A Third Option
This week's horrifying events at Virginia Tech have sparked a predictable debate, with gun opponents claiming that incidents such as this occur because of the wide availability of firearms -- meaning that there should be more restrictions on these weapons -- while gun rights proponents point out that a student or faculty member with a concealed carry permit might have prevented a good deal of yesterday's carnage.
As with most political debates, virtually everybody goes in already knowing the answer. The events fit neatly into place to justify long-held positions.
The positions boil down to:
Guns are the problem. If we want to prevent tragedies such as this, there need to be fewer guns and fewer people carrying guns. Restrictions on guns are the solution
Guns are the solution. If we want to prevent tragedies such as this, there need to be more guns and more people carrying guns. Restrictions on guns enable these kinds of tragedies.
People arrive at both of these positions through a combination of logic and emotional predisposition. The first position draws on the fact that guns kill people*. So if you have fewer guns, they reason, fewer people will be killed. The second position relies on the proposition that self-defense is crucial to protecting not only one's safety and property, but ultimately one's freedom. So if you have a responsible armed populace, they reason, you have a safer populace.
I don't want to discuss the merits of either of these arguments. There are plenty of blogs that provide an opportunity to do so. Believing, as I do, that the solutions to many problems lie in developing technologies, I'm more interested in exploring whether technology hasn't provided a third option in the form of non-lethal (or more properly, less-lethal) weapons. Consider this:
The new Advanced Taser M-18 series has almost 100% effectiveness rating. It combines the injury reducing benefits of traditional stun technology with a quantum leap in stopping power via new Electro-Muscular Disruption (EMD) technology. In police studies, the new Advanced Taser has a higher instant incapacitation rate than a 9mm hand gun. The Advanced Taser over-rides the central nervous system, providing more reliable takedown power. The advanced TASER has 15 foot range.
Granted, that's marketing copy. I'm sure there are significant drawbacks to using a Taser versus using a conventional firearm. But there could also be tremendous advantages in arguing for greater availability and use of such weapons among the general populace. Namely, these weapons are not designed to kill people.
So let's go back to the firearm advocates' assessment of yesterday's tragedy. If there were students or faculty members at various points around campus carrying legal, concealed firearms, might there not have been an opportunity to stop this monster before he killed 32 people? Seems to me there might have been. But if you had an equal (or greater) number of people armed with Tasers, wouldn't they have had a similar chance of taking the shooter down?
Opponents of the concealed carry argument argue that students and faculty members would be shooting each other, or that cops would accidentally target an armed good guy rather than the shooter. But that equation changes somewhat if the good guys (including the cops) are all carrying less-lethal weapons.
I forget when I first dreamed up the color code, but it was a long time ago. I have been teaching it and preaching it, practically forever, but I never seem to have got it across! The color code is not a means of assessing danger or formulating a tactical solution. It is rather a psychological means of overcoming your innate reluctance to shoot a man down. Normal people have a natural and healthy mental block against delivering the irrevocable blow. This is good, but in a gunfight it may well get you killed.
If the blow is likely not to be irrevocable, is there a chance that a Taser-armed populace might even be more proactive and able to defend itself than one armed with conventional firearms? The downside, of course, is that people might be more likely to Taser others in non-life-threatening situations. Individuals with a concealed carry permit for a less-lethal weapon would have to be highly trained, just as I assume are those who carry permits for conventional firearms. And there would need to be severe penalties for frivolous or irresponsible uses of such weapons.
I'm not saying that it would be politically easy to implement a scheme whereby people could legally conceal Tasers or similar weapons. Gun opponents probably wouldn't be wild on the idea -- seeing as they aren't big on the arguments in favor of self-defense -- and gun proponents would probably look askance on any such proposal as the start of some kind of slippery slope. But both camps would get a large share of what they want out of such a compromise. Gun proponents would see more people armed and defending themselves; opponents would not see an increase in the incidence or likelihood of people being killed by firearms. (In fact, those numbers might go down.)
Plus, it's a measure that need not be tied -- in fact, in order to work, it absolutely must not be tied -- to efforts either to restrict or allow greater access to conventional firearms. Perhaps it could be a point of truce between the two camps.
As less-lethal weapon technology continues to develop, I think this third option will bear greater exploring.
UPDATE: Instalanche! Thanks, Glenn.
* Yeah, I know. Guns don't kill people; people kill people. Well, let's just say that people with guns do it more efficiently than, say, people with Hula Hoops. Can we agree on that?