On Sunday night, October 1st, 2017, I was playing poker at Encore in Las Vegas when my phone rang at 10:50pm. It was my daughter, Meghan, and she told me she was scared. She was at a club at the Wynn Casino and they’d just closed the club and kicked everybody out, telling them there were multiple active shooters on the strip and everybody needed to leave.
I knew what she was talking about. It had been on the news in the poker room for the last fifteen minutes. By now, everybody knows about the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass murder. We know it was just one active shooter, firing from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. At the time though, the reports were conflicting. One active shooter for sure, with reports of several others. Except there are almost never other shooters in these situations, even though there are ALWAYS reports of multiple shooters. I told her that. I then told her to stay calm and to walk over to see me. Luckily, Encore is attached to the Wynn and you can get there without going outside. She could have been at any club in town and I could have been playing poker at any poker room, but we happened to be right next to each other.
Unfortunately, when she got to me, I could offer only emotional support and comfort to her. I could offer little in the way of protection as I was unarmed this night. I was unarmed because Wynn and Encore do not allow firearms in their hotel and casino. Believe it or not, most strip casinos do not have rules against carrying firearms, and I’m almost always armed when I’m playing poker. I have a permit to carry concealed in Nevada, and I nearly always do.
Tonight, I’d decided not to carry because I’d been caught carrying a concealed firearm by Wynn security a few months earlier. They’d seen the slight bulge under my shirt and had asked me if it was a firearm. When I’d admitted that it was, they’d asked me to please check it with security, this time and in the future. I’d done that a few times, and it’s quite a hassle. I know it’s possible if they catch me with a firearm again, there’s a reasonable chance they’ll ban me from the premises since they’ve already warned me, and I’m not willing to risk that, so I always comply with their rules and check my firearm while I’m there, despite the hassle. Tonight, I’d decided not to go through with that hassle and to leave my firearm at home, something I was now regretting. It was the first time in quite a while that I was unarmed on the strip, and there was an active shooter.
Why do I carry a gun on the strip when I’m playing poker? There are a couple of reasons. If you’re a tourist, you may not realize that Vegas is not a very safe city. There are a lot of murders, a lot of shootings, and a lot of armed robberies in these casinos, and on and around the strip. It’s also a target rich environment with constant crowds of clueless tourists stumbling around half in the bag, pockets full of cash. I have a lot of firearms training, from top-notch instructors, and I’ve been through a lot of simulated shoot/don’t shoot scenario training. I’m a good guy with good training, and I think it’s important for good people to be armed in this world where the wolves rarely have to concern themselves with the sheep. More on this later.
Now, to be clear, being armed against this particular active shooter would have been worthless. From his perch on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, nobody was going to be returning fire. In fact, had there been armed and poorly trained people at the concert, it might have done more harm than good. Imagine if they’d decided to return fire? Firing upward with a pistol from 1500 feet away…exactly a zero percent chance of hitting the shooter and a near 100% chance of their bullets slamming into the side of the Mandalay Bay, possibly hitting innocent people in floors well below the shooter. That would have been a disaster. (Although, pistol rounds from that distance would have been unlikely to have enough velocity and kinetic energy to penetrate the hurricane glass.)
There have been many situations in the past though, where a well-trained and armed person might have been able to prevent a tragedy, or at least to lessen the extent of the tragedy. A few that come to mind are Sandy Hook, Columbine, Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the church in Charleston, and at Virginia Tech.
There have also been many situations in which an armed civilian has stopped a mass murder from happening, or at least lessened the carnage by confronting the shooter. We hear about these far less frequently than we do about the incidents where the shooter kills many, and the reason is obvious. It’s not as newsworthy when something doesn’t happen as it is when something does. Nevertheless, these incidents do get reported on, just to a lesser extent. Here’s a list of many recent ones. https://crimeresearch.org/2016/09/uber-driver-in-chicago-stops-mass-public-shooting/
So why don’t we encourage more people to carry guns around all the time?
Well, there are a lot of problems with that, which I’ll get into. But first, I want to talk a little about gun control.
I was having a conversation at the poker table the other night with an Israeli. Of course, the subject of the Route 91 shooting came up, as it was just one day in the past. He talked about mass shootings in America and legitimately wanted to know about gun control. I mentioned there were a lot of problems with implementing stricter gun control policies in the United States, one of which was the ease of availability of guns here. I mentioned how Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, yet has one of the highest gun crime rates. At that point, another player spoke up, “What do you do, just quote Fox News stats? Don’t you have any original thought?”
Um, no, asshole, I don’t. And neither do you. Gun control debate has raged in this country for decades. Nobody has any original thoughts on the subject at this point. If they did, they’d be on every news channel discussing them. And, by the way, thanks for inserting yourself into my conversation with your generic, canned and useless response.
The country is sharply divided. Liberals want all guns confiscated, banned, and destroyed, and conservatives want their second amendment rights to own whatever gun they want protected. Gun advocates say the actions of criminals shouldn’t cause their rights to be infringed upon, and gun control proponents argue that the writers of the constitution could have never anticipated the firearms of today.
And, they’re both right.
Anybody who thinks they should be able to own any kind of gun they want, with no restrictions and no government oversite simply because a 200-year-old document doesn’t specifically allow for restrictions, is a dick. And anybody who thinks that guns can just be “rounded up” or confiscated from law-abiding citizens is also a dick. Not only that, they’re a moronic, incapable of critical thinking or logical common-sense dick, which is pretty much the worst kind of dick you can be.
One of my favorite things to hear is how Australia rounded up all their guns and now they have no more mass shootings. I love to hear the champions of the green felt talking about how Australia is soooo advanced and so enlightened, and they discuss it as if the Australians came forward, guns in arms, tears in eyes, and held hands singing softly while the pile of guns burned in the middle of the town square.
That’s not quite how it happened though.
The Australian gun ban came about in 1996 after what’s known as the Port Arthur Massacre. 35 people were killed when a gunman opened fire on a crowd using two semi-automatic rifles. The Australian people were horrified, (obviously) and the National Firearms Agreement was enacted.
Before we get into those laws, it’s important to note that the gunman in the Port Arthur Massacre obtained his guns illegally. Australia already had tough gun laws, and permits were required to purchase semi-auto rifles. The gunman bought his illegally from a licensed dealer, without the permits.
The National Firearms Agreement bonded together the gun laws of each of the Australian states under one federal law. It provided for a buyback program under which 650,000 firearms were purchased back from the citizenry at a cost of $230 million which was paid for by tax increases. It also created a national firearm registry, a 28-day waiting period on firearms sales, and the requirement of a “genuine reason” for wanting to own a firearm.
So, how well did this work? Well, proponents of this law note that between its enactment in 1996 and 2016, there were no mass shootings in Australia. That sounds significant, but we need to dig a little deeper to see if it really is.
In 1996, Australia had 69 gun homicides, not counting the Port Arthur Massacre. In 2012, that number was down to just 30 gun homicides. That sounds like a remarkable decrease, and it is, until you look at the overall number of homicides. A study by Dr. Jeanine Baker and Dr. Samara McPhedran in the British Journal of Criminology found that there was little effect on the overall homicide rates during the decade following the National Firearms Agreement. It would appear that murderers were still killing, they just weren’t using guns as much.
So, what about the mass shooting effect? Another study by the same two doctors compared the incidence of mass shootings in Australia and in New Zealand. After standardizing the data to a rate per 100,000 people because of population differences between the two countries, they found that between 1980 and 1996, both countries experienced mass shootings at the same level, with no statistically significant difference. Between 1996 and the time of the study in 2007, NEITHER country experienced a mass shooting event despite the fact that gun laws in New Zealand didn’t change—semi-auto rifles continue to be legal and available in New Zealand. The authors conclude the following:
“the hypothesis that Australia’s prohibition of certain types of firearms explains the absence of mass shootings in that country since 1996 does not appear to be supported… if civilian access to certain types of firearms explained the occurrence of mass shootings in Australia (and conversely, if prohibiting such firearms explains the absence of mass shootings), then New Zealand (a country that still allows the ownership of such firearms) would have continued to experience mass shooting events.”
Now they don’t seem to state what reason they might attribute to the absence of shootings in both countries, and that’s a bit concerning with regard to the thoroughness of their study, but what they’re stating is that you can’t jump to the conclusion that the National Firearms Agreement is what was responsible for the decline of mass shootings. After all, a 2013 report by the Australian Crime Commission states that there are (conservatively) more than 250,000 semi-auto rifles and 10,000 semi-auto handguns available on the black markets in Australia. If somebody wanted to get a gun and commit a mass murder, they’d seemingly still be able to do so relatively easily, though not quite as easily as it would have been pre-1996.
So, let’s say that these studies are flawed and the National Firearms Agreement is working flawlessly in Australia. (Even though that’s doubtful.) Can we implement that same idea here? Well, let’s look at what that would mean.
The first problem is that our firearm laws are protected by our constitution where Australia’s were not. So, the first step would have to be changing the second amendment, and it doesn’t matter where you stand on firearms laws, nothing significant can be changed without adapting the constitution to repeal the second amendment, which reads,
“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.”
However you want to define what a “well regulated Militia” means, the Supreme Court has ruled numerous times that the important words in this amendment are “shall not be infringed.”
To change the constitution, a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives, and the Senate is required. Then, the amendment has to be ratified by three-quarters of the states. That’s tough nearly impossible to accomplish, but let’s say we’re fed up with all the deaths and we can actually achieve that. The next step would be determining what exactly we’re going to ban.
The first thing would probably be “assault rifles.” The problem here comes in determining just what an assault rifle is exactly. There’s no clear definition because it’s not a real term. Most guns that are considered to be assault rifles are things like AR-15s and AK-47s, and nobody seems to be quite able to figure out what exactly makes it an assault rifle. It’s not the caliber of the bullet, AR-15s typically come in .223 or 5.56mm calibers (which are basically the same thing, in fact, the ammo is interchangeable.) The problem is, these guns are not that different from standard hunting rifle calibers. The .223 or 5.56mm is a small round, similar to the .22 rifle many boys grew up firing. The AK-47 shoots 7.62x39mm rounds which is the same thing as a .308 round, a common deer or elk hunting caliber.
What makes these guns different, and what some consider makes them assault rifles, is high capacity magazines and semi-auto capability. So maybe we could ban those?
There are many problems with this, problems well beyond the scope of this blog, but let’s just look at one of them. You’re never going to be able to ban and confiscate all semi-auto rifles without providing compensation. This is America, we can’t take things away from our citizens without compensating them for them. So how much would this cost?
Well, Slate.com estimated in a 2015 article that there are 3.75 million AR-15 rifles in the United States. That’s out of a Washington Post estimated total of 357 million total guns, which means that represents just around 1 percent of the total US private arsenal of firearms. Let’s say we could get half of those guns back from law-abiding citizens who duly turn them in. We’d have to buy back 2 million (rounded up) guns at an average compensation price of probably around $1500. That’s $3 billion dollars, and it would get just over one-half of one percent of all guns off the street. It would also still leave more than 1.5 million AR-15 rifles on the street, all in the hands of law breakers, (because only the law-abiding citizens turned them in, right?) and that doesn’t even take into consideration the tens of millions of other assault-type weapons, and the hundred million plus semi-automatic handguns.
If we wanted to outlaw all semi-automatic guns of any type, we’re talking somewhere around 200 – 250 million guns. If half those guns were turned in, that would be 100 million guns, and let’s say we completely stomped on everyone’s rights and only offered $500 per gun, regardless of true value or cost. That’s just $50 billion dollars spent, rights trampled upon, and 100 -150 million semi-auto weapons still roaming the streets, 100% of them in the hands of what would be, by definition, criminals.
With all the other problems, including the cost and logistics of such an effort, it seems to be becoming quite clear that outlawing guns and implementing buy-back programs just won’t work. And the fact is, voluntary gun buy-back programs that have been implemented in various locales have mostly been a complete circus. You have most people turning in their absolute junk, non-firing, jamming-prone pieces of scrap metal, and criminals turning in guns used in crimes (no questions asked!!) for real money. You have hawkers working the lines, offering more money than the buy-back program for the few good guns people are trying to turn in, and you have criminals out there burglarizing houses and stealing guns to turn in for easy cash with no questions asked. It’s usually just complete chaos.
So, getting guns off the street, which would seem to be a simple solution, is anything but. There are just simply too many guns in America to effectively rid our society of them. There are more guns than people in this country! I would love it if we could actually rid our society of guns. I own a lot of guns and I would happily turn them all in if all guns were completely eliminated from the planet. But this is an absolute pipe dream, and if you don’t see that, if you say things like, “we should just ban guns!!” then you are part of the problem.
The fact is, I would love to see gun control if it were even remotely possible to effect it without making it such that all the law-abiding citizens comply and all the criminals cheer and rampage. And comparing Australia, Canada, or any other country’s gun control policies to the United States is ludicrous. Put 300 million plus firearms in those countries and let’s see them implement any kind of successful gun control policy, constitutional protection or not. It just flat out won’t happen, and any implication that it can be effectively implemented is nothing but fairy tale thinking. So, what is the solution?
What if we could get more guns on the street in the hands of good guys like police officers?
I don’t think any reasonable person has a problem with police officers having guns, on or off duty. Officers are exempt from most gun laws in most states, allowed to conceal their weapons without a civilian license, and able to carry them nearly everywhere, including courthouses, federal buildings, bars, schools, airports, even onto airplanes in the case of federal law enforcement officers like the FBI and the DEA, and regular police officers with special training and permission. Even the Secret Service doesn’t prohibit cops from carrying guns while they’re sitting next to the President of the United States. Why do we allow and even encourage the carrying of guns by officers in these places where we abide no others to carry?
The only reason the law allows cops to carry guns in these places is because we trust them. We trust them because they’ve gone through thorough background checks and extensive firearms training. That’s the only reason. Cops are not superhuman, they’re not immune from mistakes and bad decisions, or even from animosity and criminal actions in some rare cases. They are, however, far less likely than the rest of society to stray from the perfection we desire of them.
Cops go through a thorough background check prior to being hired. This usually includes interviews with references, family members, neighbors, and previous employers. They take psychological tests, a polygraph test, and a medical exam. Then they get hired and they go through the academy where they get firearms training, have to qualify in a range setting, and have to show good decision-making skills through shoot/no shoot scenarios. Once they’re on the street, they still have to qualify with their firearms twice per year at the range and attend ongoing scenario training.
It’s this training and background scrutiny that makes us feel comfortable as a society with having cops off duty, carrying concealed firearms into our most sacrosanct places such as our schools, planes, and courthouses, as well as our venues such as stadiums and concerts where most civilians are forbidden from bringing firearms. We want these officers out there as a deterrent to the criminals who would cause us harm. The problem is, there just aren’t enough of them.
Hiring cops is expensive, and the truth is, we don’t actually need police officers in order to put more guns into the hands of citizens with police officer-like training and credentials.
I have two concealed firearm permits, one for Washington State, and one for Nevada. These two permits allow me to carry concealed firearms in 32 states because of reciprocity agreements. In Washington, I had to go through a background check and a mental health check. In Nevada, I had to go through a background check, attend an 8-hour class, and qualify at the range. States that require all of those things combined, have permits that are honored in more states than my two permits, despite the totality of qualifications of my two permits being the same as their one.
Both states have different laws pertaining to where I can carry my concealed weapon, and each of the 30 reciprocity states have their own laws as well, which means I need to be careful when I travel that I’m facile in all these different laws. For instance, in Washington, I can’t carry my gun into any place where the minimum age to enter is 21. In Nevada, I can carry into bars and casinos as long as I’m not legally intoxicated while carrying. In neither state can I carry on school property, however, Utah, which accepts my Nevada permit, allows me to carry a concealed weapon at a school. Some of these restrictions can get confusing, especially if you travel a lot with your firearm.
But, if I was a police officer, I could carry my gun anywhere. If Encore security saw the bulge under my shirt and asked me if I was carrying a firearm, I could have shown them my badge and they would have told me to have a nice day. They would have known I was trained and trusted to carry a firearm, and they would have likely welcomed my armed presence on the premises. After all, the day after the 1 October shooting, they hired outside, armed security to work their doors, persons carrying guns who have probably less than half the training and background scrutiny of a police officer. They’re fine with guns on their property in general, they just want to know those guns are in the hands of competent and trusted people.
I mentioned earlier that it would be great if we had more cops carrying guns on the streets, but the truth is, we don’t need them to actually be cops. They don’t need to know how to drive fast, how to enforce the law, or policies and procedures for dealing with domestic violence incidents. They don’t need to know how to write a ticket, how to clear a car during a felony stop, or how to search a building after a burglar alarm. They don’t need to know civil service procedures, how and when to take a child from an abuse situation, or how to investigate and gather evidence from a robbery. They don’t need to know 99% of the things a police officer needs to know.
All they need to know is how, and particularly when, to use a gun. And of course, they need to undergo the full background check that a police officer goes through.
Background checks aren’t cheap. Depending on the applicant, a full background check can take dozens of hours to complete. Even with a young applicant with relatively little work or life experience, it can take 8-10 hours to interview family and neighbors and to check references. Then there’s the psychological evaluation and the polygraph test, each of which can cost around $500. And, on top of all that, you have the firearms training. Some applicants require more training than others, but the average is probably around 30-40 hours in the classroom and at the range. The total cost of all this runs well into the thousands.
If we estimate the average background check at 20 hours, and we say the investigator responsible for this probably needs to make $40 per hour, the background investigation likely costs $800. We’ll say $500 each for the psych and the polygraph testing, so now we’re at $1800. Then, let’s say we need 40 hours of initial firearms training for each person, however, it doesn’t need to be one-on-one training, you can have, say, 5 trainees per trainer. If the firearms instructor makes $50 per hour, we’re talking about another $400 per person for firearms training. On top of that, maybe we need 8 hours of situational simulation training which would all be individual, so there’s another $400. That’s a grand total of $2600 to get a person through a full and complete background investigation, and to get them fully trained in firearms usage and scenarios. Add some money for paperwork processing, the application process, licensing costs, etc., and maybe we’re up to $3000 per person.
If we could spend just $3000 per person to put a fully qualified, armed person on the street, licensed to carry a weapon everywhere a police officer can carry, and in every state, we could stop many of the mass shootings we’re seeing nearly every day in this country.
If teachers and principals were some of those people, it would be the same as putting more cops into the schools. If judges and lawyers were some of those people, it would be the same as having more cops in courthouses. If pilots and flight attendants were some of those people, with additional training because of the extra dangers involved in shooting a firearm on a plane, it would be like having more air marshals. And none of these people would be drawing salaries for providing these services.
How many people in this country do you think would like to have the ability to carry a firearm without restriction? How many would like to have the training and be one of these people? How many would be willing to pay the $3000 themselves to have this ability?
I’m one. And I’d bet there are tens and maybe hundreds of thousands like me.
This isn’t exactly original thought, it would effectively be the implementation of a national concealed carry permit. The difference, and what should make my idea unique and significantly more palatable to those states that currently have the strictest gun control laws, such as California and New York, would be the background scrutiny and training. Right now, even the most stringent of concealed carry permits requires only a criminal history and domestic violence check, a check to see if you’ve ever been referred for a mental health evaluation, and 8 hours of classroom and range qualification training.
Can you imagine the difference that could be made if there were 100,000, or 500,000, or more armed citizens with police equivalent firearms training and background scrutiny? And if those hundreds of thousands of people were not banned from carrying their firearms into casinos, schools, stadiums, concerts, and courthouses? The difference would extend far beyond stopping many mass shootings. There would be fewer robberies, murders, and violent crimes of all types. Criminals would hesitate to commit their public crimes, knowing the increased odds that one of the citizens they’re attempting to violate may be carrying a weapon they’re thoroughly trained to use.
Understand, this wouldn’t actually put a lot more gun-toting people on the street in general. I suspect a huge number of these people would be current concealed carry holders. But this would allow for them to carry their weapons at all times, without fear that they may need to go somewhere their weapons aren’t allowed currently. In fact, applicants would be encouraged to carry their firearms at all times, similar to how most police departments encourage (or even require in some cases) their officers to carry while off-duty. This would allow them to travel to other states with their guns, to carry them in places that currently forbid guns, places like Disneyland, NFL games, and concerts—all target rich environments, as we saw on October 1st. Now, again, this wouldn’t have stopped this particular tragedy from happening, but it would have potentially stopped many others from the recent past, and some of the inevitable future mass murders.
In my opinion, it’s either implement something like this, or go on the way we’ve been going, continuing on in constant fear of the evil of the type that just descended upon Las Vegas. Because nothing else seems to be a viable option. There are just too many guns in America to ever actually effect any meaningful gun control laws. Enacting the harsh penalties that would encourage more people to give up their guns would only worsen our overcrowded prison system, and we’d be filling it with people who’ve truly done nothing wrong, people who never had any intent of using their firearms for wrong.
“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…” This is how the second amendment starts, and I believe what I’m proposing would be exactly that—a well-regulated militia. A well-regulated and well-trained militia of civilians responsible for the security of our free state, a state that is under attack by bad people who want to perform atrocious acts of murder and mayhem upon innocent civilians. I don’t believe strict gun laws—even the strictest of gun laws—can work in a country that has more guns than people. I don’t believe the sheep should have to disarm so that the wolves can do their evil work free from fear with victims who can’t bite back. I believe nothing will get better until we embrace that our society is a gun society, and until we embrace that in order to regulate a gun society, we need gunslingers. We need people who are competent and capable and willing to carry a weapon and fight back.
These civilian operators, regulators, militia, gunslingers, whatever you want to call them, would be subject to oversite from a review board. They’d be accountable for their actions, licenses subject to suspension or revocation. They’d have to re-qualify with their firearms every six months, attend update training and scenario training. They’d be trustworthy and competent, and they’d be free of charge. They’d draw no salary, and I believe the costs of any regulatory agency would be happily paid by gun owners in the way of a tax increase on firearms and ammunition. The general public would bear no costs but reap the benefits. Crime would suffer while quality of life skyrocketed.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.