By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters
I try to stay away from politics in this column; there are other and better minds than mine for that subject elsewhere on this site and elsewhere around the web. This time, I’m going to get into it a little bit.
Recently, Senator Bernie Sanders (I, VT) appeared on an episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience,” the incredibly popular podcast featuring former “Fear Factor” host and current UFC color commentator (and stand-up comic) Joe Rogan. Guns, mass shootings and gun control were part of the conversation.
Here’s a clip of just the gun stuff:
The episode as a whole was fairly interesting. I don’t agree with his proposed policies very much, but it is kind of refreshing to hear from a candidate in a more long-form way rather than just sound bites. Granted, that doesn’t mean I would vote for him!
At any rate, he had some ideas about guns and mass shootings. We’re going to go over those, and what he gets wrong.
First is that he wants to ban “assault weapons.” We all know it’s a made-up term; “semi-automatic rifles” is more like it, but even that’s not 100 percent accurate. An AR-15 is very much unlike, say the Ruger 10/22 or the modern Browning BAR, both of which are semi-automatic and use detachable magazines, but clearly aren’t like an AR or AK in any way, shape or form. I’m going to keep using the term “assault rifles” because we all know what the term connotes instead of a different phrase. Complain if you want, you know I’m right.
So, he wants an assault weapon ban.
There are a few inherent issues.
First, the Clinton assault weapon ban has never, after a great deal of careful examination, been said to be all that effective. There was some evidence of a reduction in the use of new “assault weapons” but there were increased instances of use of pre-ban and approved semi-automatic weapons during the Clinton ban years, according to FactCheck, but the consensus appears to be that it led to little reduction in overall gun crime.
In fact, a recent study by Boston University, which appeared in the Journal Of Internal Medicine, specifically examined the Clinton gun ban years (the study covered 1991 to 2016) to the present. It found that the assault rifle ban had little effect on firearm homicides. What did have an effect on homicides are universal background checks, explicitly prohibiting individuals with conviction for any violent crime from owning firearms, and “may-issue” concealed carry laws.
It should be pointed out, however, that overall rates of firearm homicide can be misleading; Illinois would have a high rate of firearm homicide and does have shall-issue laws. However, most of those homicides are concentrated in the city of Chicago; one wonders what the adjusted rate for the rest of that state is if you were to discount the Second City.
The same idea would also apply to Michigan (Detroit), Louisiana (New Orleans) Missouri (St. Louis) and any other state that has at least one large metro area, as that’s where the majority of gun crime occurs.
And let me also take this time to say that deep dish is not pizza and the Bears suck. But one digresses.
Let’s pause for a minute about the “assault weapon” issue. Now, the reason why Senator Sanders and so many others object to them is that they’re used for horrible acts. There’s no equivocating; AR-15s have been used to carry out some horrific crimes.
First, rifles of any sort are used for very few gun crimes, including homicide, and has consistently been less than 5 percent of all firearm homicides for decades, including during the Clinton assault weapon ban.
Then we come to mass shootings themselves.
So the term is nebulous, as it can be defined a number of ways. The most common definition is an incident wherein 4 or more people are shot in a single event. According to the Rand Corporation, that was the definition the FBI arrived at in the 1980s. Other organizations define it differently.
Then we come to the nature of the shooting itself. Some, of course, are attacks carried out on locations with a great deal of people specifically for the purpose of attacking a large group of people, others are to attack a location (such as a school or place of employment) or the perpetrator may be targeting specific people.
Then there’s the matter of motive. What is the impetus for a person to carry out such an act?
Some are due to extremist sociopolitical ideology, others are targeting an organization, but others are, in fact, gang-related or otherwise tied to the illegal drug trade and/or organized crime.
So, how many mass shootings are actually gang shootings that just happen to fit the definition of mass murder and/or mass shootings?
The Rand Corporation looked at five organizations and how/if they parsed incidents in the year 2015 for motivation. The Gun Violence Archive, Mass Shooting Tracker and the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports didn’t. Mother Jones and the Mass Shootings in America database, however, did; Mother Jones found 7 and MSA found 65 incidents of mass shootings that weren’t gang-related.
What can we infer about this? The majority of mass shootings not only don’t involve an assault weapon, but also are gang-related rather than a random mass attack.
Does this mean that violent right-wing (or left-wing) extremists aren’t a problem? Obviously not. Those are issues we, as a society, need to start doing more about. White nationalism and actual socialism are ideologies that cannot be tolerated.
And by socialism, I mean the poly-sci definition of socialism, wherein the state owns the means of production. I do not mean a national health plan or increasing subsidies for higher education. That is not socialism; that’s a welfare state. The Scandinavian countries do not have socialism; Cuba, on the other hand, does.
He also supports expanding the scope of background checks. Mental illness and a history of violence would, ostensibly, be disqualifiers against gun ownership.
Actually, the background checks are one area where our gun laws could stand some improvement. NICS does a pretty good job of finding people that have convictions for felonies, violent misdemeanors and who have been legally committed to a mental health facility or to treatment.
If, that is, the relevant information is reported to them.
The Virginia Tech shooter was only able to buy guns because the law state of Virginia didn’t mandate that him being sentenced to psychological counseling be reported to NICS. In other states, it would have been and he wouldn’t have passed the background check. The same is true of the Sutherland Springs shooter; the Air Force didn’t report to NICS that he was dishonorably discharged for spousal abuse, and the state of Texas didn’t report that he failed the background check to receive a Texas concealed carry permit.
So, fair point there.
He also mentions the “gun show loophole.”
So, the gun show loophole only exists insofar as private sales are concerned; anyone who has a Federal Firearms License cannot sell a gun without conducting a background check or else they’ll lose their license and do jail time.
Furthermore, most people who obtain firearms illegally tend to do so either through blackmarket channels or from friends and family, not from gun shows – though that wouldn’t stop someone from legally buying a gun at a gun show and then selling it on.
But he also mentions straw purchases, which do occur. In fact the Justice department was even caught doing it! The BAFTE found in a study released in 2000 that 46 percent of gun trafficking cases involved straw purchases.
Fair point there. We can’t pretend like they aren’t a problem.
So, what can we infer from him?
He has some respect for the Second Amendment. Maybe not as little as some people think, and probably more than people who believe there should be no restrictions on firearms at all insist he does, but some.
I would also say he doesn’t have the most precise picture of gun crime, and he also seems to think that an assault weapon ban would be some sort of panacea on some level. Clearly, as we can see by the available evidence, it really wouldn’t. We tried it, and it basically didn’t do anything.
So would a Sanders presidency (perish the thought) mean as far as gun rights? Universal background checks with expanded parameters, and a possible assault weapon ban, would possibly be in the offing.
Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.