Thoughts on the Direction of the Gun Debate

Rubio’s “Laws Don’t Work” Argument

Senator Rubio argued that if someone is truly determined to carry out a horrific act, the law will not stop it. This is true, to a point. The argument bears much more heavily on demand-driven products like illicit drugs, but we don’t hear Rubio calling for the end of prohibition.

The gun case, if sensible legal hurdles block even one in a hundred, without significantly infringing on sportsmen, it’s hard to understand why we shouldn’t make that change in law. More importantly, if it fails to stop the madman from acquiring on the black market, then we can at least bring extra charges, ensuring the liability toward those supplying murder weapons.

All in all, we should take the steps we believe will help, and evaluate as we go (i.e., use science and reason).

Mental Health

Pass a bill if you think mental healthcare is the way to go. Please pass one anyway, as it’d do us all a lot of good to have the ailing be treated.

But it takes multiple components to create these massacres, and one of the necessary components is the gun and the ammunition. Over time, our ability to predict and treat may improve. For now, it is inadequate. Restricting guns is our best bet.

The NRA and Paid Actors

One of the repeated attempts to undermine changes to gun laws is to accuse people of being “paid actors.” Family members, schoolmates, and other community members affected by a shooting are all targets of this tactic.

But the people putting forth these accusations are invariably paid actors. Politicians that take money from the NRA. Right-wing media types are paid to be extremist soapbox goons. The NRA’s actual spokespeople, from their executive on down, are literally paid to stop proper functioning of government to regulate commerce.

If the gun regulation community wants to pay people to advocate, they should feel free to do so. The NRA has done it for over a century.

Other Ideas

Public notice or direct notification to guardians, the school or workplace or therapist, if someone buys a gun or ammunition. This matches with the anti-abortion parental notification laws. At least a heads-up could help either alert security guards and administrators, or maybe even spur reporting or clamoring around an unstable individual so that treatment be rendered before the worst happens.

Learn from previous bans and stop using silly surface characteristics to categorize weapons. Learn from other ban systems. Use a whitelist instead of a blacklist. Use an FDA-style (ugh!) marketing compliance system where they have to apply to sell a gun, an accessory that modifies a gun, etc.


Doing nothing is worse than stupid at this point. It’s grossly negligent. If the Republicans cannot bring themselves to do anything useful, it’s time for them to go. We need a conservative balance to the progressive and liberal impulses of the majority, but we cannot afford that balance to be an anchor against any common sense actions for the general welfare.

The NRA has a lot of sway, but they never actually pass anything or do anything to address the issue. They don’t pass a bill for mental health. All they do is take in money and spew out lies. The only way to stop a bad guy without a gun is to sell the bad guy a gun and let a good guy with a gun shoot him.

The bottom line on guns is as it has been since the late 1990s: with every act of violence the probability of major changes to gun laws goes up. The NRA, gun enthusiasts, whoever, can bitch about that fact but they won’t change the math one bit. If the NRA or gun owners or legislators want to forestall more bad laws from being enacted, they should work on solutions before that probability reaches 0.5 or greater.

Harm Reduction: a List

This is a rather short list of instances of harm reduction in the world around you (there are probably enough instances that no one human could ever list them all).

Roadway Safety

  • Seatbelts
  • Airbags
  • Licensing of Drivers
  • Bicycle Helmets
  • Crash Tests
  • Guard Rails
  • Speed Limits
  • Medians and Divided Roadways
  • Signage
  • Reflectors
  • Middle Brakelight
  • Anti-lock Brakes

The safety of roadways has mainly focused on technological improvements, which are plenty, to both the vehicles and the roadways. This has undoubtedly influenced the direction of attempting to reduce pollution from road-based transport (at least in the USA) via technology (i.e., reducing mileage, rather than limiting driving).

Other technological progress has lagged, though. Making self-servicing easier has not been a priority, for example. Changing signal bulbs or the oil or brakes often requires special knowledge, tools, and equipment. This actually can increase harm, as the cost of vehicle maintenance (in both time and money) may deter some amount of otherwise-necessary work.

Building and Home Safety

The refrigerator door provides a nice counterpoint to roadways. Car companies have largely embraced technology-based solutions, where the refrigerator companies, at least initially, were opposed.

Some systems such as HVAC were initially designed for comfort, but nonetheless can be essential to maintain life under extreme temperatures.

Food and Drugs Safety

  • Child-resistant Containers
  • Lollipops with a Soft, Loop Handle
    See: Saf-T-Pops.
  • Cooking Attire
    • Hairnets
    • Gloves
    • Aprons
    • Mitts
  • Restaurant inspections
  • Drug Labeling
  • Dosage Utensils (e.g., specialized measuring spoons)

Many (most?) professions have some required or suggested garb. The older the profession, the more likely that the particulars were originally developed through experience rather than through particular association rules or governmental regulation.

It is noteworthy that child-resistant caps are not required to avoid 100% of opening attempts by children, but only some majority of attempts. Like many other things, the best harm reduction for children is keeping things away from them, rather than trying to lock them up enough that children can, e.g., play with dynamite safely.

Disease and Contaminant Prevention

  • Hand-washing
  • Attire
    • Surgical Masks
    • Face Shields
    • Scrubs
    • Gloves
  • Protocols and Procedures (e.g., counting implements before and after surgery)
  • Single-use Needles

There are often specialized procedures or protocols developed to avoid mistakes and prevent malfeasance. Imagine how different roadway safety would be with a two-driver minimum per vehicle.

On the other hand, how would outcomes change for medicine if a double-blind second-opinion system were instituted for at least some subset of ailments.

Occupational Safety

  • Attire
    • Work Boots
    • Eye and Face Protection
  • Protocols and Procedures
    • Chain of Custody
    • Two-man Rule

Some harm reduction techniques, such as chain of custody, are equally effective at avoiding malfeasance as protecting other properties (e.g., ensuring medicine maintains its conditions in transport).