Gun Control and the Aurora, Colorado, Shootings

Writing at the Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas journal, New York University law professor Richard Epstein argues that strict gun control laws are unlikely to prevent horrific incidents like the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting:

It is always hard to design licensing systems to stop dangerous behaviors like driving automobiles, controlling the sale of hard drugs, or using guns. The root of the problem is this: The ex post remedy that goes after wrongdoers runs only a small risk of over-breadth, which can usually be limited by having suitable punishment procedures. Licensing regimes, in contrast, are always overbroad. They will result in social losses by stopping the use of guns, cars, or drugs (think medical marijuana) by people who will make perfectly legitimate use of the dangerous instrument in question.

Perhaps those like Mayor Bloomberg will respond that these losses are a small price to pay for the prevention of unnecessary deaths. But even that generalization may turn out to be false, as the bad actors whom the licensing system targets are the most willing to circumvent that system. The selective enforcement of these tough prohibitions could easily cause more harm than good: Think of the black market trade in drugs fostered by the war on drugs.

This same dynamic could be at work in dealing with guns. Today, upwards of 200 million firearms of all descriptions are available for general use in the United States. Amnesty programs have made only a tiny dent in that number. The imposition of a tough registration program will lead to a substantial reduction in the number of guns in circulation. But even tough gun laws may have had little impact on people like James Holmes. Holmes showed no danger signs, except perhaps that he was a bit of a loner, not an uncommon trait. He had cleared all background checks when he purchased his weapon. If Colorado banned guns, would he have acquired the same weapons out of state or in the illegal market? No one knows.

Read the whole thing here. Read Reason’s ongoing coverage of the Aurora shootings here.

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  • Jeff||

    It is always hard to design licensing systems to stop dangerous behaviors like [...] controlling the sale of hard drugs

    Too right!

  • rac||

    Gun sales apparently are up significantly in Aurora since the shooting. My guess is that none of those sales will lead to a mass killing. Just Americans exercising their natural, Constitutional right, to defend themselves. To the "controllers": As Hard Drinkin' Lincoln says, "Fuck youse all!"

  • CJR||

    Not just in Aurora. I went by my local Northern VA merchant of death to pick up a couple of cases of ammo, and it was packed.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Went to the firing range with my wife this afternoon. It was packed.

  • ||

    Guns kill. Granting access to guns means that people are going to use them to kill. Passing laws making guns illegal will end the killing, as criminals will no longer have access to guns.

    Who can argue with that logic?

  • Jeff||

    Let's just make murder illegal. That should stop killing altogether.

  • Rich||

    Yep. *And* it's more efficient at stopping the killing, since it cuts out the middleman.

  • Number 2||

    After all, nobody purchases any product after it has been declared illegal! Marijuana was completely eradicated from society once it was made illegal.

    Hey wait a minute….

  • Archduke PantsFan||

    It's just not illegal enough.

  • Paul.||

    Guns kill. Granting access to guns means that people are going to use them to kill.

    Snark aside, this is technically true. But it's not the point. If we made driving illegal in this country, we could reduce the number of car accidents.

    The point is that yes, when guns are readily available, your gun crime will rise above zero.

    But after it rises above zero, there comes a point where it's no longer tethered to availability of guns, but is now driven by much more ephemeral things such as the state of the economy, cultural factors, general policing. These things change over time, improve, get worse etc.

  • Torontonian||

    "Guns kill. Granting access to guns means that people are going to use them to kill."

    So? Killing is entirely legal... provided it's done in self-defense or is self-inflicted.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Licensing regimes, in contrast, are always overbroad. They will result in social losses by stopping the use of guns, cars, or drugs (think medical marijuana) by people who will make perfectly legitimate use of the dangerous instrument in question.

    Epstein is claiming that drivers license requirements are preventing responsible drivers from driving? Evidence? I know he's saying what we want to hear, but that's when you have to be most suspicious.

  • Adam330||

    Sure, some people who could drive don't go through the process of getting a license. Others might not parallel park to the tester's satisfaction, but be perfectly fine drivers. These are likely to be few because drivers' license don't have particularly strict requirements, but few does not equal zero.

  • Paul.||

    Epstein is claiming that drivers license requirements are preventing responsible drivers from driving? Evidence? I know he's saying what we want to hear, but that's when you have to be most suspicious.

    If drivers licenses required you go through a vigorous background check or were denied because of misdemeanors, then responsible drivers would be filtered out.

  • LarryA||

    Or denied to people who haven't donated to the sheriff's campaign fund, or because people should depend on government public transportation.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Would you count otherwise safe drivers that lose their licenses because they commit a non-driving related crime?

  • Tulpa the White||

    I mean, obviously some licensing regimes are just indirect methods of banning an activity. But it's not an inherent characteristic of licensing schemes.

  • blackjack||

    Licensing IS the banning of a certain thing, with an exemption for those who get permission.

    I always crack up when I hear the statistics for unlicensed drivers representation in accidents. It's around 20 percent. That means that 80 percent of all accidents are caused by drivers deemed "safe" by the state.

  • LarryA||

    It seems fairly common in gun licensing. See the former unconstituional registration schemes in D.C. and Chicago.

  • BoscoH||

    I swear my lapper felt about 2 pounds heavier with that excerpt from Epstein displayed on the screen. I scrolled down to the comments, and the lapper switched back to its normal weight.

  • alittlesense||

    As a side bit of interest to the story, it appears that the shooter was not, in fact, wearing any sort of bulletproof gear. The vest he had on had a lot of pockets for holding stuff, but is not bulletproof.

  • CE||

    one report said he had a bulletproof vest, a throat protector, and a "ballistic helmet". I was wondering if maybe he had paintball gear on.

  • Archduke PantsFan||

    Reminder: Michael Moore will be giving his opinion on Piers Morgan tonight. Drinking game anyone?

  • Ted S.||

    I'll be watching the TCM premiere of Berkeley Square instead.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    I have been really enjoying the Leslie Howard films this month. What a great actor.

  • Generic Stranger||

    As I said yesterday, I'll leave that to you guys. I prefer not having to scrape out my corneas with broken shards of glass.

  • Drake||

    Just got home from the gym. That fat fuck's face was on a monitor the whole time. Thankfully no volume or closed captioning or there would have been a barbell shoved through it.

  • albo||

    The imposition of a tough registration program will lead to a substantial reduction in the number of guns in circulation.

    Yeah, because millions of guns will be wrapped in oil rags and buried in the back yard.

    That's the thing that anti-gun pundits and lawmakers don't realize: We're loaded with guns already. Ban the sale of guns totally and you'll still have 200 million ready to go. Go door-to-door to confiscate and you'd be smart to buy stock in shovel companies, because everyone will be burying theirs.

    Gun control doesn't do shit. DC and Illinois ban them, and they're Murder Town and Murderer Town.

  • Tulpa the White||

    The banners would just break out the metal detectors and stethoscopes.

  • SIV||

    You can't use a metal detector with a bullet in your head. There are things which would spark open violent rebellion in this country. Suspended elections and door-to-door gun confiscation top the list.

  • Drake||

    Yep - That would be an immediate and open rebellion. Cops, soldiers, and civilians would all be choosing sides then killing each other.

  • Paul.||

    Might make it hard to get ammo for 'em.

  • Generic Stranger||

    Go door-to-door to confiscate and you'd be smart to buy stock in shovel companies, because everyone will be burying theirs.

    Better invest in body bags, too, because you'll need a lot of them.

  • Drake||

    They would be burying a lot of cops too.

  • LarryA||

    Only stupid ones. Blue flu anyone?

  • free2booze||

    Norway has some of the toughest gun laws in the world, but that didn't stop Anders Breivik from gunning down 77 people last summer. An individual who is intent on committing mass murder will always find a way.

  • ant1sthenes||

    I suspect in the next couple of decades, small-scale manufacturing tools will become much more affordable to the ordinary person. As fairly simple machines, anyone who wants a gun can just build one out for himself.

    At that point, gun control becomes like meth control -- to implement it, they have to violate not only self-defense rights, but any number of other less controversial rights, to the great annoyance of a large class of people who don't even care about guns.

    At any rate, as divided and paranoid as our society seems to be right now, a major gun grabbing initiative would pretty much turn the U.S. into Syria.

  • LarryA||

    A submachinegun is 19th century technology. Anyone that's the least handy can turn them out. As folks do in parts of Afghanistan and India that don't even have electricity.

  • Registration At Last!||

    I call BULLSHIT.

    This guy used civilian-legal weapons. He didn't use a belt-fed machine gun, or a flamethrower, or a bazooka.

    This was not an "aesthetic" decision on his part. His practical choice of weapons was constrained by the law. Further gun restrictions, vigorously enforced by the police, would have further constrained his choice of weapons.

    I am not saying we should ban assault or high-capacity weapons, but we definitely could do so, and if we did, those types of weapons would end up as rare and unavailable on "the street" as RPGs and Claymore mines.

    The "North Hollywood Shootout" was fifteen years ago, my friends. Wake up. Life isn't a Steven Seagal movie. There is no vast covert underground market funneling full-auto arsenals to every two-bit street gang in Podunk U.S.A.

    Illegal transfers of LEGAL guns are very common, but illegal CATEGORIES of guns are extremely hard to obtain. An assault-weapons ban with mandatory buy-backs and no "grandfathering" would go a long way towards making these types of guns simply unobtainable, for better or worse.

  • triclops||

    your whole post is worthless because all the further gun restrictions being offered as a solution would have done nothing to stop this guy.

    Just like the TSA won't stop another underwear bomber.

    But because you say this event proves that more gun control is needed when the controls won't fix the problem, it becomes clear that you are just full of shit.

    You think an "assault" weapons ban would do something because you have no idea of the difference between "assault" and non "assault" firearms.

    But if you had your druthers, you would just ban category after category of firearms until all were illegal. You would use the failures of the last ban as justification for the next ban. And you would do it piecemeal, because you know that lying about your intentions will improve your chances of making it happen.

    Again, that is why we know you are full of shit.

  • Registration At Last!||

    Leaving aside your illiterate misreading of my post, note this:

    With "assault" weapons, the only issue is ammunition capacity.

    I don't care how bad-assed or "ugly" or "military" a gun looks with bayonet lugs or folding stocks or perforated barrel guards. If you have to reload it after ten rounds, it isn't going to be able to do this kind of a massacre.

    Maybe one or two of the dozens of mass-shooters who have rampaged in this country would figure out "another way" using gasoline bombs or something, but assault weapons are the Ramen Noodles of mass-killing. With 30-40-50-100 round magazines, any idiot can do it on an over-the-counter basis.

  • albo||

    If you have to reload it after ten rounds, it isn't going to be able to do this kind of a massacre.

    Have you ever fired an AR-15 or clone or an M-16? They're designed to make magazine changes quick. You push a button with one finger while the other hand reaches for a fresh mag and slams it in, continuing that hand up to hit the bolt release. It takes seconds.

    It's not a matter of 10 round or 30 round mags. It's a matter of nobody can stop a sick mind that wants to kill and wants no one to catch him until he does.

  • Registration At Last!||

    You may be making the case against all autoloaders with detachable magazines. An effective ban might have to go beyond the old 10-round limit.

  • Registration At Last!||

    But you would need ten 10-round magazines to equal one 100-rd drum. The bulk the shooter had to carry would be much larger.

    And I think you are greatly overstating the ease of switching out magazines every 10 rounds during a shooting spree.

  • SIV||

    Use your real name, pussy.
    wait for the ballistics report. Like Columbine the shotgun was the more effective weapon.

  • Registration At Last!||

    1) You first.

    2) I suspect you may be right about the shotgun.

  • Registration At Last!||

    But the pistol is also in contention.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    So you're admitting that the "assault weapon" was not remarkably destructive.

  • Registration At Last!||

    I'm waiting on the facts.

    How about you?

    If the large majority of the casualties were inflicted by the weapon with the 100-rd drum, will you reconsider your views? Of course not. Evidence that supports your pre-conceived notions will be welcomed. Evidence that goes the other way will be discarded; rationalized away.

  • BC||

    Further gun restrictions, vigorously enforced by the police, would have further constrained his choice of weapons.

    Citation needed.

    I am not saying we should ban assault or high-capacity weapons

    There is no such thing as an "assault or high-capacity weapon".

    "Assault weapons" is a made-up category consisting of military-look semi-autos. The category was invented by gun controllers expressly to mislead low-information voters into believing the gun controllers were talking about banning fully-automatic military weapons, as opposed to semi-auto sporting rifles that only resemble military weapons.

    Similarly, there is no such thing as a "high-capacity weapon." Semi-auto weapons do not have a capacity. Semi-auto magazines have a capacity, and occasionally a bunch of intensely stupid people try to whip up pants-shitting hysteria about magazines which hold more than 10 rounds.

  • General Butt Naked||

    "Assault weapons" is a made-up category consisting of military-look semi-autos.

    Yeah, they included barrel shrouds in the ban with no goddamn rational behind it.

    See here for a laugh. Or cry, considering this is a lawmaker.

  • Registration At Last!||

    Gee, if only there was a reputable publisher on firearms who could tell us about what counts as an "assault weapon".

    And if only there was a way to design guns to only accept 10-round magazines.

    Your fulminations over empty semantics shows how substantively barren your position is. What is more, you are not even right on the semantics. High-capacity weapons are weapons that accept high-capacity magazines (usually detachable). DERP!DERP!DERP!DERP! "Assault weapon" is a legitimate designation of combat-style guns that accept high-capacity magazines.

    My own view is that these weapons are constitutionally protected and should remain civilian-legal. But that does not mean there is no legitimate debate to be had, and it does not mean that it is technically impossible to deny these classes of weapons to the civilian population, and it does not mean that anybody who disagrees with your strident and indignant viewpoint is, perforce, and "idiot."

  • General Butt Naked||

    So what was the definition given by the random book you found on Amazon?

  • Registration At Last!||

    "Gun Digest" has been an authoritative reference on the American firearms market since the 1940s. You would know that if you weren't some fake-a##ed faker who learned everything you know about guns from playing "Counterstrike."

    "Random"? There have been five editions of that book, the earlier ones pre-dating the 1994 ban. They provide in-depth analysis of dozens of combat arms, both civilian and government. "Assault weapon" wasn't started as a gun-control epithet. It was a marketing term used by the gun industry itself, before the blow-back got bad enough to make them rethink use of the term.

  • BC||

    What is more, you are not even right on the semantics. High-capacity weapons are weapons that accept high-capacity magazines (usually detachable).

    Wrong. Weapons do not magically become "high-capacity" merely because they accept magazines that exceed some arbitrary, politically-correct size limit, notwithstanding the efforts of politicians and ideologues to corrupt the language.

    Assault weapon" is a legitimate designation of combat-style guns that accept high-capacity magazines.

    Wrong again. It has never been a legitimate designation, only ever a political one, as evidenced by your attempt to define the category as consisting of "combat-style guns that accept high-capacity magazines." The only way that definition is accurate is if you define any gun which shares certain aesthetics with military rifles as being "combat-style", and, again, if you define any magazine that exceeds an arbitrary, politically-correct size limit as being "high-capacity." It's rank dishonesty, and your handwaving of that lie as mere "semantics" is pretty revealing.

    If you dislike being called an idiot, perhaps you ought to stop saying manifestly idiotic things.

  • CE||

    I would define assault weapons as arms of military usefulness to a standard foot soldier. The sort of weapons the second amendment was intended to protect individual ownership of.

  • BC||

    You're wrong, too.

    "Assault rifle" is a category of longstanding legitimacy, consisting of select-fire rifles that chamber intermediate cartridges.

    "Assault weapon" is something that gun controllers made up out of whole cloth, and applied to military-look semi-auto sporting rifles. They did this because, with an assist from a media sympathetic to the gun control agenda, low-information voters could be relied upon to confuse those weapons with bona fide machine guns.

  • General Butt Naked||

    This argument was had last night, and commenter John swore up and down that and assault rifle can be semi-automatic; others insisted that the gun had to have a selector switch(3burst, full, semi).

    John seems to know his history so I don't disagree outright, but I am dubious.

    Everyone agrees on the intermediate cartridge size, though.

  • Registration At Last!||

    "Battle rifles" are full-size cartridge and can be semi.

    Assault rifle has always designated select fire.

    "Assault weapon" is a much more generic term. ("Assault pistol" is an uncommon sub-category term.)

    "Assault weapon" is not a a perfectly precise term, but it is no more vague or protean than other common firearms terms like "carbine" or "varmit gun" or "combat shotgun."

  • CJR||

    Uh, no. Holmes was constrained by his own abilities. He's a 24-year-old grad student - he wouldn't have the first idea where or how to get a black market machinegun.

    I could have one, cash and carry, before noon tomorrow.

  • DJK||

    Lol. Care to share?

  • LarryA||

    Ask any friend who uses pot for an introduction to his dealer. Ask the dealer for a gun. He'll sell you one or put you in contact with someone who will.

    Black market is black market.

  • Registration At Last!||

    No.
    He.
    Won't.

    Machine guns have been very effectively eradicated from the underground gun market by law enforcement. Your chances of getting one through a "pot dealer" are miniscule.

    On the other hand, if you try such a dumb stunt, your chances of getting set up by a pot dealer who trades informant tips to law enforcement in exchange for latitude in his retail drug activities is astronomically large.

  • Generic Stranger||

    You know what else are completely illegal to manufacture and obtain? Bombs. You know what that fucker had a lot of? FUCKING BOMBS. If prohibitions didn't stop this fucker from MURDERING people and building bombs, it sure a shit wouldn't have stopped him from obtaining an illegal firearm.

    And if he couldn't obtain a gun, he'd have bombed the theater instead. Somehow, I doubt that'd have driven the body count down any.

  • Registration At Last!||

    The logic of your argument is that it is futile to outlaw civilian ownership of military satchel bombs and claymore mines, so we should legalize it all.

    Somehow, I don't think your argument will hold up to scrutiny.

  • blackjack||

    The North Hollwood shootout involved illegal machineguns. Those guy wore actual armor, as well. I was evacuated all damn day in that incident.

    Mass murder is a world wide phenomena, and where guns are outlawed, either illegal guns or knifes, cars, bombs, etc. are used. Crazy people cannot be stopped with crazy laws. The best thing we can do is encourage more guns and discourage gun free zones.

    Outlawing something does not make it disappear. People will disobey unjust laws, as they have proven via prohibition, the WOD, driver licensing, taxation, etc. You will merely succeed in diminishing respect for the law (even further!)

  • General Butt Naked||

    I've heard the north hollywood shootout be mentioned a few times in the past couple of days by gun control advocates as evidence of the need for harsher laws.

    As your post points out not only were the guns they used already, and still, illegal, but in spite of all the armor and weaponry they possessed there were only two casualties; the robbers.

  • Drake||

    The North Hollywood guys couldn't shoot worth a damn. Maybe because they were in Hollywood, they confused volume of fire with actually hitting a target. A couple of actual shooters with bolt-action hunting rifles would have slaughtered a lot of people that day.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Very true. Which further demonstrates that guns aren't magical items that mere possession of turn one into a killing machine.

  • Registration At Last!||

    The North Hollywood shooters were not trying to rack up a body count. They were trying to get away; trying to cover their escape with bank money. If they had started the day with the intent to just kill people until stopped, there would have been a lot of deaths.

  • Drake||

    Registration At Last! - I call Bullshit.

    Gasoline, powdered soap, the components of black powder are all legal. The chemical knowledge of a medical student and a little ingenuity could have killed many more people with this stuff.

  • Registration At Last!||

    Maybe. But for some reason, he chose the guns instead. And he used a civilian-legal arsenal, even though, over the course of a few months, a guy that smart could probably put together a full-auto weapon with off-the-shelf components a little shop work.

    Why is that?

    It's because assault weapons are the Ramen Noodles of mass murder. They don't make it possible, but they do make it cheap, quick, and easy.

  • LarryA||

    There is no vast covert underground market funneling full-auto arsenals to every two-bit street gang in Podunk U.S.A.

    There will be a week after the ban.

  • Registration At Last!||

    There already is a ban on full-auto, and it hasn't happened yet.

  • triclops||

    We just need to pass gun laws to make us feel like we are doing something, regardless of it working or not.

    It is paramount we subdue the cognitive dissonance of progressives who want to feel like they care about this, but don't want to actually do anything. By passing laws, they can continue to care about a shooting for 2-3 days and move on, because "someone has done something" about it.

  • albo||

    Further gun restrictions, vigorously enforced by the police, would have further constrained his choice of weapons.

    Yeah. That "vigorously" you dropped in there is really going to go over well with everybody here.

    Add "vigorously" and "today's target owns restricted guns that we need to seize" and the result is police state.

  • Drake||

    Result is a civil war.

  • General Butt Naked||

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Funny, that's kinda how Brits sound to me, except they're way more retarded.

  • General Butt Naked||

    I just thought it was strange because it sounds like they should be saying something, but it's all nonsense. Kinda like our wonderful president...

  • The Bearded Hobbit||

    So I come home and all my guns are on the kitchen table and I'm like, "Where'd you go?" and they're like, "Nowhere" and I'm like, "What did you do?" and they're like, "Nothing". Jeez, you take your eyes off of them for, like, one second and they're all off doing stuff on their own.

    I hate when that happens.

    ... "Well-heeled" Hobbit

  • General Butt Naked||

    "An officer's gun accidentally discharged killing six school children; the weapon is currently on paid administrative leave awaiting the results of an internal inquiry..."

  • General Butt Naked||

    DeeCee mayor spends entire interview fellating China. You can feel the yearning for tyranny in his words. The fuck.

  • ant1sthenes||

    He references a Tom Friedman book. The fuck, indeed.

  • General Butt Naked||

    The mayor's busy on china's nuts and friedman gets the shaft.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Gun control lobby poll: NRA members want more restrictions.

    Either this thing is a push poll worded really fucked up, or some people are wasting their money on an NRA membership.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Not to mention that the restrictions being pushed for would of still let Holmes buy the guns he did.

  • Drake||

    Most of the stuff in the poll already exists in some form - the rest is nonsense.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Yep. And I keep hearing this 'terror watch list' bullshit coming up. First of all, dude wasn't on any watch list, secondly there's no due process there; you can't just make up an arbitrary list and deny people their constitutional rights. Then again, the hoops the SC will jump through to allow tyranny seem innumerable.

  • ant1sthenes||

    It doesn't say they favor more restrictions, it just conveniently lets the reader insert that word themselves. Yes, many NRA members are fine with criminal background checks. That doesn't mean they would be fine with ammo sale limits or renewing the assault weapon ban or whatever bullshit the gun grabbers want.

  • Drake||

    I like this one: "requiring gun retailers to perform background checks on all employees"

    Do they mean just the people behind the gun counter, or the janitor in a Walmart that sells guns?

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