Letter to the Editor: High-capacity magazines do not promote public good

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To the editor:

Katherine Bourque considers it “disturbing” that, in a university student newspaper, one would criticize erroneous claims, as I did in my recent letter to the editor. But this is the very business of a university. Facts are our tools, and we must get them right. It is understood here that an opinion must be undergirded by facts, and when it has none or when it gets the facts wrong, it must be corrected. Ms. Bourque, however, sneers at “book learning” and rejects the very possibility that one might know more about a topic than someone else because one has informed oneself of the state of the research. She dismisses any argument that does not support her a priori beliefs as “partisan” and thereby hopes to avoid the hard work of reading and understanding. Given all this, it is unsurprising that her letter is littered with the same kind of gun lobby-manufactured falsehoods I criticized in the original article. Although The Bucknellian allows her considerably more than their 600-word limit, she cannot respond to even one of the factual claims I made and seems not to have followed basic elements of my argument.

She returns to the red herring of total bans on private handgun ownership, despite the fact that I made clear I was not arguing for this. She believes she has demonstrated how splendidly things work when citizens are heavily armed by referring to the vigilantes who, during the 1992 civil disturbances in Los Angeles, perched on rooftops and fatally shot people who were taking tennis shoes from stores. It speaks volumes that Bourque believes the idea that property is worth more than human life is self-evident. Does she know that exactly one Korean-American died during the LA uprising, and this was 18-year-old Edward Lee, who was shot by a Korean-American vigilante who thought Lee was a looter?

She proceeds next to a talking point on how cities with strict gun laws have high crime rates, while those which allow concealed carry see crime rates go down. I wrote nothing about the effects of firearm availability on crime rates generally and argued only that outlawing high-capacity magazines would make it harder for criminals to walk into a mall and kill many in seconds. Yet even if we engage her issue, we find that Bourque has the facts wrong. The consensus in the research community is that John Lott’s “More Guns, Less Crime” hypothesis is not supported by the data. Ian Ayres and John Donohue III have written two of the major articles dismantling this hypothesis; Bourque should read them.

On the question of why many guns manage to get into cities and states with significant gun restrictions, much research exists, but Bourque apparently hasn’t even a faint familiarity with it. The data show that the vast majority of these criminal guns come from neighboring states and localities with weak gun laws; hence, only a federal response to proliferation has any chance of effectiveness.

Later, Bourque moves from the uninformed to the absurd. If sociopaths can’t have high-capacity magazines, she claims, they will use rat poison. I leave it to readers to decide whether they believe that Jared Loughner’s visit to the Safeway would have been unchanged if, instead of a pistol with a high-capacity magazine, he’d have had only a bag of d-Con products with him. The point is not that taking 30-plus round magazines from madmen will render them completely harmless. It is that it will eliminate the most efficient means they currently have to kill many quickly. And the law-abiding public will lose just about nothing if such devices are outlawed. This is why Bourque’s attempt to equate gun and power tool deaths is so feeble. Those latter objects, while responsible for some harm, also produce easily discernible public goods that outweigh that harm. What is the public good produced by 30-plus round magazines?

Alexander Riley

Dept. of Sociology/Anthropology

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