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Aurora and The Search for “Sensible” Firearm Policy: A Brief Interview with Small Arms Survey’s Yashua Moser-Puangsuwan


Early this morning, a gunman killed 12 people and injured 59 –a total of 71 gunshot victims, a record– at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, in Aurora, Colorado. The alleged shooter, James Eagan Holmes, used two devices to ignite smoke or gas in the theater, before opening fire with three firearms: a Smith & Wesson AR-15 semi-automatic, a 12-gauge Remington shotgun, and a .40 caliber Glock handgun.

Every time mass shootings like this occur, conservatives immediately circle the wagons, and often blame the victims for not being armed (although in this case it’s not difficult to imagine how much carnage a shootout involving multiple shooters in a dark theater would have ended up producing. That didn’t stop empathy-challenged spongehead and GOP Representative Louie Gohmert from blaming the shooting not only on citizens’ lack of arms, but also the move away from Judeo-Christian beliefs:

We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country … and when … you know … what really gets me as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs and then a senseless, crazy act of terror like this takes place.
You know, when people say, where was God in all of this? Well, you know, we don’t let … in fact we’ve threatened high school graduation participants that if they use God’s name that they’re going to be jailed, we had a principal of a school, and a superintendent or a coach down in Florida that were threatened with jail because they said the blessing at a voluntary off-campus dinner. I mean, that kind of stuff … where is God? Where, where? What have we done with God? We told him that we don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present.

Of course, at politicalcontext.org, we’re interested in constructive and thoughtful analysis rather than asinine and insensitive drivel. So we spoke with Yashua Moser-Puangsuwan, a board member of Small Arms Survey, an international, independent research project. Following the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, Moser-Puangsuwan wrote that other industrialized democracies had more sensible responses to gun tragedies. “Other Western countries like Australia and the UK have one mass shooting,” he wrote, “then institute policies on guns and don’t have a repeat. In the U.S., it happens again and again.”

He said today: “It’s tragic that my comment remains true and this has happened — yet again.”

To help figure out why, exactly, it happens again and again, we asked Mr. Moser-Puangsuwan a few questions about the gun lobby in America, and the business of rationalizing mass shootings.

politicalcontext.org: In your opinion, what’s the main foundational mistake or mis-assumption that the mainstream media makes concerning gun violence in the United States? Where do they mainly get it wrong?

Yashua Moser-Puangsuwan: By not thinking outside the box and framing it in a larger context. When a small group of people hijacked some planes and flew them into a couple of buildings in NY, new government departments were created, budgets were found for this, professionals hired, an office to research the causes was developed. Only about 16 US citizens per year die in terrorist related events (data from US Government office of Counter Terrorism)
Many more people die from gun violence in the US. Somehow this is OK. If the US government is serious about responding to these situations, why hasn’t it created a department on gun violence prevention, hired professionals to look into solutions, instituted policies that are developed on research into the problem? What is the balance here? Foreign terrorists are no OK, domestic ones are just fine? As ludicrous as it sounds that IS the policy (based on an objective view of the practice).

PC: Do you think there are other cultural and political reasons, beyond simply gun policy, that explain the relative lack of violence in those countries, as well as their attitude toward guns?

YM-P: I don’t have all the answers, but in other countries, solutions are based on perceptions of the problem. Sometimes it is access to a firearm, then restrictions are important, sometimes it is demographics- too many young men unemployed, then it is one of social response- job and education opportunity creation. It is all contextual. Who is studying the context that these events come out of in the US, and making policy recommendations based on them?

PC: Conservatives immediately responded to the Aurora shootings by saying that more private citizens should be armed. What is the geneaology of this argument, and what’s wrong with it?

YM-P: It is not a solution, just a reaction. It would lead to a domestic arms race, where every citizen would need to carry a more lethal weapon, body armor, armored cars, etc. The only winner would be arms manufacturers.

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Our limited time with Mr. Moser-Puangsuwan was enlightening, but questions remain. Mainly: What would be an example of sensible arms policies our own nation could have, that would “pass constitutional muster” given recent Supreme Court jurisprudence concerning handguns? Could we possibly make the kinds of policies that would genuinely curb gun violence and avoid trouble with the constitution and the Court? We searched in vain for an anti-gun expert willing to answer that particular question. Given the way current Second Amendment jurisprudence interprets the complex clauses of that amendment, it’s pretty clear that even “sensible” restrictions on firearms are unlikely to see enactment in the United States anytime soon.

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