The terrible massacre committed by a mentally-disturbed man in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday has prompted lots and lots of calls for gun control in the United States, as well as some calls for more help for the mentally ill.
There are some problems with both suggestions. First of all, the evidence shows that certain “treatments” for the mentally ill — specifically, SSRI antidepressants — are associated with shooting sprees. A 2006 study in the UK showed that antidepressants can cause severe violence in a small number of individuals. It is possible that increasing the screening and “treatment” for mental illness may result in more incidences of severe violence due to adverse reactions to antidepressants. (On the other hand some therapies like psychotherapy, music therapy, and art therapy might help certain individuals, but these are almost certainly less profitable for big pharma…)
But what about gun control? There is little doubt that in the coming years the gun-show loophole will be closed and Canadian-style longer waiting periods will be introduced. Semi-automatic weapons may well be banned. Buyback programs may be attempted. The Supreme Court might well even be stacked to achieve a majority that interprets away individual gun rights.
But America already has huge quantities of guns, far more than anywhere in the world:
The vast majority of America’s 285 million guns are in Republican states, which are unlikely to be disarmed easily, even with an overwhelming Federal consensus. Some might even try to secede from the Union.
And as the experience of many other countries including Britain and Australia shows, criminals and those with violent intent will still be able to get guns (the only people who will be disarmed are the law-abiding majority).
This trend is only likely to grow in coming years as technologies such as 3D printing make it possible for anyone with a 3D printer and an internet connection to potentially print a gun (and eventually, bullets):
Imagine an America in which anyone can download and print a gun in their own home. They wouldn’t need a license, a background check, or much technical knowledge, just a 3D printer. That’s the vision a cadre of industrious libertarians are determined to turn into reality.
Last week, Wiki Weapon, a project to create the first fully printable plastic gun received the $20,000 in funding it needed to get off the ground. The project’s goal is not to develop and sell a working gun, but rather to create an open-source schematic (or blueprint) that individuals could download and use to print their own weapons at home.
The technology that makes this possible is 3D printing, a process during which plastic resin is deposited layer by layer to create a three dimensional object. In the past few years 3D printers have become increasingly affordable, and just last week the first two retail stores selling 3D printers opened in the United States with models ranging from $600 to $2,199.
How is it possible to regulate that away? Ban 3D printing? Ban the distribution of gun schematics? Costly, damaging to liberty, and ineffective. The failed war on drugs makes this very clear — prohibition doesn’t work. Guns — like drugs — are a reality that society cannot just eradicate by passing laws. The mood has changed — America will try gun control. It won’t work — and may just make things worse. I wish we lived in a world without guns, but we don’t.
But there is a way forward. Very many of the mass shooters in the last two decades have a history of antidepressant use. If we want to stop mass shootings, maybe we should look at that.
And if we value life and are opposed to violence against innocents, why do we demand action when 27 innocent Americans die, but not when larger numbers of innocent Pakistanis, or Afghanis or Yemenis die? One drone strike in Pakistan killed 69 children, dwarfing the impact of the Newtown massacre. With predator drones now in American skies, how long until the “collateral damage” (remember — the NDAA declared the entirety of America as a battlefield) eclipses the Newtown massacre? Or how long until a foreign power or terrorist group hacks into a predator drone (technically feasible) over America and uses it as a flying bomb? And how many more terrorist attacks against America will be fuelled by anger derived from the civilian casualties of the drone wars?
Obama might cry for Americans in Newtown, but where are his tears for the Pakistani and Yemeni children he has slaughtered? And what about for the many victims who died as a result of thousands guns shipped by the US government to the Mexican drug cartels via Fast and Furious?
America might be ready to implement gun control. I wish America was ready to implement drone control.