Improving America’s gun problem is difficult and will take compromise from gun-rights and gun-control advocates, said Trevor Burrus, research fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies. Burrus spoke to students in a discussion hosted by The Federalist Society.
“Like most questions in public policy, gun policy is hard,” Burrus said. “Getting it right — or even starting to get it right — requires calling out the bad arguments from both sides.”
Citizens on both sides of the issue are making poor policy arguments to justify their positions, Burrus said.
“The discussion should be focused on figuring out why people are using guns to commit crimes, “ he said.
The argument, “guns don’t cause crime people do,” is not completely accurate, he said. It is true, guns do not operate without human contact and cannot cause violence on their own, but they can act as a motivating factor to people who want to commit crimes.
“Many people lack the fortitude to commit crimes with a close-up weapon such as a knife or a club,” Burrus said. “They may want to rob a convenience store, but they’d prefer to do it without getting close to those they threaten. Guns allow those who lack nerve to project immense force over a distance, and therefore, in some sense, guns can cause crime.”
Criminals with a strong intent to cause crime will commit crime no matter what, Burrus said.
Burrus said that gun-control supporters’ call for a ban on certain types of guns oversimplifies the problem and usually isn’t logical because all guns — not just a certain kind — can be used to kill another person.
“When it comes to the increasingly notorious AR-15, for example, police officers use them for the lawful protection of self and others. Unfortunately, some mass shooters also prefer it. Take away the AR-15s and other assault weapons, and they’ll find something else.”
There are plenty of bad arguments to go around, Burrus said. Yet all arguments, good or bad, need to be understood within a framework that there will be some unavoidable facts and inevitable trade-offs.
“These are just some of the difficulties that arise when trying to do good gun policy,” he said. “No amount of Facebook meme sharing, congressional sit-ins, or shouting television personalities makes gun policy easier. Gun policy is hard.”