My recent post on guns got a lot more attention than I expected. It wasn’t a fully hashed out view of mine which was careless and unfortunate because I got a flood of emails from people on both sides who thought I was overlooking important points. Which I was, because it was a short blog post. The most common response was that I was not actually proposing anything. Which is true. I think this is an impossible issue to solve because I think it’s a serious cultural problem that is so embedded in the fabric of “being American” that it could take generations to solve.
But I think that touches on an important point when thinking about solutions here – why is this such a difficult issue to fix? I like to think in terms of first principles because understanding something for what it is allows me to better understand how it can be used and potentially improved. So let’s hash this one out a bit more thinking in terms of first principles because I think that sets the table for potential changes.
Why This is an Impossible Issue to Solve
Gun makers did something very clever when they created guns like the AR-15 (which, by the way is not one type of gun, but a whole bunch of different types of the same general weapon). They created a weapon that is functionally not much different from a standard hunting rifle, but appears to be the same as a gun like the M-4 which is a military style fully automatic weapon. The important difference is that the M-4 is a true assault weapon – it can be utilized as both a semi and automatic weapon. The AR is not an automatic weapon nor is it properly classified as an “assault rifle”. It’s just a cool looking hunting rifle.
To better understand this important point, here’s a Remington 742 which is a semi that looks like a regular old wooden hunting rifle. You can unload a large magazine in a few seconds. And here’s the AR-15. These guns look very different, but they’re not functionally that different. And here’s where this discussion gets really tricky – here’s a Glock with a 50 round mag. Which semi-automatic is the most dangerous? Well, in the right hands that’s a difficult question to answer.
So you have a real problem here – “assault rifles” are already banned so the Left needs to stop screaming about them. But can we realistically ban “semi-automatic” weapons when the range of semis is so wide (and vague) that it could include almost any modern day hunting rifle and pistol? I say no because Americans love their guns too much and the category of “semi-automatic” is so vast that it can’t realistically be applied in a useful sense.
Now, a huge problem here is that the vast majority of Liberals and even many Conservatives don’t know the difference between a semi, an automatic or an assault rifle and they use these terms interchangeably. To a gun rights advocate you lose the debate the second you start calling an AR-15 an “assault rifle” because an assault rifle is a specific type of rifle that can be used as both a semi and an automatic. The AR is just a semi. So you lose the debate the second you get that fact wrong because you clearly don’t know what is being discussed.
This creates a problem for any advocate of gun reform because the AR is just a hunting rifle that looks cool. These maniacs killing people don’t really need to be using it, but it’s a pretty good weapon for mass killings and it looks cool so that’s my best guess as to why it’s the gun of choice. But in all reality there’s no reason why you couldn’t use a couple of handguns or other hunting rifles and inflict just as much damage.
More importantly, this confusion strengthens the branding that the gun advocates have created. Gun advocates want everyone to think that guns aren’t killing machines. They want everyone to think that they’re just sporting tools. That’s obviously bullshit since guns were literally invented to kill human beings. Guns are human killing machines that just so happen to serve as fun sporting tools as well. When you allow the distinction between sporting tools and killing machines to be established you strengthen the NRA’s case because a sporting tool can be reasonably protected while a killing machine can’t.
We shouldn’t obfuscate on this point. Guns are designed to kill human beings. That was always their intended purpose. The fact that they can be used for other things is tangential to their essence as a human killing machine. This is a point that needs to be emphasized because it is the essential first principle of the invention of guns.
The problem, in my opinion, is that we’ve lost sight of this first principle and confused guns for sporting toys. Decades of clever marketing has created a world in which a gun is now widely perceived as a toy instead of a killing machine. This marketing has embedded political and historical aspects to strengthen the misleading idea that guns are just sporting toys. And this myth has become so embedded in our culture and our politics that we now have more guns than people in the USA. And the data is very clear on that – more guns = more gun deaths. So, even if you could somehow ban semi-automatic weapons (which you can’t because, see above) then you still have an egg that is nearly impossible to unscramble.
It’s depressing in all honesty. I like understanding big complex problems because I like providing some objective answers about how to solve those problems. But this one is such a deeply embedded cultural issue that I am very worried that the two sides will not be able to solve it. And the minor fixes we implement won’t be enough. Banning bump stocks won’t stop the killings. Banning AR-15 style guns (whatever that means) won’t stop the killings. Better background checks won’t stop the killings. Screaming “but, Australia” is unrealistic because. And as this becomes evident it will bolster the extremist arguments on both sides and drive them further apart….
NB – Depending on how horrific and emotional the response is to this post I will consider posting what I think are some reasonable changes in a future post.
Mr. Roche is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Discipline Funds.Discipline Funds is a low fee financial advisory firm with a focus on helping people be more disciplined with their finances.
He is also the author of Pragmatic Capitalism: What Every Investor Needs to Understand About Money and Finance, Understanding the Modern Monetary System and Understanding Modern Portfolio Construction.