Yesterday’s shooting at the Washington Navy Yard has the usual suspects (especially the tireless and tiresome Piers Morgan of CNN) talking once again about gun control.
I don’t believe this shooting will turn the tide on that debate, simply because this shooting admits to no simple gun control solution. This isn’t just a stretch, the way Newtown was — a case in which none of the proposals submitted (the banning of specific models, expanded background checks) could have reasonably prevented the tragedy at hand. The Navy Yard shooting actually presents an even less promising case because of the facts on the ground.
For purely practical reasons, this shooting just doesn’t figure into the argument over gun control, and that’s even after setting aside the merits of policies that might conflict with the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Specifically, here are three reasons why:
1) First, this particular shooting took place in the most gun-controlled environment one could possibly conceive — behind the security perimeter of a U.S. Navy facility, where only a few government-designated agents are permitted to carry firearms. In theory, it should have been impossible to bring a gun in — the ideal gun-control scenario. Yet look what happened.
Mind you, I’m not saying gun control caused the problem, or that we should have everyone packing heat on bases, or anything of the sort. I’m just stating the obvious. We learned yesterday that even under such strict conditions as those in the Navy Yard, rules can and will be defeated by someone sufficiently determined. If anything, this suggests that gun control, as a larger project applied to the general public, is completely impractical and doomed to fail if the goal is to prevent incidents like this one.
This reminds one of what Warren Buffett once said about the limited capacity of government regulation. There existed an entire government agency (then known as OFHEO), he pointed out in an interview, with a decent-sized staff, whose sole purpose was to rein in and regulate the GSEs. They couldn’t even manage to do that. For all of its rules and its specificity of purpose, the agency provided only a nominal deterrent to the sort of risky lending that helped take down last decade’s economy. So too with gun control. It cannot be effectively enforced, especially in a society where so many are already armed. It is more a symbolic reform than a substantive one.
2) Perhaps more importantly, the prattling on about the evil of assault weapons is irrelevant in this case. Sure, the same gun used yesterday (a very popular model, as I understand it) has been used in other mas shooting events in the past. But the facts here won’t conform to this narrative.
Aaron Alexis did not have an AR-15 in his hands that magically turned him into a killer and possessed him to show up in Southeast D.C. ready to kill. According to NBC News, he used a simple Joe-Biden-endorsed shotgun to get onto the base and as this report suggests, acquired his more “scary” guns from a government-controlled cache on site (or possibly from the officially armed government agents he shot, according to earlier reports). Morgan misrepresented this fact on his show last night. (Update: CNN, which has been less than reliable in covering this crisis, now suggests Alexis may never have had an AR-15 at all.)
Unless we commit to disarming our cops and military (defeating the purpose of both), including the ones who respond to mass shooting events, then we’re not committing to anything with a serious chance of preventing future incidents like the one that happened yesterday. Meanwhile, with everyone searching for an easy scapegoat, it’ important to note that the NRA did not decide to arm our military and police.
3) Then there’s background checks. If you recall, Adam Lanza failed one because of his age, and that didn’t prevent Newtown. Seung Hui-Cho passed one, by simply failing to volunteer that a court had adjudicated him a danger to himself and others. Aaron Alexis, yesterday’s shooter, passed not only the background check for purchasing his shotgun, but also the government clearance background check that allowed him access to the Navy Yard as a contractor. And so even here, on background checks — the most reasonable and sympathetic of those called for by the gun-control crowd — this particular shooting is irrelevant.