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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

In light of the Parkland school shooting, I have some thoughts about guns.

Gun rights are an emotionally fraught issue in normal times and today we pine for what used to pass for normal. Gun-control advocates now argue with increasing directness that their goal is the repeal of the Second Amendment and confiscation of private firearms. Their most outspoken leaders demonize legal gun owners constantly. As long as this situation lingers, they can expect no willingness by gun owners to entertain further dialog. Now what?

Americans have lots of guns, more so than any other country. It’s in our DNA; it’s how a bunch of farmers beat the vaunted British army and it was enshrined in our Constitution for posterity. We have far more than 300 million of them and possibly closer to 400 million. We do have a gun violence problem, compared to other first-world countries, but gun homicides have fallen considerably from their peak, even as private gun ownership has skyrocketed. Is it really helpful to argue that the few dozen monsters from recent years accurately reflect on over 85 million law-abiding gun owners? Their evil is their own and no indictment of anyone else. Insisting otherwise means disengagement and retreating—by both sides—deeper into everyone’s respective echo chambers and nothing—least of all school shootings—will change.

Schools

That having been said, schools are targeted by shooters with appalling frequency. Many gun owners remain amazed at how the notion of teachers carrying concealed pistols to school seems controversial. The plain fact is that attackers do not observe “gun-free” zones, while law-abiding citizens do. But ending this noxious fantasy (it affects malls and movie theaters, too) and letting schools provide an armed response seems logical, especially since trained people with guns protect banks, transportation hubs, museums and sensitive government facilities. It stands to reason that it would work in schools when proper precautions are followed.

Arming teachers offers several benefits. Return fire works. When a shooter hears someone else’s gunfire, they have to pause, regroup and shelter. That buys time for first responders, which should mean lives saved. Uniformed security guards are expensive and obvious targets for a shooter who has the element of surprise. Parkland had one, but the shooter spent only six minutes on a 3,000-person campus. It wasn’t enough, and one or two more might not have been, either. For schools that can afford it, that may be best, but many schools do not have much slack in their budgets. When any member of the faculty could be armed, however, it adds complexity to an attacker’s plan. If armed resistance could emerge from anywhere, a shooter could be contained or neutralized faster. Personally, I’d even be fine with extra layers of protection (specialized training, annual physicals etc.) for faculty doing this if it meant that monsters might be deterred or neutralized and victims saved.

The AR-15

There are millions of AR-15s in civilian hands. A conservative estimate is that one in every few hundred thousand is used in a mass shooting. That indicates a problem with the user, not the product. Gun bans are appealing emotionally, especially when grief is acute, but they are a bad idea.

We live in an age when DIY flowers can be produced in bulk with special CNC machines that only get cheaper. They (and other components) can also be 3D printed easily. Anyone with basic tools can load their own ammunition to any specifications. Banning or restricting these parts is pointless and serves only to criminalize millions of law-abiding citizens. This makes no one any safer.

Moreover, gun bans generate black markets axiomatically, since compliance is usually quite low. So besides being a fruitless and merely symbolic gesture, they are also pointless because ordinary gun owners won’t comply with them, as Europeans and Australians demonstrated conclusively when their respective gun bans took effect. And then we will have millions of guns with virtually no resources to train anyone in their use or maintain them in good working order. That is another public safety problem that there is absolutely no reason to court.

Enforcement

Without enforcement of our laws as written, new ones won’t matter. When laws are ham-handedly (or, worse, selectively) enforced, we’ve already traveled too far down the road to tyranny. This is the fourth mass shooting in recent memory that the FBI was warned about, and the public’s confidence is being shaken. Anything to restore faith in the Bureau would be welcome now. The missteps and failures of the Broward Sheriff’s Office continue to emerge and they paint a picture of repeated missed opportunities that is at once heart-rending and infuriating. This, above all, seems to have played the next biggest role in the Parkland shooting (after, of course, the shooter himself). And the performance of law enforcement here is hardly supportive of the argument that gun-owners need to disarm for the greater good.

That said, it’s fair to ask just what the FBI could have done in that case, since Florida law would hamper (if not prevent altogether) any plan to disarm the shooter preemptively, but in light of the foregoing, one can wonder if the Baker Act was even considered here. In such a case, National Review’s David French has proposed a Gun Violence Restraining Order like the one California has. Before endorsing any law-enforcement ideas from California, though, I would like to see some safeguards to prevent disgruntled/estranged family and neighbors from abusing it. But it may be worth examining.

Other Measures

Improving the NICS system is one way to ensure that new guns stay out of the wrong hands. My friend Keith Kaplan has suggested opening it to individuals for private sales to do the same with used guns. It’s not glamorous, and it’s no panacea, but it can work. It can record the attempted transaction, notify the prospective seller and flag the prospective buyer. That’s a good step in the right direction.

Some gun laws are written so as to make intent—malicious or benign—irrelevant. Shaneen Allen is the poster child for how confusing and inimical to the public good our patchwork of gun laws can be. This is an area crying out for common sense reform.

Many have asked how a teenager could legally buy an AR-15. The simple reason is that 18 is the age of majority. If an 18-year-old can enlist, serve on a jury, drive unsupervised, file their own taxes and hold public office, it’s not unreasonable. If we, as a country, decide that the only teenagers who get firearms are ones in uniform, so be it. But, again, that’s a solution that doesn’t require amending the Constitution.

It would also help if news publishers would stop featuring attackers’ names and photos to help reduce the copycat effect that inspires some troubled minds and damaged souls. Some have already pledged to do so. That will help.

Lastly, there’s no way to legislate the most important changes that we need. Children need parents involved in their lives, and fully aware of what they’re doing online. The internet too easily numbs the id and weakens the humanizing benefits of seeing and interacting with live people. When too much of kids’ lives plays out in the simulacrum that is social media, bad things can happen. Seeking a legislative solution to a cultural problem is part of why our culture is in the shape it is.

This is a conversation I—like many gun owners—am ready to have. It respects the Constitution and doesn’t involve hurling epithets and invective. It also doesn’t tar millions of innocent citizens with the evils of a few but it does help minimize the chances that future evildoers will see their monstrous plans come to fruition. Contact me online to discuss it if you like. Even better, let’s talk face to face.

By Yali Elkin

Yali Elkin is the CFO at a private equity firm. He has lived in Teaneck for 13 years and can be reached at [email protected].