Q12 Will there be movement in firearms regulation along any of the following axes- suicide, accidental discharge, domestic abuse, criminal usage, or terrorism?
New Year’s Eve 2019 Forecast (What’s this?)
The short answer is no on the Federal level due to it being a national election cycle and Impeachment, international conflict, and a potential government shut-down will steal all the available oxygen out of the room for such movements. But that’s an uninteresting answer so let’s expand this to include State level activity and forecast what would (or wouldn’t) benefit from additional state or local regulation and what’s likely.
Let’s take Accidental Death & Discharge (ADD). In the early 1980’s it was close to 2,000 per year on a population of 225M thereabouts. Now it’s at or under ~500-600/year in a population of 330M. So as the population increased 50% ADD deaths have declined by 75%. To me from a policy perspective that reads that the emergent combination of whatever is going on now (e.g. education, awareness, technical fixes, and local legislation) has a net effect of continuing to decline ADD sufficiently over time. And there are other causes of accidental deaths with much higher rates of prevalence that could use attention (e.g. poisonings.) I don’t forecast any significant movement other than a local legislation here or there this year.
Domestic abuse and criminal gang violence are the two largest contributors of homicide nationally, which continues to decline in frequency rates after peaking in 2015. But both sources exist in highly differentiated systems; meaning an exceptionally low % of the population highly concentrated by circumstances creates the majority of incidents. (I’ve attached a link of examining this differentiation question in more depth in “Coastline of Violence”). As I describe in the video, when a system shows high differentiation broad policies at the Federal or even State levels won’t be effective because they are applying “broad” solutions rather than highly customized ones to the specific circumstances, and this causes Type I errors and wasted resources (not to mention stronger political resistance.) I still continue to advocate Focused Deterrence/Pulling-Levers as the most effective violence reduction programs targeted at these two categories and would love to see Federal funding for more efforts on this front. However, those programs use fractal segmentation to target circumstance/risk, and are not firearm-centric, focusing on people rather than things. As a beneficial byproduct, most mass-shootings of the non-Active Shooting Event (ASE) variety are also a consequence of criminal gang violence or domestic abuse, so improvements in reducing those rates through Pulling Levers also benefits reducing overall mass-shooting rates, though probably won’t touch the kind of headline grabbing ASE’s which are what most people react too and notice.
As far as terrorism I don’t think we really know yet what causes it in a fundamental way, which makes it hard to craft good policies to counter it. That’s odd to say after 20 years of GWOT but the data shows terrorism rates are about returned to their pre 9/11 higher levels in frequency and victim rates, both in the US and Europe. I’m working specifically on this problem for my dissertation so I have a lot more to say on this front, but for purposes of this forecast I think the electoral politics and lack of consensus on what to do means there is no firearm specific regulation except at the extreme niche-edges (such as bump stock banning after the 2017 Las Vegas shooting.) And that’s not a bad thing. I’ve often warned that any policy specifically adopted solely to “stop/thwart” mass-shootings that doesn’t have some clearly obvious beneficial good separate from mass-shooting terrorism is at high risk of wasting limited resources at best and causing harmful unintended consequences at worst.
That brings us to the last category, suicides, which have an interesting overlap in domestic abuse and some cases of mass-shooting in the one form of regulation related to firearms that I both endorse and see expanding in 2020. And that’s the red-flag laws, or extreme protective orders. Unfortunately, these have had a massive propaganda effort levied at them from the Blue that this will “solve” mass-shooting (see my statement above) and from the Red that this is an intolerable encroachment on freedom, which is utter hogwash. The traditional red flag laws, which have been around for years now and are well studied, are targeted primarily at preventing suicides and domestic abuse homicide. (They are actually a component of Focused Deterrence efforts.) And in these cases, the evidence is clear, they work very well to that purpose. They sometimes work in mass-shootings where viable and credible threats are identified prior to an incident occurring, but these are notoriously hard to identify. Just like the attempted mass-shooting in White Settlement Church last week will be forgotten a year from now because it didn’t result in many deaths; when a red flag law works in preventing a mass-shooting hardly anyone knows about it. Also, the reality is many terroristic events, mass-shootings, aren’t broadcasting the kind of signals that can be as easily picked up on as in the case of suicides and domestic abuse. So Red Flag Laws, at least in my book, fit into that threading-the-needle space of having a valid “good” completely separate from reducing mass-shooting terrorism and they -may- in some cases help there. But they should be expanded not for that, but to reduce suicide and domestic abuse homicide rates. I also like them because they fit the criteria of strict scrutiny established by the Supreme Court for a valid limitation of an explicitly stated Constitutional liberty: a rational basis, narrowly tailored, and the least restrictive option available. Compared to mass-incarceration programs like Broken Windows or Stop & Frisk, or legal quagmires that simply lead to common arrests of non-criminals (such as assault weapon bans and silencer bans), the Red Flag Laws are magnitudes of order better. And I’d far rather have them than some of the broader meat-cleaver style policies I see proposed by people with good intentions but little knowledge.
There’s my forecast. No activity at the Federal level because “election year” but state by state expansion of Red Flag Laws, each of which will generate its own self-perpetuating weather system of hot-air online comments. And my hope is continued expansion and funding of non-incarceration efforts like Focused Deterrence & Pulling Levers.