Before I started researching gun deaths, gun-control policy used to frustrate me. I wished the National Rifle Association would stop blocking common-sense gun-control reforms such as banning assault weapons, restricting silencers, shrinking magazine sizes and all the other measures that could make guns less deadly.This is the thing I keep coming back to. While I personally hate guns and wish there were many fewer of them around, I have never thought that any of the gun control measures seriously proposed in my lifetime would have a real effect on gun violence.
Then, my colleagues and I at FiveThirtyEight spent three months analyzing all 33,000 lives ended by guns each year in the United States, and I wound up frustrated in a whole new way. We looked at what interventions might have saved those people, and the case for the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence.
I don't mean there aren't things we could do; it seems like there is an actual chance of banning the "bump stock" that Stephen Paddock used to make his semi-automatic rifles fire faster. That might have saved lives in Las Vegas. But only a small percentage of gun deaths are caused by rapid-fire rifles, so the effect on the big numbers would be tiny.
Many of the regulations gun opponents have proposed are downright silly:
When I looked at the other oft-praised policies, I found out that no gun owner walks into the store to buy an “assault weapon.” It’s an invented classification that includes any semi-automatic that has two or more features, such as a bayonet mount, a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher mount, a folding stock or a pistol grip. But guns are modular, and any hobbyist can easily add these features at home, just as if they were snapping together Legos.The main effect of some of these proposals is to make gun owners think that legislators are too ignorant about guns to be trusted with the regulation of them.
As for silencers — they deserve that name only in movies, where they reduce gunfire to a soft puick puick. In real life, silencers limit hearing damage for shooters but don’t make gunfire dangerously quiet. An AR-15 with a silencer is about as loud as a jackhammer. Magazine limits were a little more promising, but a practiced shooter could still change magazines so fast as to make the limit meaningless.
To my mind, the only gun laws that would have any real impact on the rate of firearms violence would be the sort of near-total bans in place in some European countries. And in America that is not going to happen. Even if such a law could be passed, resistance to it across much of the country would render it impossible to enforce. America has a lot of gun violence not just because we have lax laws, but because we have a gun culture, and I can't imagine what might change those very deep-seated attitudes.