The people who are against gun control seem to claim that they are opposed to it for two main reasons:
- Guns don't kill people, people kill people; and
- Strict control of guns is an intrusion of the state into the lives of ordinary citizens.
The anti-gun brigade are actually right on both points. First, you can make a gun as powerful and deadly as you like but unless somebody picks it up and shoots it the thing is pretty safe. The problem with this is that people DO pick them up and use them. In the USA it happens rather frequently. If we could accurately, consistently and reliably predict which individual is the one who will turn a gun on another person then we would use those data to protect the population by helping the potential killer to not kill. But we can't.
Mental illness is a difficult area and the simple truth is that most killers but are not mentally ill and most people who are mentally ill are not killers. Most disorders do not cause somebody to kill, let alone go on a shooting spree. Take a look through DSM-IV or ICD-10, which classify disorders and diseases and you'll find a lot of mental illnesses but very few that could lead somebody to kill. Depression is the most common mental illness, it's the bad back of the psychological world. You have "had it" in some form or other, admittly yours may have been a mild temporary form of the emotion but did it lead you to want to kill others? Do you think that being depressed would lead you to kill? If no then it's not relevant to gun control, if yes then anybody who gets depressed should be kept away from guns and since that's everyone...
Serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, often disassociates the sufferer from the world around them. A schizophrenic patient is unlikely to be able to order his or her thoughts and finds daily life almost impossible. The planning involved in putting together a plan, the ammo, the guns, the route through and around the building etc is likely to be beyond somebody like that.
A final clue that indicates whether mental illness is key to mass killings can be found all across eastern Europe where Hitler and his government founded death camps that killed millions. These camps were staffed by otherwise ordinary people who ordered, planned and conducted to the mass killings. They were not all mentally ill.
Another claim falls under the "guns don't kill people" heading, which is that if you ban guns people will just use other weapons to kill with. Yes of course you can kill with other things. But it is much harder to stand a few inches from somebody and plunge a knife into them than to shoot from many feet away. I suspect it's harder emotionally to look somebody in the face, close enough to feel their breath on you, as you push a object into their body with your own hand and feel the blood pour out on to you. I imagine it's also a lot harder as the other person is likely to fight you or run away!
I had a client who went on a rampage with a machete a few years back. It happened in a busy east London street. He snapped inside his van and attacked his mate causing some injuries to the friend. He got out and went for passers by... but they all ran away. In the end his mate and some others wrestled him to the floor. If he'd had a gun the result would have been very different.
You could use a car for a rampage, but again people find it relatively easy to escape a slow moving car compared to a bullet travelling at 750 metres per second. You could build a bomb, but to be blunt few people have the skills and it's hardly the action of somebody who has snapped and wants to kill right now.
Turning to the second point about the government interfering in the lives of its citizens. This is, I think, a weak argument. Governments interfere with your lives every minute of every day. You need a licence to drive a car... but why should the government be allowed to dictate who can and cannot drive? I'm guessing nobody complains about that because if nobody was taught to drive you'd be at much higher risk of getting hit by somebody without a licence. The acceptance of such things as driving licences (and laws governing food standards and hygiene for example), indicate that we as a society have no problem with government interfering in our daily lives when that interference is necessary and proportionate.
Further, if guns don't kill people and gun control is an outrageous restriction on liberty then the final conclusion must be that no weapon should be illegal. If I happened to have the resources, skill and cash to build a nuclear weapon then why shouldn't I have it? If I can afford surface-to-air missiles why shouldn't I be allowed to have them?
I have yet to hear anybody argue that nukes should be available for all, which leads me to the conclusion that even the pro-gun lobby would put restrictions on some weapons, which completely undermines both the "guns don't kill people" and "unfair restriction on liberty" arguments. The real argument for pro-gunners must therefore be that the risk of some weapons, such as nukes, is too high. Thus, we can infer that there is a death-toll that the gun lobby think is an acceptable trade-off to maintain their right to bear arms (and arm bears).
On a side note, I will confess that I am no American constitutional lawyer but it does occur to me that the second amendment to the US Constitution reads, in full:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."This would seem to say to my mind that the right to keep weaponry is part and parcel of being involved with the Militia and that said Militia should be "well regulated". I'd suggest that gun controls are not unconstitutional as some like to claim.
In conclusion, you cannot predict who will kill and as a result you have a choice to either restrict who can arm themselves or accept that there will be gun deaths and that those killed in the mass killings will usually be the people least able to defence themselves.