The gut-wrenching tragedy in Las Vegas has reignited the national debate on gun control. A number of polls on the topic have since been administered and they show a nation craving action but that is pessimistic on whether it’ll matter. The vast majority of Americans support a variety of potential gun-control laws– especially if they’re told that it’d prevent mass shootings like Pulse, Newton, and Aurora— but most don’t think that they’d actually work.
Unfortunately, they’re largely right.
To be clear, troves of scientific papers demonstrate that reduced access to firearms lowers the number of gun-deaths. (In fact, I made a YouTube video explaining several such studies.) But these findings don’t extend to reducing the number of mass shootings in the US context. In fact, the scientific consensus on this topic is that there’s no consensus. No single regulatory prescription has been shown to reduce the frequency of mass shootings and many made following an event simply wouldn’t have prevented it.
It’s not that it’s totally impossible. As many have pointed out lately, Australia has not witnessed another mass shooting since they instituted their near-ban on firearms in the late 1990’s. The catch is that they don’t have anything remotely analogous to the second amendment. The regulatory actions that are even legally possible in the US (not to mention tractable) are fundamentally constrained by this right established in 1791 and reaffirmed in 2010. Consequently, proponents of most recent proposals can’t honestly claim that their prescriptions would have prevented the shooting. Only that they’d lessen the carnage.
If your aim is to reduce the number of deaths caused by firearms, science says your best bet is gun control. This is because, despite the way they hog the media spotlight, mass shootings aren’t close to constituting the bulk of gun deaths. That reduction comes in fewer suicides, homicides, and accidents—not mass shootings. These are worthy goals that we need to pursue; they shouldn’t need to be linked to a tragedy to be on the national radar. However, unless we radically change our conceptualization of the second amendment, that last issue will continue to bedevil us.