To resist an instant call to more or tougher gun laws or enforcement in the wake of terrors like Vegas, you need to understand it is not only that existing laws and regulations will not reliably prevent such crimes as long as guns exist. All the new or expanded national gun control laws advocated as sensible and necessary would have had no effect on horrible crimes such as occurred in Las Vegas last night, even if perfectly enforced, as Jacob Sullum explained atReason earlier today. (Nor, it seems to me, would wider skilled civilian possession of guns likely done much good in this particular scenario. Hard as it is to admit, some tragedies are not meaningfully preventable.)
With that understood, the only relevant legal response to nightmares like Las Vegas is a total ban and confiscation of at least types of weapons, as The New York Times argued in a rare front page editorial against what they consider “assault rifles” in December 2015 after the Orlando nightclub massacre.
Nevada’s figures, though, show an unusually large number of gun murders where the type of gun used is unknown. But if you presume the ratio of handgun to rifle murders is similar for known and unknown gun type, you should add 20 more rifle murders, for a total of 24 in the three-year period. That larger number represents 4 percent of total murders in Nevada over that three-year period. For some context, killers used hands or fists to murder 25 times during that same period.
With its “lax” gun laws, Nevada saw 67 percent of its murders committed with a gun last year. That is one percentage point lower than the 68 percent for the country as a whole in 2016.
Reluctance to call for more gun laws also requires believing that some individuals are bizarre and horrific outliers who can and do horrible things. But noticing how rare are such events, despite the millions of rifles out there, might give one pause when imagining a national legal solution to such bizarre individual crimes.
Guns or rifles are not the only tools that allow an evil maniac to cause so much harm, as the driver of the truck that produced 84 casualties in 2016 in Nice, France shows. We normally recognize using an existing tool to cause harm is insufficient reason to ban the tool. And recall, too, legal solutions short of bans are largely irrelevant to these sorts of crimes.