By Sam Kumar
Following last week’s deadly shooting in Indianapolis, President Biden called gun violence a “national embarrassment”. He called for “commonsense gun violence prevention legislation like Universal Background checks and a ban of weapons of war”.
While I share President Biden’s frustration with the situation and the meaningless loss of lives, I am not clear on specifically what the President is trying to accomplish or how he plans to accomplish it. To review some statistics from the FBI, for the year 2019 (the most recent year for which such statistics are available), 6,368 homicides were attributed to handguns, 364 to rifles and 1,476 to knives and cutting instruments. Is he talking about preventing homicides by handguns or rifles? (Most homicides are from handguns but the far fewer homicides by rifles although they grab the most media attention). Is President Biden merely proposing a ban on purchases or is he proposing confiscation? Since Background Checks have been in place for decades, and you cannot buy a firearm without a Background Check, what does he mean by “Universal Background Checks”? And, what does he mean by “weapons of war”?
There are approximately 857 million firearms owned by civilians around the world, out of which 393 million are owned by Americans according to the annual survey by Swiss firm Small Arms Survey. These numbers are from 2018, the most recent year for which the survey is available. Since then, firearms ownership has exploded in the US and we are probably clear over 400 million firearms at this time. Even if he were to magically stop all firearms sales and manufacturing starting tomorrow, what does the president propose we do with the 400 million in circulation?
Let us assume that the President is serious about drastically reducing gun related homicides, has solutions in hand, and is not merely posturing. In 2020, Chicago had 769 homicides. Why not try his solutions out in Chicago? The Governor of Illinois is a Democrat, the Mayor of Chicago is a Democrat, and the 50-member Chicago City Council does not have even a single Republican Alderman. Heck, President Biden can even recruit his buddy President Obama to implement the solutions in the former President’s hometown! Whatever President Biden wants to do, he can do it and prove to all of us that his solutions are practical and produce results. If the guns are coming from neighboring states, then he could possibly set up check points. If he cannot successfully monitor a few hundred miles of interstate border, how is he going to monitor 2000 miles of US-Mexico border?
My rhetorical point in the previous paragraph notwithstanding, the fact remains that there are no acceptable solutions that will both have sufficient support and will produce results. Identifying who will commit a crime in the future is nearly impossible in almost all the cases. While phrases like “commonsense gun laws”, “banning weapons of war” and “Assault Rifle ban” are appealing bumper sticker material, they don’t solve problems.
One final point: Gun control is complicated, and the more you get into details, the less support specific policy has historically had. While we are all for solutions that will prevent deaths, such solutions should be grounded in reality. Before we go about issuing executive orders or passing legislation, we should model the legislation to see which of the incidents in the past would have been prevented if that legislation would have been in place at the time. Without such retroactive analysis to prove effectiveness, Executive Orders and legislation are just activities that appease the base and check the box but don’t accomplish anything other than to place hurdles for law-abiding citizens to purchase firearms. President Biden should stop setting unreasonable expectations and stirring up his base with vague and unimplementable generalities.