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A Molecular-Level Argument for Gun Control

Like Atoms, Human Folly and Weapons Interact with Regularity


Kinetics is the branch of chemistry that deals with the fundamental way in which molecules encounter each other and undergo a chemical reaction to form a new compound. One common way in which chemical reactions happen is when two molecules, the reactants, collide with enough force and at the right angle for the desired reaction to occur. In this scenario, the concentrations of the reactants determine the speed with which the reaction occurs. As the number of molecules of both or one of the reactants in the same container increases, the speed of the reaction increases. This makes sense. If one molecule is more likely to encounter its reactive counterpart, then that explosive reaction is more likely. This model provides the correct context for assessing the need for gun control.

A rampage conducted by an armed lunatic is very much like a chemical reaction. It happens when that rare person of dubious mental competence or dysfunctional moral compass encounters the cache of weapons he needs to carry out his twisted fantasy. If we look at the entire nation — or any nation — as a reaction vessel, the concentration of this reactant is extremely low. However, given the astronomical number of weapons that are freely floating around the U.S.— hundreds of millions by every count, official and unofficial — the probability that this one reactant, the lunatic, encounters the other reactant, powerful weapons, is regrettably measurable. Its measure is the number of armed rampages we suffer annually, with unbearable frequency.

From this perspective, the rampages — these dreadful chemical reactions — result not from the fault of any one person. The awful frequency at which they occur is the statistical outcome of a high concentration of weapons in the presence of human folly. Much like the financial meltdown, it is a systemic risk. Our liberal gun laws carry with them this risk of frequent rampages. Let us, therefore, ask the most important question regarding this matter. Are these frequent rampages a fair price to pay for unfettered access to guns?

If not, then we must consider the ways to reduce the risk by examining the factors over which we can exercise control. We cannot control human folly. We cannot prevent Nancy Lanza from giving her disturbed son access to guns. We can control the concentration of weapons. We can prevent Nancy Lanza (or John Zawahri, or James Holmes, or Aaron Alexis, or Elliot Rodger, etc.) from obtaining awesome homicidal capabilities. In this equation, that is the only variable we can control. Human folly is a constant. The question, therefore, needs to center about the level of inherent risk we are willing to accept as a society, and whether the benefits of reducing this inherent risk justify the costs.

Let us ask, then, what level of random death and destruction we are willing to countenance. The frequency of tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary and Isla Vista is a statistical inevitability arising from the collision of human folly with a huge number of freely available weapons of awesome destructive power. The simple equation, (human folly) × (hundreds of millions guns) = deadly rampages, cannot be denied or circumvented. It has been true for decades.

Let those who think that the high frequency of deadly rampages is a fair price to pay for unfettered access to guns say exactly that. Let the rest of us who reasonably demur insist on strict gun control by voting anyone who preserves this absurd status quo out of office. We must reduce the number of guns in circulation, and we must prevent people of dubious character from obtaining them.

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