I get concerned when I hear someone say that gun massacres are a "complex" issue, or that it's all about mental health. Of course there are complexities and mental health does plays a role.
But these arguments are too easily employed as smoke screens to divert us from the real problem: there are just too many guns out there.
More gun registration is not the answer. The Newtown, Connecticut shooter took legally registered guns from his mother, who was his first victim.
Trying to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally unbalanced is not the answer. In a nation with some 300 million guns, that's all but impossible.
Restricting assault rifles is not the only answer. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), who I admire for her courage on this issue, is proposing a more complete ban on assault weapons than the one she passed in the 1990s. But her bill is too specific, banning 120 guns by name. The industry will just use new names and get around the ban as it did last time. Besides, you can't just leave three million already existing AR-15 style assault rifles floating around.
The answer is simple: fewer guns.
The answer is a clear, simple law that outlaws the manufacture, sale and possession of any weapon that is primarily designed to kill people. This could be done in four steps that are as simple from a policy standpoint as they are difficult from a political point of view.
First, outlaw all semi-automatic weapons. A semi-automatic feeds a new bullet into the chamber without the shooter needing to do anything. You can just keep squeezing the trigger. For guns with small clips, like my own deer hunting rifle that contains a maximum of four bullets, this is not so much of a problem. But there's really no need for a semi-automatic to shoot deer anyway. So, yes, I would outlaw my own gun. Happily. More importantly this would outlaw the deadly AR-15 style guns that are responsible for the massacres in Newtown and near Rochester, New York. And there would be no way to get around it. A semi-automatic is a semi-automatic.
Second, outlaw all handguns. Most of the recent attention has been on the mass killing capacity of assault rifles, but most gun murders and most gun suicides are committed with handguns. Handguns can be easily banned by simply outlawing any gun with a barrel that isn't at least a certain length. And of course, if we outlawed handguns, we would outlaw concealed carry along with them.
Third, outlaw all high capacity magazines. If you do the first thing on this list, you don't need to do this one, but assuming that we'll never eliminate every semi-automatic, you might as well do this as well. Getting back to my deer rifle, one reason that it's much less deadly for killing people despite being a semi-automatic is that I can only squeeze off four shots before needing to reload. The Newtown killer was carrying a drum that contained 100 bullets. There is no sporting reason for the existence of a magazine of that size to shoot at game.
Finally, for all remaining legal ammunition and guns, add a very high tax to pay for a gun buy back program and gun control enforcement. Again, as a gun owner, I would gladly pay this tax as the justifiable cost of bringing down the epidemic of gun violence.
Even if you support gun control, you're probably wondering if going this far is practical. So am I. But my short answer is that nothing that doesn't dramatically reduce the number of guns in circulation will be effective.
Tomorrow, I'll try to address some of the real world concerns about this kind of program.