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The Colorado Massacre, Gun Control,
and the Law of Large Numbers

by Michael Shermer, Jul 31 2012

It is too soon to tell what the motive was behind the accused James Holmes’ mass murder in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, especially now that he has stopped talking to the authorities in charge of his case. Reports about his personality, thoughts, and behaviors from friends, fellow students, professors, and the police are conflicting. He was smart, brilliant in fact. No, he wasn’t; he was a sub-standard student who dropped out of his doctoral program at the University of Colorado after failing a preliminary exam. He was a quiet man who said nothing to indicate he was on the verge of cracking. Also not true; he left an incoherent and rambling voice message on the phone service of a gun club he wanted to join, the owner of which noted: “It was this deep, guttural voice, rambling something incoherent. I thought, ‘What is this idiot trying to be?’.” He rigged his apartment with explosive devices but then warned the police about them after his capture. Initial reports described the event as spontaneous and random, but he mailed a notebook to his psychiatrist at his university describing in detail with diagrams precisely what he (pre)planned to do.

It may be months before we have any clue to his mind and motive. And short of something obvious like a brain tumor pressing against his amygdala (the brain’s emotion center)—similar to that in the brain of Charles Whitman, the University of Texas bell tower shooter who in 1966 killed 14 people and wounded 49, including himself, after leaving a note to authorities to autopsy his brain because he felt there was something wrong—we may never know the motive behind James Holmes murderous actions.

We do know something for certain, however, and that is that this will happen again…and again and again. The reason is the law of large numbers that I will outline below that are disturbing enough that it really is now time to rethink our gun-control laws to include the prohibition of semi-automatic assault rifles like those Holmes’ allegedly used to murder 12 and wound another 58 in a matter of seconds. Had he not had such weapons—possessing, say, only a pistol purchased for self-defense—the tragedy would surely have been lessened. Thus, even though I am a life-long libertarian who champions freedom in all spheres of life and has previously opposed gun-control measures in principle (I do not personally enjoy hunting or recreational gun shooting), I now believe that the freedom of a few people to own WMMs (Weapons of Mass Murder) conflicts with the freedom of the rest of us to enter the public sphere without the chance of our ultimate freedom of life itself being cut short. Here are a few figures that should give even the most freedom-loving libertarian and conservative pause.

First, there’s a good chance that James Holmes is schizophrenic, suffered from severe depression, or is a psychopath. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Schizophrenics account for about 1.1 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 18, with the onset of occurrence most likely in the early to mid 20s. Major depressive disorders strike about 6.7 percent of Americans over the age of 18. Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized by lacking empathy and guilt, shallow emotions and cold-heartedness, impulsivity and antisocial behaviors, and most notably criminality. According to University of Cambridge psychologist Kevin Dutton, author of the forthcoming book The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 16, 2012), whom I queried for this article, “estimates of the incidence of psychopathy tend to vary from 1–3 percent in men to 0.5–1 percent in women,” and in prison populations “around 50 percent of the most serious crimes on record—crimes such as murder and serial rape, for instance—are committed by psychopaths.”

As a back-of-the-envelope calculation, let us employ a figure of 2 percent across these three disorders (Schizophrenia, major depression, and psychopathy) for men only (since such mass murders are almost always committed by men)—by the law of large numbers the following calculations indicate that the Aurora tragedy is by no means a one-off event and that it will happen again:

The current U.S. population is approximately 314 million, about half of which are males, so if 2% of the 157 million American men suffer from one of these severe disorders, this results in a figure of 3,140,000. Most of these men are not violent; in fact, recent studies on psychopathy, for example, show that many are successful CEOs, politicians, and Wall Street traders and executives who employ their psychopathic personality traits of tough-minded and emotionless impulsive decision making to great effect in the rough-and-tumble world of business and politics. And most Schizophrenics and sufferers of severe depression are not violent. So let’s conservatively estimate that if only 1% of these 3,140,000 men commit any kind of violent act, this results in 31,400 acts of violence per year, a nontrivial number.

If only 1% of those violent acts involve murders, this leaves us with 314 unnecessary tragic deaths caused by psychopaths. And, finally, if only 1% of those murderous violent acts involves killing multiple people at once, this results in a rate of 3.14 Aurora-size mass murders per year in America, which is actually lower than the rate of around a dozen per year that we have been averaging the past half century, depending on what constitutes a mass murder (school-shootings alone that amount to more than one killed in one event happen on average once a year in the U.S.).
Again, it’s too early to say whether or not Holmes was a Schizophrenic, suffered from severe depression, or was a psychopath, and the specific figures of how many mass murders there are per year vary across different data sets, but my point is a larger one: A large-numbers analysis allows us to understand on a societal-level scale why such events happen randomly and without any specific cause common to all (drugs, gangs, bullying, depression, psychopathy, psychosis, violent video games, and the like). History and population demographics for rates of mass murder show that Aurora-size events are going to happen again and again and again, and there is no way to predict who is going to do it, where, or when. (With the possible exception of a national database that tracks and alerts authorities to the purchase of mass quantities of guns and ammunition by private citizens.) All we know is that it will happen again—for certain.

Thus, damage control is the only option we have, if we want to do something about this tragic social problem. And by damage control I mean gun control. Specifically, I mean outlawing all automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles for anyone who is not in law enforcement or the military. When the Second Amendment was written stating that citizens have a right to “keep and bear arms,” rifles took over a minute to load one bullet at a time. The most crazed 18th century American could not possibly commit mass murder because no WMMs existed at the time.

My fellow libertarians are likely to see this as another loss of freedom, but I disagree. The principle of freedom states that all people are free to think, believe, and act as they choose, so long as they do not infringe on the equal freedom of others. But the freedom for me to swing my arm ends at your nose. The freedom for you to own any gun you like is in conflict with my freedom to interact freely with my fellow citizens in public spaces when so many madmen mingle among us. We should ban assault weapons of all kinds. We already disallow private citizens to own nuclear weapons, missiles, grenade launchers, and the like. WMMs that can be secreted into a movie theater should be categorized among those we can no longer tolerate. This is no loss of freedom. It is, in fact, an increase in freedom—the freedom to move about our living spaces without fear of being gunned down in cold blood.

If you think I am exaggerating, or that my calculations are nothing but mathematical hyperbole, just consider the case of Aurora victim Jessica Ghawi, who was almost gunned down in a shopping mall in Toronto in another public shooting the month before, after which she reflected on her blog: “I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath.”

436 Responses to “The Colorado Massacre, Gun Control,
and the Law of Large Numbers”

  1. gski says:

    O.P. “…he mailed a notebook to his psychiatrist at his university describing in detail with diagrams precisely what he (pre)planned to do.”

    O.P. “… there is no way to predict who is going to do it,…”
    There seems to be a conflict here. Why not a national campaign to educate people to the signs we do know about and to take them seriously.

    Also I don’t understand what “mass quantities” means. A killer only really needs one gun and a sportsperson at the range, can easily fire 200 rounds, far more than needed for a mass killing.

    There is too much polarization (not in the O.P. but in general), we need both sides to stop the BS, sit down and figure out what we can agree on and what steps would be effective and fair.

    • Daniel says:

      “There seems to be a conflict here. Why not a national campaign to educate people to the signs we do know about and to take them seriously.”

      Nice idea in theory, but is loaded (no pun intended) with problems. First off, “national campaign[s]” to educate people on anything are almost always a colossal waste of time. At best, they’re effective in getting people to stop engaging in certain behavior like smoking or driving drunk. Once you get into the realm of trying to get people to affirmatively do anything, say volunteering for community service or be an involved parent, people stop listening.

      “Mental illness” also becomes a vague concept once you veer away from the obvious stuff like schizophrenia. People get diagnosed with clinical depression or attention deficit disorder for behavior that most would consider normal under the circumstances. It’s very easy to imagine a scenario where people who passionately believe in gun control will start labeling people with eccentric world-views (“preppers”, conspiracy theorists, hermits) or even relatively mainstream, but strange beliefs (creationism, scientology, belief in ancient aliens) as “mentally ill.” A very real-world example are these “studies” that pop up from time to time that label climate change skepticism as a mental disorder. Soon databases are collected that keep track of all people who others have unjustifiably labelled being mentally ill.

      Law of unintended consequences is indeed a bitch.

    • MadScientist says:

      Yes, but people who are not familiar with weapons have such unrealistic views of them. Someone who’s trained well only needs 1 handgun and multiple magazines; using 18-round magazines and a G-Lock, you can reload so quickly that you can just walk around shooting the nearest people with only a split second interruption as you shake off the empty magazine and plug in the new one. After all, very fast reloading was one of the designed features. Personally I would ban self-loading rifles and high capacity magazines (say, no more than 5 rounds per magazine). For handguns, 8 rounds should do and weapons for civilians may need modifications to prevent rapid reloading, such as manufacturing without the features to hold the breech open when the last bullet is fired.

      • Mathew says:

        Well said, What people forget is; a sport shooter (like my wife and myself) can easily shoot 10 rounds, reload and accuratly spit out another 10 in far less than 15seconds. The equipment is not really the issue, it is the mental capacity of the population, how we identify and how we treat it.

        I do not have a solution, because the simple answer is some sort of national mental health registry, and the thought of that makes my skin crawl.

        Removing the stigma of mental health issues is far more difficult, yet far more important, and I suspect, would be far more effective.

      • oldebabe says:

        What you say makes good sense, so probably won’t happen.

      • double-helical says:

        Unfortunately, it doesn’t make good sense at all. Please read my post below.

      • MrMike says:

        Good points!

        Actually, perhaps banning ‘clips’ all together would be the trick. My sniper rifle (ok, it’s Ruger 308 with a Burris scope) only holds, at most, 4 rounds. That’s it, can’t add any more due to the way the gun is designed. It’s also bolt action.

        I suppose someone has already done some math, but there should be a total based upon the number of times a rifle can fire, the total number of bullets it can fire before reloading, and the total time it takes to reload. Calculate that to be something reasonable.

        Most of the die hard gun nuts I know are saying “I need all this firepower in case the government goes bad…” Nice idea, but, realistically – look at how the middle east is playing out – they have full auto, and without outside help, they’re toast.

        Gun owners also need to understand that by just having a gun in their homes increases the chance for gun violence. Is it a deterrent? Probably for some – but it’s also a draw.

      • Jeff says:

        I disagree with what you expect to be the success rate of a violent revolution, but I have a question:

        Does the difficulty of the task obviate the prerogative of doing it?

      • Dean says:

        What MadScientist proposes is pretty much what we have in Canada.

        Semi-auto rifles and shotguns are limited to 5 round magazines. (Exception: rimfire rifles have no capacity limit).

        Handguns are limited to 10 rounds per magazine.

        For any purpose other than killing lots of people quickly these capacities are more than adequate.

      • double-helical says:

        I disagree completely with the notion that magazine capacity limits are wise, necessary, or effective. These types of restrictions penalize the large majority of honest citizens in the vain hope of deterring a bad actor. There are several logical fallacies here, the main one being that criminals will obey the “reasonable” laws that you propose. By definition, they do not. Suppose the tables were turned, and a “good guy” is the only one standing between a lunatic or three and a group of innocents. If the criminals are allowed any type of firearm or magazine, and the good guy only has five bullets, who will prevail? Would you ask the police to only have five rounds? Then why ask the law-abiding armed citizen to assume a handicap because it makes you feel safer? For that is the only “benefit” that such laws will provide you: a false sense of security. Take the time to think this through.

      • scott says:

        And yet there are many societies which have complete bans on citizens owning guns and yet they generally have few if any such massacres. The scenario you depict may seem logical to you, but it just doesn’t play out all that often in real life.

      • Student says:

        The “Good Guy” is a bit of a myth that gets trotted out. Yes, people can use guns to save themselves and others. They can also make things worse. What if you have two “Good Guys”, and one is already shooting at your “Bad Guy”? How does he choose who to shoot at?
        More to the point: Why does the criminal have any weapon?
        1) Owning such weapons is dangerous to him, he could be arrested for possessing them.
        2) Their expense makes them prohibitively hard to get for muggers or general “crazed gunman” types.
        3) They have to deal with far worse criminals to get them.
        Moreover, why is it that more than 5 rounds would be needed by the “Good Guy”? Are we talking a full on gang war breaking out, and he needs bullets for each of them? at what point do hypothetical numbers of targets present a valid reason to extend the magazine size? And what does this do to prevent their misuse?

        For an actual example of the effect that limiting firearms has, look to Australia. Yes, organised crime still manages to get weapons. And they usually end up being used on other criminals, because it’s not worth it to waste their weapons on civilians.

      • markx says:

        I suspect ‘double helical’ has digested too many bad Hollywood action movies …

        You know: The scenario of 1000s of shots being fired before the bad guy is the only one to be (seriously) injured whilst the whole time the good guys all know exactly which are the bad guys and somehow the good guys are only ever wounded in peripheral body parts yet are able to keep shooting …. and autos with 30 shot magazines (3 seconds of firing) somehow keep firing for 30 of 40 seconds with no reloads and ..

        Real life is perhaps messier and more confusing… more people with more magazine capacity won’t clarify such a situation,but trying to restrict magazine capacity of readily available sporting firearms will undoubtedly help, more so if fixed magazines (ie hand load each cartridge) are required.

      • Karolus says:

        Indeed you will not prevent “the criminal element” from possessing such guns. But these killings are not carried out by this criminal elements. If your average Joe or Jane has no access to such (or, quite frankly, ANY) guns, the number of killing sprees and resulting deaths will go down. If that is a logical fallacy, I’ll have to give up being a sceptic.

      • double-helical says:

        I’m sorry to have to tell you that it is a logical fallacy — but don’t stop being a sceptic as a result! “If your average Joe or Jane has no access to such (or, quite frankly, ANY) guns, the number of killing sprees and resulting deaths will go down.” The logical fallacy is the “unstated major premise,” which in this statement is that the number of deaths that can be expected to occur is directly correlated to the number of firearms available. Steven Pinker’s latest book, “The Better Angels of our Nature,” thoroughly documents how, world-wide, the violence of the past was enormously greater than today, even though for most of that time period there were no firearms at all. Indeed, Pinker’s conclusion is that we are living in an unprecedented era of very little violence, on average. If I remember the quote correctly, at one time (I believe it was in Europe) one’s chances of being murdered were about 1 in 4. 25%! Although it doesn’t seem like it sometimes, we do live in a peaceful world compared to the one that our ancestors lived in. To address your contention that eliminating firearms (even if possible) would eliminate lunatic killing sprees, note that one doesn’t need firearms to kill people. The following are only anecdotes, of course. That was why I preface my remarks with the mention of Pinker’s book. Nevertheless, (from Wikipedia): “The Happy Land fire was an arson fire that killed 87 people …, on March 25, 1990. … Julio González, whose former girlfriend was employed at the club, was arrested shortly after and ultimately convicted of arson and murder.” All he needed was a scofflaw nightclub and gasoline. On the other hand, effective defense usually requires modern weapons. Recently, a old man prevented any killings by taking action: In the former case, no firearms and one lunatic resulted in 87 deaths. In the latter case, one legally armed citizen foiled the plans of two criminals and potentially saved the lives of numerous patrons of the cafe. Anecdotal, of course. Criminologist Gary Kleck has observed that firearms are used for self-defense in this country more than five times as often as they are used to commit crimes. Most of the time, it is the mere possession of a firearm that thwarts the criminal, and no shots are fired.
        Recall that only a tiny fraction of humans give in to their lunacy or psychopathy and commit these kinds of acts. A far larger number of people, at least in the United States, depend on firearms for personal protection and defense of their homes and families. The vast majority of such armed individuals live their lives peacefully and never have to use or even draw their weapons. But, to deprive such individuals of their lawful and inherent human right to self-defense, on the off chance that maybe, just maybe, for once, a ban will actually work, is, I submit, illogical in the extreme.

      • double-helical says:

        First logical fallacy: ad hominem attack.

        Quoting your post: “Real life is perhaps messier and more confusing… more people with more magazine capacity won’t clarify such a situation, but trying to restrict magazine capacity of readily available sporting firearms will undoubtedly help,…”

        Another logical fallacy: unstated major premise, used twice. First: “more people with more magazine capacity…” The unstated major premise is that it is demonstrably true that modern firearms with extra ammunition will not help the citizen in the quest for adequate self-defense.

        Second: “trying to restrict magazine capacity of readily available sporting firearms will undoubtedly help…” The unstated major premise is that the number of deaths that can be expected to occur is directly correlated to the legal magazines available. A corollary to the argument is that, rather than the actuality, even the attempt (“trying to restrict…”) to restrict magazine capacity will yield the desired results. The two logical fallacies used together in the paragraph reinforce one another.
        The argument thus becomes just another, “well, it’s plain to see, to anyone with common sense…” argument. Common sense is not science. Emotion is not logic. Please take the time to think it through.
        No one here is advocating that everyone must be armed. Rather, I, and others, are saying that “feels right” laws should not be enacted, willy-nilly, in an attempt to prevent a calamity, when they have not been shown to be effective. Moreover, a case can be made that such laws are counterproductive.

      • markx says:

        Thanks, Double H, for the reply.

        I apologise for the perceived ad hominem attack implying you spend much of to your time in movie theatres. I can see I was mistaken: It may be that you instead spend much of your time studying the philosophies and definitions of logical argument and practicing applying the art of obfuscation as applied to said definitions.

        (Disclaimer, this is my personal opinion only based primarily on a perusal of the writing and discussions of said commentator and I fully acknowledge I may be mistaken in this assessment. This statement is intended fully as an expression of personal opinion and is in no way intended to constitute an ad hominem attack on the obviously learned above mentioned person.)

        To more fully quote myself:

        “Real life is perhaps messier and more confusing… more people with more magazine capacity won’t clarify such a situation, but trying to restrict magazine capacity of readily available sporting firearms will undoubtedly help, more so if fixed magazines (ie hand load each cartridge) are required.”

        Now, I need to paraphrase you here before I reply as my simply mind needs to untwist your learned prose a little: On the first “logical fallacy”:

        “ “…Markx , you need to PROVE (statistically and beyond all doubt) that it will NOT in fact be BENEFICIAL to the average citizen to have modern firearms with high magazine capacity in his pursuit of self defence. PS, as I am the self appointed adjudicator in this case DO NOT mention darkened movie theartres, blinding tear gas or running screaming people in your discussion. And, DOO NOT mention the phrase common sense” or even “Blind Freddy could tell you that…”.

        OK, one point to you, Double H, Ya got me there. It is probably likely that had the troops at Rorke’s Drift been armed with high magazine capacity modern weapons those Zulus would have had a much less successful day. (Granted, not ‘general citizens” but I think a useful example should you be attacked in your home or anywhere else by 10,000 Zulu warriors. Note, should the Zulu warriors be armed with AK47s instead of Assegais, your relative advantage may possibly be negated).

        On the second “logical fallacy” regarding magazine capacity: Again, I paraphrase (a little, please correct me if I should misinterpret your meaning):

        “ “Markx, you are assuming that a lower magazine capacity will actually mean less shots can be fired, and less people killed in a given period of time, which is just a silly “common sense” sort of assumption to which people tend to leap – yo will need some statistical proof I’m afraid. And I WILL ignore your mention of fixed magazines which need to be loaded one cartridge at a time through the breech, and instead will LEAP JOYFULLY UPON your foolish use of the phrase “trying to…”, because Blind Freddy can see “trying” won’t actually achieve anything…(unless you succeed in your attempt then the whole situation changes…but there I fear I digress)…”.

        OK. Another point to you: “trying to…” won’t change anything. And although I have spent a lot of my life thumbing cartridges into single shot rifles and single barrel shotguns, and into fixed magazine rifles and into small capacity rifle magazines, and a very small part of my life slapping 20 or 30 shot magazines into auto and semi-auto rifles, I grant you I have no experience or indeed statistical proof that the latter are a more effective tool in killing large numbers of people.

        Common sense perhaps would indicate that military forces make use of modern weapons with large magazine capacity for the very reason that they ARE very useful for killing large numbers of people in an efficient and timely manner, so these firearms MAY in fact be more suited to the said task …

        … But, I see your “philosophy of argument” precludes the application of common sense.

      • Rick says:

        Agreed. Frankly, you don’t need a gun to kill lots of people. Why not ban envelopes, fertilizer and diesel, or gasoline and matches? I could devise ways to kill a dozen people in a movie theater that require no firearms at all. Fortunately, I am not the Joker, so I’m not going to act out these ideas to prove a sociopathic point.

        Personally, I see no harm in restricting access to assault weapons. I also see no benefit. People who collect them kinda worry me, but I don’t feel the need to have them arrested, just for being paranoid. I own a firearm. Just one, a shotgun. Am I simply less paranoid? Maybe so.

        A population of citizens with revolvers and deer rifles can still mount a revolution. That, I feel, is the key point of the 2nd Amendment.

  2. Webcopy Services says:

    Love history have wanted to read these.

  3. Max says:

    Korean store owners during the L.A. riots.

  4. Max says:

    “Specifically, I mean outlawing all automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles for anyone who is not in law enforcement or the military.”

    What about, say, armored truck guards?

    • MadScientist says:

      Those folks are already covered by different licensing regulations and they’re not allowed to take their weapons home, so outside working hours they shouldn’t have access to those weapons.

      • keddaw says:

        So, if someone wanted to use an assault rifle to do an Aurora-style attack they’d have to try to get a job riding an armoured truck? I’m so glad we have such stringent checks on who can get into those roles…

        I feel safer already.

  5. Max says:

    How hard would it be to get an outlawed assault rifle?

    • itzac says:

      If they were outlawed in all 50 states. Very. If you only have to travel one or two states over to get one, not at all.

      • Dhrubo says:

        Well, drugs are outlawed, yet they are found in all states. Aren’t they?

      • Scott says:

        Last time I checked drugs are illegal, hows that working? If you all recall Columbine happened during an “assault” weapons ban,Sooooooo…….

      • Mike says:

        Most of the firearms recovered from mexican crime scenes are either stolen from police departments in mexico, or from the military, or were sold by corrupt members of the same. Are you asserting that in your hypothetical that American criminals lack the ingenuity to simply steal or buy weapons as their Mexican counterparts have?

        Mexico proves that even national bans on all firearms don’t work.

      • twh says:

        Really? You mean like drugs?

      • Dhrubo says:

        Yup. And correct me, if I am wrong. Which state is clean?

      • scott says:

        I’ve lived in Korea and the UK, where guns are banned for citizens. It is relatively easy to get illegal drugs in both countries, and extremely difficult to get guns. itzac’s statement stands.

      • grrrr says:

        I’m not convinced of that. I’m not sure we can compare the US to the UK or elsewhere on this matter. I think the black market for illegal guns in America would grow like wildfire if guns were made illegal here. And removal of such a large legal market might actually increase the black market in other countries as well. I think there’s a high probability that we would look back on certain gun control decisions with hindsight remorse – “wow, we should have thought that through a little better…”

  6. Trimegistus says:

    Would more gun control have stopped Holmes from booby-trapping his apartment?

    He was ALREADY breaking a bunch of gun laws. He was a medical marijuana user which means he shouldn’t have had any guns anway under Colorado law.

    Jesus, Michael: tougher laws don’t matter to people who are committing crimes. This guy KILLED A BUNCH OF PEOPLE. Do you really think he gave a flying fuck about breaking laws?

    • Chris Howard says:

      Didn’t the guy in Colorado obtain his weapons legally?

      • shawmutt says:

        Yes, and only 1 was an “assault weapon”, and that failed after 30 rounds.

      • iateacat says:

        Only 30 rounds. So few..

      • MadScientist says:

        Yeah, which is why I never understood why the military went for the ARs rather than sticking to the very reliable M14. Well, OK, the ARs were much cheaper and didn’t weigh 16 pounds unloaded, and except for the elite shooters the general grunts can’t really shoot all that well anyway so an accurate weapon doesn’t give them any great advantages.

      • Mike says:

        His AR jammed because he ws using an aftermarket 100 round drum. Those drums are novelties, because they jam, all the time. There’s a reason we never used them in the military, they’re junk, they jam.

      • markx says:

        Guys ‘brought up’ with the M14 through their military training and deployment were often very reluctant to hand them in for the “plastic Mattel toy” that replaced it.

        That big thumping 30 caliber projectile would go straight through a 30 cm (1 foot) diameter tree and was not deflected easily by twigs and leaves … and it was an accurate rifle with greater range … though with more time spent lugging weight through mud and jungle than shooting, it may have been and easy decision for some…

        Australian forces faced a similar scenario with handing in their beloved 7.62 SLRs (lovely rifle, I’ve fired them on the range… but heavy!)

        As time went by soon M16s were all the soldiers (mostly) knew .. But, decades later many military forces are also following the NVA practice of also having one or two heavier caliber, long range accurate weapons in every unit.

      • Scott Jacobs says:


        Well, yes he went through the process one goes through to legally purchase a gun, but he lied on the forms (obviously – medical marijuana users should be able to buy the guns, and number of likely mental illnesses should have prevented the sales, etc).

        The problem we have, then, is that Patient Privacy laws prevent the checking of the truthfulness of such answers – you can lie about having been hospitalized for serious mental issues, but if you were never ARRESTED, then they have no way of knowing that you are lying.

        And before anyone says “well, thanks for that, NRA”, the NRA has pushed long and hard to have that changed. They don’t want the mentally ill to have guns any more than they want felons to have guns.

    • Ben says:

      Sounds like someone owns a gun and is afraid of having it taken away.
      I WILL NEVER understand the American fascination with owning firearms. I know this has come up before and I dont care, I will say it again: Guns (with the exeception of hunting rifles) serve a single purpose, to injure or kill. That’s it. There is absolutley no reason for anyone but the police and the military to own them.
      For all the people that insist they need guns for self-defense from the “bad guys”, has it ever occured to you that if guns were much harder to acquire for everyone, that the “bad guys” would most likely have a harder time acquiring them as well?

      • Daniel says:

        “There is absolutley [sic] no reason for anyone but the police and the military to own them.”

        You would have been a model citizen in Stalin’s Russia considering the first course of action in virtually all totalitarian regimes is to ban the private ownership of firearms.

        But beyond your misguided trust in the state, your point fails as a logical matter.

        By acknowledging that gun prohibition only gives the “bad guys” a “harder time acquiring” guns is a recognition that “bad guys” will indeed acquire them. In fact, someone who is determined to break the law to get one will almost certainly succeed regardless of how inconvenient one makes the process. When those people proceed to break into your home, it makes their job a whole lot easier knowing you can’t fight back.

        If you want to be a pacifist or profess your pseudo-enlightenment by choosing not to own a gun that’s your choice. I would just prefer it if you kept your snout out of my business and not have the state (that you trust all so much) deem me a criminal if I choose to own one, especially if there is no reason to suspect that I intend to use it to commit a crime.

      • Steve says:

        I totally agree with you Daniel! This occurrence in Colorado is just one more incident to piggyback on for those who would outright ban all firearms for U.S. citizens. Since when do these folks today know better than our founding fathers what was best for their vision of our country? I mean seriously? We were given the Bill of Rights as a means of protection to our freedoms and just because a few assholes along the way break the rules, we all have to suffer? No way! I’m no good ole’ boy but I do own firearms and carry permits and feel much safer knowing that should something occur, there are those of us who are law-abiding citizens that just might be in the right place at the right time to prevent something awful from happening. Michael Shermer is a brilliant scientist but please stick to science and forget the politics. It’s becoming rather unbecoming Mr. Shermer.

      • Pete Medina says:

        I would think criminals would break in when people aren’t home, so having a gun handy wouldn;t help.
        Sure a home invasion can happen, they will surprise you, also tough to keep a gun on you at all times at home.

      • Anne M Pierce says:

        Pete, as someone who has awoken to the sound of her front door being kicked in, I am Damn Glad I had a shotgun handy.

      • Student says:

        When you have to buy a gun illegally from criminals, using it for home invasions and muggings is a poor investment.

      • john says:

        “first course of action in virtually all totalitarian regimes is to ban the private ownership of firearms” I have heard this several times, but no one ever lists a statute number or date. I heard this said of Saddam’s Iraq, but then saw video of Iraqi citizens buying guns in the days leading up to the war.
        This accusation implies that totalitarian movements aren’t mass movements, but they are. The Nazis had little to fear from the majority of the German population by the time they achieved power. Why take guns from people who are going to support you? Even if it is only half hearted? Or based on habitual patriotism?
        And as for “determined” criminals, we know Holmes was determined enough to overcome the existing obstacles to doing what he did, but we don’t and probably can’t know if he had the determination to overcome any particular hypothetical obstacle. I’ve heard robbery victims justify leaving the door unlocked because if the thief really wants to get in, he will. Though alot more want it bad enough to open an unlocked door, than want it bad enough to break through that same door.

      • Bill says:

        Cocaine is illegal and has an entire Federal Agency dedicated to the eradication and enforcement of Federal laws involving it and other illegal narcotics. I don’t think many people have any trouble acquiring these illegal items.

      • BILL HOLLOWAY says:

        Ben, The writers of our constitution were smart enough to know that people have an inherent right to be able to defend themselves against anyone that comes to do them harm, whether that is indians or the british army or just ordinary criminal types. If there had been ONE person with a concealed weapon in that theater, police or civilian that shooter would have been stopped in less than a minute and MANY LIVES WOULD HAVE BEEN SAVED. I did not start carrying a gun until I was in my 40’s. I always thought these people were paranoid, so being an outside salesman I would start going into gun shops and asking the owners why they carried a gun. I went into 30 or 40 stores over 6 months and never got an answer that made me want to carry. Then an owner asked me if I had a spare tire in my car, of couse I did, he asked how many times I had to use it. I answered only 3 or 4 times in 20 yrs. He said when you need it it’s really nice to know it’s there. I have talked to many police officers that will tell you that if you need to take responsibility for protecting yourself and your family from those that would harm you. How would you feel if you were in that theater and your wife and children were killed by a crazy madman and you lived and would spend the rest of your life knowing you could have saved your family and many others if you had been licensed to carry a firearm. The argument that a law taking guns away makes us safer is wrong. Criminals don’t stop carrying guns because of a law. Cars kill people everyday, if we took all cars off the road nobody would die in car accidents. One of our founding fathers said when you give up a freedom for reasons of safety you deserve neither. JUST THINK ABOUT HOW YOU WOULD FEEL IF YOUR WHOLE FAMILY WAS KILLED WHILE YOU WERE WITH THEM AND YOU COULD HAVE SAVED THEIR LIVES AND MANY OTHERS. GUNS DON’T KILL PEOPLE, PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE. Guns make it easy for nut cases to kill and for us to stop them quickly. Before there were guns people killed with daggers and poison and rocks. The only way to stop this is to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR PROTECTING YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY.

      • Mike says:

        “For all the people that insist they need guns for self-defense from the “bad guys”, has it ever occured to you that if guns were much harder to acquire for everyone, that the “bad guys” would most likely have a harder time acquiring them as well?”

        Has it ever occurred to you that crimes are stopped all the time by law abiding gun owners, and not every attempt to kill innocent people involves a gun?

        Gun Carrying Man Stops Stabbing Spree in Utah

      • Phea says:

        Sorry Ben, but as a liberal, the last place I would want to live is where only the police and military were allowed to own guns.

      • scott says:

        And as a liberal, I’ve in two countries (South Korea and the UK) that do just that, and life was just fine.

      • Curt says:

        One person lived in two countries and didn’t get attacked. That obviously prooves that everyone is safe and that NO ONE DIES FROM BULLETS in those countries. Thank you for the concrete evidence.

      • scott says:

        No Curt, I’m not just reporting my own experience. The number of ALL people dying from guns in both Korea and the UK is far lower per capita than in the US. Those societies are simply safer, as are many others (among developed nations) that have enacted strict gun laws. The idea that outlawing guns would just leave criminals free to as they please is simply not founded.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        Sometimes a person needs the ability to kill or injure – e.g. when wild animals threaten their friends, family or animals. Even cute, cuddly deer can be very dangerous – especially when rutting – and waiting for the police to come deal with the problem isn’t usually an option when someone you love is being mauled. This isn’t just a problem for farmers and ranchers – you can find wild animals like Mountain Lions, Coyotes, and Deer in suburban areas (e.g. Palo Alto & San Jose) as well as in the exburbs. Many animals live off of trash and are becoming more and more bold when dealing with humans.

        I guess what I am saying is, the response to the cliche “Guns are solely for killing” is “Sometimes killing is needed.”

        [This is a separate issue from styles of guns and magazine capacities]

      • Dan says:

        You guys are all missing the point Ben is putting forward. Regardless of all your fallacious arguments, the fact is that in a country where it is harder to get guns, there are far less murders per capita than in a country where everyone bears arms. And this is not a hypothetical country. This country is contemporary Japan.

      • Anne M Pierce says:

        What about contemporary Switzerland where gun ownership is mandatory?

      • scott says:

        There are other factors involved in the murder rate of a country, but Dan (and Ben) are on the mark here. Make up all the hypothetical situations you want, but the facts are gun control generally works.

      • Curt says:

        Correlation does not equal causation. Quick to point out fallacious arguements and then offer another? Not helpful.

        How about we look at the change in violent crimes in Scotland or Washington, D.C., when handguns were outlawed?

      • Dan says:

        Indeed correlation does not equal causation is true, sorry for that. The best thing to be done in my opinion would be a study were one correlates the amount of guns with murder per capita for all countries in the world (the whole population is sampled). If the evidence shows any significant correlation (r^2 >0.09), be it linear exponential, logaritmic or polynomial, then we would have strong evidence that number of guns can explain a significant proportion of murders per capita.
        As controls do another study in parallel where you compare murders per capita with all other socioeconomic parameters you want (eg. average life expectency, size of the army, BMI, literacy, poverty, fertility, GDP, etc). My guess is that guns will be the most significant factor. Maybe such studies have been done already? Can you mine this data from or another statistics website?

      • Bill Benson says:

        It is patently ridiculous to assert that the only reason to own an gun, if you are not a hunter, is to injure or kill. Many gun owners have guns because they enjoy skeet shooting, sporting clays, target shooting or collecting firearms even if they are not hunters. You are expressing a personal opinion which you certainly are entitled to do, but we don’t make laws based upon personal likes and dislikes … and in the case of guns we should be looking first at the risk they pose to society and how best to limit that risk to an acceptable level. Drunk drivers kill more people than guns every year so DWI is a greater risk to society that the use of guns. Yet not many would say we should return to the days of prohibition.

      • Black Hole Sun says:

        “Drunk drivers kill more people than guns every year so DWI is a greater risk to society that the use of guns. Yet not many would say we should return to the days of prohibition.”

        You’re also more like to die in a car crash than a plane crash. It’s not the likelihood of something happening, but the damage a single event causes. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of a drunk driver killing 12 and injuring 58 more at once. Air accidents have the ability to kill hundreds of people at once, which is why aircraft have such tight safety regulations.

        I agree with your point about limiting the risk to an acceptable level. My question is, even if we agree assault rifles should be allowed, what purpose does a 100 round clip serve in that weapon?

      • Cal says:

        “I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of a drunk driver killing 12 and injuring 58 more at once.” Close:,_Kentucky_bus_collision

      • double-helical says:

        In case you haven’t checked the link, there were 27 deaths and 34 wounded by *one* drunk.

    • Lee Cooper says:

      I don’t think anyone was going to his apartment to watch Batman. The point is that he did infringe on other people’s right to not be shot at the movies.

      “Jesus, Michael: tougher laws don’t matter to people who are committing crimes. This guy KILLED A BUNCH OF PEOPLE. Do you really think he gave a flying fuck about breaking laws?”
      Are you saying that laws are useless because some people don’t follow them? Are we abolishing the law now? You can’t be serious with this argument. It’s not reasonable at all.

      • Curt says:

        He’s saying that making a law to ban guns only takes them out of the hands of law abiding citizens. Regardless whether a person has a criminal history, he/she becomes a criminal the moment he decides to purchase an illegal firearm. And if he wants said firearm, a law won’t stop him. That’s what makes him a criminal. So what are the laws improving?

  7. Daniel says:

    Kudos to Shermer for at least recognizing what an “assault rifle” actually is (semi-automatic and not a “machine-gun”). Or, as even some proponents of the assault weapons ban noted, they’re just scary looking rifles. When you know what they are, you can start to have a rational debate. (Gratuitous swipe at Prothero who doesn’t seem to be interested in that at all, other than to call someone who disagrees with him on anything a creationist climate-change denier).

    FWIW, I’m agnostic as to whether there ought to be a federal ban. There was nothing conclusive that suggested there was any decrease in violent murders because of the previous ban (would be very difficult to prove even if it did). They’re also very rarely used to commit these sorts of acts, which themselves are very rare.

    Even if there will be a noticeable effect on violent crime, I would still be hesitant for a national ban. As an initial matter, 99 percent of people who own an assault rifle, for whatever reason, are law-abiding tax-paying citizens. Even if a ban does not necessarily make criminals of them overnight, with any one-sized fits all prohibition, it gives federal agencies virtual carte-blanche to harass (and sometimes kill people — Ruby Ridge) who otherwise pose no threat to anyone. (You should read “Three Felonies a Day” to learn how the federal government can go after anyone it wants). By analogy, the LAPD could “solve” it’s gang problem in a few weeks, and save a lot of lives in the process, by simply rounding up and incarcerating all known gang members. People die because of due process, but of course, due process serves a more important purpose.

    The other thing I often hear is that no one “needs” an assault rifle to protect themselves. Even if you don’t include the argument that heavy weaponry is needed to protect against government tyranny, an assault rifle may come in very handy, say, in the event of a natural disaster or, say, a mass black out or economic collapse (which Prothero seems to think is around the corner since the neanderthal creationists control everything), where marauding gangs threaten your personal safety. There’s a great blog by an Argentinian gentleman that discusses how to survive an economic collapse, which includes being armed.

    Anyway, food for thought.

    • shawmutt says:

      “Kudos to Shermer for at least recognizing what an “assault rifle” actually is (semi-automatic and not a “machine-gun””


      “An assault rifle is a fully automatic rifle that uses an intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine, not to be confused with so called assault weapons.”

      Assault rifles have been heavily regulated since 1934.

      Learn your terms before wading into the debate. Just food for thought.

    • tmac57 says:

      There’s a great blog by an Argentinian gentleman that discusses how to survive an economic collapse, which includes being armed.

      Well,nobody would argue that it wouldn’t facilitate you using such a weapon to take what you want from others…so yeah, it would help you survive.

      • Daniel says:

        You’d be making a rational point if it were possible to eradicate guns from the planet. I imagine that has the same chances of success as those efforts to eradicate heroin.

        I’d also like to be as heavily armed as possible in case a gang with machetes comes knocking on my door to take all my stuff.

      • tmac57 says:

        No,I’m making a rational point even in the face of not being able to eradicate guns from the planet.That point being,that more and more arming of the populace means a greater capacity for guns to be used AND misused as people see fit.
        How comfortable would conservatives in the U.S. feel to discover that the Occupy Wall Street folks decided that there should be a big push for them all to acquire massive amounts of arms and related legal items,and set about training out in the woods on the weekends,while forwarding alarmist conspiracy emails to everyone they knew.
        Maybe they would relish that.Some of them do seem to be spoiling for a fight.

      • Daniel says:

        I would have no problem at all if Occupy Wall Street types (or Tea Partyers, Republicans, Democrats, Black Panthers, Aryan Brotherhood) chose to arm themselves for their own protection, subject to whatever reasonable restrictions (background checks, prohibitions on 50-calliber machine guns and the like) that we as a democratic society deem appropriate and subject to the Constitutional guarantee of the right to bear arms.

        If there’s evidence that, in the process of arming themselves, the Occupy types were actively plotting to storm the NY Stock Exchange guns blazing, they could and should be arrested and prosecuted for that. That’s an entirely different issue from whether they choose to arm themselves. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t presume one to be a criminal because they have beliefs different from mine and choose to protect themselves.

      • tmac57 says:

        I won’t call you old fashioned,just naive,if you think that most people aren’t wayyyy more comfortable knowing that their side (the good guys of course) are arming/readying themselves for conflict,as opposed to seeing the exact same behavior from their political enemies.
        But if you say so…OK.

      • Curt says:

        In order to restrict the freedom of the “bad guys” to arm themselves, we must also be prepared to restrict the freedom of the “good guys” to arm themselves. Rational decision makers are aware of this and usually consider passing laws with this in mind.

        If you’re going to call Daniel naive, please do so from a position based on something other than the way you think most people FEEL – something more like rationality and evidence.

    • nichole says:

      The “protect yourself from government tyranny” argument strikes me as incredibly naive. They have nuclear warheads on drones, you think it matters if you have a semi-automatic rifle or a handgun? You’re an irradiated meat smear either way.

      • Max says:

        See Arab Spring.

      • Scott Jacobs says:

        See “Iranian election revolt”

      • Another point of view says:

        Atomic weapons cannot be targeted at an individual and the residue would make it unlikely the government would use them against their own citizens.

        I own no weapons but would not want the government to know who owns them, it makes it too easy to decide which citizens to target if force is to be used to gain or keep power.

        Our founding fathers did not want to guarantee the right to bear arms so that they could hunt. That was a given. They wanted protection against their own government.

    • shawmutt says:

      *facepalm* I’m in agreement with most of what you said, except the opening.

      An assault rifle is fully automatic. An “assault weapon” is an arbitrary legal term and covers many different weapons.

      I too am getting sick of the “need” argument. Does someone “need” something before that person can get the right to do something?

      As an example–No one “needs” to drink alcohol, and it takes lots of lives in all sorts of unpleasant ways. Some countries ban it. We have firm regulations on it. The US even tried banning it in the 20’s. However, I enjoy the occasional drink. I act responsibly, and don’t do things I shouldn’t when impaired. Should my want to drink be taken away because a drunk got behind the wheel and killed a school bus full of kids?

      • Daniel says:

        Sorry about the “assault rifle” vs. “assault weapon” misnomer. Basically though, the point is that the guns the debate is centering around are semi-automatic rifles, i.e. scary looking rifles with high capacity magazines. Automatic rifles, I believe, are already largely banned and have been since the 1930s.

        Again, maybe there is no good reason to have such a weapon and private individuals ought not be allowed to have one. At the very least though, people ought to know what they’re proposing should be banned.

      • tmac57 says:

        Let’s consider the reverse case of your argument.
        Should we have ever banned fully automatic weapons?Some NRA members think not.
        Should we be able to own more dangerous weapons:Tanks,rocket launchers,grenades,mortars,
        missiles,fighter jets,nukes*…everyone will have their cutoff point,the debate should be what can most people agree to.
        There will never be 100% buy in from all concerned parties.

        *Years ago,during an interview about gun control on my local PBS station,when pushed,an NRA spokesperson made the assertion that maybe private parties SHOULD be able to have nuclear weapons.Wow!

      • Daniel says:

        Yes of course we draw lines, and it’s a difficult task to determine where to draw it, when you consider the unintended consequences (which you never really address).

        If you want to knock down strawmen about the question of whether an individual has a right to own an Abrams tank, a rocket launcher or nuclear weapon, more power to you.

        The argument before us is a ban on “assault weapons”. Most of the people who support such a ban don’t know what one is. And they generally don’t think about the unintended consequences of such a ban or whether it’ll have any real effect on crime beyond making the Mike Bloombergs of the world feel better about themselves for doing something about scary looking guns.

      • tmac57 says:

        Not making a strawman argument,merely describing that we are looking at a continuum of choices from a total ban on guns to the sky’s the limit approach that apparently some more extremes want.
        Do you think that it is fair to consider limiting the high capacity firearms in any way?

      • Student says:

        For someone who’s keen to define terms, you get them wrong frequently. You fail to understand what an assault weapon is as opposed to an assault rifle in the first instance before being heavily corrected, then you fail to understand what a straw man is, after which you immediately make your own logical fallacy for implying that the opinion of people who oppose you is a simple fear of a “scary looking gun”. You’re the one placing straw men now.

        If you want to fight the state, you’ll need to be able to hurt it. Such a case could be made that if you want weapons on the basis of resisting the state, rocket launchers and anti air weapons and even tanks are a something that people should have. The point is, most of those we accept are excessive, and everyone draws their line at a different point: Somewhere we sacrifice a freedom to own a different weapons, and that’s a point which will likely always be in contention. Unless you’re worried about “Scary looking” tanks?

      • Curt says:

        If this is about a numbers game, then why not restrict .22 caliber firearms since they are responsible for more deaths (by volume) than any other caliber?

        Tanks and rocket launchers don’t have to be legal for citizens to use them against a totalitarian government. At that point, the would-be rebels are outlaws and would then have nothing to lose by stealing the illegal weapons.

        Furthermore, they aren’t even required to mount an effective resistance in the first place.

      • Bob says:

        You know, I wish it were possible to have an argument on this issue without an idiot bringing up the laughably dubious “well, should we be able to own tanks or rocket launchers too” bullshit that infects every comment thread on the issue.

      • markx says:

        You know, Bob, I think it is an entirely relevant argument.

        Almost everyone in here seems to think that the genial citizenry should not be allowed to own mortars, shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, 50 caliber machine guns, 40 mm anti-aircraft guns etc. (perhaps because it would be too easy to kill people?)

        Then there is another group who think all of the above PLUS semi automatic military style rifles with large capacity magazines should not be allowed. But, concealable weapons including large magazine capacity autos (18 shots or more per mag these days?) are fine.

        And, further down the scale, those who think that
        all of the above, plus concealable weapons should be banned, but nice old style bolt and lever action hunting rifles and shotguns would be no problem (hell, I’m probably in that group, and I’d even accept non-removable magazines).

        Then you have the group who would ban everything. And they have a point as there is no excuse then for anyone to be buying ammunition or firearm accessories, the whole thing is just easier to enforce.

        So, constitutional arguments in mind, where SHOULD we draw the line in the sand?

      • Mike says:

        You might want to check the law again, you can in fact own and possess (although not in all states in the US):

        rocket launchers


        Armored cars
        Body armor
        And lots more stuff.

        And of course all of the above are made by privately owned companies and sold to the same police and military everyone seems to think have a lock on these things.

    • Paul says:

      “Even if you don’t include the argument that heavy weaponry is needed to protect against government tyranny…”

      If you think you and your assault rifle are somehow going to hold the military and the weaponry they possess at bay for any length of time, well, good luck with that.

    • Lee Cooper says:

      “99 percent of people who own an assault rifle, for whatever reason, are law-abiding tax-paying citizens.”

      And 100% of the people in that theater are presumed to be, as well. That’s the point. Why are the SOME (just talking about assault rifles, ammunition purchasing amts., & mag capacity limits here) guns rights more important than the rights to not be capped in the ass at the movies?

      • double-helical says:

        Mr. Cooper,
        Where did you get the notion that citizens have guaranteed protection against criminals at all times? Well-established legal precedent is that you do not. If you are a victim of crime, you cannot sue the police for not protecting you. They are physically unable to be everyone’s protector all the time. So, that’s why we have legal carry in almost every state. Only one armed citizen in that theater would have been necessary to end the “spree” with finality.
        I have been told (but have not confirmed) that the theater had a policy of banning all firearms. In my state, if I disregard a business policy and carry my firearm anyway, I am liable to civil and criminal penalties. So I either have to avoid such places or disarm myself.
        If the lunatic in Aurora was aware that the theater was a “gun-free zone,” (if indeed that was the case), then he knew that he would face no opposition. As has been said many times, these lunatics highly prefer “gun-free zones,” for, to them, it’s the best place to be.
        I will stipulate that not everyone needs to be armed. But I also submit that those of us with the inclination to refuse to be victims—and the determination to take a personal stand in that regard—should not be penalized or victimized by those who don’t understand or are scared of firearms, and who desire life in fantasyland where there are no psychopaths.
        Such places don’t exist.
        Psychopaths do exist.
        Don’t pass an ineffectual “feel-good” law that only makes it harder for honest citizens to defend themselves, and deters criminals not one whit.

      • Student says:

        I’m not going to try to take the rest of your rant on, but I will point out what’s obvious to everyone who’s got a bit of sense.

        “Don’t pass an ineffectual “feel-good” law that only makes it harder for honest citizens to defend themselves, and deters criminals not one whit.”

        The Aurora killer bought his weapons legally. It would have detered him to some extent to be unable to. Whether that stops him, or he trys to buy them illegally, and implication to the extent that “Guns are just as easy to get illegally” is a bold-faced lie.

      • double-helical says:

        To you, my well-reasoned reply was a rant? Hmmm.

  8. Jim Johnson says:

    Why don’t these things happen in Switzerland? You should read, “Why people believe weird things”

    • nichole says:

      They don’t? You should tell that to the people Friedrich Leibacher killed.
      oh wait.

    • shawmutt says:

      yet another 5 second google search:

      15 dead in Swiss shooting spree

      • Brett says:

        What’s interesting to me about that Swiss shooting is that their immediate response to it seems to have been “where did we go wrong in our security and how can we beef it up” rather than “zOMG BAN GUNS!!”

    • shawmutt says:

      Ugh, again, sorry, wish I could edit my posts here, but another point.

      “Vermont has very few gun control laws. Gun dealers are required to keep a record of all handgun sales. It is illegal to carry a gun on school property or in a courthouse. State law preempts local governments from regulating the possession, ownership, transfer, carrying, registration or licensing of firearms.[1]
      The term “Vermont Carry” is widely used by gun rights advocates to refer to allowing citizens to carry a firearm concealed or openly without any sort of permit requirement, however this term is being replaced by the term “Constitutional Carry”. Vermont law does not distinguish between residents and non-residents of the state; both have the same right to carry while in Vermont.”

      Why don’t these things happen in Vermont?

      • Scott Jacobs says:

        Because the odds are really good that several random citizens would draw down on anyone trying it.

        There is a reason 8 of the last 9 spree shooting in the US happen in places that didn’t allow people to carry weapons inside…

      • double-helical says:

        Mr. Jacobs,
        I’ve heard that statement from several places, but I have not been able to locate the relevant data. Do you have a link? I personally avoid “gun-free zones” for several reasons, among which is the fact that a bad actor could translate that sign as “target-rich environment.”

      • MadScientist says:

        The correct question is “why haven’t these things happened in Vermont yet?” and the answer is that’s just the luck of the draw.

      • shawmutt says:

        That argument could be used for anywhere, even where the strictest gun controls exist.

  9. Michael Brady says:


    By attacking us in one of our favorite and most vulnerable communal gathering places Holmes has wounded the American psyche unlike anyone since Cho or Harris and Klebold, maybe worse.

    Instead of pulling numbers out of the air I strongly recommend you read “Mass Murder in the United States: A History,” by Grant Duwe, Ph.D. I’d say more but the backfire effect is a powerful thing when emotions are high.

    As for the prohibition and confiscation of all self-loading firearms, the government you propose to do this for us is the very same one we don’t trust with the contents of a woman’s uterus, your computer’s hard drive, or a high school science text book. Now you propose to empower it to create a bureaucracy capable of searching every private place in America large enough to conceal an object the size of a paperback book? Again, emotions are high; we are in a state of communal fear, grief, and rage. It is a time to grieve, not to act.

    Be well.

    • Laura Simpson says:

      Mr. Brady,

      Thank you for posting this book recommendation. It looks very interesting and now have it on my reading list.

      I’d like to put in a “me too” in support of your comments above. James Holmes got a hold of the guns he used in the shooting in Aurora, but I don’t agree that it means we need tighter gun control laws. Even with tighter gun control laws Holmes would have found a way to commit an act of violence. Instead it would have been a homemade bomb (Oklahoma city) or he would have procured the guns illegally (Columbine). I don’t trust that more regulation is the answer.

      However, my own opinion regarding mental illness, we do not go far enough to recognize and treat mental illness. Our health care system is still woefully incapable of recognizing and treating mental illness, and until we have better treatment and prevention massacres such as the one in Aurora will continue.

      • Lee Cooper says:

        “I don’t agree that it means we need tighter gun control laws. Even with tighter gun control laws Holmes would have found a way to commit an act of violence.”

        So why is owning a tank, an RPG, and a Stinger missle system, or any number of weapons illegal? I mean, I could just waltz into a Walmart, grab a ‘slap chop’ right off the shelves and hack the cashier to pieces. Sounds reasonable to me. I’ll order that A1 Abrams from Amazon right now.

      • Michael Brady says:


        Ms. Simpson makes a fine point. Mental health problems are at the core of every mass murder regardless whether the killings are perpetrated with a truck bomb, a can of gasoline, a firearm, a knife, or a bathtub.

        So, in addition to banning/confiscating “WMMs that can be secreted into a movie theater” (repeating firearms that can be concealed on one’s person?) would you also endorse the legislation needed to roll back civil commitment precedents in order to make it easier for mental health professionals and local law enforcement agencies to promptly commit mentally ill persons against their will in the interest of public safety?

      • double-helical says:

        Ms. Simpson and Mr. Brady,
        I’m afraid that you are both misinformed about psychopathy. These people are not mentally ill. They are defective humans, in that they are born without the capacity to have empathy. They cannot be “cured.” They cannot be “treated.” They will always be psychopaths until the day they die. With practice, the slightly clever ones can fool any psychologist. I refer you to Martha Stout’s book “The Sociopath Next Door.” Mental health examinations will not keep some psychopaths from causing great harm. Fortunately, only a tiny minority are killers. Stout’s figures indicate that 4% of Americans are psychopaths. If there were a way to identify these people who would kill, and pre-emptively lock them up, I would be all for it. But there is no reliable way to do this at this time. By the way, there is no rule that says a psychopath can’t also have mental illess. Now, that’s a bad combination!

      • Michael Brady says:

        Dear double-helical,

        There is a world of difference between being psychotic and being a psychopath. I agree the latter cannot be treated, but I said nothing about treatment, only involuntary commitment in the interest of public safety. My reading suggests that violent psychopaths are more often serial killers, which is a completely different problem. Thanks for the recommendation on “The Sociopath Next Door.” It’s come up several times lately. I have a look at it.

    • Student says:

      The reasons have no relation to those you’ve compared it to. In fact, they’re barely related at all. More to the point: Making guns illegal doesn’t give them the right to search everyone. What nonsense is this?

      Even for illegal drugs, police cannot search you without reason. And nowhere did Shermer suggest giving them this power.

      • Michael Brady says:

        Dear Student,

        If Mr. Shermer is concerned with the inevitable product of the law of large numbers then what good is a ban on “WMMs” (an undefined yet emotion-laden term which might easily be applied to all semi-automatic rifles, shotguns, and handguns) if hundreds of millions of the offending devices are left in the hands of hundreds of millions of Americans?

        I really would like to know how Michael proposes to prohibit, outlaw, ban, or otherwise “no longer tolerate” semi-automatic firearms without a creating a substantial federal law enforcement bureaucracy to administer the program and then investigate and prosecute those who do not comply willingly with the law?

        We all want to prevent madmen from getting their hands on the means of mass killing. It’s easy to make empassioned pleas in the heat of the moment. It’s yet another to demonstrate that a particular solution would be effective. Even after we agree, there’s a lot of work needed to come up with an actionable plan.

  10. Carl says:

    I’m of two minds about this; Max and Trimegistus have already articulated my main concern. Will laws forbidding ownership of these kinds of weapons actually prevent criminals from getting their hands on them? This seems like a pretty important part of the equation, and I confess I’m disappointed that you didn’t even attempt to address it, Dr. Shermer.

    • MadScientist says:

      Career criminals are an entirely different matter and restrictive gun ownership laws will not necessarily have any negative impact on people who want weapons for home defense. If someone believes that they need a high-capacity self-loading rifle for home defense you have to ask them if there is any particular organized criminal gang after them and why they believe that such a weapon will help them at all. Within the home (unless perhaps you own a palace with spacious rooms), a handgun is the most practical weapon to use. Rifles will still be needed not so much for home defense as for hunting, but real hunters (as opposed to comic pretend hunters like Dick Cheney) have no need for anything more than a 3-round magazine except perhaps when training, in which case a small magazine is a big nuisance.

      At any rate, although strict gun control laws might not affect gang violence so much, they may save a few dozen more lives each year when dealing with nutjobs like Holmes. Although I support (in principle) the notion of the right of a well-regulated militia to bear arms (and for me, that role is currently met by the National Guards), and even Penn Jillette’s “violent overthrow of government”, the reality is that no impromptu self-proclaimed militia can withstand the US Armed Forces so people should dispel any delusions of arming themselves to overthrow an imaginary but imminent tyrannical government. There are people out there in the sticks with big guns and all who like to repeat that nonsense, but the government sees no reason to attack those groups and so they remain unmolested and creepily armed for armageddon. Tell you what, if any of those nuts decides to attack civilians we’ll see the government dispatch them pretty quickly.

      • Max says:

        I heard that within the home a shotgun is more effective than a handgun. Easier to aim and less deadly to distant bystanders.

      • Student says:

        I heard this one too. Most of us have a pretty distinct reaction to the sound of a pump-action shotgun, and they have enormous capacity to main and kill at close ranges, without the danger of passing through walls.

      • Max says:

        Previously, I would’ve bought the argument that militias are no match for the U.S. Armed Forces, but looking at the Arab Spring and Afghanistan, all you need are AK-47s, RPGs, and IEDs to get the ball rolling. Then, you’ll get defections, officers who refuse to fire on their people, etc.

      • Bob says:

        Yet another “expert” purporting to tell us all what we do or don’t need for the purposes of home defense and hunting, as if it is a settled issue that is beyond debate. When it comes to firearms and self-defense issues, I consider myself pretty well read, and I would be hard-pressed to find anywhere near a majority of experts on the issue who agree with the statement that “Within the home (unless perhaps you own a palace with spacious rooms), a handgun is the most practical weapon to use”. Frankly, you are embarrassing yourself by issuing pronouncements on the subject of home-defense that take the tone of an unimpeachable expert dispensing the undisputable truth. The assertion that a handgun without a high capacity magazine(which one can assume you are against given your comments concerning such magazines)is all you will ever need in the heat of the moment in a dark house, against an unknown number of assailants, shatters such ridiculous pretensions. Moreover, the blatantly gratuitous mention of Dick Cheney says more about your real motives than anything else you write.

        As for the claim that stricter gun laws will lead to a few dozen lives being saved, why don’t you get back to us when you read what the FBI had to say about the previous assault weapons ban. I think you will find their analysis peppered with adjectives such as “insignificant”.

      • Bob says:

        “If someone believes that they need a high-capacity self-loading rifle for home defense you have to ask them if there is any particular organized criminal gang after them and why they believe that such a weapon will help them at all.”

        Honestly, it is hard to take seriously anyone who asks such a silly question. Yeah, for the life of me I can’t see what good it would do to have more firepower than the violent criminal breaking into your home. And clearly since such incidents don’t happen in the United States every few minutes, one would be hard-pressed to explain why any American would even need a handgun, much less a **gasp** semi-automatic rifle, for self-defense, right? As for high-capacity magazines and home defense, for the life of me I can’t figure out the practical utility of having to reload less, and having more ammunition at the ready, than a gun-wielding assailant hell-bent on doing me harm, in my home. It is all so baffling.

      • double-helical says:

        I got a good laugh. I hope everyone else realizes that you were using irony….

      • shawmutt says:

        I can immediately tell when someone doesn’t know what they are talking about when they use statements like “a handgun is the most practical weapon to use” for home protection. It is not, for many reasons. As Max stated, a shotgun is the most practical. Aiming (or lack thereof), penetration, and just overall presentation (racking a pump shotgun, big barrel=big hole, etc.).

        You have seen reasons, linked in this article (Koreans protecting their store during a riot) why a high-capacity semi-auto would be wanted over a smaller pistol or hunting rifle.

        But the bottom line here, the real point, is will banning these particular firearms or these magazines make the US safer? A decade of an “assault weapons” ban showed it did not. A history of attacks over the last 20 years shows it will not. McVeigh and Saudi terrorists showed there are efficient ways of murdering mass amounts of people without firearms.

      • double-helical says:

        Shawmutt, I seem to be agreeing with all of your posts. Thanks!

  11. itzac says:

    While I’m not necessarily convinced about the effectiveness of banning a particular kind of weapon (I’m very open to being convinced), there are a great many reasonable and simple steps that could very much reduce the number of guns in the hands of people we all agree shouldn’t have them, all without placing much burden on the rights of law abiding citizens to own guns.

    There are a number of confounding factors to gun control in the US as well. One is the heterogeneity of firearms laws. If Washington DC bans handguns, an enterprising gentleman with no criminal record can drive a few hours to the next state, buy a number of weapons and cart them back into DC to resell to criminals. A centralized database of gun purchases would make detecting this kind of criminal behaviour utterly trivial, and yet many states make it illegal to even try to track purchases like this.

    Ostensibly our straw buyer would spread his purchases across many shops to avoid suspicion, but in practice that’s a waste of effort. As “Operation Fast and Furious” has demonstrated, you can actually just walk into a store and buy a dozen of the same weapon. The shop owner doesn’t care because he has plausible deniability thanks to the illegality of any registry, and should an enterprising law enforcement officer do the cross-referencing himself, the law still doesn’t allow him to do anything about it.

    At the end of the day, the gun lobby in the US, read NRA, is even out of step with its own membership. It doesn’t exist to promote gun safety or responsible ownership. It exists to make sure more guns get sold. Whether they are sold to law abiding citizens or criminals doesn’t bother them. They get paid either way. And thus they stand in the way of any law that might risk reducing their sales. It’s as simple as that.

    • double-helical says:

      I’m sorry but I can’t let the last two paragraphs go unopposed. In “Fast and Furious,” the gun dealers were all incredulous that the ATF told them to go ahead and sell the guns, when the dealers stalled the buyers and tried to report the suspicious sales. The dealers were reassured that the ATF was on the job and following the buyers, in a “sting.” Trouble was, the ATF leadership actually *forbade* its agents from following the buyers, and deliberately allowed over 2,000 firearms to “walk” across the border. The DOJ knew of and approved the plan. If it wasn’t for street agents of the ATF blowing the whistle, we would have never known.
      Second, to imply that the NRA doesn’t care who buys a gun is egregious in the extreme. Show me your evidence. The NRA spends a lot of money on gun safety programs and anti-crime programs. Skeptics demand evidence; I see none here.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        Your description of how the ‘Fast and Furious’ fiasco went down is one side of the story… if you dig more deeply into it, you’ll see that a major contributing factor was it was an inter-departmental operation and there were so many conflicts (e.g. over authority, etc) and miscommunications (e.g. FAXes which sat on desks over the weekend) that it was doomed from the start.

      • double-helical says:

        I’m afraid that what I reported is absolutely true about “Fast and Furious.” It was not a “botched operation.” The only thing they botched was that they were exposed. The plan was conceived at the highest levels. I assume that this is why the Attorney General will not hand over the documentation, even in the face of contempt of Congress charges…..

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        If I had a nickel for everyone who back up his assertions by saying they were “absolutely true’ …

        I wonder if the AG refused to turn over that documentation because he was legally bound not to …

      • double-helical says:

        Let me amend that, then. Based on statements made by ATF agents who were ordered to be part of the operation.

      • double-helical says:

        Oh, and I forgot. Additional details based on some of the documents that Congress was able to obtain before the stonewalling began.

    • Bob says:

      The NRA doesn’t care about guns being sold to criminals? I guess it would be too much to ask for you to back up such baseless bull$#@^.

      • double-helical says:

        Since you made the original statement, to wit: “Whether they are sold to law abiding citizens or criminals doesn’t bother them”, I’m afraid that the onus is upon you to provide evidence.
        Nevertheless, from Wikipedia: “The NRA opposes most new gun-control legislation, calling instead for stricter enforcement of existing laws such as prohibiting convicted felons and violent criminals from possessing firearms and increased sentencing for gun-related crimes.”

  12. Chris Howard says:

    I’ve always thought that a psychological evaluation, criminal background check/waiting period, and extensive training, much like they require in Switzerland would help. It’s mandatory that people meet certain requirements to drive a car. (Eye exam, no seizure disorders, or other disabilities that would seriously impare driving safely). I’m not sure why people are so against doing so for a technology that’s specifically designed to wound, kill, and destroy.

    • shawmutt says:

      And people still drive drunk, drive with a suspended/revoked license, and commit other crimes with vehicles.

      Even with psychological evaluation and extensive training people slip through the cracks (see: Ft. Hood shooting).

      There already are criminal background checks, that doesn’t prevent a non-criminal from buying firearms.

      • Chris Howard says:

        So are you saying that since the system won’t be perfect we shouldn’t try?

      • Chris Howard says:

        That very system seems to work very well in Switzerland. Wikipedia has excellent data on the topic, if you’re interested.

      • itzac says:

        I find that folks who put forward the Swiss argument universally ignore a great cultural difference between the two countries which probably better explains the difference in outcomes between the two countries.

        Switzerland requires every citizen to spend one year in the military, which is where most of the Swiss get their guns. That military services is going to have a profound effect on their culture and I think it contributes to sense of broader community, the absence of which I think is a major contributor to crime and violence in the US.

        Also, do the Swiss carry weapons at all? I spent a few days there in 2000, in a small city and a neighbouring village, and I don’t recall ever seeing any guns. Since I was playing Counter Strike religiously at that time in my life, I expect I would have noticed.

      • Max says:


        Have you been to Israel?

        “When soldiers take their weapon off military premises, they must guard it closely and keep it on their person, at all times. Having one’s weapon stolen is harshly punished with time in military prison a given.”
        Haaretz also concludes that Israelis are “used to seeing guns in all kinds of places – propped up next to the guy sitting next to us in a coffeeshop, or in a university classroom, and of course, slung over the shoulders of women soldiers.

        Although coffee shops may have armed guards that won’t let guns in.

        On rare occasions, you get a Baruch Goldstein, but more often, soldiers thwart terrorist attacks.

      • itzac says:

        I just checked a map and it turns out that Israel is in fact rather a different country than Switzerland.

        But very interesting, and rather a sensible policy, I think, given the political realities of the region.

      • shawmutt says:

        Perhaps you should show that a system like that does work before implementing it.

        Further, it seems that you don’t have a very good understanding of our current gun laws in place. We have background checks, which include a check for any documented psychological problems.

        And jeez I’m getting sick of the “hohoho we’re from Europe and we’re doing it right!” comments. Apples to oranges–thanks mainly to the homogeneous demographics of many European countries vs. the melting pot and giant number of immigrants in the US.

      • double-helical says:

        Don’t forget the examples of the mass murders in Europe. The bombings and shootings by one lunatic in the 2011 Norway attacks comes to mind, but there are others. The killer knew that nobody on the island would be armed. Notice that these guys never attack at a place where there is a good possibility of armed citizens present. A sign on the door that says “no weapons allowed” is something this psychopath would notice.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        I have worked in Europe (as many Skeptics have, no doubt) and I was shocked to find out how many legal firearms there are – they’re almost all shotguns, but there and many rifles … legal handguns are extremely rare. Believe it or not – rich folks can hunt in Europe. Farmers often have (shot)guns for protection.

        But more importantly – I was astounded by how many *illegal* firearms are floating around in Europe. It seems that if you have a civil war going on nearby countries all sorts of military hardware can quietly drift around.

        This gun-free myth of Europe is bogus.

  13. Leon says:

    1. People who commit acts like these don’t care about the gun laws. Do you think most gang members get their guns legally?
    2. The biggest mass murder(involving guns) in America was the Virgina tech shooting. That was with two hand guns.
    3. Banning guns would do nothing to stop his intent to kill. The biggest mass murder used bombs, not guns. Anyone can go down to the super market or home depot and buy the supplies they need to make a bomb or chemical weapon.
    4. I think I have to agree with the NRA. “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” …No, I don’t agree with that. It needs to be more specific. Guns don’t commit mass murder. CRAZY people commit mass murder.

    • W.Michael Serra says:

      3.Banning guns completely casts the debate in extreme terms.Attempts to limit such ownership are fought tooth & nail by the NRA,even protecting some seriously maladaped individuals.Since there exists very little mental health support,expect more of the same.Until someone in your immediate circle loses their life in such an event you are an enabler and an apologist for those CRAZY people.

      • double-helical says:

        “…protecting some seriously maladapted individuals.” Please cite one example.

      • Bob says:

        So arguing against more restrictive gun laws that have proven to have no effect on gun crime (see the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994-2004)makes me an apologist for a mass murderer? Give me a freakin break.

    • Max says:

      If Holmes had used only handguns, how many casualties do you think there would be?

      • Ursa Polaris says:

        Actually, according to police reports and witness reports, the vast majority of rounds fired were from handguns, not the assault rifle. And the numbers would seem to back that up: witnesses say his rifle jammed and he dropped it, drawing pistols at that point – if he only fired 30 rounds from the rifle, and wounded 70, it’s likely from a statistical analysis that most wounds were inflicted by handguns, not the rifle.

        At close range, a gun is a gun is a gun. The damage it can do is based on the properties of the rounds – how much powder it has, how much mass it has, and its telemetry (i.e. how it spins, penetrates, rolls, disintegrates, etc.) Assault rifles and rifles in general gain their advantage over pistols over a longer range where their smaller rounds, higher power and better penetrative telemetry come into play with precision shooting. So what type of guns were used in this close-range massacre are of little relevance.

        Which makes me wonder why any rational, gun-educated person would be specifically going after ‘assault rifles’ due to this incident.

      • double-helical says:

        N.B., I’m not sure that the word that you mean to use is “telemetry.” I think you mean ballistics, including terminal ballistics.

      • MadScientist says:

        It really depends on how well he trained and the specific types of handgun he’s got. If he trained well, I’d bet on far more casualties. If he had .38 specials then probably fewer casualties because there’d be far more opportunity to jump him, to get a good shot he’d need 2 hands on the gun as he pulled the trigger, and they take far more time to reload than a magazine-based handgun even if you use a reloading tool.

      • shawmutt says:

        Again, Seung-Hui Cho of the VT shooting killed 32 with only handguns.

        It was a crowded dark room filled with teargas and panicked people. It was literally shooting fish in a barrel.

        MadScientist, you need to look up speedloaders on youtube.

      • Max says:

        Cho walked around the classroom and methodically shot cowering students in the head. In that setting, handguns may be more deadly. In a dark crowded theater, on an island, and in a Mumbai train station, an assault rifle is probably more deadly.

      • Max says:

        Also, Cho shot himself, and Breivik and Holmes surrendered to the police, but the Mumbai terrorists outgunned the police and killed over a dozen officers, so that’s another risk.

      • Student says:

        “even if you use a reloading tool.”

        You need to learn to read.

  14. shawmutt says:

    Mr. Shermer, most of the time you are right on the money. I love your books. However, with this subject you are out of your league–evident by the fact that you, like many, still don’t know the difference between an assault rifle and the political term “assault weapon”. You are wrong, so wrong in multiple areas; I can’t help but think this is more of an emotion guided rant than a careful consideration of the facts.

    For instance, you stated:

    “Had he not had such weapons—possessing, say, only a pistol purchased for self-defense…”

    The large 100-round magazine, notorious for jamming, did indeed jam a that movie theater. Holmes discarded the rifle and resumed shooting with this pistol.

    Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded 17 with two pistols at the Virginia Tech massacre.

    “When the Second Amendment was written stating that citizens have a right to “keep and bear arms,” rifles took over a minute to load one bullet at a time.”

    If the second amendment only applies to muskets, the first only applies to the quill pen.

    “The most crazed 18th century American could not possibly commit mass murder because no WMMs existed at the time.”

    This is simply a foolish statement.

    This is a list of rampage killers with assorted weapons. This is from a five second Google search, I’m sure I could find a lot more if I was inclined to spend the time.

    I don’t have my own blog for a proper rebuttal, but I submit this video as evidence why an arbitrary “assault weapon” ban is a bad idea:

    (Just mute it and I apologize for the horrible font color choice, it’s not mine)

    “Thus, even though I am a life-long libertarian…”

    Sorry bud, you sound like a Bloombergian liberal in this regard.

    • nichole says:

      Your list of rampage killers from Wikipedia contains precisely zero incidents from the 18th century.

    • Max says:

      Anders Breivik killed 67 people by gunshot. His primary weapon was a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic carbine. Do you think he could’ve done that with his pistol or shotgun?
      According to Wikipedia, he failed to buy an assault rifle illegally in Prague, and he wanted to buy a Ruger Mini-30, but gun laws in Norway may have prevented this.

      • MadScientist says:

        Breivik was not in a movie theater though. Since he was outdoors, the rifle would have been the better weapon for the job. In a confined space, the handguns would do nicely. At moderately short range the carbine’s also an excellent choice for the job – if he wanted to pick people off at a greater distance then a long rifle like the FAL would be a better choice. Which weapon can be used to cause the most damage depends on the context. If John Wilkes Booth had a cartridge-based rifle (fairly recently invented) rather than a Derringer, would he have been guaranteed to get a shot at Lincoln?

    • juan arturo says:


      I have not seen any discussion as to the on-the-table, flea-market sales of weapons (with no background check) that take place in some southern states. That strikes me as something that most would feel comfortable in banning. I’d like to hear some people weigh in on that, if possible.

    • Student says:

      If the second amendment only applies to muskets, the first only applies to the quill pen.

      No. Please elaborate how technology and society have changed the circumstances that the thinking behind the first amendment is obsolete before you make that comparison.

      The founding fathers only knew of muskets, so that’s what their opinion is formed in relation to. It doesn’t mean it applies only to muskets, but it DOES give context to the law.

      ““Thus, even though I am a life-long libertarian…”

      Sorry bud, you sound like a Bloombergian liberal in this regard.”

      Thanks for some slurs and ad-hominem. Also, I’m disturbed by your constant directions to Bloomberg. If you want to do that, be prepared for people to call you stupid names that barely apply. I guess I’ll call you Dick Cheney. It hardly applies, and is meaningless, so it’s right on line with yours.

      Shermer’s heavily libertarian, often in contrast to the readers of this blog, especially on economic and financial issues. The fact that he disagrees with you on one issue doesn’t change his political philosophy one iota.

  15. Chris Howard says:

    “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.
    -Winston Churchill

    • shawmutt says:

      We are doing the right thing. After failing to show an assault weapon ban had an effect on gun crime, it was allowed to expire in 2004. After failing to show that banning handguns had a positive effect on crime, most states are allowing concealed carry without a bunch of unnecessary hoops to jump through. Maryland is joining the country as of August 8th.

      If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law. ~Winston Churchill

  16. shawmutt says:

    Sorry, can’t edit my post, and I have one more comment.

    Guns were outlawed in that theater. It was a “gun-free zone”. Guess who didn’t bother to follow that law?

    • BD says:

      Most gun crimes are committed with handguns and not long arms. It makes no sense to call for a ban on semi-automatic long arms and not call for a ban on handguns. You would accomplish very little.

      Military-style semi-automatic rifles are just that–military style. They have a very militant appearance. But really you are talking about a self-loading rifle with a removable box magazine. There is no point in banning a military looking rifle and not banning a more traditional self-loading hunting rifle that also has a removable box magazine. In essence, if you want to eliminate the chance that somebody might have a self-loading rifle with a high-capacity magazine you would have to ban all rifles with removable box magazines–because if you did not someone would be able to buy a larger magazine to put into his conventional hunting rifle.

      You would have to confiscate all of these weapons because there are so many out there that a buyer would not have any trouble aquiring one even if new production was halted. No way that is going to work in the US.

      Or maybe you would could try to ban removable magazines with higher than 5 round capacity for all long arms. But there are a LOT of them out there all ready. And you would have a harder time confiscating magazines that you would rifles.

      So, as I see it, there are two main problems with banning self-loading rifles with removable high-capacity magazines. 1-It would have little impact on the weapons used to commit most crimes. And 2-it would be virtually impossible to do.

      • MadScientist says:

        I see no need to confiscate weapons; buy-back, voluntary surrender schemes, and subsidized modification/inactivation schemes should do. People who already own banned weapons and magazines can continue to own them but it will not be legal to transport them outside their home (except to surrender them or to have them modified according to rules); most people will eventually comply without any threats or coercion. We’re not even talking about ‘most crimes’ here, we’re talking about making it more difficult for nuts like Holmes to do such damage.

      • Mike says:

        I don’t follow your argument, all firearms are illegal in Mexico, and yet it’s pretty clear it’s not hard for a bad person to get one in Mexico. And that’s a complete national ban of all firearms, not just self loading rifles, so how would a voluntary buy back or anything else like it be effective when outright national bans are clearly not? We’re talking about stopping determined murderers, not someone trying to rob a liquor store.

      • markx says:

        True Mad,

        That is how it worked in Australia, they kept tightening the laws, making it more and more difficult with more restrictions, and in the end even die-hard sporting and club shooters with tens of thousands of dollars invested in beloved firearms decided it was easier to just hand them over and get their money back.

      • markx says:

        Buy back worked very, very well in Australia.

        Most people I know were were very satisfied with the prices they were paid.

    • double-helical says:

      I heard that the theater banned private firearms, but I failed to find confirmation. Do you have a reference? I noted in an earlier post that signs banning private firearms are an open invitation to these psychopaths. One individual with a legal, concealed weapon, could have ended the spree within moments.

  17. Walter Burton says:

    What Shawmutt said.

  18. Jason Goertzen says:

    There’s nothing inherently more dangerous about a semi-automatic rifle that looks like a AK47. A hunting rifle chambered in the same caliber is just as dangerous. A limitation on magazine capacity would have the same effect as ‘banning assault style weapons,’ with less unnecessary restriction of freedoms.

    My two cents, anyway.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:


      California has a ban on ‘assault weapons’ (which are defined by a list of models and set of fairly superficial characteristics, e.g. pistol grips & flashs suppressors – )

      This has given rise to a cottage industry of new models of essentially the same firearms without those characteristics. The race for loop holes in the CA ban makes the law comically ineffective. For example there is a ban on detachable magazines – but ‘detachable’ means it cannot be removed without a tool. What is a tool in this context? Could something that pushes in an indented magazine release be a tool? Yes. So a pen, car-key or round of ammo could help you get around the ban on detachable magazines.

      I’m sure that eventually they’ll close that loop hole and a clever person will find a loop hole in that one.

  19. Bob Varitz says:

    So – define “assault weapon.” Its not a term used in the firearms industry – its a media term. Generally considered to be a semi-automatic rifle. So is my Winchester 190 an assualt weapon? it hold 15 rounds of .22 long rifle ammunition – but are you going to ban it? So limit it to “large” caliber rifles? The AR15 et seq shoots a .223 round. The last time Congress tried to ban assualt weapons, they identified specific weapons by manufacturer and model number, whereafter the manufacturers promptly changed the model numbers. I would love to see assault weapons banned for people who are mentally unstable – but then we should ban all weapons, automobiles, explosive, sharp knives for those people. Nuff said.

  20. Dave Zawislak says:

    Victim disarmament is what all gun grabbers want. They want you to be dependant on the government. They want you to have your undertaker on speed dial. They want you to take no responsibility for your own life.

  21. Daniel says:

    “I won’t call you old fashioned,just naive,if you think that most people aren’t wayyyy more comfortable knowing that their side (the good guys of course) are arming/readying themselves for conflict,as opposed to seeing the exact same behavior from their political enemies.
    But if you say so…OK.”

    I have no idea what your point is. I’m not a “tea bagger” or an “Occutard”. In fact, I checked off “no preference” for political party on my voter registration, so I probably couldn’t tell you what “side” I’m on. So I couldn’t care less whether Tea Partiers would be uncomfortable with Occupy Wall Street types arming themselves. When you find some evidence that there’s an armed political faction that plans to hold a bunch of hostages in a shopping mall until their comrades are released, go ahead and arrest them for that.

    I prefer my approach much more to the FBI storming the house of some nut in the woods and killing his wife and child in the process because he happened to be on one “side” of the political debate.

  22. Daniel says:

    “Do you think that it is fair to consider limiting the high capacity firearms in any way?”

    Not an easy question, but my inclination is to say no, or at the very least no to a federal limit. Any line you draw will be hopelessly arbitrary. There are also too many of them already in circulation, so any ban won’t solve the problem of keeping them out of the hands of sociopaths. (I would categorically reject any retroactive ban on guns that people already lawfully possess. I don’t want to give the ATF authority to go into peoples’ homes searching for even more contraband).

    I also don’t take gun-grabbers like Mike Bloomberg and Chuck Shumer at their word when they say they only want “reasonable” gun laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Their goal, whether they want to be honest about it or not, is a disarmed public. (Bloomberg and his disciples don’t do this by passing a law saying thou shalt not own a firearm. They put up byzantine road blocks similar to what anti-abortion types do in certain states). You need look no further than the legal hell Bloomberg put that woman from Tennessee through last year to know what his actual intentions are.

  23. Miles says:


    I hope you are willing to change your mind on this issue, or at least think about it from a few different angles. The first thing I would point out, is that the 2nd amendment has nothing to do with hunting or protecting your home from intruders. In fact, since “guns” obviously count as “property”, you might even wonder why the founding fathers bothered with the 2nd amendment in the first place, seeing as the right to own and carry a gun would be implied by property rights (assuming no other law specifically made guns illegal, which none did at the time). It is worth noting that the 2nd amendment came into being because they wanted to ensure that this specific kind of property could never be taken away. Why?

    Well, again, it wasn’t for hunting. It is because arms are the last defense against tyranny. We have this right so that we can protect ourselves from the police, not from people like James Holmes. I’m sure you probably know this already. So I’m guessing you are making a cost-benefit type of judgement when you call for banning assault rifles. Perhaps you feel that we no longer have anything to fear against a heavily armed government, or at least not enough to warrant the costs of having such freedom as played out in the Aurora shooting.

    I would caution against being too optimistic about Uncle Sam playing nice. If the racial violence that we have already experienced in this country isn’t enough to convince you to tread lightly where trusting the police is concerned, then consider how militarized our police have become over the last decade. The police are routinely (about 100 raids per day) using military tactics, armored vehicles, swat teams, assault rifles, flash grenades, and other delta-squad strategies to apprehend non-violent drug offenders suspected of smoking marijuana. Consider how quickly pre-Nazi Germany deteriorated into pure authoritarian control. Things can go from fine to terrifying in a very short period of time.

    Consider what the likely incentives and responses would be, should we decide to give the police a monopoly on assault rifles. Bad people who want assault rifles would simply obtain them illegally (they are bad people, remember?) or resort alternative methods. The Taliban is a fan simply strapping home-made explosives to themselves and blowing everyone up around them. How did people spread mass death before automatic weapons? Fire. Burning people alive is unfortunately trivially easy to accomplish.

    What would need to happen for a ban on assault rifles to effectively be enforced? Simply passing a law isn’t going to work, especially considering the cultural value that guns of all kinds have in this country. Police will need greater search & seizure power than they have already. Penalties will have to be increased substantially, putting non-voilent offenders of the law, such as recreational shooters, in prison for long periods of time. And what happens when the next lunatic brings a Glock into an elementary school and ends the lives of a dozen 8-year-olds? Surely, we can’t allow handguns to stay legal after something so nightmarish…

    I believe that there might be some small part of you that is approaching this issue from the angle of “I’m upset about these tragedies, and I want to propose a solution so they do not happen again.” Any rational person will tell you that there is no solution. At best, all we can do is try and make it harder for bad people to do bad things and hope for the best. But eventually, we come up against the law of diminishing returns. Violent shooting have been steadily declining for a decade now, and continue to do so, despite ownership of assault weapons increasing during the same time period. How much more are we willing to eschew important freedoms for the sake of avoiding a small (and diminishing) number from becoming a statistic?

    • Max says:

      Should private citizens be allowed to own an attack helicopter? A main battle tank? Shoulder-fired missiles?

      • Ursa Polaris says:

        At least you’d see and hear those coming! Also, it’s not like a psychopath can unload massive amounts of firepower from those into huge crowds in a surprise attack. Also, those are terribly expensive items, a psychopath is unlikely to ever be capable of affording. Your argument is starting to sound more and more like a strawman. =/

      • Max says:

        It’s not a strawman when people like Scott Jacobs below agree with it, and I can’t tell whether or not you agree with it.

        Psychopaths can be rich. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bernie Madoff is a psychopath. Would you have any problem with Bernie Madoff owning an attack helicopter? How about Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi?

      • Miles says:

        I’ve been down this line of reasoning many times Max. I’ve never found it very interesting and I’m often surprised that many people find this argument compelling at all.

        Private citizens are already allowed to own such things. There are several wealthy citizens in the United States who own de-comissioned military battle-tanks, helicopters, heavy ordinance, war planes, etc. Without looking anything up, the only incident I am personally aware of in which any of these kinds of things were used maliciously, is when a police-owned tank was stolen off police property and driven around for a while, but there were no deaths. So, I’m just not very impressed with this argument.

        But more importantly, the fact is that we are discussing assault weapons. Your argument is a red herring. “You wouldn’t want private citizens to stockpile nuclear weapons, therefore you shouldn’t want them to have assault rifles” is a non-sequitur. It simply does not logically follow that “A” should be banned because “B” is undesirable. And I know, you are making your point in response to my 2nd amendment argument. By making the case that nobody should want the 2nd amendment to unlimited (i.e. nuclear weapons), you argue that any limits are therefore justifiable. But again, this is a red herring because I’m not arguing about the limits of the 2nd amendment (as far as lethality of the weapon is concerned), I’m arguing about the purpose of the 2nd amendment.

        We should settle the dispute about assault rifles first, before we start going down the somewhat fairy-tale road of hypotheticals in which the “Crips” are conducting coordinated F-16 strikes on the “Bloods”.

      • Scott Jacobs says:

        If they can purchase them legally and can pass the criminal background checks, why not?

        I mean, we’re not talking about a 200 pistol, here…

        I doubt Bubba in BFE Texas could afford them…

      • double-helical says:

        Max. I’m sure that you know better: Logical fallacy, Strawman argument.
        Here’s an aside: Even though cannon existed in 1787, the Bill of Rights didn’t say, “The right to bear muskets.” In the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the term “the people” is always used to enumerate individual rights. And, from the wording of the 2nd Amendment, it’s obvious that the Framers meant an individual “right to bear arms.”
        But they went further. In order to avoid any misunderstanding as to *why* these citizens should have this right, the Framers specifically referenced a well-trained and well-organized militia, or, in the parlance of the day, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
        Note that they didn’t merely say, “the people have a right to bear arms,” but that this right shall not be “infringed” in any way. That’s pretty plain.
        (By the way, Michael, a “well-regulated” militaman could load and fire once every 20 seconds.)
        Now I know that this aside doesn’t exactly answer the point that you were trying to make, Max. Consider the machine gun, however. Heavily regulated since the 1930’s, and even more so recently, there is still not a huge lobby trying to lift the regulation. I know of no one who is lobbying for the right to own a main battle tank or even a howitzer. So, it is a strawman argument to progress from a pistol (to defend your home and your loved ones), to a rifle (which does the job better), to a main battle tank. Finally, I am reminded of the anecdote from New Orleans after Katrina. A man and woman realized that staying in the city was no longer an option after spotting some policemen looting a store. As they prepared to leave, the man came downstairs to find his vehicle surrounded by a group of men whose purpose can easily be surmised. As he shouted for them to leave, they turned to confront him. His AKM was at port arms however, and they hastily departed. His conclusion was that they were probably armed and wouldn’t have feared him, even with a pistol. The rifle, however, seemed to be more persuasive.
        As Miles says above, “Things can go from fine to terrifying in a very short period of time.” I agree. If things are terrifying, it’s nice to be armed, with the best arms available.

      • Max says:

        I agree that there are situations where rifles are a better deterrent than pistols, which is why I linked to the video of Korean store owners in my first post above.
        But if you’re going to argue that “arms are the last defense against tyranny,” then you’ll need more than rifles. You’ll need anti-tank rockets, anti-aircraft missiles, mortars, roadside bombs, etc. So I want to see if you’ll bite the bullet (no pun intended), and agree that private citizens have the right to possess weapons like RPGs and FIM-92 Stingers.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        I’ll bite.

        If we’re going down the rabbit hole of a second American Revolution, then I would argue that the militia would most likely be fighting a guerrilla war (like they fought in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ireland, Palestine, Bosnia, Chechnya, etc ) and heavy equipment like tanks and SAM’s would be of extremely limited value.

        The rebels would probably not fight using conventional tactics at first – and would instead rely on hit and run strikes to disrupt the militaries supply & communication lines. If this fantasy-world revolution were to have any hope of success it would have to have plenty of support from the population and convince some military units to join it – and since the ‘preppers’ come from similar backgrounds and many soldiers there may be a chance at some units defecting. Civilians could engage in sabotage (destroying roads, power lines, etc) while guerrilla fighters kept large quantities of soldier out in the field consuming huge quantities of supplies.

        It would be a war won with propaganda and not bullets – but the bullets would be necessary to give the propagandists time to make their case to the people. Kinda like what happened the first time around. (When famers fought the best army in the world – and virtual lost every battle but somehow won the war).

        Of course, in the end – the bizzaro-world superman would swoop in to restore tyranny, injustice and the unAmerican way of life.

        ROTFLMAO. back to work

      • Bob says:

        Again, I would like to go just once without an idiot using the stupid “tanks and rocket launchers” argument.

      • Max says:

        I’d like to go just once without an asshole using the “stupid idiot” non-argument.

    • Ernst Ghermann says:

      For those who “will never understand the American fascination with owning firearms”: The 2nd Amendment is not about hunting, target shooting or even self defense against criminals. Until you understand this, you will not make headway in banning guns. What you need to tell us is how we can depose a tyrannical government once our weapons have been taken from us. Only when you present us with a credible answer to this question can you hope to convince us that we don’t need to have potent weapons.

    • hicusdicus says:

      Don’t ban guns, ban violence.

  24. James says:

    So you’re saying that wanting to ban a particular type of weapon because by your own calculations, 0.0002% of the population conducts mass killings, the other 99.9998% of us should be prohibited from owning them. Just to be clear here, you’re trying to sell us on the idea that those numbers amount to a ‘libertarian’ stance. I am not sure I agree with you on that.

    And has been stated many times before, this particular crazy person had explosives as well. If he couldn’t get an assault rifle (or any other type of firearm for that matter), isn’t it possible he might have used explosives instead? Mcveigh used no firearms in his mass killing, and it didn’t result in fewer deaths.

    It’s a natural human reaction to want to blame the tools and not the person, to try and ‘prevent this from ever happening again’ but it’s just not a rational or practical solution.

  25. Miles says:

    Another little bit of “food for thought”, for those of you who believe that automatic rifles in particular are a threat that should continue to be banned…

    Are you aware that it is perfectly legal, and has been for some time, to construct the equivalent of a fully automatic rifle? This option would have been available to Holmes, and would not have broken any laws. It is a simple piece of plastic with an attached spring which replaces the default stock on the rifle. It is popularly called a “slide fire” stock. Here is a demo:

    This can easily be added to handgun with a frame extension to create the same effect. Should this be banned?

    • Miles says:

      Actually, I don’t even think there is a spring. It is just a single pieces of molded plastic.

    • Max says:

      If fully automatic guns are banned, then this accessory should be banned. Compare with laws regarding sawed-off shotguns.

  26. Jason Goertzen says:

    One more consideration:

    Many automobiles are capable of driving much, much faster than the speed limit. Dangerously fast. Many deaths are caused by such reckless driving.

    Should automobiles be limited to 70 MPH, except police vehicles and ambulances? It’s the same principle at work.

    • Max says:

      Some places have speed limits above 70 mph, but limiting speed to, say, 90 mph might be a good idea.
      Cars have electronic speed limiters, but they can be disabled.
      Intelligent speed adaptation is being explored in London.

      • Jason Goertzen says:

        You’re missing the larger point. Limiting speed in a way that can be disabled is akin to magazine restrictions, *not* to banning the guns outright. Should it be illegal to own a vehicle capable of driving faster than the speed limit because that would be, in some contexts, illegal?

        This would make racing on tracks illegal too. No. What is reasonable is making laws restricting when and how things can be used, then punishing those who break the rules–just like we do with vehicles.

      • Max says:

        The goal is to prevent mass murder, not wait for it to happen and then punish the mass murderers. Punishing them won’t bring back the dead, and probably won’t even deter copycats.

      • Paul says:

        “The goal is to prevent mass murder”

        A laudable goal, but not a practicable one, if several thousand years of human history are any barometer.

      • Jason Goertzen says:

        And the question is again whether these measures actually will prevent mass murder. There’s no reason to think so. The guy in Colorado had an apartment full of bombs. How do you think the theatre thing would have gone down if he didn’t have access to firearms? Do you think he’d have given up? Or killed everyone with a bomb?

        People don’t think rationally when discussing gun control. Guns are scary, and so they intuitively think “less guns will make things better, right? Obviously.” They don’t need data, because it makes such intuitive sense. That’s not at all scientific or rational.

      • hicusdicus says:

        Lets all get together and ban mass murder.

    • MadScientist says:

      Hell, yeah. I’m even proposing monitoring equipment on vehicles so that you can report traffic violations by other vehicles and earn a little money from the fines issued. The technology is there – we can make such instruments and demonstrate that the evidence is admissible in court.

    • Student says:

      If I could have an automatic cruise control in my car which prevented me from exceeding the speed limit-hell yeah I’d do it. Not only does it make me, hopefully safer, but it makes it hard for me to break the law by accident.

      Oh, you were thinking of comaparing it to firearms? Well, that’s a bit silly-cars or some form of transportation are always going to be more useful than firearms, so you’re not going to get far in your analogy.

  27. Des Greene says:

    Why is it only in the US that such ‘liberal’ gun laws exist? These laws have nothing to do with any ‘liberal’ ethos but are a form of barbarism. Time to catch up with the rest of the world and see violence as a major threat to liberalism and even democracy.

    • hicusdicus says:

      Your right Greenie all we need to do is ban violence and while we are at it lets ban evil.

  28. George Pace says:


    I’m really disappointed to see such poor reasoning from you.

    As others have noted, Holmes did not have an assault rifle, he had a “look alike” semi-automatic-only rifle. Assault rifles have a “select fire” option: they can be set to “semi-automatic” and fire one round per trigger pull, or they can be set to “automatic” and fire rounds continuously with a single pull and hold of the trigger. IT IS, AND HAS BEEN SINCE THE 1930S, ILLEGAL TO OWN A FULLY AUTOMATIC WEAPON IN THE UNITED STATES. Why would a rifle that “looks like” an optionally fully automatic rifle be more dangerous than any other semi-automatic rifle? Do you want to ban all semi-automatic rifles? All semi-automatic pistols?

    There are currently an estimated 300,000,000 (three hundred MILLION) firearms in the possession of non-military and non-law enforcement American citizens. Whichever firearms are deemed “Weapons of Mass Murder” are going to be confiscated by law enforcement? How? Law abiding citizens may surrender them voluntarily (as the “good Jews” did to Hitler’s newly enacted gun control legislation: ordinary citizens have no need for firearms!), but most criminals already illegally possess unregistered (to them) guns, and they aren’t likely to give them up voluntarily.

    I don’t see how any specific legislation is going to get the firearms out of the hands of the potentially dangerous individuals, unless, as a poster stated above, every single home, business, vehicle, storage building, etc. in the whole country is torn apart simultaneously to find whatever percentage of firearms that won’t be buried or better hidden by that time. That’d take a LOT of law enforcement! I don’t see how it could work.

    What specifically are you proposing be done?

  29. BD says:

    Bottom line is that banning these weapons is simply impractical. You would have to ban all centerfire self-loading rifles with detachable magazines to have any hope of creating a law that wouldn’t be filled with massive loopholes.

    How do you define a military-style semi-automatic rifle? Lets use an AR-15 as an example. Is it magazine capacity? If so, the manufacturer simply sells them with a 5 round magazine. How about a flash suppressor? Easy–make the same rifle with no flash suppressor. Raised front sight? Carrying handle? Bipod? Barrel length? Retractable stock? All these things can be worked around.

    If this law is expected to have any impact at all it would have to be unreasonably broad. And you really would have to attempt to confiscate all such weapons in private possession right now. Otherwise there would be a massive supply of used weapons available for sale (and supply/demand being what it is, for sale at hugely inflated prices).

    Someone might be able to make the argument that such confiscation is justified, but I don’t think it will pass muster in the court of public opinion. Let alone in the Supreme Court.

    I understand why people think these kind of laws are a good idea. After all, it can seem like common sense that military style hardware shouldn’t be readily available. But when you take a closer look at how you would ban them, these laws just doesn’t pan out.

    • BD says:

      Or, should I say, these laws DON’T pan out. Apologies for the poor proofreading.

      • hicusdicus says:

        All fire arms are assault weapons. Fists are assault weapons, we need to ban them. Anyone who makes a fist should be drawn and quartered.

  30. J. Gravelle says:

    Maybe we should adopt Colombia’s stringent gun laws, where Campo Elí­as Delgado still got ahold of the weaponry to kill 30 and wound 15 more.

    Or perhaps the strict Australian model would work for us. That’s where Martin Bryant killed 35 and wounded 21 more.

    South Korea! Now THERE’S an admirable model of regulation, hey? Whoops! Woo Bum-Kon didn’t find his country’s laws any sort of obstacle, and was able to kill 57 and wound 35 others.

    Well surely Norway, where nobody can own any (so-called) “assault weapons” they– no? Anders Behring Breivik’s 77 murder victims and the 151 others he shot (along with all the others I’ve listed) enjoyed zero benefit from gun control laws.

    Their attackers however, were nothing short of delighted that all their targets were unarmed, thanks to well-meaning but short-sighted gun control laws…


    • Michael E says:

      The current Australian gun laws were brought in after Martin Bryant shot dead 35 people at Port Arthur. In the 18 years prior to 1996 in Australia, there were 13 mass shootings each involving four or more deaths. In the 16 years since, there has so far been just one mass shooting of seven people two of whom died. Gun suicides have dropped by 70 per cent or more but gun crime as opposed to mass shooting does not appear to have reduced much or at all. Nevertheless Australia’s gun crime rates are much lower than the US rates. Australians can and do own guns and gun ownership is high and growing. Weapons that are restricted include assault rifles, machine guns, and flame throwers, reasonable restrictions in the minds of most people. But really, its weapons plus madness or bad attitudes that kill people, not just the weapons themselves. I suspect that the main reason gun death rates are lower in Australia than the US is not gun ownership but cultural differences. Australians are less likely to respond to insults or threats or just feeling bad by picking up a gun.

    • double-helical says:

      As I noted above, I agree. To these psychopaths, a “gun-free zone” sign simply means, to them: “defenseless target environment.”

    • JJ says:

      Single examples are fairly easy to find, especially if you go back 40 years.

      The better thing to do is examine if these events are more or less likely and/or more or less frequent in the US than the rest of the first world.

      This article makes the assertion that these happen a *dozen* times per year in the US. So the better questions are – what are the sources for that figure, what constitutes a ‘mass murder’ and how often does it happen in nations with different levels of gun control.

      • J. Gravelle says:

        It’s hardly data-mining to expound upon four of the five worst gun-massacres is history.

        I’m admittedly spotting you Seung-Hui Cho, our Virginia Tech slaughterer who, not un-coincidentally, targeted a(nother) so-called “gun-free zone”, yet came in at a feeble #4 on the list.

        McVey’s weapons of choice were OTC fertilizers and rent-a-trucks. To blame THOSE items is madness. Blaming the firearms is no different…


      • JJ says:

        So your response to “hey, let’s look at a larger data set, nail down the definition used by the article and see if we can actually draw comparisons” is to keep talking about outliers?


      • J. Gravelle says:

        To the contrary: I’ll GIVE you (and our friend Doctor Shermer) that, odds are, such rampages are very likely to increase in the future, here AND abroad.

        Where I part ways with our Skeptical Sage goes toward whether disarming those lunatics’ victims is a good idea.

        I submit, staunchly, that it is not.

        Perhaps if these shooting sprees begin to occur at gun clubs, gun ranges, or gun shows, the point that firearm concentration is the pathogen will be made. But not until.

        Not surprisingly though, these incidents (again) tend to occur where the cowards perpetrating the crimes can be confident their targets are, sadly, disarmed…


      • hicusdicus says:

        The 911 people used simple box knives. We need stronger laws on box knife sales.

    • MadScientist says:

      The more stringent ownership rules in Australia came long after that nut murdered those folks in Tasmania; Bryant didn’t murder those people despite the more restrictive laws. The current laws in Australia wouldn’t prevent another Bryant though; although the rules are much more stringent now, they are still not effective at preventing what they allegedly are meant to because the rules simply didn’t go far enough (Australia has it’s own pro-gun lobby). However, people being the silly things they are, it’s difficult to convince a politician that the laws need to be adjusted despite the fact that there haven’t been any similar mass murders in the intervening period.

    • Student says:

      Nice. I’m an Australian, and I’m glad I know my history, unlike you.

      “Or perhaps the strict Australian model would work for us. That’s where Martin Bryant killed 35 and wounded 21 more.”

      We banned semi-automatic weapons AFTER THIS. Our heavy regulation of firearms IS IN DIRECT CONSEQUENCE OF THIS. Didn’t you even read the wikipedia entry?

      You pretty much can’t read about Australia’s gun control laws and not know this.

      I don’t know about your other examples, and frankly, I’m not interested. If you want to make this example, you’re going to have to do the maths and count the lives saved against the lives lost to make your final judgement that firearms do good as opposed to bad.

      More to the point, since we enacted those laws in Australia, we haven’t had a spree shooter. So you’re a disingenuous liar who is trying to use evidence against your position as a case for it.

    • markx says:

      J. Gravelle:July 31, 2012 at 8:00 pm

      “….. Or perhaps the strict Australian model would work for us. That’s where Martin Bryant killed 35 and wounded 21 more….”

      Entirely missing the point there, Gravelle.

      Strict Australian gun laws were brought in because of, and after, the Port Arthur Massacre.

      Very soon afterwards it was impossible to by an AR15 (as he had used)or any other assault rifle and late it became more difficult to own any type of firearm.

  31. Karaktur says:

    I recently was talking to a friend and stated that we had just finished setting up our earthquake kit to last three weeks instead of three days. He said, “That’s good, now all you have to do is keep it for three weeks.” So, so I get an assault rifle or let the guy with one have my kit. Or do I share and last only a day or two? Katrina demonstrated that three days is not enough.

    • Student says:

      Or everyone could get a kit? I mean, really, if your going to argue that you should all have assault rifles rather than kits and engage in a Battle Royale in a Mad Max-esque battle for supplies is a more reasonable course of action than trying to make sure everyone is prepared, you’re going to have a bad time.

      (Yes, I’m exaggerating heavily here.)

  32. Wes says:

    The development of the phaser which can be set to stun will turn all this gun control talk on its head. Everybody could carry a phaser set to stun and you could knock off the bad guys without killing the innocents who got caught in the crossfire. Yes the bad guys could set their phasers to ‘kill’ but that doesn’t mean that law abiding citizens would have to.

  33. Michael E says:

    James Whitman did not kill 49 people but he did have 49 victims: two stabbed to death, 14 shot to death, & 32 wounded by shooting making 49 if you include Whitman himself. Your point about his brain tumour holds. Its sad that Whitman was mad & knew it but got no help in time to prevent the tragedy. Another interesting aspect of the Whitman incident is that he did receive return fire from armed civilians but it was police who shot him down.

  34. John says:

    There are uncountable numbers of automatic weapons in the world. If we ban them we automatically establish a criminal element to sell them to anyone who really wants to obtain one….and they will….especially the ones we don’t want to have them! It is no different than heroin or cocaine….the criminals will profit and we will still die! Gun bans seem to be hopeless in controlling societies violent citizens! It seems you can even buy a nuclear weapon these days…if you have the money!

    • Max says:

      I guess we should legalize nuclear weapons and tax them.
      Anders Breivik failed to buy an AK-47 type rifle. Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar failed to get a gun, resorted to hitting people with his SUV, and didn’t kill or seriously injure anyone. So gun control isn’t hopeless.

    • MadScientist says:

      So you’re saying that some classes of weapons should not be banned or restricted because the sort of people who own those weapons are not trustworthy and would sell their weapons to criminals rather than follow the rule of law?

    • hicusdicus says:

      To John. Amen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  35. paul watkins says:

    Erm, did no-one notice this:

    “recent studies on psychopathy, for example, show that many are successful CEOs, politicians, and Wall Street traders and executives who employ their psychopathic personality traits of tough-minded and emotionless impulsive decision making to great effect in the rough-and-tumble world of business and politics.”

    Rather than removing guns, I think society would be much better served removing those psychopaths from the above trades.

    Who knows, we might then even have an intelligent debate on how to live together, including those with guns.

    • double-helical says:

      I noticed. It almost made them sound like ok guys. But they’re not.
      Their genetic defect is that that are incapable of empathy, and don’t ever feel any guilt.
      I agree with the sentiment, but it is damn difficult to identify these pseudo-humans if they don’t “step out of line.” Ref: “The Sociopath Next Door” by Martha Stout.

  36. JoeyH says:

    First of all, “semi-automatic” guns do not “look scary.” Many assault rifles do, and many target rifles do not. All it means is that you don’t have to cock the gun before every shot. And if you ask a disabled shooter like me to give that up, that’s the end of my shooting (the only sport I can do anymore).

    California is possibly the most restrictive state when it comes to gun laws. Maybe someone should tell all of our criminal gun owners since oddly enough, they don’t care.

    I absolutely believe we need to fix the problem at the source, but the source is not guns. The source is an unworkable shambles of a public mental health program in this country. The guy’s apartment was a death trap; how would banning guns have prevented that? Or suppose someone can’t get a gun — you can easily find out how to make a pipe bomb with nails in it, with untraceable materials.

    Instead of resigning ourselves to the next massacre, which will happen no matter what laws are passed, let’s think about how best to screen, identify, and help potentially dangerous people without also sacrificing our liberty. Sound tough? It is, because the best solutions aren’t anywhere close to as easy as slapping on another useless ban.

  37. double-helical says:

    Dr. Shermer,
    I’m very glad that you raised this point; it’s something that Skeptics have needed to discuss for a while. The Law of Large Numbers also applies in other ways to this same case. As many of the earlier posts note, there is simply no way to prevent a bad actor from obtaining the means to wreak havoc. And, there are plenty of bad actors. Take only psychopaths alone: Dr. Martha Stout’s estimate is 4% of Americans. Only a tiny fraction are serial killers or mass murderers, thankfully. There are billions of firearms in the world, but many more people have been killed by means other than firearms, as Dr. Pinker describes in his most recent book. What is it about mass murders that makes them worse than solitary murders? Serial killers have amassed large numbers of victims over the course of their nefarious lives. In trying to address the horror of the moment, I believe that you might have been a tiny bit carried away. We all wish that there was some way to prevent lunatics from killing us, as we all wish that there were not over 30,000 highways deaths per year. I can only offer one mitigation factor that has been shown to be effective: armed citizens. Gary Kleck argues that firearms in citizen hands are used to prevent crimes more than five times as often as they are used to commit them. I submit that one armed theatergoer in Aurora would have prevented the tragedy — if he or she had been permitted to carry lawfully in the theater.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      The argument on how many crimes are prevented by firearms is a battle of assertions – no one keeps count of how many rapes, robberies and murders *didn’t* occur. We don’t know how many happened. We don’t even know how to attribute crime deterrence.

      Here’s an anecdote: Long ago, I heard suspicious noises coming from the parking garage of my build late at night … I grabbed a pistol, put it into my jacket pocket and headed downstairs. As I opened the door, I heard some scuffling & running followed by a door slamming. I saw that three cars had had their windows broken and it appeared that my presence scared off the thieves. Did my pistol help? How could it – I didn’t brandish it… in fact, I doubt they knew I was a large man when I went downstairs … I could have been a 60-year old woman heading for her job on the night shift.

      It was lucky for the residents (who didn’t have their windows broken) that I happened to hear the noise and check it out – but to count this as a “crime prevented by a gun” is an awful stretch.

      • double-helical says:

        I was noting Gary Kleck’s work in the field. See also the National Academy Press report.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        Do they have a magical means of counting all of the things that are unreported or do they make stuff up?

    • hicusdicus says:

      There is a way to prevent lunatics from killing us. Carry concealed and kill him first. An armed society is a polite society.

  38. tmac57 says:

    Well,ya’ll have convinced me.In fact I am now so convinced of the imminent danger that I am in,that I now believe that I need an even greater amount of firepower to protect me and my family from this grave threat.I am taking on board Mile’s ‘hint’ about converting semi-automatic weapons to automatic,and after joining the NRA,I will press them and my congress representatives to do everything to make it legal for me to buy a high powered machine gun (sorry I don’t know the proper lingo yet,but I’m a fast learner,and already a decent shot with a handgun).
    Yes indeed,it’s going to be a new,safer day for me and mine.All others,be advised. :(

    • Max says:

      I have some respect for consistency. If people really believe that abortion is murder, then they should be in favor of charging the mother with murder, even in case of rape and incest. And if people believe that the main purpose of the right to bear arms is to protect the people from the government, then they should be in favor of all kinds of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, even if terrorists can use them to shoot down passenger planes.

  39. Dr. Joel C. Brothers says:

    Well, now we know. You’re just another Gun Control Freak. I don’t suppose you ever considered the fact that had the theater NOT been a Gun-Free Zone, and if anyone inside would’ve had a firearm, the tragedy would also have been lessened considerably. In fact, it probably would not have happened at all. The location was selected specifically because there were large numbers of people GUARANTEED to be unarmed and mostly helpless. Had it not been a Gun-Free Zone, another location would’ve certainly been selected.

    Want proof? When is the last time you ever heard of a massacre at a Gun Range? How about a police station, or military base where the personnel were armed?

    I will no longer be subscribing to your publications.

    • Beelzebud says:

      Yeah that’s what you want. People exchanging gunfire in a dark movie theater… What could go wrong?

      There were armed civilians when Rep. Giffords was shot, and the only person that drew his gun, later said that he nearly shot the wrong guy.

      Your assertion isn’t based on facts, at all.

  40. kk says:

    As romantic as the thought may be to weekend warriors, it’s not very likely that a random individual is going to incapacitate an armored assailant indiscriminately firing at a high rate. Especially after some type of smoke and/or other irritants were set off. Not to mention the added complications of a crowd.

    “Defense against tyranny” is noble and perhaps closest to what the Founding Fathers thought of. Yet it seems this sentiment is most often held by the exact sort of fundamentalist kook/conspiracy nut you probably wouldn’t want to be heavily armed.

    Crimes may be prevented by someone having a gun. The situation may also be worsened when individuals attempt to take the law into their own hands. Certainly we know individuals will buy guns legally to commit crime. The availability of a weapon in the home certainly comes into play with suicides, accidental shootings, and domestic disputes.

  41. Peter Ozzie Jones says:

    I am saddened by the loss of so many lives, the grief must be unbearable.

    You don’t really need guns for mass murder.

    Dr Harold Shipman (hanged himself in prison on 13 January 2004) was an English GP. It is claimed that he is the most prolific serial killer, murdering more than 250 of his patients.

    • Pete Medina says:

      Not all at one time.

      • Peter Ozzie Jones says:

        Well, how about these Australian tragedies then using just fire?

        1. The fire at the Childers Palace Backpackers Hostel in Queensland on 23 June 2000 killed 15 backpackers.
        Robert Long was arrested for lighting the fire and charged with murder.

        2. The Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, Feb-Mar 2009, killed 173 people. Some of the fires had been deliberately lit.

  42. BillG says:

    The 2nd amendment is no different than the 1st, as free speech as has limitations – threats, libel, slander, etc.

    “A well regulated militia”, hence not incompetent regulation, “…to keep and bear arms” doesn’t justify high capacity gun clips

    • BillG says:

      Adding, the(USA) has a large voting block with an obsession of guns, the Bible and hatred of gays. Though contrary to your common gun nut, Obama has done squat on restrictions – actually signing gun access in national parks.

      Our entire political culture is incestuous with cowards and NRA proxies, literally giving the paranoid more ammunition.

      • double-helical says:

        Addressing your second post: although your diatribe is almost incomprehensible, I can and will address your “gun nut” paragraph with two items. First, note my post above on “Fast and Furious.” This should be illustrative of the current administration’s proclivities. Second, one presumes that you are a Skeptic, else this blog would not have attracted your attention. Such statements as yours that intimate that anyone who owns a firearm is obsessed or a “nut” are clearly not able to withstand illumination. How can 100 million of your fellow citizens fall neatly into those restrictive, reprehensible categories? I recognize, as you have not yet done, that the right to self defense is a basic human right that evolved, as our ancestors did, on the savannahs of Africa. Who is paranoid? Surely, it is the citizen who wishes it would all go away.

      • BillG says:

        To dignify a response perhaps I’m delusional in thinking we graduated from our knuckle dragging days from the savannah. Though the gun debate shows that I’m wrong as the trite arguments get reshoveled with no sane controls on one’s personal right to amass a cache of weapons, 6000 rounds of ammunition, 100-round drum magazines, tear gas, bullet stopping armor – all attained from a single U.S. citizen. Firearm production, promotion and distribution have run amok in which 80 gun violence deaths occur each every day in the U.S. – more than double that for injuries. We do a better job regulating manicurists than firearms.

        Cost and benefit? We can do monumentally better and still maintain the 2nd amendment.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        I noted your comments on the Fast and Furious and, frankly, I think your take on it weakens your opinions on the issue of gun control.

        I am saddened by an evolution in the type of person who is a gun enthusiast. a few decades back I was a gun enthusiast and very much enjoyed going target shooting with my brother and father (all of us were very progressive politically). We would shoot at controlled shooting ranges and compete for accuracy. I was the family’s ‘gunsmith’ because I enjoyed working on the mechanisms as much as I enjoyed shooting. The people we met at ranges were generally polite and understood that shooting guns is a high risk activity and we very, very careful. I felt very safe in this company. I also noted that politically there were as many democrats as republicans at these shooting ranges (based on bumper stickers, etc).
        Now, it seems that shooting ranges are dominated by a new breed of gun enthusiasts – and they interfere with my enjoyment of the sport – even though they are not necessarily the majority of gun owners they appear to be the loudest. I hesitate to use the term ‘angry gun owner’ but I cannot think of anything else which is as descriptive as what I see. The ‘old guard’ of gentleman shooters is being pushed aside by guys who go for the biggest and baddest looking guns (who aslo can’t shoot for shit) and they seem ultra aggressive in their ownership of guns. Their firearms often have all sorts of accessories to make it look like something from an action movie (and frequently throw the gun out of balance making it much harder to shoot accurately). These guys are posers. I also noticed that they are far more likely to be reprimanded by the range chiefs for failure to follow gun safety rules.
        Even though I no longer own any firearms, I still occasionally go with my Brother but we avoid weekends at the gun ranges because the flood of ‘angry gun owners’ spoils the sport of target shooting.
        IMO: This breed of gun owner is bad for firearms’ reputation – they seem to be attracted to bad-assery rather than the skill and precision of shooting. The old guard, grandpas who can still really shoot, should be on the posters of the NRA. I also note that those old guard rarely suggest that arming everyone would be a good idea (especially since they don’t even like to go to the shooting range when the new breed shows up).

      • Daniel says:

        Now that’s a coherent argument.

        My guess is that you don’t know a single person who owns a gun, thus your comment about linking “obsession with guns” and “the Bible and hatred of gays.” Bigotry and ignorance, it’s all the rage with the left these days.

        And maybe the NRA is so powerful because a lot of Americans either agree with its position, or feel it is a bulwark against enemies of the Constitution such as Mike Bloomberg and his gang of nannies.

        But of course, yelling “bible thumper”, “creationist” and “climate denier” are much easier than a persuasive, logical and thoughtful argument (i.e. the Prothero approach).

      • BillG says:

        Your guess is wrong and my rage is directed at the meaningless gun violence of 100,000 people each year who succumb to murder, assaults, accidents and sucicides.

        Daniel, I challenge you to research both the pro and cons of the NRA – the antithesis of any cerebral gun enthusist.

      • George Pace says:

        BillG wrote: “100,000 people each year who succumb to murder, assaults, accidents and sucicides.”

        What kind of research do you do? Please cite your source for that number! Since over half of the firearm related deaths annually are a result of suicide, am I correct in inferring that you do not support the right of humans to take their own lives? Why?

    • double-helical says:

      N.B.: In this context, “well regulated” means well-trained. See my post above. And, it’s not supposed to justify anything. It is the law of the land. There are also provisions in the law to change the law. It’s called a Constitutional Amendment. The process is plainly spelled out. If you can get enought people to repeal it, it will no longer be the law. It may happen one day; let us hope it is not soon.

      • Student says:

        “N.B.: In this context, “well regulated” means well-trained.”

        Prove it.

      • double-helical says:

        From the Wikipedia article on the Second Amendment: “The term “regulated” means “disciplined” or “trained”.[114] In Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that “[t]he adjective ‘well-regulated’ implies nothing more than the imposition of proper discipline and training.”[115]

  43. Dennis says:

    Some of you folks seem to be willfully ignoring what Michael said. He wants to remove the ability of people to own automatic and semi-automatic weapons. That is weapons that either keep firing while the trigger is pressed, or fire and automatically reload a round into the breech each time the trigger is pressed. That would still give those who see the need to carry firearms to defend themselves the right to buy and carry revolvers and bolt action rifles.

    From what I have read of the various mass murders that have occurred in the US, the killer uses automatic or semi-automatic pistols and rifles. If an armed citizen was available to respond to a shooting, I cannot imagine that person having a rifle handy at a school or in the theatre, so I reason it would be a pistol that they would have to use. I would also imagine that the range would be rather short and an inexperience shooter responding with automatic or semi-automatic weapons would spray a lot of extra nasty pieces of metal about. A trained police officer or soldier would hopefully have the ability to accurately aim and only fire at the correct target, but not a nervous, excited and untrained member of the public. Restricting the public to revolvers makes sense.

    As Michael suggests the aim should be to restrict access to automatic and semi-automatic weapons to all and in the process restrict access to automatic and semi-automatic weapons to people with problems who see weapons as a boost to their manhood, ego, self-respect or self-esteem.

  44. Sonja says:

    I live in Australia where there are tight gun laws. Nobody here feels the need to have a gun at home or anywhere else for that matter and no-one feels as though that is an infringement on their freedom.

    As part of civil society we trade some freedoms for the good of society as a whole. An example that immediately comes to mind is that we stop at red lights or drive on the correct side of the road and that tacit agreement allows some order to come out of chaos.

    The difficulty lies in what freedoms do we trade.

    From my perspective and that is as an outsider looking in, the gun question in the US is puzzling.

    My understanding of the part of the constition that states that people have the right to bear arms was based on the American War of Independence. It would be important for a population to be able to defend itself from outside authorities but it is now an archaic idea in modern life and that concept should be laid to rest.

    I could think of nothing more shocking than to be shot going to the cinema. The Utilitarian notion simply put, of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few should be applied to this case where the “freedom” of a few to carry guns does not outweigh the right of citizens to go about their lawful business free rom the threat of violence.

  45. Stephen says:

    I read with grim dismay here the various logical back-flips people perform in defence of their rights to own arsenals. I even point out from time to time that wearily jabbing a finger at the Second Amendment (‘…right to bear arms..’) is an anachronism because the very same amendment refers to a a ‘well armed militia.’ Now the USA has a professional army, it does not need a ‘militia.’
    I write this as a Brit who comes from a land with the toughest gun laws in the world and enjoys an almost total absence of gun-related violence and who now resides in Hong Kong with similar laws. The amount of violent shootings here per year? Zero.

    • shawmutt says:

      Sigh…more European self-gratification. Speaking about logical back flips, how about we stop cherry-picking the areas and take other things into consideration, such as total violent crime and demographics?

      The entire continent of Europe is roughly the same size (in total square miles) of the US. Just like Europe, we have our peaceful areas and we have our troubled areas. While we’re all “Americans” and have English as our main language, we are as varied a people as Europeans. Put a California city dweller and a Texas redneck in the same room–odds are they’ll come to blows within minutes.

    • George Pace says:

      Please read David Kopel’s “The Samurai, The Mountie, and The Cowboy” for a lengthy detailed account as to why comparing firearm use and abuse in various countries and cultures is an apples and oranges situation. Too complex to even begin to discuss here.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      [Begin Tongue In Cheek Mode]
      If you Brits wanted a say in how America is run, then you should have won the frickin’ revolutionary war!
      [End Tongue In Cheek Mode]

  46. Gina says:

    Congratulations for this first step towards a civilized society.

    First we ban the automatics, then maybe we can come to our collective senses and ban all weapons from anyone but the police and the military.

    I hope it happens in my lifetime.

    • double-helical says:

      The Army can’t protect you, by law. Only the law enforcement authorities can do that. But, legal precedent shows that police cannot be held liable if you are a victim of a crime, such as an assault. They are only required to do their best to maintain a stable and relatively peaceful society. So, in the final analysis, you are responsible for defending yourself. Now, the average psychopath doesn’t care what you think and feel as he contemplates his crime. He does, however, worry that you may be armed and are willing to resist. If only 1 in 100 women in a city are armed, that is enough for the criminal to seek easier prey, as prisoner interviews have shown. Now, supposing this utopia that you wish for comes to pass, and all citizens are barred from possessing firearms. What do you think that hypothetical psychopath will be deterred by? As you know, he is not deterred by police. If you don’t want to arm yourself, that’s fine. But don’t deprive your sisters of the right to defend themselves in time of need.

    • Scott says:

      I have a homework assignment for you. Read this it is not very long at all

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Before we ban all weapons, we’d better civilize wild animals.

  47. Icepick says:

    Just a correction: Charles Whitman killed 14 (or 15) from the Tower and injured another 32 or so. It is interesting that this many years later, quickly available sources do not agree on the numbers. That includes whether to include his mother, his wife and himself in the count.

  48. NRA Not right says:

    I have grown up with guns, shoot guns and have owned guns, but I also do not agree with the approach the NRA takes on guns. I feel the NRA has abdicated real responsibility for gun safety in this country leaving a safety vacuum that many feel needs to be filled with government regulations. I am also a scuba diver. In scuba, industry realized that without mandatory safety programs, scuba could be dangerous and lives would be lost. Without government intervention, scuba set up PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors). PADI requires completion of a safety program to scuba dive. I need my PADI card to go on dive trips, to get tank refills and so on. If the NRA were more serious about gun safety they would implement an analogous program. No guns would be sold without an NRA safety card, no ammunition without a safety card, if crimes were committed, NRA should use the data to apprehend criminals. Instead, the NRA had devolved into a political machine. Had the NRA perused a more responsible strategy, then gun safety would not be in such question and there would not be the call of others for government gun control. The NRA should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

  49. lord scully says:

    I think a ban on firearms in the U.S would be pointless. the reason is that american’s have a gun “culture”. american’s have a cultural predisposition towards guns unlike here in Europe. Us European’s don’t have any particular desire to own gun’s because it’s not part of our culture. An american, therefore, is much more likely to reach for a gun to settle an argument or percieved injustice. A ban on firearm’s will not change that. there are so many firearm’s in America now that anyone who really wants one will get one, one way or another.

  50. Laura Simpson says:

    If we take a percentage of a percentage of a percentage of people who are likely to be psychotic in search of how many of those people are likely to commit mass murder, doesn’t that leave us with 3.14 people who are likely to commit an act of mass murder, not a number of violent acts per year?

    Maybe there is a way to look at the data based on the number of mass shootings that have occurred in the past, and examine that against the known data regarding psychopaths. We know that shootings and mass murder sprees like this are going to happen again in the future. The questions are how likely are they to happen? What are some things that can be done to prevent them (better gun control, better health care and treatment for those with mental illness, etc)? And how can average folks defend themselves against such an attack? Is there a way to defend against this type of shooting?

  51. John Shuey says:

    Michael’s basic premise, and indeed many of the responses, overlook a series of interrelated facts:

    1) Even though private gun ownership has soared over the last decade plus, including an explosion in ownership of AR type weapons, the violent crime rate has fallen;

    2) Sweden has some of the more strict gun control laws on the planet, and yet was recently home to arguably the worst case of mass murder in history;

    3) Mexico has extremely restrictive gun laws, and even if you take out the drug-gang crimes committed with firearms, their murder rate exceeds that or the U.S., and

    4) Prohibition exacerbates crime, it does not lower it.

    These are all circles Michael’s position fails to square. The answer must lie in better mental health care, including far more resonsible clinicians, rather than further eroding individual liberties.

    • Max says:

      It was Norway, not Sweden. It could’ve been even worse if Breivik had succeeded in purchasing an AK-47 type assault rifle. It may be the worst mass murder in Norwegian history, but not in world history. The 2008 Mumbai attacks killed over 160 people by AK-47s and hand grenades.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        Whether he used an AK47 & a Mini-14 is not significant. These are both comparable weapons and the differences in capability between them are insignificant compared with the shooter’s ability.

        BTW: the Mumbai attackS were carried out by multiple shooters so a simple number comparison is meaningless.

        This is the sort of reasoning that gets pistol grips & flash-suppressors banned while allowing guns which are functionally equivalent to AR-15s to continue to be sold (and even go unregistered) in the State of CA.

    • Student says:

      1) Correlation != Causation.

      2) It wasn’t Sweden.

      3) An interesting point.

      4) Really? The prohibition of alcohol did, and the prohibition of drugs may be, but if we’re talking the prohibition of firearms, I think we have to consider that making it harder to have firearm related crimes has an impact. That said, it’s related to an actual point worth discussing: Making weapons illegal makes people who sell weapons illegally rich. Like the case today with drug deals financing organised crime and terrorism.

  52. Nils says:

    Gun violence happens in every country regardless of the law of the land. Given the huge numbers of weapons in the world, there is always a way to get it. However it is my firm belief that we should not make it easier for people to aquire them based on a sentence in something that was written a long time ago when conditions were different ( sound familiar? ) . I’m not a citizen of the U.S so i can’t really relate to the so called need for protection. Maybe I would feel different if I were. To me it sounds like an arms race with no happy ending (immature people insert joke here). Making guns illegal at this point in the U.S would of course only mean that criminals etc would have a much easier time, unless all weapons were seized which of course is impossible. In there lies the problem, the country is flooded with weapons. Educating,restricting or other measures will do nothing. I don’t think people should be allowed any type of firearms (in sweden you’re not even allowed to have a pocketknife or similar in public unless you are a carpenter). For the simple reason that some people will use them against others and I think we should minimise the options. But as I stated in the above, it’s not so black and white. For the sake of argument, if you could build a new utopia on a different planet would you give people the right to bare arms or would you ban them from the beginning?

    • double-helical says:

      I refer you to the novel “Voyage from Yesteryear” by James Hogan. The theme is another planet with a different human culture. Very interesting read.

      “Voyage from Yesteryear ISBN 978-0-671-57798-8 – July 1982″

  53. Mike says:


    The Virginia Tech shooter only used pistols, specifically a .22-caliber Walther P22 handgun and a 9 mm Glock 19 handgun. So the supposition that the carnage would be lessened had the Aurora shooter not had a semi-automatic rifle seems a bit spurious, if not outright unsupported: massacres have occurred when the shooter only used a pistol, to wit, those massacres would not have been prevented by the banning of certain rifles as no rifles were used in those massacres. Furthermore, the Oklahoma City Federal building bomber used no firearms, and simply resortd to a fertilizer bomb, so again I’m not sure I follow your assertion that these rare events would have been thwarted by banning specific firearms, it seems crazy people often do not even use firearms to kill lots of people and I would argue will simply find another way.

    Perhaps the solution is better mental health care, and better screening for mental illness. The Aurora shooter apparently had many signs of serious mental illness, and if properly diagnosed he wouldn’t have been able to purchase any firearms or explosives, and may have been committed. That is something many of these murderers seems to have in common, mental illness, and not the weapons they choose.

    Note: I refuse to use either of the shooters names, as that seems to feed the cult of celebrity created around these loosers encouraging other idiots to copy them, and I simply will not be part of that.

  54. Alexander says:

    Dr. Shermer,

    I imagine that you know as well as anyone that passing a law restricting something is not going to solve the problem, or even lessen it for that matter. Calling them “Weapons of Mass Murder” isn’t an actual argument against owning these rifles, and seems more like an appeal to emotion. I own an AR-15 “assault rifle” that has never been used in an assault or in an act of mass murder. My reason for owning it, although in a free society I should not have to give a reason as to why I wish to use my rights, is for home defense and for sport. The reason I prefer an “assault rifle” rather than a pistol for home defense is because it is one of the few weapons I have formal training on (US Army) and it is the weapon I am most comfortable with. If someone broke into my house to try and harm my family this rifle would give me the best chance of protecting them and myself. With that being said it would be just as accurate to refer to them as “Weapons of Self-Defense to Prolong the Life, Welfare, and Happiness of My Family While Occasionally Being Used for Sport,” but I guess that’s not as catchy.

    I think the biggest difference between libertarians and non-libertarians is that non-libertarians, whether on the left or the right, constantly commit the fallacy of assuming that a proposed law will actually do what it intends to do. Prohibition of any kind does not rid us of the prohibited item, it just makes it a crime to possess it. The law you propose can only be seen as an increase in freedom if the law did more than we could reasonably expect. A ban on these types of rifles will not make us safer aslong there are people out there wishing to do harm to others. A ban will not rid the country of assault rifles. All of the rifles purchased before the ban, and likely those already on the market when the ban takes place, will still be legally owned by thousands of Americans. But after such a ban, law abiding Americans will not be able to obtain this type of rifle whereas those who do not care about the law will.

    If the theater where this tragedy took place is the same as the ones where I live it was most likely a “gun free zone.” Obviously, criminals will not listen to this, but the good guys who only want to watch a movie will. A ban on assault rifles would not have stopped this crime from occurring, but allowing adults to carry a pistol for self defense in the theater might have.

    There are no perfect solutions to a problem like this. The Virginia Tech shooter killed more than twice as many people as Holmes did using pistols that you think should be legal. Charles Whitman killed 16 people, while injuring more than 40, using pistols and hunting rifles. On top of this there is the Son of Sam, the Zodiac killer, and many of the worst serial killers in our history, who used nothing more than a pistol (some didn’t use any type of gun). And of course let’s not forget the numerous deaths and injuries that happen in our prison system using nothing more than household items. A ban on assault rifles will not stop crime and it will not save lives, it will only change the manner in which these things occur.

    It is also important to point out that the Aura Shooting was not done solely by an assault rifle, and that the rifle used malfunctioned fairly early on.

  55. Trevor says:

    Geez, Michael, you surprised me today.

    Your treatment of large numbers as they apply to possibly violent mental illness is, of course, well written and sound. But to use that to justify banning a type of firearm in a vain and futile attempt to keep them out of the hands of psychopaths intent on doing damage is baffling.

    I would have thought that, of all people, you’d see that these mass killings are a problem of mental illness and toxic ideologies, just as they are the cause of “smaller” tragedies like parents praying over their son while he dies of an easily treatable disease.

    The answer is not outlawing guns anymore than it is outlawing bibles or homeopathy water. The answer lies in saving minds that are ill because of congenital defect or infection by ideological malware.

    The mentally ill use whatever they can get that fits their particular brand of crazy, be it bare hands, rocks and knives, guns, holy water, energy touch, or orgone accumulators. How could the remedy possibly involve taking these things away, when that merely leaves the ill person still free to latch on to a Plan B?

    Damage control fails because it’s merely shoring up a system that isn’t actually addressing the threats to it. All the metal doors, bullet-proof windows, sophisticated locks and top-tier alarm systems won’t do me a damn bit of good against the guy who is convinced plowing through my house in a Mac truck will make Jessica Alba love him. The only thing that will protect me from that guy is a society that is resolved to detect him and treat him.

    I’m a gun owner who has absolutely no interest in owning an assault weapon. I simply have no need for it. At best I’d rent one out at a range shoot just to experience what it’s like to fire one. But more importantly, I have no need or desire to harm others. Putting an AK in my hands endangers exactly NOBODY. Putting and RPG in my hands is likewise a harm-free exercise. Putting a NUKE in my hands would, frankly, freak me the fuck out, but not enough to make me think activating it would be a positive.

    Making guns harder or impossible for folks like me–who vastly outnumber the mentally ill–just unduly burdens a legal, gratifying hobby for millions in exchange for the false security that the mentally ill can’t get them. As you pointed out, Michael, many psychopaths are successful business men, demonstrating that many if not most psychopaths are quite mentally adept. A gun ban would simply challenge those adept minds to find the black market for guns which won’t ask questions or report purchases, or, even worse, choose another, more devastating mode of destruction like a fertilizer bomb or a chemical attack.

    I’ve made the points I wanted to, and I hope I’ve stopped short of tl;dr territory. I’ll stop now ;)

  56. Mllecheree says:

    Congratulations able-bodied men (and a few others) 17 to 44 years of age — you are members of the federal militia. 10 USC § 311 In my state, all able-bodied citizens (and some others — no limitation on gender or upper age) above the age of 17 are members of the state militia. § 25-1-60, S.C. Code Regardless of the interpretation of the preamble to the Second Amendment, it applies directly to me and to far more people than many believe.

    Therefore, to control access to and abuse of firearms, I suggest that we pay attention to “well-regulated” (well-trained) in the Amendment. I believe a system of education, training, and licensing of individuals similar to that of driver’s licenses would pass Constitutional muster and not unduly disturb those against licensing of weapons — having a driver’s license doesn’t mean a person owns a vehicle. Also like vehicles, requiring firearm owners to carry insurance seems both reasonable and lawful. Personally, I’d be in favor of stringent punishment for those who don’t comply with licensing and insurance regulations. Would this proposal end firearm massacres? No. Would it cut down on the number of firearm massacres? Maybe. Would it cut down the number of firearm deaths and injuries? Yes. The degree of federal versus state promulgation and enforcement is outside the scope of this post.

    Short of space aliens (or other improbable/impossible agent(s))vaporizing all firearms and wiping Earthling brains clean of all knowledge and impetus to produce them, it is impossible to prevent mass – or individual – killing by them. We can, however, do more than licensing individuals and requiring insurance to cut down on firearms deaths and injuries. A couple of suggestions: Mentally healthy people seldom initiate massacres or commit suicide; therefore, greater availability and affordability of mental health resources would help. A lot of gun violence is associated with the drug trade; therefore, a re-examination of our drug laws which includes information about the gun violence-effects would be helpful.

  57. Michael Sestak says:

    There is another factor in the Law of Large Numbers that Michael Shermer did not mention that pertains to events such as mass murders. Something which is only a percent of a percent of a percent can still occur a significant number of times when you start from hundreds of millions of things to select from, true. But for mass murders (or terrorist attacks and a few other categories of horrific events), practically every single one of these gets reported, widely. So, psychologically, they seem to be more common than they really are. Being involved in a mass murder is still a one in a million event. Hearing about a mass murder is an almost certainty. If people perceive the risk of something bad to have increased, they will want something done, even if the actual risk has not changed.

  58. tsewall says:

    Cinemark Theaters are gun-free zones. As a general rule, I don’t approve of these zones and think they should be outlawed, or at least visibly marked in bold 4 inch red letters, because they encourage mass murder. The fact is that a 5 gallon can of gasoline would probably have been more effective in a crowded theater. Call me skeptical of preventing any kind of mass murder or mayhem other than quickly killing the attacker.

    Today, I will go to my local shooting range and shoot using 5, 10, and 25 round magazines in both rifles and handguns and enjoy it. I am preparing for a CMP qualification match in a few weeks in order to purchase an M-1 Garand (for competition) from the CMP (civilian marksmanship program). In light of the Colorado incident I will also practice the “body armor drill” with my carry revolver,,,two to the body and one to the head. Later I will shop for a pink .22 rifle for my grand-daughter’s birthday and a couple of clay target traps for the family’s enjoyment when we visit.

  59. Gazza says:

    So we are fortunate that not all psychopaths are violent and commit mass murder. Some become successful CEO’s or Wall St traders while others enter politics. Look at some of the predatory behaviour of top American companies not to mention the destruction of the economy caused by the psychos of Wall Street This is at least cause for concern about their presence there. Even more alarming is their presence in politics after all it is a politician who has ultimate control over the world’s biggest weapons of mass murder.

    • double-helical says:

      See my post above. Psychopaths are hard to identify if they want to blend in with the crowd. They are often very clever. And they have zero empathy and zero guilt. Read Martha Stout’s excellent book, “The Sociopath Next Door.” If we *could* identify these people beforehand, that would be great…..

  60. ullrich fischer says:

    Interesting that the estimate worked out to 3.14 Auroras per year. Was that on purpose to make it close to pi ? :)

    Great article, though. I completely agree. The right to bear arms should be restricted to owning muzzle loading blunderbusses — blunderbi? — which is what was generally available at the time the 2nd amendment passed.

    Canada seems to have a better handle on this issue. We need a good reason to get a permit to own a handgun and automatic weapons are illegal for private citizens. It would, IMHO, make sense to give police more search and seize powers to profile known criminals in order to confiscate their guns. We have multi-year bans on gun ownership for people convicted of violent crimes. I see no reason to allow such people to ever own guns again. It isn’t like a lot of employment opportunities are closed to people who can’t own a gun legally.

    Most of the drug gang bangers’ weapons are smuggled in from the US. If the US got a better handle on these things, all of North America would be in better shape. As the incident in Toronto showed, Canada is subject to the same kind of thing more or less in proportion to our population vs that of the US but with typically fewer deaths per incident. Toronto was a bit of an outlier.

    My personal experience with gun regulation suggests that it might be more helpful than the “guns don’t kill people” paradigm might imply. I owned three hunting rifles about 40 years ago when I was living in Edmonton and would occasionally go on hunting trips with a friend. The rules for registering such weapons changed to require a bit more paperwork than I was willing to devote to this occasional hobby, so I got rid of the guns. (Sold them to the friend – who was definitely not psychotic at the time. :) ) I suspect I was not alone in making such a decision. Tighter regulations means not fewer guns, but fewer people with guns… fewer locations from which guns can be stolen.

    Obviously, more attention needs to be paid to the warning signs of potential psychotic behavior, but the idea of banning private ownership of Weapons of Mass Murder makes perfect sense… especially if combined with explicit permission for police to search and seize guns from anyone with a prior violent criminal conviction. IMHO, freedom from arbitrary search should be forfeit once you are known to have a violent criminal history.

  61. Bob Woolley says:

    I have written an extended response to Mr. Shermer’s essay, too long to fit in a comment here. My blog is usually about poker, but today I instead used the space today to address the points raised here. Please see

  62. Lennart Forsberg says:

    Well, read the essay and only skimmed through the comments so I might have missed someone else making this point. Anyway, all statistics show that more guns around, more violence with guns will occur. Don’t remember the figures exactly, but isn’t the risk of being killed or wounded by a gun at least doubled if buying a gun for personal protection? The logical thing to do would be to ban all sales of guns directly over the counter, strict control of the people wanting to buy and something like a drivers license (owners license, carrier license?)to be allowed to buy and own a gun. All guns, all states and a lot of the problems would disappear – or am I totally wrong here?

    • double-helical says:

      “…isn’t the risk of being killed or wounded by a gun at least doubled if buying a gun for personal protection?”

      Actually, although widely quoted, it is not true.

      And, the laws that you propose would only affect law-abiding people. It would only inconvenience, *maybe,* a criminal.

  63. Jim Bullington says:

    Very good article Michael – I agree whole-heartedly – there is no reason for citizens to own assault weapons!

    • George Pace says:

      Jim, have you not read any of the responses above? More than a few have pointed out that Holmes did NOT have an assault weapon. He had a weapon that merely looks like an assault weapon. Assault weapons (weapons having a fully automatic fire option) have been illegal for private ownership in the U.S. since the 1930s.

  64. JJ says:

    It is quite depressing that we can’t move beyond outliers and actually focus on the real questions.

    Thanks to the law of large numbers these incidents have occurred in the past and will continue to occur across the world.

    To then try and ask the question “does this happen more or less often, and with more or less favorable outcomes in nations with varying levels of gun control” is immediately met, head-on, with repeated talk of the outliers. You can see it all over this comment section.

    We can’t even have this conversation it seems.

    • Student says:

      Yep. Rather than discuss the numbers merit, ie, are more lives safe or endangered by firearms, it degenerates into anectdotes and constitutional references. As someone who cares not at all for guns, and lives in a nation with heavy gun control, I’d be convinced of a need for them if someone could show me that more lives would be saved/safer as opposed to ended/endangered by the presence of firearms.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        The real problem is there are many sides on this issue and we all aren’t having the same conversation – and every time one side tires to express its POV someone on another side tries to completely negate that POV ad invalid.

        Some people enjoy using firearms – and never hurt another person with them … this is an extremely large group of firearm owners… in excess of 99% of them.

        Some of these people feel that it is unfair that they should be punished for the actions of the tiny fraction who abuse firearms. They further, feel offended that their opinions on this matter are brushed aside as if they don’t matter. {They are told ‘You don’t *need* your gun therefore we have no qualms about trying to take them away from you.” and frankly they’d be idiots not to feel threatened by that.]

        There is a lot more to this than X people are killed each year by use of firearms – it ain’t that simple [and that argument assumes that none of those people would be killed if firearms were not available. I'm not sure that is valid .. and if you are trying to take something away from other people having invalid assumptions is a bad thing.]

      • Max says:

        I’d enjoy firing a bazooka and mortars. Does that mean they should be sold at sporting goods stores?

  65. Alan says:

    This is an extremely disappointing essay for someone who considers himself a libertarian and a rational, evidence-based skeptic. You have not addressed the question of whether or not the semi-automatic nature of the weapon used was even relevant to the issue, you have not addressed the question of whether or not banning this kind of weapon will be in any way effective in preventing criminal violence (or even be counter-productive for that), and you have not considered whether doing as you suggest might result in inevitable unintended consequences that are just as bad or worse. Instead, you have simply jumped to a conclusion without empirical, factual or logical basis — a conclusion which happens to be suspiciously similar to the illogical, counter-productive, purely emotional one favored by those who habitually assume that laws work magic and government agents are somehow superior to the rest of us. Why don’t we just outlaw mental illness and psychopathy (government agents NOT exempted) instead?

    • Student says:

      “This is an extremely disappointing essay for someone who considers himself a libertarian and a rational, evidence-based skeptic. You have not addressed the question of whether or not the semi-automatic nature of the weapon used was even relevant to the issue, ”

      I think we all can agree that he’d have killed less people with a musket, a bolt action rifle, or a double barreled shotgun.

      ” you have not addressed the question of whether or not banning this kind of weapon will be in any way effective in preventing criminal violence”
      It is. There are many nations which have stricter gun control, and, for the most part, there are less spree killings. They still happen, but they’re rarer. I’m also pretty sure (But not certain) that the average number of deaths per year due to these crimes is less.

      “and you have not considered whether doing as you suggest might result in inevitable unintended consequences that are just as bad or worse.”

      Fair enough, though what these consequences are, even you have failed to enumerate. I can suggest one: People who sell guns illegally get rich. Making money for organised crime and terrorism. That’s about it really, the standard prohibition one.

      “Instead, you have simply jumped to a conclusion without empirical, factual or logical basis”

      He used all of these things: He determined that the likelihood of a person who was mentally capable of a spree killing owning a firearm was too high for him. Calling someone illogical and accusing them of conclusion jumping when they attempted a logical process is ridiculous.

      “a conclusion which happens to be suspiciously similar to the illogical, counter-productive, purely emotional one”

      Ad-hominem. More to the point, calling names doesn’t dismiss the claims of any other person, especially when those names are in relation to motives you’re assuming.

      ” a conclusion which happens to be suspiciously similar to the illogical, counter-productive, purely emotional one favored by those who habitually assume that laws work magic and government agents are somehow superior to the rest of us.”

      He didn’t. He assumed that people aren’t safe with them, and what you said about government agents is nonsense. Government agents are heavily regulated, and their weapons are too. If there are large numbers of on duty cops using their weapons for spree killing, then your argument might have merit.

      “Why don’t we just outlaw mental illness and psychopathy (government agents NOT exempted) instead?”

      Because that would be thought policing. Fuck you. Seriously. If someone is mentally ill, then they don’t need punishing for that. They might need help. More to the point, if there is someone who is in danger of commiting such an offense (The delusional, the psycopathic, the psycotic, heck, angry teenagers), they shouldn’t be allowed weapons. Saying this is not about banning different mental states. It’s about not letting their mental state affect our physical ones.

      Also, a note: A psychopath has an aberrant mental state, part of what is now called ASPD if I recall correctly, as opposed to psychopathic and sociopathic states. These people have little or no empathy, different emotions, and often exhibit manipulative traits. These often manifest in a disregard for others and the law. However, this doesn’t mean that they should be punished for existing. As long as these people obey the law, and don’t cause trouble for others, why shouldn’t they have the right to exist?

      The bigotry I see from some against these people is appalling.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        “I think we all can agree that he’d have killed less people with a musket, a bolt action rifle, or a double barreled shotgun.”

        And I think we can all agree that he’d have kill more people if he used poison gas or an explosive. So what?

        If you can figure out a way to take all dangerous things away from messed-up folks and allow the responsible people the freedom to use what they judge they need – they share with all of us. I doubt the most raging NRA supporter would complain about a way to keep guns out of the hand of lunatics while allowing responsible people to retain theirs.

        One more thing: when someone says “No one needs X” that isn’t much different than when the creationist says “There’s no way for an eye to evolve” – the fact that the person making the argument cannot imagine something does not make it non-existent. The argument that people ‘need’ cars, cigarettes and beer (which cause more deaths each than guns do) but don’t need guns is a completely subjective argument. Humans survived for millennia without any of these things so they are not biological necessities. The criteria for ‘needing’ something is very subjective and thus doesn’t make for a compelling argument.

      • double-helical says:

        Your argument about “need” was well done!

  66. Shaun Aston says:

    A well-reasoned article, although as an Englishman it is incomprehensible to me that there should be any need for discussion of this point – civilians simply do not need to own assault rifles, there is no conceivable justification for this, such weapons belong in the hands of soldiers, and perhaps occassionally the police, but there is no legitimate civilian task which requires the use of a machine gun. This is one of the aspects of American society that simply looks like utter lunacy to the rest of the civilised world. I hope you manage to convince the rest of your countrymen to give up this ludicrous right to own military weapons before more of these disasters occur, as they obviously will.

    • double-helical says:

      Mr. Aston,
      As has been pointed out many times in earlier posts, the Aurora killer did not have a machine gun, nor did he have an assault weapon (which is a type of machine gun.)
      In any event, the rifle he did have jammed almost right away, and the damage he inflicted was mostly done by pistols.
      Furthermore, as also has been pointed out, one does not need any firearm if one is insane or a psychopath intent on killing. There are many other means, and they have been used in the past.
      Finally, as has also been pointed out, the fact that you can’t understand a reason does not automatically make it unreasonable. That is a logical fallacy, “the argument from personal incredulity.”

      • Shaun Aston says:

        “incomprehensible” in this context is a figure of speech meaning that the stupidity of allowing civilians to own firearms without an extremely good reason is beyond ridiculous. It really doesn’t make any difference whether it was a semi-automatic rifle, pistol, or a breech-loading musket…

  67. Carl Wyant says:

    Just a few comments:

    I am a hunter. I have killed game for the purpose of EATING MEAT. I do not hunt for pleasure or sadism, or to torture or otherwise “hurt” any game animal. And I make no apologies for the fact that I hunt. The moral question, therefore, does not apply. Just where do some people think that MEAT comes from, anyway? Something has to die so you can have your hamburgers!

    I am interested in the most reliable, safe, accurate, easily maintained equipment available; for this reason I have opted for an (older) semi-automatic ex-military rifle in a ‘major’ caliber – using a 0.308 / 7.62 X 51mm cartridge.

    This combination offers simplicity, functionality, reliability, ease of maintenance and cleaning, and most importantly IT JUST WORKS. It is just for those reasons that the Military chooses these types of weapons; and so have I. And I might add, several thousands of others, some true “Sportsmen” (in the finest sense of the term) also prefer the same qualities that have made a military-style weapon my choice.

    As a little-discussed fact (of inconvenience to those opposed to weaponry) it should be noted that the Statistics available from the Government and from numerous Law-enforcement and other public agencies and organizations demonstrates that there has been a long-term, Continuous, measurable, DECREASE in gun violence and other instances of gun-use based upon the overall population density. I am not particularly apologetic about this – it just happens to be a FACT – sort of akin to “Biblical ‘TRUTH’ ” in this case – it may not be LIKED, it may not be POPULAR, it may offend individual sensibilities, but IT IS THE CASE!

    So every time another one of these “mass-murderer’s” shooting-sprees occurs, there is a large contingent that always starts screaming about “controlling ‘assault-weapons’ and ‘high-capacity’ magazines” – it should not be lost in the morass, that several congress-persons have (again) attempted to go against the general sense of the entire nation and introduce legislation to re-enact gun-control and magazine bans (Schumer, Laughtenberg). Interesting – but nonsensical in light of the obvious facts that the general population of the U. S. evidently FAVORS the regulated, lawful, ownership, possession and carrying of personal defense weaponry.

    I also carry a gun – or several, sometimes. Yet I am not a criminal. I am not a “psycho”. I do not have any intention of harming any other person.

    I DO however, refuse to be a victim of some deranged psychopaths delusions, and I will take steps and means to protect myself, my family, and other Citizens of this Republic if necessary.

    You can flail-about and piss-and-moan when an officer of the Law is nowhere around WHEN NEEDED – you have only yourself to blame.

  68. The Truly Skeptical Fan says:

    This does not happen very often with Michael Shermer work, but I am disappointed in the article from the prospective of meeting his normal standards for a skeptical discussion. The article is very good until the last three paragraphs. It reminds me of technical papers I have read that try to justify a technical decision on a subject that is actually just a matter of opinion. The technique used is always a long discussion that explains how well the author understands the subject, indirect conclusions, and usually includes some information on how the author is qualified to talk on the subject. At the end of the paper, there is the conclusion that tends to stand alone lacking a clear and traceable justification for the conclusion. The technical world is full of papers like this when a documented justification is wanted for what is no more than a best guess.

    In the case of this article, it thoroughly examines the event in terms of the law of larger numbers. This included detailed facts and references. This was a very good argument that explains the difficult in preventing such events. Kudos.

    Then at the third paragraph from the end, the discussion changed to “if we want to do something…” and proposed “damage control”. In the last three paragraphs, there are no detailed facts of references other than a victims quote. These paragraphs contain the pure opinion of the author and the victim through her quote. It also does not connect to the prior conclusion as anything other than another method to consider. This argument contained no independent information supporting the conclusion. Many may be intimidated by the prowess of the argument and conclusion in the first half of the article simply accepting the second argument, but that is a technique used by the irrational forces we skeptics oppose and below the standard we expect as Skeptics.

    I remain a skeptic on the subject of gun control and do not purport a position either way. I respect Michael Shermer highly and have paid to bring to Denver before to talk and will do so again if needed. Having said that, to do call shenanigans on this article and point out it that it does not support the final conclusion in any meaningful way. I do want to read/hear that argument that addresses the practicality of a ban, how the past methods of circumventing such bands can be addressed, how the effects of known previous events would have be reduced if only automatic handguns were used with references to specific events and writings.

    I will admit I am making a convert point; it is very easy to just have an opinion but it may be much more difficult to have a supportable, detailed answer. I have found it easy to simply state that assault rifles should be strictly controlled, but very difficult to define how and document the clear benefit. I actually find the handgun control argument easier to defend. Michael Shermer has much more talent than I do and I would really like to see a clearly developed approach from him that would stand up to a skeptical analysis.

  69. Julio A. says:


    Most of the time, I agree 100% with what you say. I find myself in complete disagreement with this article.

    Not the numbers part – I can get behind the statistics. What bothers me is that you think that outlawing semi-auto or automatic rifles is going to change anything. Last time I checked, criminals DO NOT CARE WHAT THE LAW SAYS. Furthermore, people who are psychopaths have used cars to mow down people – should we also outlaw cars, just because a few nuts use them as weapons?? I am a law abiding citizen, and I should have my hobby taken away from me just because some psycho used a semi-auto weapon to kill others? If one was crazy enough and so inclined, they could easily manufacture a bomb out of the chemicals found beneath their kitchen sink, and use that to perform a mass killing – but we do not call for those chemicals to get banned. Why call for the banning of guns owned by law abiding citizens, just because of a few psychopaths – who will find SOME way to perform whatever sick idea they come up with – used guns?

  70. Pete Medina says:

    Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett did just fine with muzzzle loaders. Can’t we go back to those? They were great looking guns.

  71. Brandon says:

    The 2nd amendment exists so that we can have protection, through force of arms, against the government. Governments have historically murdered more of its citizens than citizen v. citizen incident’s like Aurora. If the government (police and military are government employees) are the only people armed, we have no protection against the tyranny that is guaranteed to follow.

    The greater chance to lose our freedom (and lives) are through governments owning all the weapons. Germany had gun control in place in the 30s, Soviet Russia had it, Communist China has it, etcetera. If a population cannot protect itself from its rulers (in America, we have representatives, not rulers, a key distinction) a loss of freedom is guaranteed.

    Michael, you are a wonderful, intelligent, and more-often-than-not correct individual, but you couldn’t be more wrong on this issue.


  72. Craig Good says:

    It’s hard to express how disappointing it is to see such poor reasoning being used here. Let’s get the appeal to emotion out of the way first: Weapons of Mass Murder? That’s very unserious for someone like you.

    Your math on the Law of Large Numbers looks solid. And that’s exactly why a weapons ban won’t work. Your own argument shows why your proposed solution is doomed to fail. The technology used in mass killings is irrelevant. Look up the Happy Land Fire. A much, much bigger death toll than Aurora and the weapon was a bucket of gasoline.

    The only law that could prevent mass killings is one that says everybody must spend all their lives naked and shackled. Even then I suspect the Law of Unintended Consequences would win. You simply can’t ban everything that might be used as a weapon.

    If you do some research on firearms you’ll realize that California’s so-called “assault weapon” ban is based entirely on cosmetics. (NB: Semi-automatic rifles are, by definition, not Assault Rifles. Assault rifles are select-fire. Misuse of that term as a pejorative is a dead giveaway that the speaker knows zilch about firearms.)

    Now, do you really want to help prevent these kinds of mass shootings? Because there is a known method: Liberalized concealed carry laws. Every single mass shooting event has happened in an “unarmed victim zone”. Of course the people who create these zones foolishly call them “gun free” zones. The idea that a sign (or a law) can keep a gun out of a location is irrational. But the people who pull off these kinds of attacks aren’t so irrational that they don’t seek them out. Those few who try the attack anyway are often stopped by a person with a gun.

    Doctors kill orders of magnitude more people in this country than do people with guns. Why don’t we ban doctors? The answer is, of course, the risk/benefit ratio. While medical error kills thousands, medical science saves millions. The exact same is true of guns. They are used to kill thousands, but are used somewhere between one and two million times per year to prevent crime.

    Guns are no more responsible for violence than spoons are responsible for obesity.

    As for what semi-automatic rifles are for, their main utility is to be able to fight against soldiers. That’s the whole reason the constitution says that the right to own and carry weapons shall not be infringed. Sporting, target shooting, and hunting are all fine. People should also be free to participate in those activities. But the real reason for an armed populace is to keep the government in check.

    The only kinds of people with any rational reason to fear an armed citizenry are criminals and tyrants.

    If you really are a libertarian, you’re one who doesn’t seem to believe strongly in liberty. And I had hoped for better reasoning on your part.

    With respect, and best wishes.

    • Pete Medina says:

      I need health insurance, if they want to toss in a free gun I’ll take it and donate it to the homeless.

    • Max says:

      I think it’s safe to say that doctors save more people than they kill. I’m not sure the same is true for assault rifles.

      Since the whole reason for the right to own weapons is to fight soldiers, should those weapons include anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles like RPGs and Stingers?

      • Miles says:


        You strike me as being more interested in winning a debate than determining what works and what doesn’t in a cost-benefit analysis. You seem to be quite impressed by this line of reasoning, as if you are somehow going to trap someone into saying that everyone should have their own personal nuclear bomb for the sake of philosophical consistency.

        Aside from the fact that Stinger missiles are not what we are talking about banning, the weapons that you describe aren’t even necessary for a civilian population to deter the threat of a tyrannical state. You are aware of the fact that poorly-funded Afghani’s have been putting up a brutal fight against the US military nothing but home-made explosives and rusty old AK 47’s?

        This is what, the 4th time you’ve posted this argument? Why do you find this so compelling? If I answer “no, I don’t think Stinger missiles should be legal for civilians”, is your response going to be that we don’t need the 2nd amendment to protect us because I am being “logically inconsistent”? That’s not much of an argument.

        Are you really interested in whether or not assault rifles have a causal link to increased gun violence, or are you confusing this discussion with an episode of “Crossfire”?

      • Student says:

        “You strike me as being more interested in winning a debate than determining what works and what doesn’t in a cost-benefit analysis.”

        Did you not read this?
        “I’m not sure the same is true for assault rifles.”
        He’s not sure if they’re justifiable.

        At Good, I’d mention that the millions you cited are highly doubtful:

        (I’m citing cracked because they link both the study and the disagreement)

        “Aside from the fact that Stinger missiles are not what we are talking about banning, the weapons that you describe aren’t even necessary for a civilian population to deter the threat of a tyrannical state. You are aware of the fact that poorly-funded Afghani’s have been putting up a brutal fight against the US military nothing but home-made explosives and rusty old AK 47′s? ”

        Yes. And they’ve been losing. They were invaded, and they are now occupied.

        More to the point, every time someone suggests that fighting soldiers is their use, it’s fair to say that they’ll get the same response if that response is seen as valid.

        And yeah, fighting the most technologically (Military wise) nation in the world with semi-automatic weapons does seem a stretch.

        His point addresses a single case: Our weapons are hardly consistent with the use of fighting the state.

        So either they’re not for fighting the state, and we abandon that argument (Which should be really fucking obvious).

        Or they are for fighting the state, and you think that’s a fight that you can win (A stretch), OR you support the access to weapons capable of fighting the government (And not many are in support of this).

        Don’t get annoyed that someone constantly has the same objection when the same point is raised. That’s silly. If I say I can fly, and you say prove it, and I bitch that you always say that, it doesn’t make me able to fly, and it doesn’t make that objection invalid.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        Um. Some guerrilla warriors win.

        Saying that it is impossible to fight the state with semi-auto rifles is making a lot of assumptions (especially the amount of public support for the state)

        But this is getting into the realm of fantasy.

      • Max says:

        I ask different people the same question because they may have different answers, although I still haven’t heard a straight answer to this one.
        The easiest way to find out my follow-up is to answer the original question.
        If you answer yes, I’ll ask whether it’s worth the risk of terrorists shooting down passenger planes, and what net effect it would have on freedom.
        If you say no, I’ll ask where do you draw the line and why?

      • Max says:

        “You are aware of the fact that poorly-funded Afghani’s have been putting up a brutal fight against the US military nothing but home-made explosives and rusty old AK 47′s?”

        Yes, I mentioned this above. The Taliban also has PK machine guns and RPGs that can take out armored vehicles. The Stingers that the CIA supplied to the mujahideen were effective against Soviet helicopters, and now there’s talk about supplying anti-aircraft missiles to Syrian rebels for the same purpose.

      • Miles says:

        My answer to your question is “I don’t know.” I just don’t find it necessary to legalize Stinger missiles when I advocate for the legalization of assault rifles.

        Before we spend a lot of time going into pure-conjection-fantasy-land, can we at least agree to one thing? Let’s not get into these ridiculous speculative arguments about how exactly a civil war would play out, who would have access to what weapons, which outside nations would ally with which sides, what weapons the government would be willing to use on its own people, which generals and military groups would defect and join the resistance, what kind of guerrilla tactics the lesser armed resistance would employ, how effective they would be, etc, etc. Having such an argument, which “Student” seems to passionately desire, would be pushing speculation beyond absurdity. Can we at least agree on that?

        I’m simply trying to stay on point here, because I think this argument in which private citizens each have their own $38,000 Stinger missile, “just in case”, is nothing but a huge distraction from what many individuals and several political groups are really calling for, which is a ban on assault rifles.

        Every gun-owner that I’ve ever met realizes that if they ever find themselves in a domestically violent scenario (Aurora shooting), or an all out bloody civil war against our government, that the simple fact that they have a gun isn’t any kind of a guarantee that they will be able to stop the threat. Most gun safety classes spend a good deal of time talking about this, and warning new gun owners life is messy, and situations like that happens quickly, chaotically, and they are full of adrenaline.

        The point is that in both situations, I’d rather have some kind of option than no options at all. If I were in that theater and concealed-carrying, I have no idea whether or not I’d be able to help those people. I might have simply frozen and been too scared to do anything at all. But I’d rather have been armed and had some kind of chance to help, rather than not be armed and had a chance of absolute zero. The same goes for civilian resistance against the government. If that nightmare ever manifested, I’d rather have an assault rifle than no assault rifle, even if the other side has tanks and missiles.

    • double-helical says:

      Mr. Good,

      I agree with your post. Wait for the flurry of true believers who will not accept the logic that an armed society is the best we can do–unless and until there is a foolproof way to identify and incarcerate all psychopaths.

      • Student says:

        Here’s your flurry:

        1)”Wait for the flurry of true believers who will not accept the logic that an armed society is the best we can do”

        Ad hominem. Prove it to me with numbers rather than calling me names. Calling someone a “True believer” rather than making a case is stupid.

        2)” foolproof way to identify and incarcerate all psychopaths.”

        Have you, by any chance, heard of George Orwell? Are you really considering making thought crimes a thing? Not only is this the ultimate non-enforcable nonsense in todays world, but really, this is offensive.

        Psychopaths can, and do, live perfectly law abiding lives. Their condition makes it easier for them to commit vile attrocities, yes. But that’s not a reason to lock them all up. Sheer bigotry.

        In America, African-Americans are statistically more likely to commit crimes like rape and murder. Now, everyone with sense realises that to arrest all of them based on that is a justification of bigotry. The reason that the statistics is higher is unrelated to their ethnicity, and to punish them all would be to punish many innocent with the guilty.

        Now, while the reason that a psychopath may be more likely IS linked to his condition, it’s still a bigoted point of view to discriminate against him for simply being different. While he’s more likely to commit the crime, there’s no guarantee that he will.

        What if I said that everyone who supported guns was deserving of being locked up? That’s just vile.

      • double-helical says:

        Dear Student,
        You have missed the point of my post. There will likely never be a way to identify a psychopathic killer, ergo, there will likely never be a way to lock them up pre-emptively. I did not advocate, nor have I ever advocated, what you suggest in your post.
        As for the ad hominem argument: I never have labeled you a True Believer, so I hope that we can remain civil. I was referring to those that disregard evidence in favor of civilian ownership of firearms. The vast majority of firearms are never used in crimes. See Kleck, et al., for the statistics.

  73. Dan says:

    Guns=death and destruction
    the more guns exist in your surroundings, the more likely you are to get hurt by them. It is all statistics.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      How many guns do you need to have in your environment to have a 100% chance of being destroyed?

    • George Pace says:

      Are you alleging something unique to firearms? Or simply the “common sense” notion that the more of something in the environment, the more likely one is to have an interaction with said object, including the possibility of an “accident”? E.g. knives, automobiles, nail guns, power tools, mine shafts, etc.

      • Dan says:

        of course this is not unique to firearms, but statistically you are more likely to get killed by then since that is their main purpose and what they are exceedingly good at doing, unlike automobiles or nailguns.

  74. stanley marcus says:

    In 2008 in all of Japan there were 11(that’s right 11, not 11000) deaths due to guns.There they have very strict gun control laws. I presume they have an equal percentage of psychopaths but somehow the public is safe. Could it be the abolition of all non police/military guns? You betcha!
    Also if you read the 2nd amendment it uses the word “militia”, a word everyone seems to ignore. This is called self-deception. I refer you to the eminent biologist Robert Trivers’ book “The Folly of Fools” for elaboration. All of us self decive at times and the ignoring of the word militia is an excellent example.

    • George Pace says:

      Stanley, I’m just curious: How would you explain the U.S. Supreme Court’s misunderstanding (according to you) of the Second Amendment and the word “militia”? Is it that the people who disagree with you are the ones who “self deceive”? “The Folly of Fools” indeed!

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Are you asserting that everything in Japan and America is the same except for firearm ownership? That there are no cultural differences and crime is viewed the same way? Are property crime rates equal for both nations? how about rape? How about killings which do not involve firearms?

      • Dan says:

        I recommend you watch Skeptoid’s podcasts on logical Fallacies
        (number 73 and 74). In fact i am going to listen to them now.

    • The Truly Skeptical Fan says:

      Has everyone forgot about the Sarin gas attack? Are guns necessary for crazy people to do bad things? I think the answer is no without much further discussion. Is there evidence that gun control laws reduce gun violence? Yes, the evidence is clear but Germany has relatively loose gun laws and low gun violence so maybe culture plays a major role.

      When it comes to comparing countries, maybe the question should concern the laws that are practical in a country with a second amendment and lots of guns already. This is where we are and who we are.

  75. Craig Good says:

    Dan, your assertion is based on emotion, not statistics. More guns actually are associated with reduced crime. The stats about “a gun in the home more likely to kill you” are a perversion of FBI crime stats which record inter-gang violence as between “known parties”. You should note that hoplophobic warnings about “blood in the streets” every time a state has modernized CCW laws have all turned out to be completely unwarranted. At very worst, violent crime stays flat. More typically it goes down. Those are the real statistics.

    Very specifically, the constitution says we should be able to own and carry exactly the same small arms that a typical infantry soldier would carry. And for exactly the same reasons.

    Do you think police should have guns? If so, I’d agree. Now tell me: Why do police have guns, and what are they allowed to do with them that a civilian is not? The answers are: a) self defense, exactly as for any citizen and b) absolutely nothing except being able to carry them concealed without an additional permit.

    • Dan says:

      As was clear from my comment above, police should not have guns because guns will results in death and destruction. Police having guns, but not the public, is still more gun in circulation than no guns at all.
      Again modern life and statistics correlates with what i am saying: regular UK police don’t carry guns, they carry handcuffs, batons, radios and maybe teasers. Correlation: there is less murders in the UK per capita (not just gun murders, murders with any weapon).

      And now the opposite scenario: In Syria both government and rebels are now using similar types of weapons. Result: both are now accused of committing atrocities (summary executions for example). But in the beginning of the uprising it was only the government accused of doing so- because only they had guns.

      • jim delton says:

        Here’s a more pertinent view of crime in the UK. While the UK pats itself on the back because they outlaw guns (and vilify the US because the US doesn’t), the FACT is that the UK has one of the highest crime rates in the world, and it’s higher then the US.

      • tmac57 says:

        Leaving aside the fact that The Daily Mail tends to be errr…unreliable,did you actually read the article:

        But criminologists say crime figures can be affected by many factors, including different criminal justice systems and differences in how crime is reported and measured.

        New Home Secretary Alan Johnson is to make his first major speech on crime today
        In Britain, an affray is considered a violent crime, while in other countries it will only be logged if a person is physically injured.
        There are also degrees of violence. While the UK ranks above South Africa for all violent crime, South Africans suffer more than 20,000 murders each year – compared with Britain’s 921 in 2007.

        Citing an absolute statistic or conclusion without putting it into context can be misleading.

      • Dan says:

        At tmac57 nicely mentions, violent crimes can be subjective in different countries. The only thing (i might be wrong) I see that cannot be biased is death by firearms: you are either dead or not. And usually we can tell if someone was killed by then due to the damage it does to your body.

  76. Jim Delton says:

    Hard to believe how an alleged skeptic like Mike S can be so irrational and show such a shallow depth of thinking on a topic. While I understand how much people want to stop mass killings, or any killings for that matter, from happening in the future, NONE of the proposal of Mike’s nor of the other anti-gunners make any sense as far as stopping future mass killings by deranged people. And as in Mike’s case here, the writings of the gun confiscators reveal a shocking lack of knowledge of guns and how guns work. Anyone who thinks elminating assualt rifles and semi-automatic weapons leaving the insane with “only” a .357 six shooter as a solution is just fooling themselves as they try to fool others. The ONLY way you will ever prevent these events from happening WITH GUNS (they will still happen, it just won’t be with guns) is to somehow confiscate ALL guns including those in the hands of criminals. Good luck with that, it’s not going to happen and it shouldn’t happen. Unlike Mike, I’m not willing to trade away each of my rights for some meaninglessly tiny tiny tiny increase in “safety”. But even if all guns were confiscated, what will be next? When the next mass killing in a theater is by someone with a pack of matches and 2 gallons of gas will the Mike’s of the world be proposing licencing to buy matches and gasoline? If Mike has any intellectual honesty he will read and take to heart all the facts presented in the 100+ comments (the ones that contain facts) and recant his column. If he does not he will have shown himself to be no different than all the other non-thinkers who believe in astrology, theraputic touch and other nonsense that makes them feel good regardless of the facts.

  77. Dave says:

    …and how do you propose to enforce this gun ban?

    Go door to door with SWAT teams nationwide and “toss cells”?

    And I’m sure persons that already have it in mind to kill 20 people will be too frightened by a “gun ban” to illegally purchase a firearm available for a couple hundred dollars, right?

    And of course those same people, even if they were too idiotic to figure out how to buy a gun and shoot it, would be far to idiotic to throw gasoline on a crowd and light it, or read any one of the thousand bomb recipes on the internet, right?

    Bad people will always be bad, and they will most likely always exist, you just have to count on the fact that the good (or complacent) people outnumber them about ten to one. Banning guns, drugs, pornography, or ANY inanimate object (with the noted exception of ordnance [high yield explosives] and NBC weapons) will not fix the problem that bad people do bad things.

    MS-13 is one of the biggest street gangs in the western hemisphere and there preferred method of killing is butcher knives and machetes, should those be banned as well?

    This might happen again, it might happen a lot in fact but about 40,000 people die in the us every year from traffic fatalities and no one is suggesting a national speed limit of 10 mph.

  78. Sextus Empiricus XXI says:

    In a civilized society, people don’t need high capacity semi-automatic rifles for self protection, as we are not defending ourselves from an army of zombies, and, I hope, no invasion of space aliens seem to be imminent. Therefore, those semiautomatic assault rifles should be banned from the hands of the citizens.

    Concerning a “well-regulated” system of education and licensing, I suspect that no training would prevent a psychopath from committing a firearm massacre with a legally owned handgun. On the contrary, these lunatics would love to receive such a training and licensing in order to be more efficient the next time they decide to shoot innocent people at a public event with just a handgun. As someone cleverly mentioned, an 18-round semi-auto pistol with several extra magazines is good enough (with proper training and practice, of course). To summarize, they don’t need the assault rifle. And well regulated possession of handguns won’t control them either, as they just need to be a malignant psychopath, full of hate against society, and to have a relentless desire of inflicting unbearable suffering upon other human beings in an unprecedented scale. That’s all what they need to have INSIDE themselves!!!

    On the other hand, millions of decent and law obeying citizens, men and women alike, many of them caring and loving parents, legally own guns for self-protection and to protect their loved ones from a life threatening assault or attempted murder. All these millions of responsible and honest persons DO NOT HAVE THAT EVIL, MALIGNANT PSYCHOPATHY INSIDE THEMSELVES, they do not desire to meticulously devise a diabolic plan to kill hundreds of people. Those millions of decent citizens don’t worry me, on the contrary. I wish there had been at least one of them with a concealed carry pistol at the parking lot on the precise moment the diabolic Holmes was going out of the theater to get the weapons from his car. Just put yourself in the shoes of this decent civilian, as in thought experiment, perhaps sitting in your own car not far from Holmes, and you are legally and honestly carrying the handgun of your choice, which you shoot well with proper training. You complete the thought experiment in your own mind for yourself, please.

    An this take us to this other very alarming but clarifying point. Let’s consider the statistics analyzed by Michael Shermer, that is: “If only 1% of those violent acts involve murders, this leaves us with 314 unnecessary tragic deaths caused by psychopaths. And, finally,if only 1% of those murderous violent acts involves killing multiple people at once, this results in a rate of 3.14 Aurora-size mass murders per year in America”. Well, you do the math. My point is partially expressed in the following questions: HOW MANY DEATHS, SERIOUS BODILY INJURIES AND ASSOCIATED MENTAL TRAUMA, caused by psychopaths using ILLEGALLY obtained firearms, are recorded across America per year, including assault with a deadly weapon, home invasion, and other violent crimes with firearms? And second: How many of those millions of ILLEGAL firearms currently in circulation, used daily by criminal elements on the streets in every city in America have been LEGALLY obtained from the local gun-shops? Your guess is right: NONE.

    And without a doubt, any isolated psychopath like Holmes can easily get an arsenal of any kind of firearms through the underground arms markets… Shouldn’t these markets be dismantled, and all those thousands of illegal guns be confiscated immediately?

    You see, there is a huge illegal market -consumers and distributors- for all kinds of firearms on the streets. And this trend is alarmingly growing, like a horrendous monster. Want to see how terrifying and big it grows? Take a look at our neighbors just south the border in Mexico. Carefully inspect the YouTube videos from their cities, big and small, and read their news. Ah, and they teach us an interesting lesson: none of those thousand and thousand of firearms were legally obtained by those criminals either. An they have the best of the best, anyone, anything, on the streets to commit all kinds of criminal atrocities upon the population, extortion of business, kidnapping, mass murder, you name it. We have a “baby dinosaur” in our own home… from the same breed of our neighbor’s. Its name, I believe is “Transnationalcartelosaurus”, or something like that… very ugly indeed !!!

  79. Sextus Empiricus XXI says:

    In a civilized society, people don’t need high capacity semi-automatic rifles for self protection, as we are not defending ourselves from an army of zombies, and, I hope, no invasion of space aliens seem to be imminent. Therefore, those semiautomatic assault rifles should be banned from the hands of the citizens.

    Concerning a “well-regulated” system of education and licensing, I suspect that no training would prevent a psychopath from committing a firearm massacre with a legally owned handgun. On the contrary, these lunatics would love to receive such a training and licensing in order to be more efficient the next time they decide to shoot innocent people at a public event with just a handgun. As someone cleverly mentioned, an 18-round semi-auto pistol with several extra magazines is good enough (with proper training and practice, of course). To summarize, they don’t need the assault rifle. And well regulated possession of handguns won’t control them either, as they just need to be a malignant psychopath, full of hate against society, and to have a relentless desire of inflicting unbearable suffering upon other human beings in an unprecedented scale. That’s all what they need to have INSIDE themselves!!!

    On the other hand, millions of decent and law obeying citizens, men and women alike, many of them caring and loving parents, legally own guns for self-protection and to protect their loved ones from a life threatening assault or attempted murder. All these millions of responsible and honest persons DO NOT HAVE THAT EVIL, MALIGNANT PSYCHOPATHY INSIDE THEMSELVES, they do not desire to meticulously devise a diabolic plan to kill hundreds of people. Those millions of decent citizens don’t worry me, on the contrary. I wish there had been at least one of them with a concealed carry pistol at the parking lot on the precise moment the diabolic Holmes was going out of the theater to get the weapons from his car. Just put yourself in the shoes of this decent civilian, as in a thought experiment, perhaps sitting in your own car not far from Holmes, and you are legally and honestly carrying the handgun of your choice, which you shoot well with proper training. You complete the thought experiment in your own mind for yourself, please.

    And this take us to this other very alarming but clarifying point. Let’s consider the statistics analyzed by Michael Shermer, that is: “If only 1% of those violent acts involve murders, this leaves us with 314 unnecessary tragic deaths caused by psychopaths. And, finally,if only 1% of those murderous violent acts involves killing multiple people at once, this results in a rate of 3.14 Aurora-size mass murders per year in America”. Well, you do the math. My point is partially expressed in the following questions: HOW MANY DEATHS, SERIOUS BODILY INJURIES AND ASSOCIATED MENTAL TRAUMA, caused by psychopaths using ILLEGALLY obtained firearms, are recorded across America per year, including assault with a deadly weapon, home invasion, and other violent crimes with firearms? And second: How many of those millions of ILLEGAL firearms currently in circulation, used daily by criminal elements on the streets in every city in America, have been LEGALLY obtained from the local gun-shops? Your guess is right: NONE.

    Without a doubt, any isolated psychopath like Holmes can easily get an arsenal of any kind of firearms through the underground arms markets… Shouldn’t these markets be dismantled, and all those thousands of illegal guns be confiscated immediately?

    You see, there is a huge illegal market -consumers and distributors- for all kinds of firearms on the streets. And this trend is alarmingly growing, like a horrendous monster. Want to see how terrifying and big it grows? Take a look at our neighbors just south the border in Mexico. Carefully inspect the YouTube videos from their cities, big and small, and read their news. They teach us an interesting lesson: none of those thousand and thousand of firearms were legally obtained by those criminals either. An they have the best of the best, anyone, anything, on the streets to commit all kinds of criminal atrocities upon the population, extortion of business, kidnapping, mass murder, you name it. We have a “baby dinosaur” in our own home… from the same breed of our neighbor’s. Its name, I believe is “Transnationalcartelosaurus”, or something like that… very ugly indeed !!!

  80. markx says:

    Some (random) thoughts:

    Note we (the citizens of any country) would have great difficulty mounting a serious militia resistance to out own organized military.

    The resistance (as evidenced by Egypt and Syria) becomes token, and people have to die to attract international attention and hopefully condemnation. The militia having some firearms certainly draws the whole process out.

    It is worth noting that countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan take many years to bring under foreign control, perhaps partly because every household can and might own a firearm, usually an assault rifle. (You have to be thinking seriously before you kick down a door there.)

    Places such as Australia (very strict firearm ownership laws now) would not pose such difficulties, although that is hardly likely to be an issue in the next few decades at least).

    Some countries with many ethnic groups (Indonesia) have very strict firearms ownership laws, and when you do see flareups of ethnic strife, you realize that is a very, very necessary thing. Likewise, criminal acts in Indonesian very rarely feature firearms, and on the occasions they do, likely police or military are directly or indirectly involved.

    In the normal situation, freely available guns are obviously detrimental to a society.

    In the worst case scenario, (invasion, or takeover by a totalitarian government) we may wish we were all armed.

    Background plays a big part in thinking on this topic: mine: – raised as country boy in a household awash with interesting and varied firearms, loved hunting, sold my few remaining firearms twenty years ago with the advent of new Australian gun laws, and have spent the last 18 years living in Indonesia.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      “Note we (the citizens of any country) would have great difficulty mounting a serious militia resistance to out own organized military.”

      Google the word “revolution” and see how many times in history citizens of a country were able to overcome their country’s organized military. Pay close attention to the French revolution wherein some army units joined the revolutionaries.

      Another interesting example was the American revolution where the continental army rarely ever won a battlefield victory and yet still won freedom for the colonies.

      Another search term which may provide illumination is ‘guerrilla warfare’

      • Max says:

        Google nonviolent resistance, the Singing Revolution, the Velvet Revolution, the Rose Revolution, the Orange Revolution. Unless you’re dealing with a real tyrant like Assad or Gaddafi, violence may be unnecessary.

      • jim delton says:

        The first step in subjagating a popluation is disarming it.

      • tmac57 says:

        Good thing that the Confederate army was so well armed.No telling how devastating it could have been if they couldn’t have succeeded from the Union.

  81. Sextus Empiricus XXI says:

    On this topic, I’m a plain common ignorant. But as a skeptical, I do have some doubts and observations. In a civilized society, civilians may possibly not need high capacity semi-automatic rifles for self protection, as we are not defending ourselves from an army of invading zombies, nor are we fighting a civil war like in Syria, are we? Therefore, while we still have democratic institutions and not a totalitarian murderous government, those semiautomatic high capacity rifles could be safely banned from the hands of the law obeying citizens (the criminals and mass-murder psychopaths can easily get theirs from the illegal gun markets, anyway, so they won’t be much affected).

    On the other hand, if semiautomatic rifles are banned, no training or education would prevent a psychopath like Holmes from committing a firearm massacre with a legally owned pistol. Someone mentioned that any 18-round semi-auto pistol with several extra magazines is good enough for this demoniacal purpose (with proper training and practice, of course). Then, they don’t really need the assault rifle; they just need to be as malignant a psychopath as possible, full of hate against society and to have a relentless desire to inflict unbearable suffering upon unsuspecting human beings in an unprecedented scale. That’s what they need, all INSIDE themselves!!!

    Millions of decent and law obeying citizens, men and women alike, many of them caring and loving parents, legally own guns for self-protection and to protect their loved ones from a very possible life threatening assault or attempted murder. All these responsible, honest and law respectful persons DO NOT HAVE THAT EVIL, PSYCHOPATHIC DESIRE TO KILL INNOCENT PEOPLE. Those millions of decent and honest people don’t worry me, on the contrary.

    This leads us to another very alarming but clarifying facet of the matter. Let’s consider the statistics analyzed by Michael Shermer, that is: “If only 1% of those violent acts involve murders, this leaves us with 314 unnecessary tragic deaths caused by psychopaths. And, finally, if only 1% of those murderous violent acts involve killing multiple people at once, this results in a rate of 3.14 Aurora-size mass murders per year in America”. Well, you do the math.

    My doubts now are partially expressed in the following questions:

    1) HOW MANY MURDERS, perpetrated by psychopathic criminals using ILLEGALLY obtained firearms, are recorded across America per year, including assaults, home invasion, executions, and other deaths during the commission of other crimes?

    2) What is the STATISTICAL DIFFERENCE between criminal deaths caused by LEGALLY owned firearms and ILLEGALLY possessed guns?

    3) What PERCENTAGE of the total of ILLEGAL firearms in circulation, used by criminal gangs and other deviant elements on the streets of every city in America have been LEGALLY purchased from the local gun-shops? (My guess is NONE, but I could be wrong)

    I suspect that any isolated psychopath like Holmes can easily get an arsenal of even more sophisticated weapons that he used in the Aurora massacre through the underground firearms market.

    There seem to be a significant illegal market -consumers and distributors- for firearms. And this trend could be growing, like a terrifying monster. Want to see how big it can grow? Take a look at our neighbors just south the border in Mexico. I have carefully inspect the YouTube videos from their cities, big and small, and read their news. They illustrate something interesting: of all those hundreds of thousands of firearms, including assault rifles, grenade launchers and machine-guns, NONE were legally obtained by those criminals either. All came from the underground arms market. Anything is ILLEGALLY available to commit all kinds of criminal atrocities upon the population, extortion of businesses, thousands of kidnappings per month, mass murder, you name it!!! The population is visibly terrified. Here in America we just have a baby dinosaur in our own living room… I suspect it is from the same breed of our neighbor’s monster. Mi personal conclusion: leave all those millions of decent citizens legally buy their handguns and even rifles, with reasonable restrictions according to the real threat they face, of course (they don’t fight invading zombies every day, and possibly never will, so they may not need 100-round drum magazines for their semi-auto rifles). I am open-minded. But I have doubts on this matter of firearms. Can anyone answer my above questions with verifiable and convincing proof that most criminal murders in America are caused by LEGALLY purchased firearms? Then I can change my conclusion on the matter. Until now, I am very disappointed with most arguments without this objective statistical evidence and analysis on the legally and illegally obtained firearms correlating to the rate of criminal murder.

    I would greatly appreciate the answer to my questions. Thank you.

    • jim delton says:

      I’m not going to do your research for you but I would reccommend you visit the NRA website. They have a lot of FACTUAL reports on these kinds of topics. The kind of facts you will not find on the emotional, hysterical, anti-gun sites like the Brady antigunner site. It’s estimated that legally purchased firearms prevent around a million crimes from being peratrated on citizens each year becaause the citizens are armed and make that known to the ciminals attempting to victimize them. And in the vast vast majority of cases, no shots are fired, the criminals realize they are not dealing with the average “take my wallet, please” citizen.

    • Miles says:

      Sextus, you ask some good questions. The first thing I would point out is that the data that we do have is limited. I am not aware of any publicly-accessible database that tracks how many crimes were associated with legally owned firearms compared to illegally owned. I simply don’t think that data exists. Also, not all gun sales are tracked. When you buy a gun from a store, you are required to submit to an FBI background check. The FBI does track this data. But it is perfectly legal to buy guns from friends, family, or at a gun show without submitting to a background check. We simply don’t have data on how many guns are bought and sold this way.

      My post below will point you toward some of the data that is available on this subject, including the FBI website. Even though I am a 2nd amendment advocate, I would recommend against getting the majority of your data from the NRA if possible, as jim delton advocates. The NRA data isn’t necessarily wrong, it is simply suspect due to their obvious political interests, therefore making it desirable to obtain data from less politically-motivated sources (I say this as a member of the NRA, by the way).

      But I would caution you against many of the assumptions that you make in your post. Some of them are highly problematic. I’ll mention a few:

      “In a civilized society, civilians may possibly not need high capacity semi-automatic rifles for self protection, as we are not defending ourselves from an army of invading zombies, nor are we fighting a civil war like in Syria, are we? “

      Our right to “bear arms”, as defined in the 2nd amendment, is not predicated on the condition that we are currently being attacked by zombies, or currently at war with the state. There is no part of the Constitution which suggests that in absence of imminent civil war, gun rights may then be restricted. Our rights as defined in the 2nd amendment are absolute and inalienable. While you may personally feel that a restriction on assault weapons are morally justified, there is no getting around the fact that it would be unconstitutional.

      Further, it is irrational to believe that our current relationship with our government is relatively peaceful, that this condition will necessarily be true forever into the future. If we ban assault rifles or any other weapons for that matter because we are not currently at war with our own government, then you can be sure we will regret that decision of that day ever comes. Millions of pre-Stalinist Russians can attest to that.

      You can think of the 2nd amendment as a kind of “insurance policy”, almost analogous to car insurance. Just because you buy car insurance, does not mean you are hoping or expecting to get into an accident. You buy it “just in case” that day ever comes, which you hope to avoid. The 2nd amendment, just like insurance, comes with a cost. We pay that cost every day that people intending to do bad things are given the freedom to own guns just like the rest of us. I believe that this is a price worth paying, but you may not.

      “Millions of decent and law obeying citizens, men and women alike, many of them caring and loving parents, legally own guns for self-protection and to protect their loved ones from a very possible life threatening assault or attempted murder. “

      I see politicians make this mistake all the time when they speak out against guns. The fact is that hunting and self-defense are not the only logical reasons one might desire to own a gun. I believe that the most common reason people own guns is recreation. People enjoy shooting guns at ranges and in competitions. They enjoy collecting guns. Many people enjoy tinkering with guns and doing their own smithing.

      Some people try to argue that if you don’t need a certain kind of gun for hunting, and you don’t need a certain kind of gun for self-defense, then you have to reason to own the gun. But this is simply false. The personal enjoyment that one finds in taking an assault rifle to a range and shooting at targets is a perfectly fine justification to own the gun as anything else. It’s hard for people who hate guns to understand this, but their understanding isn’t necessary. This country is not founded on the principle that one group may abrogate the rights of another group on the grounds that they simply don’t find those rights necessary or of much value.

    • tmac57 says:

      Yeah,with all of those guns in the U.S. (200 million?) floating around,it seems like the deterrent effect is not working too well at least here.More training perhaps?

  82. Kevin says:

    Two of the largest mass murders in our country involved fertilizer and planes. Why are we not sitting down to discuss banning them? If Holme’s did not have a gun he could have done as much damage with a can of gas and a firecracker. There are more automobile deaths every year then there are gun deaths. So why don’t we move to ban them? Oh yea because it would effect your personal freedom. Crazy people will do crazy things. In Japan the crazies use knives, after guns will we ban knives?

    • tmac57 says:

      Automobiles are used by people for productive purposes everyday,such as going to work,school,to buy and deliver goods necessary for survival in our modern world.Guns? Not so much,except by law enforcement.

      • jim delton says:

        While estimates are difficult, it’s estimated that around a million criminal acts/violent acts are prevented every year by guns in the hands of law abiding citizens. I mention that because your premise that only law enforcement benefits from carrying a gun, is simply wrong. Also, law enforcement kills more innocent bystanders by accident each year then citizens carrying guns do. The sad fact is that the mass media hates guns and presents a terribly distorted view of who is using them and how they are being used.

      • tmac57 says:

        Estimated by whom? That sounds like a statistic that someone pulled out of their ass.You can imagine a counter argument of “It’s estimated that 20,000 more gun deaths would occur in the U.S. if everyone carried one.” It’s an impossible thing to measure with all the potential variables and confounders.
        Statistics can be tortured into confessing anything you like.

      • Double Helical says:

        tmac57: “Estimated by whom?” The answers are available in the National Academy of Sciences publication “Firearms and Violence” here:

        Of interest, for example, on page 103:

        “McDowall et al. (1998), using the data from 1992 and 1994 waves of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), found roughly 116,000 defensive gun uses per year, and Kleck and Gertz (1995), using data from the 1993 National Self-Defense Survey (NSDS), found around 2.5 million defensive gun uses each year.
        Many other surveys provide information on the prevalence of defensive gun use. Using the original National Crime Survey, McDowall and
        Wiersema (1994) estimate 64,615 annual incidents from 1987 to 1990. At least 19 other surveys have resulted in estimated numbers of defensive gun uses that are similar (i.e., statistically indistinguishable) to the results founds
        by Kleck and Gertz. No other surveys have found numbers consistent with the NCVS.” So, one survey got the low number of about 318 defensive uses of firearms per day, and 20 surveys arrived at a number of about 6,800 defensive uses per day. This is a crucial point: in nearly all defensive uses of firearms the mere presence of the firearm prevented the crime. Hardly anyone had to kill a bad guy, and very few even had to fire a warning shot.

        My point is that some undetermined number of this large amount of “non-crimes” would be crime statistics if not for the armed citizen.

      • tmac57 says:

        Double Helical-Thanks for the link.That looks like a good source for looking at gun data,but with reservations.I now agree with jim delton that:
        “it’s estimated that around a million criminal acts/violent acts are prevented every year by guns in the hands of law abiding citizens. ” However after reading chapter 5 of that research paper,it is clear that although phone surveys do come up with large numbers of prevented crimes,the data are not reliable enough to draw any clear conclusions from them:

        These disagreements over definition and measurement have resulted in prevalence rates that differ by a factor of 22 or more. While even the smallest of the estimates indicates that there are hundreds of defensive uses every day, there is much contention over the magnitude and the details.

        The suggestion that because there were more surveys that showed the higher prevalence of deterrence,is flawed,because those surveys suffered from the same data collection methods that were criticized in the paper:smaller sample size,lower response rate,ambiguity and subjectivity of what constitutes self defense
        Ex: “Whether one is a defender (of oneself or others) or a perpetrator, for example, may depend on perspective.”
        Certainly,the plausibility of self defense by firearm is obvious,even if the numbers may be way off,so it is understandable that people who think that they are vulnerable would feel justified in owning a gun for protection.The research ,however is not robust enough to clearly evaluate whether on balance having a gun in the home or on your person results in you being safer,less safe,or neither.
        The research paper’s real finding is that the current (as of when it was written) data are insufficient to draw any clear conclusions or policies,and they called for better research,taking into account the weaknesses
        found ,and trying to overcome them.

      • tmac57 says:

        Just to be clear,although I agree that Jim’s statement was correct,I don’t agree that the numbers are necessarily correct.To see what I mean,one would need to read the paper linked to by Double Helical above.

      • Double Helical says:

        My point in quoting the NAP publication was this: Even the lowest number of all of the studies shows over 300 defensive uses of firearms per day, and the highest number was an order of magnitude larger. Hundreds of defensive uses per day, it appears to me, means that banning private firearms will likely result in more crime. The other part of Kleck’s conclusions, if we take his numbers as reasonably accurate, is that defensive use was far more prevalent than criminal use.

      • tmac57 says:

        I understand your point,but the study found that the ‘defensive gun use’ was ill defined.
        Does running someone off your property count? How about a heated argument where one gets mad and threatens the other with a gun? Both parties might claim they were the threatened party there. Does hearing a suspicious noise at night,and investigating with a gun count?None of the respondents were questioned to narrow the details,and the results were highly subjective,including the possibility that the respondents were lying to ‘push’ the poll for ideological reasons.
        The sheer lopsided gun death figures for the U.S versus similar nations should make even the most ardent gun supporter wonder what makes the U.S. the great outlier in this respect.
        My feeling is that we let the genie out of the bottle long ago on this issue,but is there some reasonable set of measures that we can agree on as a nation to mitigate some of this useless waste of lives,besides “more and more guns are the answer”?

      • Daniel says:

        “Statistics can be tortured into confessing anything you like.”

        Exactly. 9 out of 10 people know that.

      • Double Helical says:

        Dear tmac57,

        That was a lot of “what ifs” to list. All reasonable, I suppose, but they can’t all explain away the thousands of incidents that were reported, even if all of them were very likely. I agree that more study is needed, however.

        As an aside: It’s true that correlation does not necessarily equal causation. Nevertheless, over the past few decades, as gun ownership has gone up, crime and murder have gone down. Also during that time, the number of states with “shall issue” concealed carry permit laws went from a handful of states to 40 states.

        Your comment was interesting: “The sheer lopsided gun death figures for the U.S versus similar nations should make even the most ardent gun supporter wonder what makes the U.S. the great outlier in this respect.”

        To address your comment, I would submit that there are no nations similar to the United States. We have a huge diversity in population and ethnicity. We have a huge number of large urban centers. We have a huge number of illegal aliens. We really don’t have a “cultural norm.” I would venture to guess that there never was, or ever will be, a “typical American.” Some people might call that a downside, but I can’t form an opinion on that score. And it’s difficult to compare nations. As an example, look at the Phillipines versus Japan. Both are large archipeligoes in the Pacific. One is an economic powerhouse, and the other is not. What is different about the two? Too many imponderables to list. How about Canada and Mexico? Both have large natural resources, intelligent populations, and a neighbor that loves trading partners. But one is crime ridden and violent, and the other is not.

        Finally, we have to look at our Bill of Rights. The Founders thought that the Second Amendment was just as important as the other nine. Our Supreme Court has ruled this twice, recently. If 2/3rds of the country agrees, any amendment can be repealed. I don’t see it happening, but we have a mechanism, if the majority wills.

  83. Steven says:

    When reading this, I notice that some want to disallow assault rifles and others make the point that assault rifles are not more dangerous than other guns.

    So the choice for a sensible America is either:

    * should assault rifles be disallowed,or
    * should all guns be disallowed?

    Pretty strange that in this modern world the freedom of many is of lesser importance than the eagerness of some to wield a gun.
    I sincerely hope some day the US will join the civilized world ;-)

    • jim delton says:

      Let me correct your incorrectly worded statement.

      Pretty strange that in this modern world the freedom of 350 million to defend themselves is of lesser importance than the eagerness of some to take away a gun from the dozen people who go on a rampage each year.

    • double-helical says:

      Assault Rifle = a type of machine gun. heavily regulated since 1934.

  84. Sextus Empiricus XXI says:

    Please, ignore my two first postings. Those were in the process of being corrected as drafts when mistakenly submitted. My third post is the final version that I intended to present for consideration in this blog. It contains three specific questions that I am anxious to be answered in a an objectively supported manner. I apologize for the mistake.

  85. Miles says:

    I understand, appreciate, and respect the fear of guns that most people have. As a gun-owner and recreational shooter, I find it perfectly rational when others express a disdain for guns. Any weapon engineered to destroy can justifiably make people feel nervous or upset. So trust me when I say that I understand people who want to restrict guns simply because they don’t like them. That emotional response makes perfect sense, and I don’t begrudge my political adversaries their tension.

    What I don’t understand, and I’m hoping someone here can explain to me, is the person who claims to evaluate the evidence from an emotionally removed position, and concludes that there is a need for further restrictions (Michael Shermer). I’m not angry, I simply don’t understand that point of view, and here is why.

    The facts show that violent crime has steadily declined in the United States since around the mid 90’s. At the same time, gun ownership continued to increase. How can any reasonable person accept this fact to be true and still believe that the guns are causing the violence?

    I am not claiming this data as proof that more guns cause less crime. Correlation does not prove causation, and I’m very sensitive to that fallacy. But while this data doesn’t prove that guns are the cause of less violence, it certainly rules out the claim that more guns = more violence. If more guns caused more violence, this tend simply should not be happening. At best, you can conclude that increased gun ownership (with no change in restrictions) doesn’t have much of an impact on violence at all.

    Why do those of you who want to see more restrictions not find this evidence compelling? I’m really curious, because this data has been around for a long time, yet people claim that more guns cause more violence just never seem to be impressed by this data. Why? Do you think the data is simply wrong? I just don’t understand, so I’d like to know why this data just doesn’t seem to interest or phase some of you at all.

    Here are some references to data for those of you want look for yourselves…

    Based on the required back ground check data with the FBI when you purchase a gun, and also based on the number of concealed carry permits that are issued, the FBI reports that both gun sales and concealed carry permits have been increasing. All of their data can be found here:

    Here is some general data on the decline in violent crime in the United States, which cover the same time periods as the FBI data above:

    Note that the above paper does not point to guns as the cause for a decrease in crime. That’s fine. I’m perfectly willing to accept the idea that more guns are necessarily causing less crime. The point is that it certainly isn’t causing more crime.

    Here is a Harvard paper with many citations to various gun-related studies. The data presented simply doesn’t support the claim that more guns means more violence:

    • Miles says:

      Still no answers to my challenge. Max? tmac57? Can anyone here tell me why this data, which I find highly compelling, is simply dismissed by the other side?

      • Max says:

        I thought we were talking about tactical rifles, not handguns.

      • Miles says:


        I believe the FBI data includes assault/tactical rifles in their aggregate figures. It is not limited to pistols. I’m not sure how much they separate the two. But I agree with you that it would be desirable to see sales figures of assault rifles sales by themselves. I’m just not sure that data exists, so I’m doing the best with what I have.

        I think we would both like to have more and better data. There is no doubt about that. But in the absence of that data, we are still left with the question of whether or not to ban assault rifles, so we need to use what little data we have. So my question is why does this data, which in what I’ve been able to see is some of the best data that we have, outright dismissed? Would not the more appropriate response, for someone who is skeptical of assault rifle freedom, be to hold off on a call to ban them until the data that we have can be legitimately over-shadowed by something better? Sure, the data that we have isn’t as complete as we would like, but shouldn’t you also refrain from calling for a ban in the mean time?

        We do the best with what we have, and what we have does not suggest that more assault rifles will cause more violence. Maybe you think that this isn’t the best data that we have. I am willing to be convinced of this, which is why I posed this challenge. If this isn’t the best data we have, and it should be outright dismissed, then why?

      • tmac57 says:

        Miles,first I would like to commend you on trying to keep out of the weeds on this issue and stick to the facts.
        As far as the FBI stats go,at least one plausible reason for overall decline in crime,could be the aging overall of the U.S. population.Older people are involved in less crime in general.
        The Kates/Mauser paper read more like an advocacy piece rather than a neutral research paper,so I am suspicious that they cherry picked their research to fit a preconceived narrative,but it would take years of research,and rigorous statistical methods to disprove or prove either position.
        I have not looked at the Berkley reference yet.

      • Miles says:

        tmac57 (I appreciate the commendation),

        On the Kates/Mauser paper, I admit that the paper itself was more of a meta-analysis, which is certainly open to cherry picking and bias. I finding it difficult to compile a list of direct sources of data on my own, and I simply found that this paper seemed to be well-cited. I think the citations in the paper have more value than the paper itself, so I intended it to be used as a kind of short-hand list to the real data.

        And again, I concede that there are many other plausible explanations for a decrease in crime other than just an increase in guns. The point you bring up is a possibility, and there are likely hundreds of other possible variables that could be having an effect on a decline in crime. An increase in gun ownership just happens to be one of many plausible explanations for a decrease in crime, and is the one explanation that gun advocates are most biased toward supporting over all of the other possibilities.

        But I don’t think that this evidence is compelling because of what it confirms. I believe this evidence is compelling due to what it rules out. If this data is solid (and I’m willing to be convinced that it is not), then it rules out the possibility that an increase in guns (or in assault rifles) since the 1994 ban was lifted caused more violence. If this data is good, the argument that more guns causes violence to increase should be completely off the table. That is why this compelling.

      • Miles says:

        *I caught myself and I need to self-correct. The 2nd to last sentence should read:

        If this data is good, the argument that more guns caused violence to increase from 1994 – present, as measured in national aggregate terms, should be completely off the table.

        Historical events do not necessarily predict the future.

  86. Ben Hurst says:

    When gun control is the issue at hand, there are often sneering remarks that the people for increases in gun control are not knowledgeable. I agree that in some cases the journalists shoot their own credibility when they refer to an ordinary collection of firearms as “an arsenal,” so a dispaasionate analysis would be of value.

    Now, having said that, I am a serious target shooter who quit the NRA, being tired of the bitterness, paranoia, and often the downright stupidity of members who can’t shut up and be reasonable. I’ve got lots of trophies, and still own many weapons, so I am knowledgeable, and I find myself in agreement with Michael that we either “improve our freedoms” by doing away with weapons of WMM, and thus some of the realistic fears we now face when we come to the square. I worry constantly about my wife and daughter going shopping, banking, etc. all because the NRA thinks it’s reasonable to have weapons with 100 round drums. That’s BS!

    That kind of thinking is for thrill-seeking little boys. Many of my very expensive weapons are single-shot, and I have never felt underprivileged or robbed of any freedom because I have to take my time to load each round. But, sadly, all this talk is wasted on this generation. Our politicians are whores, both sides, but especially the Republicans, so sanity and logic are not about to enter the scene, not in my lifetime, I am sad to say. But let’s keep trying. The NRA can’t prevail forever.

    • Miles says:


      As a current member of the NRA, I can certainly sympathize with your animosity toward that organization. They certainly did their best to make a mess of the Heller vs. D.C. case in 2008:

      And today, the NRA is choosing to trample on property rights because they feel guns are more important:

      The NRA certainly seems to be more interested in guns than liberty. I have retained my membership so far, because they are so effective at shutting down attacks on the 2nd amendment, and I think that has value. But I have been seriously re-thinking this, as perhaps they are doing more harm than good. When my membership is up for renewal, I’ll have some serious thinking to do.

      However, I don’t agree with the second half of your post. It seems that you are using your personal experience with people around you to justify abrogating the rights of millions. This is a dangerous method of political reform that will surely lead to tyranny in the long term.

      Let me give you a counter-example. As a child, I grew up poor in one of the most violent and gang-infested areas of the midwest. I was one of a handful of white males in the public schools in which I attended. As you can imagine, I experienced my fair share of violence, threats, and racism. I’ve been stabbed with sharpened pencils, had my fingers staples to a bulletin board, I’ve had my head clamped into a vice and my mouth scrubbed with high-grit sandpaper; I’ve been kicked, beaten, and humiliated, and even dragged half-naked (from the bottom down) through the mulch-covered areas of the playground, mostly because I didn’t have a “group” to protect me. I was a huge target and my mother had to deal with multiple visits from city truancy officers because I was afraid to go to school.

      I am no racist. On my walls are images of men I admire, all of whom happen to be black (John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis after whom I was named, etc.). But if I were to use your method of applying my personal experience in the world as a basis for deciding what groups are simply too dangerous to be allowed their freedom, you can imagine the kind of terrible policies I might be in a position to advocate.

      If you want to make a more academic/statistical argument as to why assault rifles need to be banned, I’m willing to be convinced. But the fact that some number of assault rifle owners seem “paranoid” simply shouldn’t be on the table of reasonable debate.

  87. Daniel Schmuhl says:

    Even if I accept that gun laws reduce crime (which is dubious because correlation is not causation and many factors are involved), Michael is making a collectivist arguement in that safety is more important than civil liberties. Shermers arguement could be used to support the Patriot act and even torture. It violates the basic Libertarian position of non-coercion.

    • Max says:

      The argument is that we give up some freedoms, like the freedom to own WMDs, in order to preserve other freedoms, like the freedom to go to a crowded movie theater without risking our lives.

  88. Max says:

    I don’t know of any cases where a civilian used an assault rifle in self defense and couldn’t have used a shotgun or a hunting rifle.
    But I can think of a number of cases where an assault rifle was used by criminals and terrorists: 1974 SLA-LAPD shootout, 1993 shootings at CIA Headquarters, 1997 North Hollywood shootout, not to mention Aurora, Utoya, Mumbai, Beslan, etc.

    • Miles says:


      I’m honestly trying to understand your position. Please clarify something for me, as I don’t understand your comparison. You compare the number of AR’s that have been used in self-defense incidents (presumably just inside the U.S.) against the number of AR’s that have been used by criminals and terrorists around the world. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume that you don’t intend to stack the deck in your favor by comparing the pro column in just one country against the cons column from around the world. Let’s just assume, for the sake of argument that you are just talking about the United States.

      Why is this comparison, AR’s used for self-defense vs. AR’s used for evil, a more valid comparison, than say, the number of AR’s that don’t get used for evil vs. the number of AR’s that do? Why does it only “count” in your mind, if the AR in question was actually used for self-defense?Why do you dismiss the rifles that have been sitting in some enthusiasts gun safe, not hurting anybody or being used for any kind of crime?

      We’ve already established that many gun owners have AR’s for recreational purposes (including myself). Why must the rifle have been used in an actual self-defense scenario for me to have the freedom to own it?

      • Max says:

        Because if it saves more lives than it takes, that’s a winning argument. That’s something you could tell Aurora victims with a straight face. But try telling them that your desire to shoot particularly deadly weapons rather than BB guns for recreation justifies the loss of life.

      • Miles says:

        Okay, that makes more sense to me, thanks. I do not agree with your reasoning, but I can see why someone from your perspective would only find assault rifles that saved the lives of others to be worth considering.

        I do not agree with your reasoning, because if that were successfully argued in the Supreme Court, then it could be used as a legal precedent to deny any freedoms which may have harmed others, on the grounds that such freedom can’t be proven to have saved more lives than taken.

        Alcohol would be a fine example. Surely, alcohol is responsible for more lives lost than lives saved? I have no doubt that you do not agree with this analogy, probably on the grounds that alcohol was not “designed with the intent specifically to take life”; but from a legal perspective it would make no difference. If we passed your assault rifle ban on the grounds that they take more lives than they save, that argument would be the legal precedent. The counter-argument about “was it design to kill?” would have no bearing on the ruling, and therefore future cases.That’s just the way our law system works, like it or not.

      • Max says:

        Colorado banned private fireworks this year because of the risk of wildfires. They weren’t designed to kill or set fires.

  89. TPaine says:

    I am disappointed with your with your conclusion Michael.
    What a democratic (or skeptic) society decides is “needed” is often based on good intentions, it also often has consequences of the “unintended” nature.
    I have seen the fall of man into mental illness. My friend used a bow and arrows, later a hatchet, later a can of gasoline, and last, a hand gun to destroy. The type of weapon seems incidental to the destruction.
    The amount of potential destruction in a gallon of gas is sobering…..
    So specific weapon control may seem rational, but the counterintuitive in me will always feel safer in a place with open carry laws. Vermont has open carry laws and one of the lowest crime rates. Correlation…yes. Causation…..? I don’t use or carry guns but I can think like a criminal. I can also study history and those who argue that we are well beyond the need of weapons for protection in our modern, safe society, may live in bliss at their own peril. Most of us want to live in bliss, but you know what they say……
    Liberty is not about what most people want, is it.

  90. Max says:

    My problem with the “fighting tyranny” argument is that the types of people who currently hoard guns and worry about FEMA camps are not the types I want fighting the government. Observe the Syrian uprising, which has been hijacked by Jihadists, or the 1917 Russian Revolution that replaced the monarchy with a Communist dictatorship.

    • tmac57 says:

      Agreed.I wonder how comfortable most southerners were when the succession talk became serious prior to the Civil War.I would wager that many people were on the fence,and were forced into taking sides.A sad chapter in our history ensued,being carried along by the same sort of loose talk that we witness now from the same kind of people who whine “I want my country back!!!”.
      Use the ballot box Americans!Leave the talk of armed insurrection to the countries who have real tyrants and dictators.We just have run of the mill corrupt politicians…common place since the beginning of time.

    • Max says:

      At least the Syrian government and the Tsarist autocracy were actual tyrannies. But the Tim McVeigh/John Joe Gray/Prison Planet types think the U.S. government is already a tyranny that carried out the 9/11 attacks and plans to imprison everyone in FEMA camps. They think an armed uprising is justified already.

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  92. Carl says:

    Is Shermer’s old age causing him to get confused about the difference between laws forbidding you to punch people, vs. laws forbidding you to have hands?

  93. Dave says:

    Here in Canada my family can go to a movie with no fear of being gunned down. That’s a civilized country.
    All your paranoid delusions about threats are just that,delusions.
    Your founding fathers did NOT have ak47’s etc in mind and I’m sure they would cringe at what you people are using the constitution to justify .

  94. George E;gee says:

    The idea of only having law enforcement personel have access to rapid fire weapons is also flawed. In Juneau Alaska where I live, one of our local police 17+years on the force, opened up on his niegborhood with up to 95 rounds, (see Juneau Empire for 2012). Luckily no one died, but you hw put a lot holes in the cop cars. Policman get depressed just like the general population, so no safety there. I think what is amazing if you look at big number, is the million of people that have guns and the millions of guns owned in the US and how few of these events we have, considering.

    The big numbers are in traffic death not gun deaths, but we talk little about solving that problem. In fact the day after Colorado 14 people died in one wreck.

  95. tmac57 says:

    Hmmm…If you could use your guns to build a home (or anything),play music,create art,do brain surgery,fix a car,caress a child (or other loved one),sand bag an over flowing river…the list is endless…then,you might have an analogy.
    Guns have a useful purpose,but lets not elevate them to the status of one of the greatest tools of human beings…OK?

  96. Ed DeLAuter says:

    A 12-gauge shotgun, with a five shot magazine, sawed off to a 19 inch barrel loaded with double ought (00) buckshot will kill MANY people. So now do we feel obligated to ban those as well? Restricting the types of firearms available will only make the perpetrators more creative. Someone hell bent on assassinating innocents will simply not be thwarted by legislation.

  97. Gram Davies says:

    Michael, I enjoy your work and agree with your conclusion here but you lose me on the mental illness thing.

    This article does not make a link between depression and murder, schizophrenia and mass murder but apparently assumes one (I understand you know of one, yet fail to illustrate it carefully). It is actually a terrible thing to say because the stigma against sufferers of mental illnesses is already so great and you do much here to reinforce the impression that the ill are to be feared. To lump the depressed together with psychopaths is very tactless. To place schizophrenia alongside “psychos” is quite horrific, it is a tragic condition and so much needs to be done to increase our understanding of what people who are afflicted by it go through. One line acknowledging that most sufferers are non-violent is not sufficient to mitigate the perpetuation of the stigma.

    Show some sensitivity and you will have a more persuasive article.

    • Double Helical says:

      Mr. Davies,
      You are quite correct that we cannot lump the mentally ill together with psychopaths. They are two entirely different things. Just to make the point clear to other readers, let me say that psychopaths are not mentally ill; they are deficient humans, and they are born that way. They cannot be “cured.” A good book to read is “The Sociopath Next Door” by Martha Stout. According to her numbers, about 4% of people are born sociopaths. Thankfully, most of them are not killers. Apparently, though, just about every serial killer is a psychopath. My point is, when we are talking about the mentally ill, i.e., those who are diagnosable and who can be treated, we are not talking about psychopaths, who are NOT mentally ill. They are simply born without the ability to have empathy. They often learn how to “blend in” with the rest of us, but they find it impossible to connect in an emotional way with other humans. Many of them consider emotions to be a weakness of “normal” people. Food for thought. I highly recommend the book by Dr. Stout.

      For the record, I do not agree with Dr. Shermer’s conclusions, as I’ve posted here elsewhere.

  98. Richard Robertson says:

    Here’s my blog post on the issue. It’s better than trying to do a lengthy posting here. I had promised someone I’d start putting together some model gun control legislation. This is a start in that direction. I disagree with some of what the OP says, but I go into details why in that article.

  99. meet on line says:

    Great post. A lot of great points. I like it. Thanks for sharing.

  100. Daniel Murphy says:

    I found this article disappointing and not up to Mr. Shermer’s usual standards. One “back-of-the-envelope calculation” follows one “conservative estimate” follows one “if only 1% … of 1%” guess after another. I’ll leave my criticism of this part of Mr. Shermer’s article at that, since neither the Aurora killer’s state of mind nor the percentage of schizophrenic, depressed and psychopathic people in the general population who might commit mass murder — “so many madmen mingl[ing] among us” — is relevant to the author’s proposal for “outlawing all automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles for anyone who is not in law enforcement or the military,” a proposal which targets none of those groups.

    Instead of guessing, Mr. Shermer might have started with real statistics since, irrelevancies aside, his claim seems to be that deaths in mass murder homicide incidents would be reduced by outlawing ownership of assault rifles. He might have asked: How many people die each year in mass homicide incidents? Of those deaths, how many are caused by assault rifles? And of those deaths, how many does the author think might be prevented with his proposed assault rifle ban?

    I don’t know the answers, but according to BJS and FBI reports for 2010:

    About 15,000 people were murdered.

    Of those, the FBI counted 1,305 people who were victims in homicide incidents with multiple victims. But most of these victims were probably not killed in mass murder incidents, we can surmise, because while 4.5% of homicide incidents involved two or more victims, 3.7% of homicide incidents (82% of multiple homicide incidents) involved exactly two victims, and only 0.1% of homicide incidents involved five or more victims. This last category would appear to include the “Aurora-size mass murders” the author is concerned with. So, how many deaths were there in homicide incidents involving five or more victims? I’m sorry, I don’t know, but the author might have found out.

    Of that number, how many victims were killed with assault rifles? Again, sorry, I don’t know, but in 2010 the FBI counted 349 homicides committed with a rifle. But that includes all types of rifles, not specifically assault rifles. Further, that figure includes deaths in single homicides and multiple homicides with any victim count. Again, I do not know how many people were murdered specifically in mass homicides and specifically with assault rifles, but again, the author might have found out.

    And finally, if Mr. Shermer knew that number, one question would remain: of that number, how many of those deaths would he argue might have been prevented by outlawing ownership of assault rifles? For all I know, that final number might be significant and justify Mr. Shermer’s proposal (or lesser regulatory measures — the Aurora killer would not, for example, have been able to buy his 100-round magazine in California). I share the author’s sense that our Constitution is not a bar to reasonable gun control legislation. I do object, however, to what struck me as an exercise in pseudostatistics in support of that position.

  101. Max says:

    When people say, “He could’ve used a different weapon,” my response is, “Why didn’t he?” There’s a reason he chose a particular weapon. Maybe it was easier to obtain, faster, cheaper, more destructive, more satisfying, etc. I suspect that Holmes mimicked Anders Breivik, who spent a lot of time making a bomb, but only used it to create a diversion from his far deadlier shooting spree. If he hadn’t had access to assault weapons, he might have just used a handgun like many other mass murderers. As I mentioned above, Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar couldn’t get a gun, so he used his SUV and failed to kill anyone. Terrorists who plan out attacks take time to find a weapon, but you also have people who initially buy guns for standard reasons, but later snap and go postal.
    We can’t just assume that certain security measures would be effective, but we also can’t assume that they’d be ineffective just because criminals may try to circumvent them. You don’t throw up your hands, stop locking your door, and turn off your antivirus software.

  102. keddaw says:

    Let’s take his “the freedom for me to swing my arm ends at your nose” argument and cut people’s arms off, what do we get for this? According to Shermer, “this results in a rate of 3.14 Aurora-size mass murders per year in America”. As terrible as Aurora was it only involved the death of 12 people and injury of 58 more.

    Let’s be ‘generous’ and say there are 10 Aurora-esque avoidable tragedies (that don’t simply get replaced by people using IEDs, trucks, attacks on public transport, arson or other effective mass killing techniques) then we save how many lives? 120 lives/year*. 300 million Americans, 120 deaths = a 2.5 million to 1 chance of being killed in any given year; average life expectancy of 80 years which means a lifetime chance of being killed by an avoidable assault rifle assault is 1 in 31,250. To put this into perspective:

    Cause of death: Lifetime odds
    Car accident: 83-1
    Plane crash: 5,000-1
    Crossing the street: 625-1
    Drowning: 1,100-1
    Murder: 210-1
    Falling: 210-1
    Lightning: 80,000-1
    Aurora-type shooting: 31,250-1
    ‘Justifiable’ killing by Law Enforcement: 9,000-1

    Shermer wants to restrict the rights of ALL Americans, their ability to protect themselves and their property, their ability to stand up to tyrannical government to avoid a 2.5 million to 1 chance they might die this year? This is EXACTLY the nonsense logic the TSA use to deny you the right not to be felt up.

    If Sherman wants to save lives, it might be more appropriate to limit the police’s use of weapons since Americans are 3 times more likely to be killed by Law Enforcement than an Aurora-style attack.

    * 120 lives lost per year compared to approx. 450 citizens killed by Law Enforcement, 2,000 knife homicides, 8,000 handgun homicides, 3,500 accidental drownings and, 30,000 dead in traffic accidents.

  103. Jeff says:

    Guns are for shooting street thugs and state thugs. If I’m ever going to be shooting state thugs, I want the biggest baddest gun on the planet.

    Your article, while not surprising, is disappointing.

  104. Elliott Ingersoll says:

    I think these numbers support the argument. As many have already noted, mental health diagnoses are slippery approximations at best. There is not one physiological variable associated consistently with any disorder – not one (that is what held up release of DSM 5). That said, many disorders are correlated with physiological variables and more severe disorders (e.g. Schizophrenia; Bipolar I Disorder) SEEM physiologically rooted but we need to continue our research on that. The epidemiological numbers here hold up in terms of the numbers afflicted with disorders like Schizophrenia so as I stated I agree with the conclusion. Maybe we could put guns on a schedule like drugs: Schedule I gun has no documented civilian purpose, etc.

  105. markx says:

    You know, Bob, I think it is an entirely relevant argument.

    Almost everyone in here seems to think that the general citizenry should not be allowed to own mortars, shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, 50 caliber machine guns, 40 mm anti-aircraft guns etc. (perhaps because it would be too easy to kill people?)

    Then there is another group who think all of the above PLUS semi automatic military style rifles with large capacity magazines should not be allowed. But, concealable weapons including large magazine capacity autos (18 shots or more per mag these days?) are fine.

    And, further down the scale, those who think that all of the above, plus concealable weapons should be banned, but nice old style bolt and lever action hunting rifles and shotguns would be no problem (hell, I’m probably in that group, and I’d even accept non-removable magazines).

    Then you have the group who would ban everything. And they have a point as there is no excuse then for anyone to be buying ammunition or firearm accessories, the whole thing is just easier to enforce.

    So, constitutional arguments in mind, where SHOULD we draw the line in the sand?

  106. Hellcat says:

    Timothy McVeigh used fertilizer and fuel, 9/11 hijackers used box cutters and planes. BAN THEM too while you’re at it.

    Ban cars, 30,000 people died last year because of them. What I can’t get over is that a PAINTED line down the center of a road and a persons choice to obey that line is the only thing keeping someone from hitting me head on.

    I am sorry but I just do not see the point behind restricting my freedom to make you feel safer. How many people die per year in their own home to accidents?

    Guns are a tool. Period. A gun by itself is not dangerous, whether there is one or one hundred. It is the training and or intent of the person wielding the gun that is the problem. Accidents happens, yes. As do planned attacks. But to believe that if a certain type of firearm is banned that things will be peachy and no other attacks will happen, is illogical. People intent on causing harm, will find a way.

    While I am a proponent of guns, I DO believe that there should be more stringent rules/laws regarding ownership in the form of background checks, personality profiles/checks and safety classes, as well as personal accountability regarding storage of firearms and general firearm safety.

    One cannot blame psychopaths, schizophrenics and people suffering from severe depression for all gun violence. School shootings and teen suicides have happened because of bullying, children have been killed by disgruntled spouses during a divorce who then plead temporary insanity. People are people, there are all types and all kinds.

    Yes our world is a dangerous place, but it always was and always will be. Asteroids, super volcanoes, earthquakes, accidents, predators, humans. I know I am taking a chance walking out my door in the morning. Is this the one in a million day I trip down the stairs and crack my skull? Is this the one in a million day a truck driver pulling an all nighter accordions my vehicle into another tractor trailer in front of me on the highway? Is this the one in a million day that the heart disease that runs in my family takes me?

    I am sure someone will find flaws with my opinion, but I enjoy my freedoms and I for one promise not to infringe on anyone else’s freedoms… Unless they become a zombie, in which case, it’s a free-for-all.

  107. MARCUS LUNA says:

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  108. Donald Clarkson says:

    I think US gun laws are daft, but doesn’t the law of large numbers also mean that the risk to any individual is vanishingly small?

  109. Trivium68 says:

    you start out ok, but then predictably devolve into a gun control debate.

    Listen, there ARE a lot of unanswered questions and ones that are being conveniently forgotten.

    I love how this person is being now spun as a “crazy person” (whatever DSMIV diagnosis would fit). HOWEVER, no one is considering that there is a lot of evidence that there was a 2nd accomplice (he was probably NOT a “lone crazed gunman”, and the 2nd point is that his behavior is also very similar to those of MKULTRA and Sleeper assasins (research Sirhan Sirhan’ after Robert F Kennedy’s assasination).

    This is SIGNIFICANT enough of an issue that folks need to really pay attention and ask the hard questions. Perhaps this event was created to create mass fear and to once again spur a debate on gun control. (how convenient) I am actually Liberal and have generally be PRO Gun control however, after this event I am starting to see some of the issues with the set up argument regarding typical gun control issues.

    If you are going to be a skeptic, be a skeptic and don’t get distracted by various side issues. I think this event smells of something deeper.

    Here are some links to get you started.


    The James Holmes Conspiracy (2012 Full Documentary)

  110. Cathy says:

    We had a similar event where I live in Seal Beach, CA. A disgruntled, ex-husband with a history of threatening his wife is able to amass an arsenal of WMM, goes to the beauty salon where his ex works and proceeds to blow away his wife along with most of her co-workers and some customers sitting in their chairs getting a their hair done – all within minutes. We have to finally stand up to the almighty NRA. Thank you Michael Shermer for always being willing to look at the facts, the evidence and to change your mind when it is clearly the right thing to do.

  111. Trivium68 says:


    I agree that the NRA is a bit off at times. I find it ironic that someone who has allegedly been for gun rights is now leaning towards some level of control and then someone like me who has been very much for gun control and against the NRA is now leaning towards suspicion regarding the “gun control” argument.

    Again, I would definately encourage folks to take a look at the research and background on the MKULTRA and mind control projects that were done by the CIA. It is out there for anyone to take a look at.

    This isn’t just some “tin foil hat” argument, if you look and investigate the facts you will see the links.

    Also, as for other motives, check into the fact that James Holmes father was a prominant software developer and had developed important algorithms that were used by financial institutions. He was just about ready to testify regarding the LIBOR interest rate scandal.

    James Holmes also had ties and links with DAARPA and neuroscience programs.

    Just some leads. Investigate them.


    • Trivium68 says:

      I came to follow up on this discussion and found that it appears that no one decided to comment regarding my thoughts on the cause behind this shooting.


      I guess more folks are happy to wrangle the issues of “gun control” yet don’t want to even fathom the ideas of “mind control”.

      I realise that there are some skeptical sites that have poo pooed the idea of MKULTRA projects but there is EVIDENCE from the CIA that proves that they WERE (and unless you are a real naive person) and still are working hard at manipulating the mind and consciousness. There are motivations for doing this as well.

      Obviously, the fact that everyone is arguing over the civil rights of the mentally disabled, and gun control shows that there is a concern in our society about how we want to exist.

      Yet, are some of these debates keeping us distracted from some deeper issues and events?

      Yes, I imagine it makes everyone’s head hurt.

      Yet 9/11 11th anniversary happened yesterday and everyone still seemed to be waving the flag, talking about evil terrorists and how they became more patriotic after 9/11.

      Just sad.

  112. The Truly Skeptical Fan says:

    I will propose one major fallacy with this discussion now. Statistics, data and weapon experts all agree that the most dangerous urban weapon and the highest killer of all firearms are handguns. As effective killer weapons go, the shotgun is next, followed by the sniper. The automatic rifle configured as an assault rifle is a medium range battlefield tool and the military does not even use it in urban situations. It is an impediment at close range and inaccurate at long range. A 17 round pistol in each hand puts an assault rifle to shame. Do you what is faster than changing an assault rifle clip? Pulling out another handgun. Focusing on assault rifles is just focusing on a convenient target to feel better. It is the equivalent of looking for change on the ground you lost in the couch outside in the sun that because the light is better outside.

    “Assault rifles” are really just suburban collectable toys. Because of this, crazy people who have tried to use them has been less effective than if they we limited only to handguns. I have heard it argued that they have saved lives by distracting criminals from handguns. I do not like this very callous argument but it is still likely that we will find out that more people where wounded and killed in Aurora by handguns and shotguns than were by the assault rifle that jammed early in the encounter.

    In the end, all these arguments are moot. The issue is “What can be done now in the U.S.?” With the second amendment and guns already everywhere, is a broad based gun band practical any time soon? Obviously not. Are focused gun control laws practical? No one has come up with an effective focused gun control law for a number of reasons. The biggest reason may be that it needs to control handguns and they are clearly the hardest to target for gun control. The easy target of the assault rifle does not address the true problem and does not open the door for handgun bands. It’s a waste of time.


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  114. LREKing says:

    And it’s going to get worse. It is now possible to bypass gun laws altogether by using a 3D printer and downloadable templates to make a working pistol. They are crude at the moment but that will no doubt change.

  115. FactsNotFallacies says:

    There is no rational basis for banning so-called “Assault Weapons” because there isn’t anything that distinguishes them from other weapons aside from cosmetic features:

    Also the Virginia Tech shooter used ordinary pistols to get his high kill rate, yet no one seems to realize the implications.

    • Max says:

      About ordinary pistols
      “According to Army Specialist William Gilbert, a regular customer at the store, Hasan entered the store and abruptly asked for ‘the most technologically advanced weapon on the market and the one with the highest standard magazine capacity.’ Hasan was allegedly asked how he intended to use the weapon, but did not give a straight answer, insisting that he simply wanted the most advanced handgun with the largest magazine capacity. The three people with Hasan —Gilbert, the store manager, and an employee— all agreed upon the FN Five-seven pistol. Gilbert, who personally owned one of the pistols, spent nearly an hour describing it to Hasan, explaining that the gun was extremely lightweight and accurate, and telling him that the bullets it fires cause severe damage on impact.”

      I bet these guys spend a lot of time thinking and discussing how to use guns for self-defense, which gun is best for which situation, how they would take out an active shooter, etc. So I wonder how they feel about arming a terrorist and seeing their advice backfire, no pun intended.

  116. smora says:

    I scanned the 400 or so replies and almost none got the point.
    The availabilty of 30 round pistol magazines and 100 round rifle magazines is not justified. Not for self defense, hunting or sport shooting. Mr. Shirmer was not talking primarily of guns but of Weapons of Mass Murder, which is the only conceivable purpose for such fire power. Keep the AR 15 with its 5 round magazine or a 9mm with a 12 round magazine; there may be some self protection argument (although, from a home self-defense point-of-view a shotgun is likely superior.)

    It is sad to see some many skeptics who cannot hold the middle ground, who see things as all or none. No power on earth is going to be able to round up the est 300 million guns in private hands in the US. But we can create extraordinary penalties for creating or selling extraordinary weapons systems, eg extraordinary rapid fire semi-automatic guns with extraordinary large capacities, i.e., WMM.


    With this modification a semi auto AR 15 can fire 900 rounds per
    minute as opposed to its “normal” 30+ rounds per min.

    • Double Helical says:

      Dear Smora,

      There is a logical fallacy that skeptics should be aware of: The Argument from Personal Incredulity. One example is the common Creationist argument against evolutionary biology: “I cannot conceive of any mechanism that could turn a pool of bacterial ooze into a human being.” The fallacy being, “if I cannot conceive of it, it is unlikely or untrue.”

      Of course, we skeptics know that evolution is true, even if we might not all understand the intricate details of millions of years of evolution.

      You wrote, “Mass murder is…the only conceivable purpose for such fire power.” I believe that this is a similar logical fallacy.

      Let me offer, as an example of one possible requirement for extra firepower, a scenario that you may not have considered. (I am going to paraphrase myself in a post that I made earlier.) I am reminded of the first-person account from New Orleans the second day after Katrina. A man and woman realized that staying in the city was no longer an option after spotting some policemen looting a store. As they prepared to leave, the man came downstairs to find his vehicle surrounded by a large group of men whose purpose can easily be surmised. As he shouted for them to leave, they did NOT scatter. Instead, they turned to confront him. He was holding his AKM rifle (30 round magazine) at port arms, however, and they hastily departed. His conclusion was that they were probably armed and wouldn’t have feared him, even if he was armed with a pistol. In his opinion, the rifle was more persuasive than a pistol to a large group of looters.

      As Miles says above, “Things can go from fine to terrifying in a very short period of time.”

      It’s true that mob scenes, rampant looting, and a breakdown of police protection (e.g., the policemen looters) seem to be unlikely to most of us, but: the LA Riots, Katrina, Engish rioting, and Superstorm Sandy should remind us of how fragile our peaceful societies can be. If I’m faced with a mob, I want effective firepower available.

      Not to look for trouble. I surmise that I am like nearly every one of the 100 million gun owners in the country. I don’t want trouble, and I don’t go looking for it. But, if it comes, I want to be able to defend myself and my family.

      • Mountain says:


        I agree and would add that the last thing we need is ignorance driving laws on this issue.

        Clearly Shermer is making proclamations about firearms from ignorance and he and so many others using emotional logical fallacies is depressing at best.

        FBI statistics, more people in the US are murdered with hands and feet (beaten to death) than rifles of all and any type – how does this make “assault weapons” a particular problem?

        Let us be honest, the use of “tarted up” rifles are a direct response from low-value personalities acting out a terrible fantasy. Any person trained in MOUT operations or understands firearm effectiveness would use the simple pump action shotgun for maximum impact in enclosed areas.

        An additional point would be how often have this batch of low-value murders ever picked obvious “hard targets” why do they choose closely packed unarmed defenseless victims.

        Lastly why is the connection to SSRI and (possibly ADHD) drugs not discussed?

  117. KJ says:

    I read just one comment about the dangers of lumping all mass murderers as mentally ill. In fact, more are judged to be perfectly sane than not. A “normal” society does not understand how a sane person can get angry enough at society to carry out murder. Happens all the time. Every day. The insanity defense is accepted, and ruled according with, less than 1% of the time it is filed as a defense. The writer of this article, and many of the comment posters, has done an injustice to an incredibile number of non-violent (but yes, mentally ill) people in the country by this assumpption… and it is only his assumption. That’s a bit bigoted, as I see it. So, I started reading this with grumpy moanings from the get-go.

    I am astounded that a journalsit would make such generalizations, stated as fact and publish it. How am I to believe any of this article is indeed fact? His misuse of mathmatics shows the lack of understanding general statistics, while succumbing to the politically motivated “math that fits the point.” I’m NOT picking on the author, indeed I am not. I agree with some of his points. I am citing that one should read carefully what he chooses to accept as fact. Numbers can be very, very misleading… even when only used as an example (just watched the “Town Hall Debate.” Numbers were fast and loose). Maybe I’m just sensitive to it this evening. lol

    Good arguments presented here for both sides.

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  119. Chris says:

    All you have to do is look at countries like Mexico to our south or the UK where guns are banned. People are murdered by the thousands by the criminals that can get guns from many sources illegally. It is estimated that guns are used in self-defense of life and property 2.5 million times a year in the US. What do you gain if you take away everyone’s guns, only to have more innocent unarmed Americans killed, robbed , raped etc by armed criminals and psychos? The Founding Fathers gave us the 2nd amendment to allow us to protect ourselves from those that would harm us, including the government. Freedom is never free, there is always a price to be paid.

  120. MBR says:

    Fallacy of dramatic instance. I would expect better from Michael Shermer.