear tomorrow, from a statistical standpoint it would make so little difference that the murder rate would essentially remain unchanged.

        Draw what conclusions you will from this.

      2. Jake

        “Then again, if you have a stat to counter hers, you could mention it.”

        Sigh, must I really kill pixels pointing out what everybody already knows?

        “The (US Policy) contrast with Australia is especially stark. Just as Congress was barring any research that might strengthen the case for tighter gun regulations, that country established very strict firearm laws in response to the Port Arthur massacre, which killed 35 people in 1996.

        To clamp down on guns, the federal government worked with Australia’s states to ban semiautomatic rifles and pump-action shotguns, establish a uniform gun registry and buy the now-banned guns from people who had purchased them before owning them became illegal. The country also stopped recognizing self-defense as an acceptable reason for gun ownership and outlawed mail-order gun sales.

        These measures worked. Simon Chapman, a public health expert at the University of Sydney, writes:

        “When it comes to firearms, Australia is far a safer place today than it was in the 1990s and in previous decades.”

        There have been no mass murders since the Port Arthur massacre and the subsequent clampdown on guns, Chapman observes. In contrast, there were 13 of those tragic incidents over the previous 18 years – in which a total of 104 victims died. Other gun deaths have also declined.”

        1. SHG Post author

          This doesn’t address the point made by Libresco:

          Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress. And in both Australia and Britain, the gun restrictions had an ambiguous effect on other gun-related crimes or deaths.

          As for what “everybody knows,” you should know better to say something like that.

          1. Jake

            “Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress.”

            Oh, you’re right. Sorry. if Libresco decided this, it’s obviously an undisputed fact. I mean, why would I have any reason to question the rigor of a religious blogger with a bachelor’s degree in political science?

            1. Jake

              Friendship is magic. You may have the believers fooled but trying to pretend Libresco is a progressive with me isn’t going to fly. Unless you just don’t know the truth…

              I recommend further research on this one sempai. Li’ Mrs. Sargeant is not what she seems. (Perhaps you didn’t know what her real last name is?)

            2. SHG Post author

              So sexist, as if a woman is required to assume her husband’s surname. But do you doubt Nate Silver’s bona fides? That’s downright Trumpian. And don’t think Fluttershy will save you from this hate speech.

              Bear in mind, amigo, that I’m neither vouching for her conclusions nor even on her side. I’m not a gun guy (and you are). My interest is in facts v. feelz, and the integrity of constitutional rights. If the cops came to seize guns tomorrow, no one would knock on my door.

            3. Jake

              Read the 538 study again. Leah is not a listed author or contributor and the 538 doesn’t come to the conclusions she does in the Wapo editorial.

              It seems she’s fooled Wapo, and now she’s fooled you to. I’m not fooled. And by the way, the ‘real’ Leah, if there is a real Leah, is the one who takes her Husband’s name on her Facebook page. You should check it out…It should help you better understand who she *might* really be.

            4. Jake

              “My interest is in facts v. feelz”

              This is one of the reasons I keep coming around here.

              The problem on this particular post is the Leah is being held up (in your title) as a source of fact. However, based on everything you shared, Leah is presenting opinion as though they are facts, posing as a statistician, and pretending to be the author of a study she did not contribute to.

              You know better than to present that as fact.

            5. SHG Post author

              Libresco presents an argument based upon facts. If her claimed facts are false, then they can, and should, be challenged as such. Gay makes no pretense of presenting facts, but does her usual appeal to emotion. You say Libresco has fooled everyone except you. I suggest you may overstate your case by quite a bit, but I don’t care if Libresco is right or wrong. I care that she argued based on what she purports to be facts in juxtaposition to Gay.

            6. Jake

              “You say Libresco has fooled everyone except you.”

              I did not say that. I think she had you fooled. I’m also sure she’s fooling a lot of other people who prefer bias confirmation over credible journalism. Nobody else in my inner circles gives a wet fart what Leah Libresco Sargeant feelz about gun regulation. She is not an expert on anything, let alone anything even tangentially related to weapons, the constitution, or law. She’s not a statistician, and she’s not a progressive who just got ‘woke’ on this issue. She’s a religious blogger, a liar, and a poser.

              I’m no fan of Roxanne Gay but if credibility matters it has to be a problem to take the position that although Leah is a poser who bases her arguments on made up facts to support a narrative, she is truthier than Roxanne Gay.

        2. Sacho

          That’s a weird definition of “mass murder” that Chapman is observing. I don’t know much about Australia, so I went to Wikipedia, the one-stop-shop for listicles – “List_of_massacres_in_Australia” – there’s about 15 of them after Port Arthur. Could you explain why none of them satisfy the definition of “mass murder”?

          1. Jake

            Carefully note how many of the tragic events after Port Arthur meet the criteria for Mass Murder and were committed with a firearm.

            Nobody I know is saying the elimination of a narrow slice of firearms available for private purchase in the US is going to fix every problem society has.

            1. Nemo

              I wouldn’t call ‘all semiautomatic firearms and pump-action shotguns” a “narrow slice of firearms availability”. Is there an actual narrow slice reference that I have missed?

              For an actual narrow slice, rifles of any sort represent a very narrow slice of gun-related crime, as of my last check of FBI statistics. Shotguns, much the same. Unless that has changed, ensuring that the USA is completely free of Ruger 10/22s isn’t going to make much difference on gun crime.

              It will make one hell of a big difference to hunters, target shooting enthusiasts, and collectors, though. There are a hell of a lot of those folks out there. “Mass” shooters, even taken as all coming from those three categories, are going to need a lot of zeroes to the right of the decimal point, if you are going to express their numbers as a percentage of the whole.

              That’s a pretty big house to burn down, when you will not even kill all the spiders by doing so.

      1. Charles

        Does it matter to me whether David personally agrees with FiveThirtyEight? No.

        I only made the statement because yesterday he emphatically insisted that an Australian/UK approach would solve the problem of mass shootings. I would be interested to see what he has to say in response.

        In the Tuesday sandbox, of course. Not here.

  4. John Barlycorn.

    Aw but Washing Windows in Bangkok is so fun..

    Swedish massage LP’s are boring.

    Although the do hold some appeal if you have the stones to pack your turntable to the spa and convince your therapist to go analog on your rhomboid major and gluteus medus.

  5. Nick Lidakis

    Is this the same Roxane Gay that wrote the article Hate That Doesn’t Hide after Trump got elected? She wants federal gun control now with Hitler in charge?? How does the #resistance fight back if it’s unarmed?

      1. LocoYokel

        No danger of that, she’s got that completely covered.

        On a second note. You REALLY need a trigger warning for that picture or links to it. I am thoroughly traumatized by seeing that unexpectedly.

  6. Rojas

    A third voice. Chuck Schumer on concealed carry reciprocity bill yesterday.
    “Can you imagine if that law passed? This horrible, horrible man could concealed carry under the laws of Nevada and come to Times Square in New York City or Disneyland in Florida and just shoot away.”

    1. Mike G.

      Schumer is not the smartest person in the room, even when he’s alone.

      Nevada and Florida already have reciprocity and have had for years.

      1. cthulhu

        Also, Disneyland is in the People’s Democratic Republic of California; Disney World is next door to Florida Man.

      2. B. McLeod

        I’m thinking it would not be all that easy to carry long guns and tripods in a concealed manner, and the guy wouldn’t have been making 500-yard shots with a handgun. I have noticed recently that not having any permit anywhere does not seem to stop people from carrying their concealed handguns in NYC.

      3. Rojas

        You know, if there had only been a law against landing passenger planes in Manhattan. And did those guys even have a pilots license?
        Schumer is plenty sharp. He’s made sure his guys on the street are well armed and protected regardless of toxicity or implosion.

  7. B. McLeod

    Thank you for not including the picture in the main article (I assumed it was hiding behind the “poster girl” link, and so did not click that one).

      1. SHG Post author

        But whatever you do, do not click on the NY Times gun expert link. No, do not do that. Don’t. I mean it.

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