Gun control should be a little less insane


Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Unknown author

When it comes to gun control, is America insane?  We are shocked at another mass shooting.  Why do we expect anything different?  Nothing has changed.

In a poll taken earlier this year, most Americans expressed support for stricter gun regulations. [1] That poll included National Rifle Association members.[2]  But that support varied by gun control measure.[3]  For example, the majority of NRA members supported comprehensive background checks of gun purchasers.  But only 1/3 of NRA members support a national firearm registry or a firearms-purchase database because these measures could be used to track American’s activities.[4]

The number of mass shootings per year varies, depending upon how “mass shooting” is defined.  If it is defined as four or more shot or killed, in 2018 alone, there have been 307 mass shootings in 311 days.[5]  That is nearly one mass shooting every day of the year.  A more narrow definition — four or more people killed as a result of a shooting not tied to robberies or gangs, or domestic incident — results in a total of 158 in 2018.[6]  This means that mass shootings occur every other day.  Under either definition, America has a problem.

Not only are they becoming more frequent, they are more deadly.  Four of the biggest mass shootings in five decades happened in 2018.[7]  And many of the deadliest attacks have occurred more recently.[8]  So if the current trends continue, mass shootings will become more frequent and more deadly.  And those trends are likely to continue unless changes are made.

So what changes are more likely to be enacted – and effective?  To be enacted, those changes must satisfy gun enthusiasts and opponents alike.  This means that a gun ban that many people propose in the wake of a mass shooting will not work.  For the opponents, on the other hand, the changes must curtail the rights of gun owners to some extent to be effective.  So how do we meet in the middle and still affect mass shootings?

Let’s look at past mass shootings (under the narrow definition) and figure out what will work while allowing responsible gun owners to keep their guns.

  1. Were the guns used in these shootings obtained legally? Of 305 guns, 175 were obtained legally and 52 were obtained illegally with acquisition of the 78 remaining weapons unclear.[9]  So at least 57.4% and as much as 83% of the weapons used in these attacks were obtained legally.[10] That means that our current laws are not working.
  1. What kind of guns and ammunition were used in these mass shooting? Semi-automatic rifles, some equipped with bump stocks that enabled them to operate like automatic rifles, were used in some of the deadliest shootings.[11]  Semi-automatic handguns were also used.[12]  In many cases, high-capacity magazines were used.[13]  The combination of this equipment enables a shooter to kill many in a short period of time without reloading.  So any change would have to address this type of equipment.
  1. Who were the shooters? Nearly all the shooters were white males with only one or three females, depending upon your definition of “mass shooting.”[14]  Most were mentally troubled, and many displayed signs of mental illness before the shooting began.[15]  Under the narrow definition of mass shooting, 56 out of 107 or about 52% had exhibited signs of mental health issues.[16]  So background checks would only stop about half of all mass shootings.

Democrats are currently vowing to introduce new gun legislation next year. [17]  Among the proposed changes are expanded background checks and a ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.[18]  They are also talking about the temporary removal of guns from those “deemed an imminent risk to themselves or others.”[19]  Will these measures work?

If half of all shooters have mental issues and removal is only temporary, the decrease, if any, in mass shootings is likely to be insignificant.  The ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines would likely decrease the body count but not the number of events themselves.  And even that does not consider bump stocks or any other equipment that enables a shooter to kill many quickly.

So what will work?  In addition to a national registry, some suggest limiting the number of guns owned per person and make owners responsible if their guns are used in mass shootings.  Another idea is to make carrying a gun illegal, except for law enforcement personnel.   Even in the Old West, some states banned guns in town, requiring visitors to check their guns or residents to leave their guns at home.[20] On October 26, 1881, this ban was in effect in Tombstone, Arizona.  But the “Cowboys” ignored it, and the shootout at O.K. Corral resulted in the deaths of Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers.[21]

These measures are not enough.  None of them provide a warning so that a mass shooting can be stopped.  Halfway measures that do not affect the problem are likely to result in still greater restrictions until mass shootings are rare or nonexistent.  If the anti-gun control lobby, including the NRA, doesn’t get on board, they are likely to find draconian measures taken.  In short, it’s better to be part of a solution you can live with than to have one imposed that enrages you.

So will shooting be prevented if we make open or concealed carry illegal, make illegal those weapons or equipment that enable a shooter to kill many quickly, prohibit the mentally ill from owning guns, and make owners legally responsible for their guns? Probably not.  But something else may work.  That is placing an RFID, or radio-frequency identification, tag on every gun in this country.  RFID “uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects.”[22]  This is accomplished by the tag exchanging signals with an RFID reader.[23]

So RFID tags could be used to register firearms and monitor their movement.  RFID tags are already used in many applications today.[24]  Cars, pharmaceuticals, animals, airline baggage, and railroad cars are already tracked by RFID tags. [25]  This possible solution would add firearms to that list.

RFID tags are relatively inexpensive, priced anywhere from 9 cents to $5 with RFID readers adding appreciably more to the cost. [26] Because RFID tags are as small as dust-sized chips, they can be embedded in the stock or handle of a gun.[27]  Once RFID readers are installed, guns can be tracked by computer.  If so much as a single unauthorized gun is monitored as approaching a school, church, shopping center, or any other location, law enforcement would be notified.  Then appropriate action could be taken to thwart a mass shooting.

But how much will all this cost?  It will likely be less than mass shootings cost us.  Unfortunately, that cost is unknown, due in large part to pressure from the National Rifle Association and other gun rights advocates.[28]  But gun violence in general provides some guidance.  It costs this country $229 billion per year.[29]  Granted, some of those costs are not applicable to mass shootings, such as incarceration costs since many shooters are killed or kill themselves.  But other costs are universal, such as medical care, lost wages, long-term care, disability costs, mental health treatment, and the cost of legal proceedings and law enforcement.[30]  Other costs to consider include school security measures undertaken to prevent mass shootings, such as security guards, active-shooter drills, and defensive gear.[31]  The federal government alone has spent $811 million to aid in hiring security guards at schools.[32]

These costs fail to consider perhaps the most important cost – the loss of human life and the heartache of those left behind.  How much more can we afford to lose?


[1] Bloomberg, Most Gun Owners Support Stricter Laws – Even NRA Members, Time, March 13, 2018,

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Gun Violence Archive, Mass Shootings in 2018,

[6] Bonnie Berkowitz, Denise Lu, and Chris Alcantara, The terrible numbers that grow with each mass shooting, The Washington Post, March 16, 1985, updated November 8, 2016,

[7] Susan Miller and Kevin McCoy, Thousand Oaks makes 307 mass shootings in 311 days, USA Today, November 8, 2018

[8] Bonnie Berkowitz, Denise Lu, and Chris Alcantara, The terrible numbers that grow with each mass shooting, The Washington Post, March 16, 1985, updated November 8, 2016,

[9] Id.

[10] Mother Jones’s data indicates that 75% of weapons were obtained legally.

[11] Bonnie Berkowitz, Denise Lu, and Chris Alcantara, The terrible numbers that grow with each mass shooting, The Washington Post, March 16, 1985, updated November 8, 2016,

[12] Id.

[13] Mother Jones,

[14] Id.; Bonnie Berkowitz, Denise Lu, and Chris Alcantara, The terrible numbers that grow with each mass shooting, The Washington Post, March 16, 1985, updated November 8, 2016,

[15] Mother Jones,

[16] Id.

[17] Matthew Daly, Democrats vow action on gun control after Calif. Shooting, AP News, November 8, 2018,

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Matt Jancer, Gun Control is as Old as the Old West, Smithsonian Magazine, February 5, 2018,

[21] Id.

[22] Wikipedia, Radio-frequency identification, https://en.m.wikipedia.ord/wiki/Radio-frequency_identification.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Mark Follman, Julia Lurie, Jaeah Lee, and James West, The True Cost of Gun Violence in America, Mother Jones, April 15 2015,

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s