Brian Leiter's Law School Reports

Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Glenn Reynolds wants to have a "conversation" about guns

I'm happy to have it.  His questions, and my answers, follow:

Reynolds:  Why do people who favor gun-control call people who disagree with them murderers or accomplices to murder? 

Leiter:  To drive home the consequences of advocating against serious gun control in the United States, given recent experience.

Reynolds:  Is that constructive?

Leiter:  Hard to know; it may have the salutary effect of marginalizing the hardcore gun fanatics from the debate, so that a rational discussion can be had about preventive measures among those who care about public safety, whether they own guns or not.

Reynolds:  Would any of the various proposals have actually prevented the tragedy that is the supposed reason for them?

Leiter:  Yes, a total ban on private ownership of semi-automatic weapons, such as the Bushmaster rifle used by the Newtown killer, would have made a difference.  We can not control very well who gets ahold of guns once they are in private hands, but we can do better at controlling the kinds of guns that are even in circulation.  Australia has kindly run a natural experiment for us:  after a series of mass shootings, culminating in the Port Arthur incident in which 35 were murdered in 1996, the conservative Prime Minister John Howard (who, some will recall, supported President Bush in the Iraq war) spearheaded uniform gun control throughout Australia; "the new gun laws banned rapid-fire long guns, specifically to reduce their availability for  mass shootings. Under the 1996–7 Australian Firearms Buyback, 643,726 newly prohibited semi-automatic and pump-action rifles and shotguns were purchased by the federal government from their civilian owners at market value....Tens of thousands of gun owners also voluntarily surrendered additional, non-prohibited firearms without compensation.  In total, more than 700 000 guns were removed and destroyed from an adult population of about 12 million. Australia’s revised gun laws also require that all firearms be individually registered to their licensed owners, that private firearm sales be prohibited and that each gun transfer through a licensed arms dealer be approved only after the police are satisfied of a genuine reason for ownership."  There were 13 mass shootings in the 18 years  years prior to this law; there have been none in the 16 years since.

Reynolds:  When you say you hope that this event will finally change the debate, do you really mean that you hope you can use emotionalism and blood-libel-bullying to get your way on political issues that were losers in the past?

Leiter:  Is it constructive to accuse those who disagree with you of using "blood-libel-bullying" and "emotionalism"?  

Reynolds:  If you’re a media member or politician, do you have armed security?  Do you have a permit for a gun yourself?  (I’m asking you Dianne Feinstein!)  If so, what makes your life more valuable than other people’s?

Leiter:  I am neither, but it's quite obvious why high profile public personalities might need armed security, especially if they support gun control.  This has nothing to do with the relative value of lives, and everything to do with reasonable risk assessments.

Reynolds:  Do you know the difference between an automatic weapon and a semi-automatic weapon?  Do your public statements reflect that difference?

Leiter:  Yes, though it hardly matters:  both kinds of weapons are dangerous, but, at present, only one of these kinds is still readily available in the marketplace.  President Bush, unfortunately, let expire a law in 2004 which made semi-automatic weapons much harder to get.  Of the 12 worst mass shootings in the U.S. since World War II, half have occurred since 2004.  Is this mere correlation?  Perhaps, perhaps not, but why gamble?

Reynolds:  If guns cause murder, why have murder rates fallen as gun sales have skyrocketed?

Leiter:  Presumably for the same reason that crime in general has fallen:  some combination of high rates of incarceration and better policing techniques.  (The relevant question would be counterfactual:  how much more would murder rates have declined if there were more gun control.)  In any case, the claim isn't that "guns cause murder," but that the easy availability of certain kinds of weapons increases the incidence of mass shootings, which have increased.  See the Australian case, again.  Can you stay on topic, Glenn?

Reynolds:  Have you talked about “Fast and Furious?”  Do you even know what it is?  Do you care less when brown people die?

Leiter:  "Fast and Furious" is irrelevant, except to those planning policing strategies.  Stay on topic, Glenn.

Reynolds:  When you say that “we” need to change, how are you planning to change?  Does your change involve any actual sacrifice on your part?

Leiter:  I do not need to change, as I am not part of the problem:  I do not have semi-automatic firearms that might fall into the hands of dangerous people, and I support, rather than oppose, serious gun control measures.  You, on the other hand, appear to be part of the problem.  Glenn, will you change?  Will you support an Australian-style program to get semi-automatic weapons out of private hands?  The sacrifice is minimal compared to the benefits.

http://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/leiter/2012/12/glenn-reynolds-wants-to-have-a-conversation-about-guns.html

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