Would better gun laws make U.S. safer? It's complicated

2017-10-06 13:24Xinhua Editor: Gu Liping ECNS App Download
A mass shooting occurs at a concert Sunday night (local time) outside of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas in the U.S. state of Nevada, Oct. 1, 2017. (Photo/Agencies)

A mass shooting occurs at a concert Sunday night (local time) outside of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas in the U.S. state of Nevada, Oct. 1, 2017. (Photo/Agencies)

In the wake of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, calls for more gun control are mounting in Congress. Democrats are pushing for tighter gun restrictions, with Republicans against most anti-gun legislation. The issue is as complex as it is controversial, and experts have myriad viewpoints.

Sunday saw the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The shooter, Stephen Paddock, attacked concert-goers at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas and later took his own life, killing at least 59 people and injuring more than 500 others.

Police found over a dozen additional firearms and explosives in his room, according to authorities and news reports.

In light of the horrific event, Democrats on Wednesday began pushing for more gun control laws, prompting the start of what's sure to be a heated partisan debate over a controversial issue that's gone on for more than a decade.

But experts differ on whether stricter gun laws, if implemented, would work or not.

Leah Libresco, a statistician and former news writer at FiveThirtyEight, a leading data journalism site, wrote earlier this week in the Washington Post that she used to believe more gun laws would reduce deaths. Her research, however, changed her mind.

She and a team of analysts combed through tens of thousands of gun death records for three months, and what they found startled and frustrated her.

"We looked at what interventions might have saved those people, and the case for the (gun control) policies I'd lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence," she wrote.

"The best ideas left standing were narrowly tailored interventions to protect ... potential victims, not broad attempts to limit the lethality of guns," she argued.

As she and her co-workers sifted through the data, it seemed less and less clear that one broad gun-control restriction could make a big difference, she wrote.

Indeed, two-thirds of U.S. gun deaths every year are suicides. One-fifth of gun deaths are young men aged 15 to 34, who are killed in homicides in gang violence or street crime. The last notable group were 1,700 women per year who were usually killed in domestic violence, she wrote.

For the first group, almost no proposed restriction would make it harder for people with guns on hand to use them, she contended.

Older men, who comprised the bulk of gun suicides, need better access to people who could care for them and get them help. Women endangered by specific men need to be prioritized by police, who can enforce restraining orders prohibiting these men from buying and owning guns. Younger men at risk of violence need to be identified and to be connected to mentors who can help them de-escalate conflicts, she argued.

"I can't endorse policies whose only selling point is that gun owners hate them. Policies that often seem as if they were drafted by people who have encountered guns only as a figure in a briefing book or an image on the news," she wrote.

But other experts said curtailing firearms access in certain ways could help reduce gun deaths, in addition to expanding mental health programs.

James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Boston's Northeastern University, who has advised the government on dealing with mass shootings, said stricter background checks could help stem the bloodshed.

"For instance, imposing universal background checks for all gun purchases and limiting concealed-carry permits," Fox wrote earlier this week in USA Today, speaking of permits that allow people in some U.S. states to carry a gun in their pocket.

Other ideas are "expanding access to mental health services and increasing support for folks going through job termination or marital separation," he said, noting two very stressful events in many people's lives, which can lead them to violently lash out.

Other experts said that forbidding the sale of military-style assault weapons would keep the number of fatalities much lower than generally is the case today. That's because automatic weapons allow a shooter to fire off 100 rounds in a matter of seconds.

In the case of mass shootings, many experts said little can be done to reduce the chance of such occurrences. A determined killer without access to firearms can use a homemade bomb, for example.

That was the case in 2013, when two terrorists made a bomb from a pressure cooker that exploded at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring over 200 others.

One thing is certain, say experts: There is no easy answer.


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